Sgt. Howard L. Hasselkus


    Sgt. Howard L. Hasselkus was born July 17, 1918, to Fred A. Hasselkus & Myra Hoeflinger-Hasselkus at 402 Toledo Street in Elmore, Ohio.  His mother died, and his father married Helen Hard, which resulted in Howard becoming the half brother of two sisters and a brother.  He graduated from Harris-Elmore High School in 1936, and after high school, he worked as a draftsman for the Multiplex Concrete Machinery Company in Elmore.

    Howard was inducted into the U. S Army on February 2, 1941, and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he trained for almost year.  After arriving at Ft. Knox, Howard was assigned to Headquarters Company when the company was formed.  Being that the company was newly formed, Howard quickly rose in rank.  It is known that he received leave home on April 8th through 10th, in June, and again from August 8th through 10th.

    In the late summer of 1941, the battalion traveled to Louisiana and continued their training at Camp Polk, Louisiana, in the form of maneuvers.  After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk,  It was there that they learned they had been selected for duty overseas.   Howard received leave home and visited his family the first week of October before returning to Camp Polk and prepared for overseas duty.  Traveling west over different train routes, the battalion arrived in San Francisco, California, where they were taken by ferry to Angel Island.  On the island the soldiers received physicals and inoculations.  Men who did not pass the physicals were replaced or held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
   The battalion sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy which arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a two day layover.  The soldiers received shore leave and allowed to explore the island.  The ships sailed again on Tuesday, November 4th for Guam and took a southern route away from the main shipping lanes.  During this part of the trip, smoke was seen on the horizon, the heavy cruiser escorting the two transports, revved its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke.  As it turned out, the ship belonged to a neutral country.  On Sunday, November 16th, the ships arrived at Guam, where they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water.  The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next morning.  
    It was during this part of the trip that the ships, in total black out, passed an island.  Many of the soldiers believed that they were being out in harm's way.  About 8:00 in the morning on Thursday, November 20th the ships arrived at Manila Bay and arrived at Manila later that day.  It was three or four hours after arriving that the soldiers disembarked.  The tankers rode buses to Ft. Stostenburg, while other battalion members boarded their trucks and drove them to fort north of Manila.
  The maintenance section of the battalion remained behind, at the pier, to unload the battalions tanks.
    At the fort, the tankers were met by Colonel Edward King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed.  He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.  He remained with the battalion until they had settled in and had their Thanksgiving Dinner.  Afterward, he went to have his own dinner.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons which had been covered in the grease to prevent them from rusting.  They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts.  The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.

    The tanks were ordered to the perimeter of the Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers on Monday, December 1st, to guard against paratroopers.  Two members of each tank and half-track crews remained with their vehicles at all times.  The morning of December 8th, the battalion's officers were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and ordered to their units.  Howard was assigned to one of the half-tracks of HQ Company, used for reconnaissance, which meant he was at the perimeter of the airfield.  Howard can be seen in a half-track photo, that often appears in books on the Battle of Bataan.
    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, Howard's group of POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles.  In the school yard, they once again sat and waited until they were again ordered to move.  This time when they were ordered to rest, they found themselves sitting in the middle of a artillery battle between Japanese artillery and guns firing from Corregidor and Ft. Drum.  Shells began landing among the POWs who had no place to hide.  Some of the POWs were killed from incoming American shells.  One group died when they attempted to hide in a small break shed which took a direct hit.  The American guns did succeed at knocking out three of the four Japanese guns. 

    The POWs were again ordered to move and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march.  They made their way north to San Fernando, where they were put in a bull pen and left in the sun.  At some point, the Japanese ordered them to form detachments of 100 men.  After this was done, they were marched to the train station. 
    At the train station, they were packed into wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane.  The cars could hold eight horses or forty men, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors.  At Capas, the POWs still living climbed out of the boxcars and the bodies of the dead fell out of boxcars.  The POWs walked the last ten miles to Camp O’Donnell.

    Camp O'Donnell, was an unfinished Filipino training camp, pressed into use, by the Japanese, as a prison camp.  The conditions in the camp were so bad that as many as fifty POWs died each day.  There was only one water fountain for the entire camp.  The death rate got so bad that the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan which had been a Filipino Army Base.  

     While a POW in the camp,  Howard worked as a draftsman.  It is known that Howard was admitted to the camp's hospital on Thursday, August 6, 1942, suffering from malaria, scurvy, and pellagra.  According to U. S. Army records, Sgt. Howard L. Hasselkus died on Sunday, November 22, 1942, at 11:00 P.M. at Cabanatuan Prison Camp from malaria.  It was only after his death that it was learned that he had secretly married Evelyn Smith, from Port Clinton, Ohio, on July 4, 1941.  Howard had met her through another member of HQ Company who was from the town.

    After the war, Howard's remains could not be identified.  He shares a grave, with other POWs who died on the same date, marked "Unknown" at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.  His name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the cemetery.


 

 

 


Return to HQ Company

 

Next