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, and 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, and three days later left for Fort Knox, Kentucky, by train.

    Herb trained at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, where a typical day started at 6:15 A.M. with reveille, but most of the soldiers were already up so wash, dress, and be on time for assembly.  Breakfast was from 7 to 8 A.M. which was followed buy calisthenics from 8 to 8:30.  After this, the remainder of the morning dealt with .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistols, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in military tactics.
    At 11:30, the tankers got ready for lunch, which was from noon to 1:00 P.M., when they went back to work by attending the various schools.  At 4:30, the tankers day ended and retreat was at 5:00 P.M. followed by evening meal at 5:30.  The day ended at 9:00 P.M. with lights out, but they did not have to be in bed until 10:00 P.M. when taps was played.
    In August 1941, the battalion was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers.  During the maneuvers, the battalion, which was part of the red army, broke through the defenses of the blue army, under the command of Gen. George S. Patton, and was about to overrun its headquarters when the maneuvers were suddenly cancelled. 
    It was after the maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. On the side of a hill 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 given the designation "PLUM," but Herb found that PLUM was known to everyone at Camp Polk.  All over the camp on light poles and in day rooms, 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 over different train routes to San Francisco, California, and were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island, where they received inoculations and physicals.  Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Some men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy. 
When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables.  They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two day layover.  The soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. 
    On November 5th, the ships sailed for Guam
but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.  The cruiser that was escorting the two transports revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country.     
When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables.  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.  The ships entered Manila Bay at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning.  At 3:00 P.M., the soldiers disembarked and most were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained at the pier to unload the tanks.
    At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field.  He made sure that they had all they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. 
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 which had been greased to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance expecting to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.

    On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
    The morning of December 8th, December 7th in the United States, the 192nd was guarding the perimeter of Clark Field.  A week earlier, they had been given assigned positions around the airfield to guard against enemy paratroopers.  At 8:30 in the morning, the American planes took off and filled the sky.  They landed at noon to be refueled and were lined up in a straight line near the mess hall.  The pilots went to lunch.
The tankers were eating lunch when a formation, of 54 planes, was spotted approaching the airfield from the north.  The tankers believed the planes were American until they watched raindrops fall from the planes.  When bombs exploded on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.    
    After the attack on December 12th, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it would be close to a highway and railroad from sabotage.   From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River.  There, the tanks, with A Company, 194th held the position.  

    On December 23rd and 24th, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write. 
In spite of his wounds, he continued to give orders to his company.  His main concern was for his soldiers safety.  After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.

    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.  This belief of the highest ranking officer in an area being in command was a situation the tankers found themselves in repeatedly until tank command made it clear that the tanks would only take orders from it.
    On December 25th, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road.  The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.

    The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, as the Filipino and American forces fell back toward Bataan, A Company took up a position near the south bank of the Gumain River.  Believing that the Filipino Army was in front of them allowed the tankers to get some sleep.  It was that night that the Japanese lunched an attack to cross the river.
   The Japanese attempted to cross the river but were cut down by the tankers.  The tankers created gaping holes in their ranks.  To lower their losses, the Japanese tried to cover their advance with a smoke screen.  Since the wind was blowing against them, the smoke blew into the Japanese line.  The Japanese broke off the attack heaving suffered 50% casualties.
    The tankers were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.  On January 1st, conflicting orders were received from the General MacArthur's chief of staff about who had command of the troops.  Gen. Wainwright was attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan and was unaware of the orders. 

    Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River.  Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted.  From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.  
    A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read.  The company returned to the 192nd on January 8, 1942.
    On January 28th, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.

    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.  Herb's tank crew of Ed DeGroot, Bob Bohem, and Ken Squire did what they could during the attack.  

    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, and the Japanese made menacing gestures with their rifles.  Each rifle had a bayonet attached to it.  The 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 wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane.  They were packed in so tightly that the dead remained standing until the living left the cars.  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.
    In December 1942, Herb was selected go out on a work detail.  The POWs on the detail were housed at the Pasay School in eighteen rooms, and thirty POWs were assigned to each room.  The POWs were used to extend and widen runways for the Japanese Navy.   The plans for this expansion came from the American Army which had drawn them up before the war.  The Japanese wanted a runway 500 yards wide and a mile long going through hills and a swamp.
    Unlike the Americans, the Japanese had no plans on using construction equipment. Instead, they intended the POWs to do the work with picks, shovels, and wheel barrows.  The first POWs arrived at Pasay in August 1942.  The work was easy until the extension reached the hills.  When the extension reached the hills, some of which were 80 feet high, the POWs flattened them by hand.  The Japanese replaced the wheel barrows with mining cars that two POWs pushed to the swamp and dumped the dirt as land-fill.  As the work became harder and the POWs weaker, less work got done.
    At six in the morning, the POWs had reveille and "bongo," or count, at 6:15 in detachments of 100 men.  After this came breakfast which was a fish soup with rice.  After breakfast, there was a second count of all POWs, which included both healthy and sick, before the POWs marched a mile and half to the airfield.
    After arriving at the airfield, the POWs were counted again.  They went to a tool shed and received their tools; once again they were counted.  At the end of the work day, the POWs were counted again, and when they arrived back at the school, they were counted again.  Then, they would rush to the showers, since there only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs.  They were fed dinner, another meal of fish and rice and than counted one final time. Lights were turned out at 9:00 P.M.

    The brutality shown to the POWs was severe.  The first Japanese commander of the camp, a Lt. Moto, was called the "White Angel" because he wore a spotless naval uniform.  He was commander of the camp for slightly over thirteen months. 
    One day a POW collapsed while working on the runway.  Moto was told about the man and came out and ordered him to get up.  When he couldn't four other Americans were made to carry the man back to the Pasay School. 
    At the school, the Japanese guards gave the man a shower and straightened his clothes as much as possible.  The other Americans were ordered back to the school.  As they stood there, the White Angel ordered an American captain to follow him behind the school.  The POW was marched behind the school and the other Americans heard two shots.  The American officer told the men that the POW had said, "Tell them I went down smiling." There, the White Angel shot the POW as the man smiled at him.   As the man lay on the ground, he shot him a second time.  The White Angel told them that this was what going to happen to anyone who would not work for the Japanese Empire.
    The second commanding officer of the detail was known as "the Wolf."  He was a civilian who wore a Japanese Naval Uniform.  Each morning, he would come to the POW barracks and select those POWs who looked the sickest and made them line up.  The men were made to put one leg on each side of a trench and then do 50 push-ups.  If a man's arms gave out and he touched the ground, he was beaten with pick handles.
    On another occasion a POW collapsed on the runway.  The Wolf had the man taken back to the barracks.  When the Wolf came to the barracks that evening and the man was still unconscious, so he banged the man's head into the concrete floor, kicked him in the head, and finally he took the man to the shower and drowned him in the basin.
    A third POW who had tried to walk away from the detail told the guards to shoot him. The guards took him back to the Pasay School and strung him up by his thumbs outside the doorway and placed a bottle of beer and sandwich in front of him.  He was dead by evening.
    The remains of the POWs who had died on the detail were brought to Bilibid Prison in boxes.  The Japanese had death certificates with the causes of death, signed by an American doctor, sent with the boxes.  The Americans from the detail, who accompanied the boxes, would not tell the POWs at Bilibid what had happened.  It was only when the sick, from the detail, began to arrive at Bilibid that they learned what the detail was like.  These men had been sent to Bilibid to die since it would look better when it was reported to the International Red Cross.
    During his time on the detail, Herb developed pellagra and sent to Bilibid Prison where he was admitted on March 18, 1943.  He remained in the hospital ward until June 28th, when he was discharged and sent to Cabanatuan.

    In March 1944, Herb's name appeared on a roster for transport to Japan.  The POWs boarded the Nissyo Maru and sailed on July 17, 1944.  Later the same day, the ship dropped anchor at the harbor breakwater and remained there waiting for a convoy to form.  The ship sailed as part of a convoy on July 24th and proceeded, hugging the coast of Luzon.  On July 26th, the ships ran into an American wolf pack resulting in two ships being sunk.  A third ship was hit by torpedoes at night and shot flames over the open hatches of the Nissyo Maru which lit the sky. 
    The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on July 27th and remained in harbor until the next day when when it sailed again.  It arrived at Moji, Japan, on August 3, 1944, and  the POWs disembarked and rode a train to Hitachi arriving on April 11th.

    Upon arriving in Japan, Herb was held at Ashio Camp which was also designated as Tokyo #9B.  He was given POW #3954 and worked 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-B 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.  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 on the U.S.S. Hugh Rodman, arriving at San Francisco on October 3, 1945, he was sent to Letterman General Hospital for more medical treatment.  Herb returned to Evansville after the war, and when he arrived home, he learned that his parents had moved to Janesville. 
Herb was discharged from the Army on April 26, 1946, and married Majorie Hayne on June 1, 1946, and they 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.

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


Return to A Company