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, Wisconsin, and was a 1931
graduate of LaFarge High School. Before the
war, he moved to Janesville and worked at
Chevrolet plant. In Janesville, he lived at
1108 South Bouchard Avenue.
It was during this time that he joined the 32nd Tank Company of the Wisconsin National Guard. In the fall of 1940, he traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky duty when the tank company was federalized as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
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. He chose to stay with his company.
The battalion traveled by train to
San Francisco. By ferry, they
were taken to Ft. McDowell on Angel
Island. On the island, they
received inoculations and
physicals. Those members of
the battalion who were found to have
treatable medical conditions
remained behind on the island.
They were scheduled to join the
battalion at a later date.
Dale was at Clark Field when news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor reached his company. Around 12:45 in the afternoon, planes appeared over the airfield. When bombs began exploding, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese.
Dale fought for the next four months attempting to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines. On April 9, 1942, he became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese.
Dale and A Company made their way to Mariveles. They were held in an open field. Behind them, Japanese artillery fired on the island fortress of Corregidor. When Corregidor returned fire, shells began landing around them resulting in the deaths of POWs.
Dale took part in what became known as the death march. 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 immediately.
With Dale on the march were Forrest Knox and Herb Durner. 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. This was one of the few places where the POWs were fed, so Dale stayed in the warehouse for another day for food.
When Dale reached San Fernando, he was put into a small boxcar and rode a train to Capas. The doors of the cars were 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 October 10, 1942, Dale was sent to Cabanatuan because he had come down with malaria. 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.
About this time, the POWs had their first meat since the surrender. Some Filipinos sold Caribou to the camps. Each man was given one bite of meat.
Sometime during his imprisonment, Dale went out on a work detail to Las Pinas. The POWs on the detail built runways with picks and shovels. He later returned to Cabanatuan.
It was also at 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 then 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. He was taken to the camp hospital. He would remain 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. This did not mean that no one died, what it meant was that the men still died but not 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 and the Japanese knew that it was just time until the Americans would invade the Philippines, they began to ship most of the prisoners to Japan. In December, 1945, 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 reposted guards at the camp. These guard 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.