Kirchhoff

Pvt. Herbert C. Kirchhoff Jr.


     Pvt. Herbert C. Kirchhoff Jr. was born in June 7, 1919, to Lucille & Herbert C. Kirchhoff Sr. in Peoria, Illinois.  He was known as "Bud" to his family and friends.  Herb, with his sister and three brothers, lived at 717 North Second Avenue in Maywood, Illinois, and attended Proviso Township High School.  After high school, he worked at a pottery company.

     Herbert joined the Illinois National Guard's Maywood Tank Company because a friend talked him into it.  In November of 1940, Herbert was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, when the company was called into federal service.  It  was there that the company became Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion.  While at Fort Knox, he trained as a tank driver.  He also qualified as a motorcycle messenger. 
    In the late summer of 1941, Bud, and his battalion, traveled to Louisiana to take part in the Maneuvers of 1941.  After the maneuvers, the battalion was assigned to Camp Polk, Louisiana.  When the maneuvers ended, the members of the 192nd Tank Battalion remained behind at Camp Polk.  The members of the battalion had no idea why they were being kept there.  What they were told, on the side of a hill, was that they were being sent overseas.

    After the companies were brought up to strength with replacements for the men released from federal service, the battalion was equipped with new tanks and halftracks.  The battalion traveled over three different railroad routes to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. 
    On the island, the soldiers were inoculated and received physicals.  Those who had minor medical issues were held back 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.  For many, it would be the last time that they would ever see the United States.  The battalion 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.  They docked at Pier 7 and the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  

    Seventeen days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Herbert and the other members of Company B arrived in Manila.  The battalion was deployed Fort Stotsenbeurg.  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.

    On the morning of December 8, 1941, the members of B Company were informed of the Japanese attack on Clark Field.  His tank and the others were sent to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  About 12:45 in the afternoon as the tankers were eating lunch, planes approached the airfield from the north.  At first, the soldiers thought the planes were American.  It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.    
   
The 192nd remained at Clark Field for almost two weeks before they were ordered to the barrio of Dau so it would be near a road and railroad.  For the next four months, the tankers held positions so that the other units could disengage and form a defensive line. 

    At Gumain River, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river.  When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts.  It was there the tankers noted that the Japanese soldiers were high on drugs when they attacked.  Among the dead Japanese, the tankers found the hypodermic needles and syringes.  Bud's worst memory was of this battle.  He recalled that the Japanese attempted to break the Filipino-American line of defense.  The Japanese attacked after dark and the fighting went on all night. The line of defense held by the 192nd almost broke.   When dawn came, the tankers had held onto their position.  The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese for several weeks.  Bud was amazed that he was never wounded.
    The tankers soon found themselves in given the job of holding a defensive line so that the other troops could disengage and form a new defensive line further south.  They repeated this action over and over. 
Bud was involved in a number of battles as a member of Sgt. Walter Cigoi's tank crew. 

    On one occasion, Herb recalled that his platoon had made its bivouac for the night.  The tankers suddenly found shells landing around them.   They believed they were being bombed by enemy planes.  As it turned out, the shells were from American guns firing at a Japanese  convoy that had stopped, for the night, near their bivouac. 
    Bud would later be promoted to sergeant and put in command his own tank.  During the Battle of the Points the tanks were sent in to wipe out Japanese troops that had broken through the main defensive line and than trapped behind the line after the Filipino and American troops pushed the Japanese back.  According to members of the battalion they resorted two ways to wipe out the Japanese.
    The first method was to have three Filipino soldiers sit on the back of the tanks with sacks of hand grenades.  When the Japanese dove back into their foxholes, the tank would go over it and the soldiers would drop three hand grenades into the foxhole.  Since the ordnance was from World War I, one out of three hand grenades would explode.
    The second method was simple.  The tank was parked with one track across the foxhole.   The driver spun the tank on one track.  The tank dug into the dirt until the Japanese soldiers were dead.
 

    The night of April 8, 1942, the tankers received the order "crash."  They circled their tanks.  Each tank fired a armor piecing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it.  They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks.  Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
   After the Japanese made contact with B Company, the members of the company made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.  They were now officially Prisoners of War.  At Mariveles, the Japanese took blankets and other items from the POWs that they could use.  The tankers striped anything from their uniforms that indicated that they were tankers.  They heard the rumor that the Japanese were looking for them.  It took Bud ten days to complete the march.
    According to Bud, the worst part of the march was the lack of water and the heat.  At the end of each day, the POWs were placed in a bull pen for the night.  The next day the prisoners were led out of the pen four at a time.  When 100 men had been counted, their march would start anew.  Only those prisoners who marched were fed.  Those who stayed in the bull pens were not fed or given anything to drink.  Bud, on several occasions, found himself unable to march because of sore feet.   He stayed in the bullpens and went without food or water.   
    The final bull pen Bud was held in was at San Fernando.
When they arrived at San Fernando, they were put in a bull pen.  In one corner was a slit trench that was the washroom for the POWs.  The surface of it moved from the maggots. 

    The POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men.  They were taken to the train station and packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane.  The cars were known as forty or eights since they could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese put 100 POWs into each boxcar.  Those who died remained standing since there was no place to fall.  At Capas, the POWs disembarked and the dead fell to the floor of the cars.  The POWs walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
    As a POW, Herb spent ten days at Camp O'Donnell before being sent to Cabanatuan.  He spent seven of these days sick with pneumonia.  After he arrived at the camp, he was hospitalized with diphtheria on June 27, 1942.  He remained in the hospital until he was discharged on October 10, 1942.  He was again hospitalized on March 23, 1943, but records do not indicate why or the date he was discharged.  As far as it s known, he remained at Cabanatuan until being sent to Japan in July 1943.

    Herb was boarded onto the Clyde Maru on July 23, 1943, for Santa Cruz, Zambales instead of Formosa.  It arrived there the same day and loaded manganese ore.  On July 26th, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa.  It arrived there on July 28th and remained in port while a convoy sailed.  On the trip to Japan, one of the Japanese officers known to the prisoners as "Big Speedo" allowed the POWs out of the hold.  He also made sure that they were fed.   In Herb's own words, "He was a good guy." 

    The ship sailed again on August 5th and arrived at Moji on August 7, 1943.  The POWs disembarked the next day, and were boarded onto a train for a two day trip to Omuta, Kyushu.  When they left the train, most of the POWs marched eighteen miles to their new camp.  A number of POWs were driven to the camp since they were too ill to walk.

    In Japan, he first was imprisoned at Fukuoka #17 with other members of Company B, Jim Bashleben, Lester Tennenberg and Bob Martin.  A short time later, Herb was sent to another camp and unloaded boxcars.  He also built earthen embankments for what the Japanese believed to be the coming invasion of Japan.

    During his imprisonment in Japan, Herb witnessed on several occasions prisoners beaten to death by a guard they called, "The Beast."  This guard would beat prisoners to death with his bare fists.  Herbert believed that this guard received "justice" from several prisoners after the war.

    On several occasions, he experienced signs that the Americans were aware of the POWs .  While unloading ships, a B-29 bomber flew over the docks taking pictures.  The plane circled the POWs letting them know that its crew knew the POWs were there.  The plane then dropped a map to the POWs that showed the location of every camp.

    On a different occasion, an American bombing mission leveled the town his camp was located next to.  The camp was next to a power station.  In the morning, the prisoners saw that the entire town had been leveled except for the power plant.  It was located too close to the camp.

    The last camp Herb was held at was located 75 miles from Nagasaki.  Although he did not see the atomic bomb because he was working in a mine, he heard about a "big boom."  It was not long before the Japanese assembled the prisoners and announced to them that they were free.  The Japanese told the former POWs that they could leave, but that they should leave behind the things they really did not need.

    Herbert then spent the next month roaming Japan before returning to the United States.  He was also promoted to staff sergeant.  Returning to Maywood, he would marry Audrey McRitchie in 1947 and became the father of three sons and a daughter.  He served as a Du Page County (Illinois) Board member for many years.  When he retired, he and his wife moved to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.   His wife passed away in 2003.

    Herbert Kirchhoff passed away on June 10, 2015, in Coeur d' Arlene, Idaho.  He was buried, next to his wife, at Oakridge-Glen Oak Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois.


 


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