Durner H

 

Sgt. Herbert August Durner Jr.


    Sgt. Herbert A. Durner Jr. was one of the three sons of Herbert A. Durner Sr. & Bessie May Fellows-Durner.  He was born on June 15, 1916, and grew up in Evansville, Wisconsin.  He graduated from Evansville High School in 1935.  After high school, he worked as an electrician's apprentice.

    Knowing that a draft act had been passed, Herb joined the Wisconsin National Guard's 33rd Tank Company in Janesville, Wisconsin.  He was called to federal duty when the company was federalized on November 25, 1940. 

    Herb trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and then took part in maneuvers in Louisiana in the late summer of 1941.  It was after the completion of the maneuvers that the battalion learned at Camp Polk that they were being sent overseas.  Those men determined to be too old were released from federal service.  Those going overseas received a ten day pass home.

    The overseas destination of the 192nd was suppose to me a secret.  But Herb found that this "secret" was known to everyone at Camp Polk.  All over the camp on light poles and in dayrooms, the army had posted bills seeking volunteers to join the 192nd.  The volunteers were needed to replace those men released from federal service.  The bills also stated that the battalion was being sent overseas to the Philippine Islands.  In spite of this, Herb was actually threatened with a court martial when he spoke about the battalion's destination.

    The battalion traveled by train to San Francisco.  By ferry, they were taken to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, they received inoculations and physicals.  Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island.  They were scheduled to join the battalion at a later date.
   
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd.  The soldiers were given leaves so they could see the island.  On November 5th, the ships sailed for Guam.  At one point, the ships passed an island at night.  While they passed the island, they did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables.  The ships sailed the same day for Manila and entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th.  They docked at Pier 7 and the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. 
    At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward King.  The general apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.  He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own. 
Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
   
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons.  The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.
 

    On December 8, 1941, Herb lived through the Japanese attack of Clark Field.  The tanks had been placed around the perimeter of the airfield to prevent the use of paratroopers.  During the attack, the tankers could do little more than watch since most of their weapons were useless against planes.

    Herb fought the Japanese for four months before the Filipino and American forces were surrendered to the Japanese.  Herb's tank crew of Ed DeGroot, Bob Bohem, and Ken Squire did what they could during the attack.  

    As a tank commander, it was Herb's job to command the tank's crew during engagements against the Japanese.  He would also control the which way the driver would go through a series of signals given by tapping the driver on his shoulders.

    After the attack on Clark Field, A Company was ordered north to Lingayen Gulf.  After the Japanese landed troops the tanks were used in delaying actions.  The problem the tankers had was that every ranking officer, in the immediate area, superseded the orders they had from tank command.

    In one incident, that took place December 23rd and 24th, the company was told by General Wainwright's headquarters that he was immediate commander of the area.  The company was sent north of the Agno River.  While they were north of the river, the main bridge on the Carmen Road was destroyed.  The tank company found itself in danger of being caught behind enemy lines.  This resulted in the company having to make end runs to cross the river on one of the two remaining bridges.

    It was during this event that Capt. Walter Write was killed planting a landmine.  In spite of his wounds, he continued to give orders to his company.  His main concern was for his soldiers safety. 

    The night of April 8, 1942, Herb commanded a platoon of eight tanks that were sent north to defend an airfield against the advancing Japanese.  Before they left the 192nd's headquarters area, he told the other 31 men that their mission was most likely a one way trip.  Their orders were to hold out as long as possible.  As the tankers reached the airfield, they received orders to return to HQ.

    On April 9, 1942, Herb and the other men received word of General King's surrendering them to the Japanese.  He and many of the other men were angry because they wanted to fight to the very end.

    Once news of the surrender reached them, Herb's tank crew and the other tank crews spent their remaining time as free men cutting the gas lines on their tanks and firing a armor piecing shell into the engines of each of the tanks.  After they had finished, they waited for the Japanese to arrive.  This took place the next day.

    When the Japanese arrived, Herb and the other men were pushed around by the Nissyo MaruJapanese.  The Japanese made menacing gestures with their rifles.  Each rifle had a bayonet attached to it.

    As a Prisoner of War, Herb with his company was sent south to Mariveles, there they were searched and the Japanese took whatever they wanted from the men.  It was from this barrio at the southern tip of Bataan that he started what became known as the death march.  

    It took Herb five days to complete the march.  He recalled that their were men who did not have shirts to protect their skin from the sun.  These men literally baked in the sun as they marched.  With him on the march were Dale Lawton and Forrest Knox.  

    The POWs marched north toward San Fernando.  As they walked they passed artesian wells.  According to Herb, at one point he and the other POWs were stopped at wells.  They could look at the water flowing from them, but they were not allowed to take any water.  To keep moisture in his mouth, Herb kept a pebble in his mouth and worked it around his swollen tongue.  

    At another point on the march. Herb and the other prisoners were left sitting in the sun for hours.  In his opinion, the Japanese wanted the POWs to bake.

    At San Fernando, Herb and the other prisoners were boarded onto small boxcars.  They were packed in so tightly that the dead remained standing.  At Capas, the POWs climbed out of the cars and walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.

    While a prisoner at Camp O'Donnell, Herb and other POWs were given permission to collect water for baths.  The men organized a system were they carried water to the camp in small buckets.  They then dumped the water into a 55 gallon drum.

    This job turn out to be long and hard.  To protect their work, the men posted a guard.  Somehow the system broke down and the drum of water was left unguarded.  When  Herb came up to the barrel, two officers were using the water.  

    Herb explained to the officers that the water belonged to him and his friends.  The officers looked at Herb and said that it was their water and that they were going to use it.  Herb kicked the barrel as hard as he could causing it to spill its contents on the ground.  This left the two officers covered with soap with no place to rinse off.  Herb didn't stick around to find out how they got the soap off themselves.

    Herb was also held as a POW at Cabanatuan.  During his time at the camp, medical records show that he was admitted to the camp's hospital on August 14, 1942.  The reason why he was hospitalized was not given.  His date of released was also not given. 
    From Cabanatuan, Herb was sent to Bilibid Prison, where he was processed for shipment to Japan.  The POWs boarded the Taikoku Maru and sailed on 23 March, 1944.  The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on March 27th and remained in harbor until April 3rd when it sailed.  It arrived at Osaka, Japan, on April 9, 1944.  The POWs disembarked on April 10th and road a train to Hitachi arriving on April 11th.

    Upon arriving in Japan, Herb was held at Hitachi Camp which was designated as Tokyo #8B.  He was given POW #185.  The POWs were used as slave labor in a copper mine.  He remained in this camp until August 14, 1944, when he was transferred.

    Herb would spend the remainder of the war at Tokyo Camp #1 which also was known as Kawasaki #1.  The prisoners in the camp were used as slave labor at the Kawasaki ship yard.  At the ship yards, some of the POWs worked as welders while others worked as laborers.

   When the war ended, Herb was the seventh member of A Company liberated at the end of the war.  Of the 99 men who left Janesville on November 25, 1941, Herb was one of 34 to survive the war and Japanese prison camps.

    When he returned to the United States, he learned that his parents had moved to Janesville.  He married Majorie Hayne on June 1, 1946.  The couple became parents of two children.  He worked as an electrician and served three terms as the president of Local #890 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Janesville.

    One of the lasting affects of his time as a POW was that Herb had a hard time smiling.  He also never forgave the Japanese for what he had gone through as a POW.   Herb was discharged from the army on April 26, 1946. 

    Herbert Durner returned to Evansville after the war.  He married Marjorie Hyne in 1946 and worked as an electrician. 

    Herbert Durner passed away on May 26, 1995, and was buried at Maple Hill Cemetery in Evansville, Wisconsin, Campbell Block 3, Section 036, Grave 8.


 

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