Pfc. William Joseph Kerins
Pfc. William J. Kerins was the second son of James
A. & Cecelia Kerins. He was born on
February 28, 1919, and lived at 2937 South Canal
Street in Chicago, Illinois. He would later
live in Berwyn, Illinois, at 6731 West
StanleyAvenue. He left high school after
three years and worked as an engraver.
Bill enlisted in the Quartermaster Corps of the Illinois National Guard because he wanted to fulfill his military obligation. The company was made up of men from Berwyn. In November of 1940, he was transferred to 33rd Tank Company, Maywood, Illinois, as it prepared to leave for federal duty at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
When the 33rd Tank Company arrived at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, they were joined by National Guard companies from Janesville, Wisconsin, Port Clinton, Ohio, and Harrodsburg, Kentucky. Together, they would become the 192nd Tank Battalion. At Ft. Knox, Bill was trained as a cook, baker and radio operator. He was also trained on halftracks. The battalion was stationed near as OTC Center. The reason for this according to members of the battalion was that the army wanted to keep the 192nd somewhat isolated from the regular army because they were Guardsmen.
In September of 1941, the 192nd Tank Battalion
was sent to Louisiana on maneuvers.
William believed that this training was
beneficial to the men because it helped them
adjust to the climate of the Philippines.
At Camp Polk, the men were informed that they
were going overseas and it would be for no less
than six months and no more than six
years. Since the battalion was being sent
overseas, each man received a ten day emergency
leave home. When they returned, their old
M-2 tanks were replaced with M-3 tanks. It
was also at this time that the men officially
were informed that their overseas orders were
for deployment in the Philippine Islands.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the sleeping quarters for the 192nd consisted of tents. Each tent had eight men assigned to it. During the next seventeen days, Bill and the other men spent most of their time loading live ammunition. They also spent a large amount of time going over their equipment and preparing it for maneuvers. The battalion was on full alert from the day it landed in the Philippines. During this time, the battalion's reconnaissance unit made recon patrols up to the Lingayen Gulf. When they returned to Clark Field, they reported that it would be an excellent place for the landing of troops.
On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese. Bill heard the news as he was lining up for breakfast. The tanks were dispersed around the perimeter of Clark Field in anticipation of Japanese paratroopers. A short time later, the members of his battalion were informed that Japanese bombers were about 45 minutes away. The attack on Clark Field came at about 11:45 A.M. right after Bill had eaten lunch. All Bill and the other men could do was watch the high altitude bombers drop their bombs. When the dive bombers came in, the tankers did their best to bring them down with the weapons they had. After the initial attack was over, Bill's platoon moved closer to the landing strip of Clark Field.
In the coming months the 192nd Tank Battalion fought to slow the Japanese advance. Bill believed that the M-2-A-2, which were the tanks the battalion had trained in at Fort Knox, would have been better suited for the Philippines than the M-3. His reasoning was that the M-2-A-2 would have been better suited for the jungle terrain. Its twin turrets would have given the tank men more effective gun fire.
On April 9, 1942, Bill along with most of the members of the 192nd Tank Battalion became Prisoners of War when the troops on the Bataan Peninsula were surrendered to the Japanese. The men received the news of the surrender from their officers. They spent the remainder of their time, as free men, destroying equipment to prevent it from being used by the Japanese.
On April 12, 1942, Bill and other members of his platoon were on the beach near General Hospital #2. It was there that the death march started for Bill and his platoon. Bill recalled that the march was very slow under an extremely hot sun which resulted in high temperatures. If the men wanted something to drink, they had to break out of the line for the wells along the road. When a guard spotted a man who had done this, the guard would shoot at him. During the entire march, Bill and the other prisoners received only three handfuls of rice and three rations of water. All along the route, the Japanese sentries were sitting in their tents drinking soft drinks and taunting the POWs. Whenever POWs dropped to the side of the road, they were shot, bayoneted or killed by sword.
The first camp Bill was held at as a POW was Camp O'Donnell. The POWs at Camp O'Donnell were dying at such a high rate that the number dead could not be counted. The food was horrible and so were the sanitary conditions. He was held there for about one week when he was sent to Caluan south of Manila to repair bridges. Most of the men on this detail were tank men. This was due in part to the fact that the ranking American officer was Lt. Col. Ted Wickord commanding officer of the 192nd Tank Battalion. While on this detail, Bill came down with malaria and was sent to the new POW camp Cabanatuan.
The conditions at Cabanatuan were slightly better than Camp O'Donnell, but still an average of fifty POWs a day died from disease. Medical records from the camp show that Bill was admitted to the camp hospital on April 4, 1943. The records do not indicate why he was admitted or when he was discharged from the hospital. Bill remained at Cabanatuan until September, 1943, when he was sent to Manila to be boarded onto the Japanese freighter the Taga Maru. These transports became known as "Hell Ships" due to the living conditions the POWs endured on the ships. After arriving in Japan, Bill was sent to one of the Niigata #5-B.
It is believed that Bill remained at the Niigata #5-B until Japan surrendered, but it is possible that he was transferred just prior to the official surrender.
About one month before the surrender, there was a noticeable change in the attitude of the guards. The POWs had no idea that the war had ended until a week after the official surrender took place. Before the surrender, the guards at the camp were replaced with guards who spoke more English and appeared to be trying to "soft-soap" the POWs.
At the same time, the area was being bombed and strafed by American planes on a daily basis. One day, an American plane came in low over the camp without any ground fire. A few hours later an American pilot came into the camp in a Japanese command car and informed the POWs that the war was over. Bill and the other POWs remained in the camp for about a week and then took a train into Tokyo. It was there that Bill first saw American troops.
Bill was sent back to the Philippines to be fattened up. After passing a final physical, Pvt. Bill Kerins returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Hugh Rodman on October 3, 1945, at San Francisco. After a stay at Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco, he returned to Chicago where he married Marqurite Mary Dom in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1947. They were the parents of a son and daughter.
William J. Kerins would later move to Sparta, Wisconsin, and Lebanon, Oregon. He worked as a civilian personnel director for the U.S. Army and Navy. He passed away in Lebanon, Oregon, on March 22, 1991. He was buried at Sand Ridge Cemetery in Lebanon, Oregon.
The photo below was taken in 1943 while William Kerins was a POW in Japan.