Harger

 

Pfc. Rollie Clayton Harger


    Pvt. Rollie C. Harger was born in 1920 in Lorain County, Michigan, to Manuel and Mattie Conigan-Harger.  With his two sisters and brother, he was raised in Gladwin, Michigan, and attended Pontiac High School in Pontiac, Michigan.  He later moved to Fremont, Ohio, and lived with his father's brother and his wife on their farm and worked as a farmhand.  At some point, he joined the Ohio National Guard's tank company which was headquartered in Port Clinton in 1940.
    On November 25, 1940, his tank company was federalized as C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  He trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky for nearly ten months. In the late summer of 1941, the battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, take part in maneuvers. 
    After the maneuvers, the 192nd did not return to Ft. Knox as expected.  Instead, they were ordered to remain at Camp Polk for further orders.  On the side of a hill, the tank battalion was informed that it was being sent overseas.  Those members of the battalion 29 years old or older were allowed to resign from federal service.  Replacements for these men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion which had been sent to Camp Polk from Ft. Benning, Georgia.  The battalion not only supplied the 192nd with men, it also turned over its tanks and half-tracks.
    Rollie
received a leave home to say goodbye to is family.  He returned home and married Jean Govitz.  When he left to return to Cam Polk, his wife had no idea it would be the last time she would ever see her husband.
    Over different train routes, the battalion's companies traveled to San Francisco.  They were taken by ferry to Fort McDowell on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.  There, they were given physicals and inoculated for duty in the Philippine Islands.  Those men who were found to need minor medical treatment remained behind at the fort and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.

   
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. 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 Tuesday, November 4th, 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 and docked at Pier 7.  November 20th was the date that the National Guardsmen were scheduled to be released from federal service.  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. 

    The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers learned of the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor.  He and the other tankers were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.
    Around 12:45 P.M., the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield.  When bombs began exploding they knew the planes were Japanese.  Although they did the best they could, the tankers did not have the right type of weapons to fight the planes.
    Rollie spent the next four months taking part in a delaying action against the Japanese.  During the withdraw into the Bataan Peninsula, the tanks were often the last unit to disengage from the Japanese.

    Rollie took part in the Battle of the Points.  The Japanese lunched an offensive and broken through the defensive line on Bataan and were pushed back.  This resulted in two pockets of Japanese troops trapped behind American and Filipino lines.  During this battle, the tankers drove over the Japanese foxholes and soldiers sitting on the tanks dropped hand grenades into the foxholes.  In a matter of days, all resistance was wiped out.

    Another method the tankers used to wipe out the pockets was to park a tank with one track over the Japanese foxhole.  The crew would then spin the tank on one track while the other track dug into the ground.

    At 6:45 A.M. in the morning of April 9, 1942, the tankers received the order "crash."  They destroyed their tanks and waited for the Japanese to make contact with them.  When they did, they ordered the members of the company to make their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.
    
   From Mariveles, the POWs made their way north to San Fernando.  They received little food and almost no water.  At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into a bull pin.  In one corner was a slit trench that was used as a washroom.  The surface moved from the maggots that covered it.
    The Japanese ordered the POWs to form detachments of 100 men.  They were marched to the train station and put into small wooden boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane.  The cars could hold forty men or eight horses and were known as "Forty or Eights."  The Japanese packed 100 men into each car.  Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas.  From there, they walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell.
    Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army training base that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp.  There was one water faucet for the entire camp.  As many as fifty POWs died each day.  Disease spread quickly among the POWs.  To get out of the camp, POWs volunteered to go out on work details.
    It is not known if Rollie went out on a work detail or was sent to Cabanatuan when it was opened by the Japanese as an attempt to lower the death rate among the POWs.  In the camp he may have gone out on work details that left the camp daily and returned in the evening.   
    Rollie remained at the camp until he was selected to go out on a work detail.  In July 1943, he was sent to Lipa, Batangas, on the Las Pinas Work Detail.  It was there that he built runways at Camp Murphy and worked on a farm.  The POWs on this detail had nothing but picks and shovels to build the runways.  At first the work was hard but not as hard as it was going to get.  About 400 yards from where they began working where hills.  The POWs removed these hills with picks and shovels.  The dirt was put into wheel barrows and carried to a swamp and dumped as landfill.  This turned out to be inefficient, so the Japanese brought in mining cars and railroad track.  Two POWs pushed each car to where it was to be dumped.  He would remain on this detail for almost seventeen months.    

    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 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 American captain told the other Americans what had happened.  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, he banged the man's head into the concrete floor and kicked him in the head.  He then 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 and 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 did they learn what the detail was like.  These men were sent to Bilibid to die since it would look better when it was reported to the International Red Cross.
   

    Rollie was sent to Bilibid Prison outside of Manila and admitted to the U.S. Naval Hospital Unit at the prison on January 12, 1943.  The medical staff indicated he was extremely ill with amoebic dysentery, emaciated, and suffering with bloody stools.  According to the medical staff at the prison, Pfc. Rollie C. Harger died of amoebic dysentery on Tuesday, January 13, 1943, at 9:35 P.M.  He was buried in the Bilibid Cemetery in Row 3, Grave 39 in the Bilibid Hospital Burial Plot.
    After the war, at the request of his family, Rollie's remains were exhumed, and he was buried at the new American Military Cemetery at Manila.  He was buried in Plot A, Row 12, Grave 83. 


 

 

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