|S/Sgt. Walter John Mahr
S/Sgt. Walter J. Mahr was born in Oak Park, Illinois,
on March 5, 1922, and was the son of Conrad Mahr &
Anna Miller-Mahr. With his two brothers and two
sisters, he lived at 408 South 13th Avenue in Maywood,
Illinois. He attended St. Paul Lutheran Grade
School in Melrose Park, Illinois, and Proviso Township
High School in Maywood, where he was a member of the
Class of 1940.
Walter had enlisted in the Illinois National Guard while he was still in high school. He did this because the National Guard unit in Maywood was a tank company and he loved to tinker with machinery to see how it worked, so the tank outfit seemed perfect for him.
In November 1940, the 33rd Tank Company was called into federal service as B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. The soldiers reported for duty on November 25th and marched to the Chicago & North Western train station in Maywood on November 28th, where they boarded a train for Fort Knox, Kentucky. When they arrived at the fort, they lived in tents,with stoves in them, since their barracks had not been completed.
Walter was transferred to Headquarters Company when the company was created in January 1941. He was assigned to the company as a member of one of the three tanks assigned to the company. In June 1941, when Corporal George Smith was relieved of his duties in ordnance to become a tank crew member, Walter was promoted to corporal and took over his duties.
In late summer of 1941, the 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers. While taking part in these maneuvers, the members did not know that they had already been selected for duty in the Philippine Islands. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk instead of returning to Ft. Knox as they had expected. It was on the side of a hill, that they learned the were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, they knew PLUM stood for "Philippines, Luzon, Manila." Most men received leaves home to say their goodbyes.
In October 1941, the 192nd left Camp Polk, Louisiana, with new tanks from the 753rd Tank Battalion. Men 29 years old or older were released from federal service. Many of their replacements came from the 753rd.
The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco over different train routes. Arriving there, they were ferried to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. At Ft. McDowell, on the island, they were given physicals and inoculated. Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, as part of a three ship convoy. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd. The soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. On Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the shipping lanes. During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship, was seen on the horizon. The cruiser that was escorting the two transports revved its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam, 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. 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. The ships entered Manila Bay at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th and docked at Pier 7 later that day. The soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Other who were assigned to trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section of the battalion remained behind at the pier to unload tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward King, who apologized that the men 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 that they 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.
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. It was at this time that Walter wrote a letter home. His only complaint about the Philippines was he didn't like the climate. He also regretted that he would not be home for Christmas.
On Monday, December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard it against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion was assigned the northern half of the airfield while the 192nd protected the southern half. At all times, two crew members had two remain with their tank or half-track and received their meals from food trucks. HQ Company made sure that the companies had what they needed.
The morning of December 8, 1941, just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the tankers were ordered the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. All morning long as they sat on their tanks, they watched as American planes filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed.
As the tankers were having lunch, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. Since they had few weapons that could be used against Japanese, they could do is watch.
On December 21st, the 192nd was sent to Lingayen Gulf in an attempt to stop the Japanese from landing troops. From this point on the tanks would hold a defensive position until a new defensive line was formed and than withdraw from the position. They repeated this operation over and over again.
Walter and his crew were involved in tank action against the Japanese. Walter was the member of the tank crew of Sgt. Raymond P. Mason and Pvt. Quincey Humphries, and Pvt. LD Marrs. Walter's tank was advancing on Japanese positions outside of Tarlec and was a good distance in front of its support troops. Because of this situation, the Japanese were able to disable the tank by knocking off one of its treads and cutting it off from the support troops. Walter, Sgt. Mason. Pvt. Marrs, and Pvt. Humphries were ordered out of the tank by the Japanese. When they left the tank, they were told to run.
As they ran, the Japanese fired at them with machine guns. Sgt. Mason was killed instantly, but Walter, Humphries, and Marrs managed to make it to a sugarcane field and hid. It was in this field that Walter was found, with wounds on his legs, the next day. Humphries and Marrs were not seen again and believed to have been captured by the Japanese. Walter was taken to a field hospital for medical treatment.
When Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese, Walter became a Prisoner of War. He took part in the death march and spent time at Camp O'Donnell. The camp was an unfinished Filipino Army Base that the Japanese put in to use as a POW camp. There was only one water spigot for the entire camp. The death rate among the POWs skyrocketed.
To lower the death rate, the Japanese opened a new POW camp Cabanatuan. Walter was sent to the camp when it opened. According to records kept by the camp's medical staff, Walter was admitted to the camp hospital on Thursday, June 18, 1942, suffering from cerebral malaria. The same records indicate that he died, at 20 years old, of cerebral malaria on Tuesday, June 23, 1942, about 6:00 P.M. in the evening and was buried in the camp cemetery.
After the war, S/Sgt. Walter J. Mahr was reburied in Plot L, Row 11, Grave 138, at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila. It should be noted that his cross inaccurately shows him as a member of the 194th Tank Battalion. This is most likely the result of him being identified as a member of the battalion while he was hospitalized at Cabanatuan.
The photo, to the left, shows his name on the memorial wall at Cabanatuan Prison Camp, while the one on the right shows his grave at the cemetery.
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