1st/Sgt. Dale E. Lawton
| 1st Sgt. Dale
E. Lawton was born January 18, 1912, to Troy W.
Lawton & Emma Huston-Lawton in North
Dakota. With his two brothers and sister he
grew up in LaFarge, North Dakota, and was a 1931
graduate of LaFarge High School. Before the
war, he moved to Janesville, worked at Chevrolet
plant, and lived at 1108 South Bouchard Avenue.
It was during this time that he joined the 32nd
Tank Company of the Wisconsin National
Guard. On November 28, 1940, he traveled
to Fort Knox, Kentucky, when the tank company
was federalized as A Company, 192nd Tank
After training at Ft. Knox for nearly a year, Dale took part in maneuvers in Louisiana in the fall of 1941. It was at Camp Polk, Louisiana, that he and the other members of the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas. Being 29 years old, Dale was given the opportunity to resign from federal service but chose to stay with his company.
The battalion traveled by train to San
Francisco, California, and were taken to Ft.
McDowell on Angel Island. On the island,
they received inoculations and physicals, and
those members of the battalion who were found to
have treatable medical conditions remained
behind on the island. They were scheduled
to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while
others were simply replaced.
The company also took part in the Battle of the
Pockets. The Japanese offensive had been
stopped and two groups of Japanese soldiers were
trapped behind the main line of defense.
The tanks were sent in to help eliminate the
pockets. The tanks would
enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank
in the pocket. Another tank did not enter
the pocket until the tank, which had been
relieved, had left the pocket.
A Company made their way to Mariveles where they
were held in an open field. When they
ordered to move, they had no idea that they had
started what they called "the march." At
one point, they had to run past Japanese
artillery firing on Corregidor which was
returning fire. Shells form the island
landed around them as they ran. It
took him six days to complete it. He
quickly learned that the best way to stay out of
trouble was to obey orders from the Japanese
With Dale did the march with Forrest Knox and Herb Durner of his company. As Dale made his way to San Fernando, he and the other POWs had no food and no water. He saw men bayoneted for trying to get water from the artesian wells that flowed across the road along the way.
Dale recalled that he and the other prisoners were allowed to sit in the sun for hours while the Japanese awaited orders. This became known as the sun treatment. When the POWs had enough and began finding shade to sit in, the Japanese would order them to start marching.
One night on the march, he and the other prisoners were held in outside a warehouse. Some of the Filipinos POWs had managed to get rice while on the march. When the Japanese saw them build fires to cook the rice, the Japanese went around killing the Filipinos. Since this was one of the few places where the POWs were fed, Dale stayed in the warehouse for another day for food.
When Dale reached San Fernando, he was put into a small wooden boxcar used to haul sugarcane and rode a train to Capas. Unlike many of the other trains, the Japanese left the doors of the cars open. As the train passed, the Filipinos threw food through the open doors to the POWs. The only problem was that there just wasn't enough food. At Capas, the POWs were let out of the cars and walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Dale seeing the conditions in the camp decided that he had to get out of it. When a work detail was created to gather scrap metal, he volunteered to go out on it. Ten men from each company of the 192nd were selected for the detail. With him in his group were Philip Parish, John Wood, Ken Schoeberle, Forrest Teal and Lewis Wallisch from A Company.
The POWs were taken back to Mariveles, but after arriving there it was decided that they be sent to Calauan to rebuild bridges. Arriving there, they were joined by Joseph McCrea and Bill Nolan.
Dale and his group were next sent to Batangas
and later Candaleria to rebuild bridges
there. When the detail ended, he was sent
to Manila to another work detail. On this
detail, he was reunited with Alva Chapman, Lloyd
Richter, Forest Knox and Owen Sandmire of A
Company. On the detail, the POWs drove
trucks without being guarded.
On October 10, 1942, Dale was sent to Cabanatuan because he had come down with malaria, and he was also showing the first signs of beriberi. When Dale began to recover, he was expected to work the burial detail. He and another first sergeant flipped a coin to see which one would work the detail. Dale won the coin toss and did not have to work the detail.
It was about this time that the first Americans were sent to Japan. According to Dale, the first POWs to be selected for transport were the generals. The Japanese next took other officers and finally enlisted men.
Since his diet was so poor, Dale began having vision problems. In addition, he was still suffering from beriberi. Physically, he had reached the point that he was blind and unable to walk, so he was taken to the camp hospital and remained in the hospital from January 1, 1943, until March 3, 1944.
During his time in the hospital, Dale was taken to the experimental ward. The American doctors having few medical supplies attempted to find alternative methods to help the patients. The doctors were successful at getting some of Dale's vision back.
Around this time, the Japanese also became interested in beriberi and the pain that came with it. They began to perform experiments on the POWs with B-1 vitamins and spinal puncture. Dale recalled that Carl Nickols received treatment and walked out without the cane he had been using to get around. Dale believed more POWs came out of the experiments in worse shape than they were in before they were treated.
Dale also recalled that the POWs had a celebration the first day that no prisoners died in the camp. This did not mean men no longer died, what it meant was that they weren't dying every day.
When he was healthier, Dale went to work on the camp farm. He also was sent out from the camp to build an airfield. To reach the airfield the POWs walked eight miles each way. By this time, his clothing was a G-string since his uniform had disintegrated. For shoes, Dale wore rags wrapped around his feet.
On September 21, 1944, Dale saw his first American planes since before the surrender of Bataan. He and the other POWs knew that the planes were a sign that the Americans were coming back. To Dale, it looked as if there were thousands of American planes in the sky. Although they were happy, the POWs did not dare show it out of fear of being beaten. The guards attempted to bait the prisoners by asking them if they thought the planes were American. The POWs would simply say that they didn't know if they were American planes.
As the war continued, the Japanese knew that it was just time until the Americans invaded the Philippines, they began to ship most of the prisoners to Japan. In December, 1944, the last of the POWs who could walk and not seriously sick were shipped to Japan from Cabanatuan.
Since Dale was not selected for shipment to Japan, he presumed that even though he was healthier, he was still considered too ill for Japan. It was at this time that rumors spread among the prisoners that the Americans had landed in the Philippines.
The first time Dale saw P-38's he knew that that Americans had landed troops in the Philippines. The P-38's were too big of planes to be flown off a carrier.
The morning of January 7, 1945, the Japanese abandoned the camp. Before they left, the camp commander told them that if they stayed in the camp they would be safe. The POWs wondered if the Japanese were going to return to kill them.
During this time, the prisoners raided the camp warehouse for food and clothing. Dale had his first knew clothes in years. Three days later, the Japanese posted guards at the camp who were soldiers who had been crippled in battle.
On January 30, 1945, small American planes flew over Cabanatuan. The POWs knew something was up, they just had no idea what it was. Two days later on February 1, 1945, at 7:30 in the evening, American Rangers liberated the camp and brought the POWs eighteen miles through Japanese lines to freedom.
Dale remembered that after he was safely behind American lines, he was greeted by an American soldier from Janesville. He and the former POWs were treated as if they were heroes.
Dale was returned to the United States on the U.S.S. General A. E. Anderson arriving in the United States on March 8, 1945. Later in the month, Dale returned to Janesville. He was the first member of A Company to return to Janesville. In many cases, he provided the families with the first news that they had heard about their sons.
Dale was discharged from the army on July 30, 1946. In November 1946, Dale married Mary Nickols. The couple became the parents of three children. He worked at the General Motors Assembly Plant in Janesville and served on the Janesville City Council. Dale spent the rest of his life in Janesville.
Dale Lawton passed away on December 31, 1967. He was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Janesville, Wisconsin.