Lawton_D

 

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 Battalion.
    When the tankers arrived at the fort, their barracks were unfinished, so they lived in tents.  A typical day for the soldiers started in 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress.  Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics at 8:00 to 8:30.  Afterwards, the tankers went to various schools within the company.  The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics.
   At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M.  Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13th, such as: mechanics, tank driving, radio operating.   At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat.  Afterwards, retreat was at 5:50.  After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played.   

    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 192nd was boarded onto the U.S. A. T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th.  During this part of the trip, many of the tankers suffered from seasickness.  Once they recovered, they spent their time breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP.  The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. 
    On Wednesday, November 5th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S. S. Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th.  During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.  On Saturday, November 15th, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.  The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
    When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day.  At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning.  At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
    At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field.  He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.  Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
    The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg.  The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent.  There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.  
    For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons.  The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance as they readied their tanks to take part in maneuvers.
    On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  From this time on, two tank crew members, or half-track crew members, remained with each vehicle at all times and received their meals from food trucks.    
    The morning of December 8th, December 7th in the United States, the 192nd was ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field.  A week earlier, they had been given assigned positions around the airfield to guard against enemy paratroopers.  At 8:30, the American planes took off and filled the sky.  They landed at noon and lined up near the mess hall while the pilots went to lunch.    
    The tankers were eating lunch when a formation of 54 planes was spotted approaching the airfield from the north.  The tankers believed the planes were American. As they watched, "raindrops" fell from the planes.  When bombs exploded on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.    
    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use.  When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building.  Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.  
    On December 12th, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it would be close to a highway and railroad against sabotage.  They remained there until they were ordered north to rejoin the 192nd.
    On December 23rd and 24th, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write.  After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening but successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
    From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River.  On December 25th, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.
    On a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30th, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries.  The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks' machine guns.  As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac.  When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened up on them.  When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion.  To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.       
    At Gumain River, the night of December 31st to the morning of January 1st, 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.  The Japanese were taking heavy casualties, so they attempted to use smoke to cover their advance, but the wind blew the smoke into the Japanese.  When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had suffered fifty percent casualties. 
    On January 1st, the tanks were holding the Calumpit Bridge allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to cross the bridge toward Bataan.  General Wainwright was attempting to hold the main Japanese force coming down Route 5 to prevent the troops from being cut off.  General MacArthur's chief of staff gave conflicting orders involving whose command the defenders were under which caused confusion.  Gen. Wainwright was not aware these orders had been given.
    Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River.  Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted.  From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.      
    A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read.  The company returned to the 192nd on January 8, 1942.
    On January 28th, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.  They also took part in the Battle of the Pockets and the Battle of the Points.       

    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.    
    To wipe out the Japanese two methods were employed.  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 usually explode.
    The second method was simple.  The tank was parked with one track across the foxhole.  The driver gave power to the opposite track and spun the tank dragging the other track.  The tank dug into the dirt until the Japanese soldiers were dead.
    The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat.  The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten.  They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry.  To make things worse, the soldiers' rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942.  This meant that they only ate two meals a day.   
    The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantly clad blond on them.  The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
    During the Battle of the Points, on March 2nd and 3rd, 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 toward the sea and wiped them out.
   The company's last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Mariveles and looking out on the China Sea.  By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way.  Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave.  When asked about the Philippines, he said, "There are times when men must die."  The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
    On April 4, 1942, the Japanese launched a attack supported by artillery and aircraft.  A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano.  This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.  When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.
    On April 9, 1942, he became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese.  The tankers disabled their tanks and waited for the Japanese to make contact with them.  When they did, the tankers, who were now Prisoners of War, were ordered to Mariveles.

    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 immediately. 

    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.


 

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