Jensen

 

Pfc. Charles Carl Jensen


    Pfc. Charles C. Jensen was born on July 16, 1919, in Chicago.  He was the son of Carl Jensen and Jenny Lizburg-Jensen and lived, with his two sisters, at 6830 South Justine Avenue in Chicago.  He was a graduate of Harper High School and attended college for one year at Wilson Junior College.  He worked as a office clerk at a Swift Premium Meat Packing Company.

    Charles was drafted into the army on April 3, 1941, and  joined Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion.  When the need for medics arose, Charles was sent for training as a medic by Capt. Donald Hanes.

    Each of the companies of the battalion received two medics. Charles and Martin Wasserman were assigned to B Company because, like the members of the company, they were from Illinois.  Charles and Martin were assigned to live in one of the two barracks assigned to the company.

    In the late summer of 1941, after the Louisiana maneuvers, Charles learned that the battalion was being sent overseas.  Traveling by train from Camp Polk to San Francisco, Charles and the other members of the battalion were ferried to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.  There they received the necessary inoculations before being sent to the Philippines Islands.  

    With the 192nd, Charles arrived in the Philippine Islands on Thanksgiving Day, 1941.  Two weeks later, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he would find himself giving first aid to the wounded when Clark Field was bombed by the Japanese.

    The first big tank engagement that Charles remembers took place at Urdanetta.  The battalion was also involved in another engagement at Cabanatuan.  The tanks were involved in an on an off engagement that lasted three days.  During the fight, five Japanese tanks were knocked out.

    The two tank battalions, the 192nd and 194th were used as the rear guard as Filipino and American soldiers withdrew into Bataan.  The tanks would hold an area until the infantry withdrew and then fall back themselves.

    Sometime during the fighting against the Japanese, Charles was assigned as a medic to Company A of the 192nd Tank Battalion.  While serving as a medic with the company, he lived through the chaos of a night battle.  

    The company had bedded down for the night alongside a road.  During the night, a bicycle battalion of the Japanese Army rode into their position.  The members of the company grabbed their Tommy-guns and opened fire. 

    Charles recalled that the entire scene was chaos.  There were flashes of light everywhere, and the darkness was filled with the sounds of men screaming and men dying.  The entire scene was like a nightmare.  When morning came, Charles witnessed the carnage of the battle.  For all practical purposes, Company A had wiped out the bicycle battalion. 

    Charles, while with B Company, also witnessed on one occasion, as the tanks were being used as a rear guard, a fight at Cabanatuan that went on for three days.  When it ended, five Japanese tanks had been destroyed.
  Charles recalled,
    "Our battalion began a series of delaying actions, guarding the rear as the infantry fell back to Bataan.  Our first big fight was at Urdanetta, but we really did ourselves proud at the town of Cabanatuan, which then was just a spot on the map to us.  Our fight at Cabanatuan went, on and off, for three days.  You can see the wreckage of five Jap tanks. 
    We arrived in Bataan on New Years Day. We were the last.
    At first we were in the line across Bataan.  But the tanks weren't very good in the jungles, so we were assigned to defend the west coast.  The only other tank battalion on Bataan moved to the east coast. 
    We had a field day when the Japs tried to land at Agloloma Bay on the southwest tip of Bataan, Feb. 15.  They did get ashore, but with the help of infantry we slaughtered them, and in five days had the beaches cleared."

    According to Charles the tankers were the last American troops to enter Bataan.  This was on January 6, 1942.  The tanks were used to form a line across the entrance to the peninsula, but because of the density of the jungle, they were pretty useless.  The tanks were reassigned to guarding the coasts of the peninsula.

    On February 15, 1942, Japanese Marines landed at Agloloma Bay in the southwestern part of Bataan.  The Japanese were wiped out by tanks of the battalion.  To do this, Filipinos rode on the backs of the tanks and dropped hand grenades into the foxholes of the Japanese.

    The tankers also parked their tanks over the foxholes and spun on one track.  Doing so, buried the Japanese in the foxholes.

    For the next four months, Charles would administer first aid to the members of the 192nd who needed it.  On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the lines on the east side of Bataan.  The tanks were pulled from the west coast and traveled through Mariveles in an attempt to reinforce the eastern defenses.  Charles described what happened in an interview after he was liberated.

   "When the big break-through came on the eastern part of the front across Bataan on April 7, we hurried down the west coast past Mariveles. But the retreat was on.  The road was so jammed with trucks coming our way it took us two hours to go half a kilometer.  Our commander saw it was hopeless.

    We only had 19 tanks left in two battalions of the 100 with which we started the war.  We were in front of the infantry when the surrender came.  We blew up our tanks and turned ourselves in."

    On April 9, 1942, that Charles became a Prisoner Of War when the Filipino and American Forces were surrendered to the Japanese.  As a prisoner Charles would witness a number of atrocities.

    Charles took part in the death march and witnessed both acts of kindness and acts of inhumanity by the Japanese.  He saw guards pull Americans out of the march and into the woods to give the man a biscuit.  He also saw guards pull men out of the march to beat them.  Japanese guards also took from the prisoners their watches pants and other clothes.  He remembered dying of thirst while walking through springs of water running across the road from pumps and wells.   The POWs were not allowed to drink, and those who tried were killed. 

    On the march, Charles witnessed the Japanese throw a Filipino into a hole full of waste.  When the man tried to climb out, a Japanese guards would stomp on his hands with their hob-nailed boots.  Seeing this, other Japanese soldiers joined in the fun.  When they tired of this, they beat the Filipino to death with the butts of their guns.

    Charles was first held as a POW at Camp O'Donnell.  Here he remembered that the survivors of the march, many who had only one meal in seventeen days, were left laying on the ground and on the wooden boards of the sheds in the camp.  

    Nearly every prisoner was sick from something with the big killer being dysentery.  Those who were extremely ill  were put in Zero Ward.  When it became full, the worst cases were put under the building on the ground.  Charles being a medic recalled that even before the men had died, maggots crawled in their mouths, ears and on their bodies.  Instead of providing medicine, the Japanese put up a fence around the ward to isolate the dying men.

    Since the medical staff had no medicine, Charles recalled what happened to one man who had a gangrenous leg.  The condition had gotten so bad that the bone and tendons could be seen.  A Japanese guard said to the man that he was going to save him with or without medicine.  He took a white sheet, filled it with a handful of maggots and wrapped the bandage around the man's leg.  The man was alive when the camp was liberated.  Charles recalled that another POW, a sailor, had wet beriberi.  The man swelled to the point that he literally split open. 

    Charles recalled, that the Japanese did nothing to stop the spread of disease among the prisoners.  What they did do was erect a fence around the Zero Ward.  Their reason for doing this is that they believed that the fence would protect them from the diseases.

    In the camp, each man received a half canteen of water daily to drink from, to wash with, and to wash their clothes in.  The camp  became indescribably filthy with a stench that could be smelled for miles.

    In June, Charles was sent to Cabanatuan.  The conditions in the camp were no better.  Charles, himself, became a patient when he was admitted in the hospital on June 12, 1942, because he had cerebral malaria.  It is not known when he was discharged.  7,000 men arrived in June and by July, 385 men had died.  He remembered that on July 12th, alone, 48 men died.  The burial detail for the camp could not bury the men fast enough.  

    A number of men assigned to the burial detail used it as an opportunity to escape.  The Japanese counted the men going to the cemeteries and the number of men returning.  If the number was smaller, the Japanese presumed that some had died at the cemetery and were buried.  The other prisoners also covered the escapes by confirming the Japanese belief that some of the men on the detail had died while at the cemetery.  The POWs explained to the Japanese that they had buried the men along with the other dead.

    Charles recalled that the POWs beds in the barracks were double decked shelves.  The shelves were nine feet wide and eight feet long and made of bamboo slats.  Each shelf was shared by eight POWs. Seven men lay side by side with an eighth lying across the bottom of the shelf.  All the prisoners developed soars from the shelves.  One man's sore on his back was so bad that it oozed constantly.  Through the soar it was possible to see the man's spine.

    Even as prisoners the men were not free from torture.  Charles stated that one of the favorite tortures used by the Japanese was "the water cure."  The Japanese would force a garden hose down a man's throat and fill him with water until it burst his eardrums and water ran out his ears.  This was a torture that was frequently used by the Japanese on the Filipino prisoners.

    For Charles, the Japanese were hard to figure out.  He remembered witnessing a Japanese guard that the POWs called "Caribao Sam" beat a POW on the farm detail until the man was out cold.  The guard then picked the American up gently and put him in the shade.  Caribao Sam then gave the POW water until he was conscious.  The guard begged the man to forgive him for he had done.  The American refused to do so.

    Daily life at Cabanatuan started at dawn with buglers waking up the prisoners.  When most of these men had died or been sent to Japan, the guards woke the prisoners up by shouting and cursing at them.  Since the prisoners had no blankets and it was chilly just before dawn, most were already awake when this happened.

     According to Charles, the POWs slept in on double decked shelves, nine feet wide and eight feet long, made of bamboo slats.  At times there were as many as eight men on each shelf.  Seven side by side and one across the end.  Nearly everyone had bed sores.  Charles remembered that one man had a sore on his back that a fist could be put into that exposed his spine.

    A regular day in Cabanatuan started before dawn with the buglers.  After most had died or been sent to Japan, the POWs were awakened by the curses of the guards.  In Charles own words, "Usually most of us were already awake.  It gets chilly just before dawn and few of us had blankets."  The men would line up for roll call and count off in Japanese.  They learned to do this quickly because those who were slow at learning to count in Japanese were beaten with heavy rod.

    Afterwards, the POWs had breakfast and at dawn they went to work.  Men who worked nearby came back to the camp about 11:30 a.m. for a tin of rice and then returned to work.  A typical work day was ten hours long.

    In the evening, there really wasn't much for the POWs to do.  The Red Cross had sent books, but the Japanese took them away a few days after they came.  The prisoners also had a orchestra in which many of the men played by ear.  In Charles's opinion they sounded pretty bad but listening to them passed the time.

    Charles also remembered "the angels" who tried to help the POWs at Cabanatuan.  One was a Catholic priest the other was Mrs. Yu. "Nothing that anyone can ever do for her will ever repay her service to us."  Her husband was an American soldier who was captured on Bataan.  He died within a month of arriving at Camp O'Donnell.

    Mrs. Yu gathered food and supplies for the POWs in Camp O'Donnell.  In July, she was ready.  At the new camp near Cabanatuan, she bribed the guards to allow her to get food and other supplies to the prisoners.

    On one occasion, she bribed a guard to allow a gravel truck into the camp.  She had loaded the supplies on the truck and covered them with gravel.  That night, the supplies were given out to the POWs.

    When dysentery was running wild in the camp, Mrs. Yu smuggled in eight bags of mango beans into the camp.  The bean, the size of a pea, was a cure for the illness.

   Charles said that in 1943 the Japanese picked up Mrs. Yu on one of her trips to Manila.  They accused her of helping the prisoners.  When she denied it, they tortured her.  She never admitted that she had helped the POWs.

    The priest worked more openly and convinced the Japanese commander he had the proper papers to enter the camp.  Each time he visited, he brought money, food, and medicine.

    As the Americans approached Charles recalled that the Japanese attempted to send the healthier POWs to Japan.  In one case, he remembered that the Japanese had boarded POWs onto an old ship.  The ship kept breaking down.  After ten months, it was still in Manila Bay.  When the ship was attacked by American planes, the POWs jumped into the water only to be recaptured.  Many of these men were returned to Cabanatuan.

    Charles remained a prisoner at Cabanatuan until it was liberated by United States Rangers on January 30, 1945.  After liberating the camp, the Rangers had to get the freed POWs back to Philippine territory under the control of American forces.  During this trek, Charles watched the Rangers destroy Japanese tanks with bazookas.  This was the first time that he had seen one used.  Seeing the bazooka used against the Japanese, reinforced his belief that he and the other soldiers who fought on Bataan were poorly equipped.  

    When his mother was told of his liberation by a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, her response was simply, "I can't believe it.  This is the best news I've had in three years.  I think this is all a dream"   His sister, Evelyn Larson, said, "It's been so long."  She then started to cry.

    His liberation made Charles one of the first members of the 192nd to be freed from a Japanese prison camp.  Charles, like the other liberated POWs, was given the choice to return to the United States or stay in the war zone.  When the majority of men chose to stay in the war zone, the army made the decision that all liberated Americans would return to the United States.

    Charles returned to Chicago and told his story of life as a Japanese POW to Chicago newspapers.  On May 12, 1945, he married Emily Popelka and became the father of four children.  The couple divorced in 1961.  He married Mariette Mortier on March 31, 1962, and resided in Downers Grove, Illinois, until he retired.  He later lived in Monticello, Indiana.  At the age of 66, he received a Bachelors Degree from Michigan State University. 
    Charles C. Jensen passed away on November 17, 2006, at Home Hospital in Lafayette, Indiana.


 

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