Pfc. Harry Jerele
Pfc. Harry Jerele was born in February 1, 1916, in Clinton, Iowa. He was one of the seven children of Leo and Mary Jerele. His family moved to Maywood, Melrose Park, Bellwood, and finally Berkley, Illinois. Since his father was an employee of the Chicago & North Western Railroad, his family was allowed to live in a house, that sat on railroad property, at the intersection of St. Charles and Wolf Roads.
Harry attended Melrose Park Grade School and graduated. Like his father, he worked for the Chicago & North Western Railroad. Harry loved to tinker with mechanical things. He also loved to play the guitar.
With his friend, Norman Spencer, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps to have the opportunity to travel and take pictures. He also liked the idea of working outside. Together, Norman and Harry built roads and parking lots in national parks in Colorado, Wyoming, and Washington State.
Harry returned home and worked as a janitor for the National Youth Administration and joined the Illinois National Guard because his friend, Norman Spencer, wanted to join. Norman made this decision after talking to an officer in the National Guard who lived across the street from him. Harry became a member of the 33rd Tank Company of the Illinois National Guard which was stationed in Maywood. When the tank company was federalized in November of 1940, Harry trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky. It was there that Harry learned how to drive motorcycles, tanks and halftracks.
At Fort Knox, Harry was transferred to
the Headquarters Company of the 192nd Tank
Battalion. As a member of the Headquarters
Company, Harry took part in the 1941 maneuvers
in Louisiana. Afterwards, the members of
the battalion learned they were being sent
When war broke out on December 7, 1941, Harry and the other members of the 192nd Tank Battalion fought to slow the Japanese advance. Harry as a motorcycle messenger carried messages between the 192nd Headquarters Company and the different companies of the battalion. While doing this job, he was twice reported Missing In Action during the Battle of Bataan.
When the Filipino-American forces in the Philippine Islands were surrendered, Harry became a Prisoner of War. The morning of April 9, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. 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. Harry was now a Prisoner of War.
That evening, Capt. Bruni gathered the members of the company together. They ate what he called "their last supper" together.
On April 11th, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment. A Japanese officer ordered Harry and the rest of his company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road. They were told to put 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.
Harry and his company boarded their trucks and drove to Mariveles. At some point, outside of Mariveles, they were ordered by the Japanese out of their trucks. 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 in front of the Japanese soldiers. He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. The Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, Harry's group of POWs was 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.
They were ordered to march. At one point they were halted and allowed to rest. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which were 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 to protect themselves 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. Harry and the other men had no idea that they had started what became known as the Bataan Death March. During the march, he received no water and little food. It took the members of HQ Company six days to reach San Fernando.
Once at San Fernando, the POWs were put into a cattle pen that had a fence around it. The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down. During their time in the 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.
At San Fernando, Harry was put into a small wooden boxcar and taken to Capas. The cars could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the car. From Capas, Harry 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.
While at Camp O'Donnell, Harry was selected for a work detail which had the job of recovering vehicles that had been destroyed by the Filipino and American forces before they surrendered. The POWs would tie the vehicles together and then drive them to the cars to San Fernando where they would be loaded onto ships as scrap metal.
When this detail was completed, Harry was sent to Cabanatuan Prison Camp. On Thursday, July 9th, Harry was hospitalized suffering from pneumonia. According to the final report on the 192nd, he died of cerebral malaria and pneumonia at the age of 27 on Thursday, December 24, 1942. His time of death was approximately 1:00 PM.
In June 1943, Harry's father made his first attempt to find out if his son was dead or alive. The family had learned he was a prisoner in March 1943. Harry's father would make two more attempts before the end of the year. The family did not know anything about Harry until they were notified of his death. They were notified that he had died on December 28, 1943.
The remains of Harry Jerele were buried in the camp cemetery at Cabanatuan in grave 804 with three other POWs. After the war, the remains of the three other men, who shared Harry's grave, were identified. For some reason, Harry's remains were never identified.
On December 1, 1949, the remains of the one man, who had been buried in Cabanatuan grave #804 and not identified, were returned from Fort Mason in San Francisco, California, to Manila. The remains were identified as X-846. It is believed these remains were those of Harry Jerele.
The remains were buried at the American Military Cemetery at Manila as an "Unknown" in Plot L, Row 2, Grave 57. Although Harry's remains were never identified, his name does not appear on the Tablets of the Missing at the cemetery. Harry's name does appear on the Cabanatuan Memorial at the site of the former POW camp.
In October 1946, Berkley renamed Fifty-first Avenue to Jerele Avenue in Harry's honor. Fifty-second Avenue was renamed in honor of Norman Spencer to Spencer Avenue.
At this time, Harry's family is attempting to have these remains exhumed and, through the use of DNA, bring him home.