Pvt. George Charles Hardtke

    Pvt. George C. Hardtke was born on July 18, 1914, in Chicago, Illinois, and was the son of Louis F. Hardtke & Emma J. Rach-Hardtke.  With his six brothers and three sisters, he grew up at 1861 North Winnebago Avenue in Chicago.  Like many young men of the time, George completed grammar school and went to work as a shipping clerk at a candy company.  It is known that his mother passed away in 1940. 
    George was inducted into the U.S. Army on April 3, 1941, and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training.  During basic training, he was assigned to Headquarters Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, and assigned to one of the half-tracks that were used for reconnaissance by the battalion.
    The 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941, to take part in maneuvers.  They were kept at Camp Polk, after the maneuvers, without being given a reason why.  According to members of the battalion, General George Patton had picked the battalion to go overseas.  Men too old to go overseas were released from federal service and replacements for these men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
    The battalion traveled by train to San Francisco, California, and taken by ferry to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, they were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases.  Some men were held back for health issues but scheduled to join the battalion at a later date.  Other men were simply replaced.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, as part of a three ship convoy arriving at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd.  Since there was a two day layover, t
he soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.  On Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed for Guam.  During this part of the trip, smoke was seen on the horizon and the heavy cruiser, which was escorting the two transports, went to intercept it.  The soldiers stated that the cruiser revved its engines, its bow came out of the water, and the ship took off after the ship.  It turned out the ship belonged to a neutral country. 
    When the ships arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, they took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables, before sailing the  next moring for Manila. 
One night, the ships passed an island while they were in total blackout.  For many of the soldiers, this was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  The ships entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that day.  The soldiers disembarked the ship, about three hours after it arrived, and were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Those assigned as truck drivers drove their trucks to the fort, while the maintenance section of the company remained behind to unload the battalion's tanks.
    At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field.  The fact was that he had learned of their arrival just days before they docked.  He made sure that they had everything they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their guns which had been greased to protect them from rusting while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance as they prepared for maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
    The morning of Monday, December 1st, the tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field.  The 194th was assigned the northern part of the airfield to defend, and the 192nd guard the southern half.  At all times, two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles. 
    At six in the morning, on Monday, December 8th, the officers of the battalion were called to the radio room at the fort and told of the Japanese attack on Clark Field.  That morning the tankers watched as the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon, the planes landed to be refueled, the planes were lined up in a straight line, and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45, the tankers watched as 54 planes approached the airfield.  As they watched the planes, they saw "raindrops" falling from them.  When bombs began exploding, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese.
    As a member of HQ Company, George remained in the bivouac of the battalion.  After the attack, the tankers saw the carnage done during the attack.  The Japanese had effectively destroyed the Army Air Corps.  The tankers would spend the next four months attempting to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines.

    The tank battalion received orders on December 21st that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf.   Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas.  When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
    On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta.   The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of river.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed the river.
    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, when the tanks fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan, and at San Isidro, south of Cabanatuan, on December 28th and 29th.  While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, but once again, they were able find a crossing over the river.
    The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender.  While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them.  As he spoke, his voice choked.  He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued.  He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks.  During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together.   He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese.  The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company's trucks.  The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move.  Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, "Their last supper."
    After the surrender, the members of the company remained in their bivouac until April 11th, when the first Japanese soldiers appeared at their encampment.  A Japanese officer ordered the company members, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their bivouac.  Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road, with their possessions in front of them.  As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans. 
    After this, the company boarded their trucks and drove to just outside of Mariveles.  From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited.  As they sat, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them.  They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them. 
     As they sat watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car and got out.  He spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail.  The officer got back in the car and drove off.  After he drove off, the Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns. 

    Later in the day, the POWs were moved to a school yard in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours.  The Japanese did not feed them or give them water.  Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum.  These two islands had not surrendered.  Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs.  The POWs could do little since they had no place to hide.  Some POWs were killed by incoming American shells.  One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit.  The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.

    The POWs were ordered to move again by the Japanese, they had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march.  During the march, the POWs received no water and little food.  It took the members of HQ Company six days to reach San Fernando.  Once there, the POWs were put into a bull pen that had a fence around it.  In one corner was a slit trench to be used as a toilet by the POWs.  The surface of the trench moved since it was covered in maggots.  The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down. 

    During their time in the bull pen, the POWs watched the Japanese bury three POWs.  Two were still alive.  When one of the men attempted to climb out of the grave, he was hit in the head with a shovel and buried.

    The POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men and marched to the train station.  The POWs were put into a small wooden boxcars and taken to Capas.  The cars could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors.  Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the cars.  From Capas, the POWs walked the last ten miles to Camp O' Donnell.

    Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed into service as a Prisoner of War camp.  It turned out to be a death trap with as many as fifty POWs dying each day.  There was only one working water faucet for the entire camp.  To get a drink, men stood in line for days.  Many died while waiting for a drink.  Many POWs went out on work details to get out of the camp.
    The dead, at Camp O'Donnell, were taken to the camp cemetery and buried in shallow graves.  The reason for this was that the water table was high and the POWs could not dig deep.  Once a body was put in the ground, it was held down with a pole until it was covered by earth.  The next day, the POWs, on the detail, found wild dogs had dug up the bodies or the bodies were sitting up in the graves.
    According to the records kept by the medical staff at Camp O'Donnell, Pvt. George C. Hardtke died from dysentery and malaria on Monday, May 4, 1942, at Camp O'Donnell.  His approximate time of death was 1:15 A.M.   He was buried in Section C, Row 5, Grave 10, in the camp cemetery. 
    After the war, George's remains were identified and, at the request of his family, returned to the United States.  Pvt. George C. Hardtke was buried at Camp Butler National Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois, on November 1, 1948, in Plot 3, Grave 559, Section C.



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