Pvt. Joseph Donald Lajzer
| Pvt. Joseph D. Lajzer was born on
October 30, 1918, in Toledo, Ohio. He was
one of five sons and two daughters born to Peter
& Katherine Lazjer. With his three
brothers and two sisters, he lived at 3345 Maple
Street in Toledo and attended St. Albert's School
and then Webster Elementary School. He
attended Woodward High School for three years but
left to support his family. Joe worked
constructing a park with the Civilian Conservation
During Joe's training, he was trained as a tank driver and to do maintenance work on machine guns. He then was sent to Camp Polk Louisiana with the 753rd in 1941. At Camp Polk, he volunteered to join the 192nd Tank Battalion. The battalion had been selected for overseas duty and needed replacements for men who had been determined "too old" to go overseas. After volunteering, he was assigned to Company B.
The 192nd's deployment to the Philippines was
code named "PLUM." This was suppose to be
a secret move. One day Joe and three other
members of B Company went to a local
tavern. When the waitress saw him she
said, " Hey Joe! I hear you're going to the
Philippine Islands. Your code name is
PLUM." Joe thought to himself that it
wasn't much of a secret if the civilians knew
where they were going.
As a member of Company B, Joseph was assigned to ordnance and worked with Pvt. Carl Maggio and 1st Sgt. Roger Heilig. The men made sure that the tanks had the ammunition, food and gasoline they needed.
Joe and Pvt. Carl Maggio were sitting outside their tent loading machinegun belts. They had heard the news about Pearl Harbor from the medics but did not believe it. As they worked they heard a noise, Joe and Carl looked up and saw planes. Since they all knew B-17s were suppose to be landing at Clark Field, Joe paid little attention to the planes.
When he heard the sound of bombs exploding Joe took off for cover. He remembered seeing men running in every direction. About two blocks from his tent, he found a ditch that was being dug and dove into it. He shared the trench with two Filipinos. Doing something was better than just sitting there, so Joe pulled out his .45 and started shooting at the planes.
Being assigned to ordnance Joe and 1st Sgt. Roger Heilig worked to get the tanks the supplies they needed. It was while Joe was doing this job that he met a British officer. The officer asked Joe and three other men if they could shoot a .45. Each took a turn attempting to hit a 1917 can of rations. Joe was the only one to hit it. The officer made Joe his Bren-gun carrier driver.
Joe drove the Bren-gun carrier for one or two weeks. Joe would drive the officer to the front. He would stop the carrier and the officer would get out. He told Joe to wait for him for an hour and if he didn't return to leave without him. The fifth day they did this Joe waited the hour. The officer did not return. Joe waited a second hour, after that hour Joe returned to the bivouac area. He never saw the officer again.
Joe was next posted on a machine-gun detail with two other members of the 192nd. They each worked a two hour shift. The machine-gun covered an area which the Japanese could attack through. One night Joe was doing his shift when a Sgt. Chuck Kimberly told him of the surrender. He finished they shift and left the other two men sleep. The next morning they destroyed the machine-gun. Not that long afterwards, Japanese soldiers came through the clearing that their machine-gun had covered.
The Japanese soldiers searched Joe and the others. The first soldier took his watch. The next Japanese soldier took his lighter and gave him matches. A third soldier took the matches.
Joe and his company made their way to Mariveles. The men stayed there for a day. They were fed a spoonful of rice and a square piece of bacon. Joe and two other men pulled their food so that they would each get a larger portion.
Joe took part in the death march and recalled that the POWs had no food, no water and no rest. On the march, he tried to help the weaker POWs to march. One of these was Maj. Havelock Nelson.
On the fourth of the march, Joe and the other Prisoners Of War heard a rumor that the injured would be driven to the POW camp. Joe began to act like he was lame. He slowly began to fall behind his group. To his left was a guard, the guard looked at Joe and chased him with his bayonet pointed at Joe. He recalled that the prisoners marched well into the night. As they marched, they were unaware that they were marching on the bodies of the dead who had been run over by Japanese trucks.
At San Fernando, about 100 POWs were packed into a boxcar. Those who died remained standing until the car was emptied at Capas. When the prisoners got off the train, there were Japanese offering them money to buy food. Joe did not take it but knew others did.
The first camp Joseph was held in was Camp O'Donnell. When he got there, the POWs were searched. Joe noticed a separate group of POWs. He counted 38 men. Joe learned that these men had been found with items that indicated they were Japanese. These men were to be executed. Joe was recalled that he was thankful that he had not taken the money at Capas. He was even more thankful that the Japanese soldier had taken the matches from him.
Joe recalled that they sleep on the ground. He went out on a work detail to a sawmill. The POWs had to pick up a log and carry it to the mill. This was hard physical work. In the Philippines, he also was imprisoned at Cabanatuan, Lipa Batangas, Camp Murphy and Bilibid Prison.
Joe was sent to Cabanatuan after the saw mill
detail. He began to suffer form
hemorrhoids and was put into "Zero Ward" on
Tuesday, September 9, 1942. He recalled
that he was surrounded by men dying. To
get out of the ward, Joe would take a
walk. It would take him four hours to walk
a block and four more to walk back. He was
finally discharged on Friday, October 16th.
From Cabanatuan, Joe was sent to Lipa Batangas. While mixing cement, Joseph forgot to put the specified amount of cement in the mixer. He covered his mistake by sprinkling dry cement over the concrete that had already been poured. He was lucky and was not caught. In all likelihood, if he had been caught doing this he would have been killed. As it turned out, one day a Japanese transport plane hit this spot when it was landing and went off the runway and crashed.
It was while building runways at Lipa Batangas that Joe and his fellow POW's had one of the few moments that could be described as humorous. The POWs had been working in the hot sun and wanted a break. Joe being the brave one went up to the Japanese officer in charge of the detail and in his gutter Japanese asked the officer for a break for the POWs. The officer did not respond. Joe returned to his fellow POWs cursing in English and Polish about the officer.
Again, his fellow POWs convinced Joe to go up to the officer and request a break. Joe again approached the officer and in his gutter Japanese asked for a break. When the officer did not respond a second time, Joe began to curse in Polish and English. The officer looked at him and said in perfect English that Joe was right and that the men deserved a break. Joe felt pretty silly.
When the officer got done talking, Joe asked him where he had learned to speak English. As it turned out, the officer had been educated at a university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He told Joe he returned to Japan to visit his mother and father and that the Japanese government would not let him out of the country.
Later in the day a American sergeant escaped. During the escape a Japanese soldier had been killed. The Japanese had forty Filipinos and seven GIs lined up. A Japanese lieutenant had a hat with 22 pieces of paper in it. He came up to Joe and the POWs he was with and told each man to pullout a sheet of paper. Three sheets of paper had "Xs" on them. He told them that the men who pulled out the sheets with the "Xs" would be killed. The other lieutenant who went to the school in the U. S. came by and asked what was going on. When he found out, he said to the second Japanese officer that Joe and the other POWs had been with him and would not be executed.
Joe was sent to Bilibid and stayed in the prison for about a month. He was boarded onto "hell ship" the Hokusen Maru on October 1, 1944. After sailing on October 3rd, the convoy the ship was in was attacked by American submarines twice. The ship was only of four ships to reach Hong Kong on October 11th. The POWs were held in the ship's holds for ten days until it sailed for Formosa. It arrived on October 24th at Takao, Formosa. POWs spent 38 days in the hold of the ship on the way to Formosa. Joe recalled that he did not go to the washroom for fifteen days.
Many of the POWs disembarked the ship and held in camps on Formosa. The Japanese told the POWs that if the Americans invaded Formosa that they would all be killed. In Formosa, he was assigned to OKA Camp. There he did slave labor and constructed runways. Joe also worked on a sanitation detail at one of the camps. Two men would carry a bucket and dump it into a concrete pool. While on Formosa, Joseph also was held at Heito and Taihoku #6. Joe was one of eleven Americans held in his camp.
Joseph and the other prisoners had no idea how the war was going. The first hint that something was happening was when they saw B-29s and P-38s over the island. The P-38's were involved in dogfights with Japanese planes. Around September 1st, 1945 food was dropped to the POW's from planes. The Japanese then gave each POW five cigarettes and a handful of peanuts. The POWs were told that they did not have to work that day.
On September 6, 1945, the U. S. Navy came to the island and the POWs were liberated. In September 1945, Joseph was returned to the Philippine Islands and then sent by troop ship to San Francisco.
The photograph at the top of this page was taken immediately after Joe was liberated from the POW camp on Formosa.
Joseph Lajzer married, Adelina Lopez, and became a father of two children. He reenlisted, but this time in the U.S. Air Force. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War. He was a airplane mechanic at Kelly Air Force Base. When he retired from the Air Force, he resided in San Antonio, Texas.
Joseph Lazjer passed away on March 16, 2013, in San Antonio, Texas. He was buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas.