O'Connell

Sgt. Joseph Henry O'Connell


    Sgt. Joseph H. O'Connell was son of William & Margaret O'Connell and born on May 15, 1924, in Indiana.  He grew up on Rural Route #2 in Harmony Township, Rock County, Wisconsin, with his three brothers.   While in high school, Joseph joined the Wisconsin National Guard.  He was only sixteen years old when his tank company was called to federal duty as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion in November of 1940.  This resulted him leaving high school, at sixteen, to fulfill his military obligation.

    Joseph trained for almost a year at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  While he was there, he received his high school diploma in 1941.  In February, 1941, Joseph was assigned to Headquarters Company was formed from the four letter companies of the 192nd.   He was a clerk for the company.  

    In the late summer of 1941, Joseph took part in the Louisiana maneuvers.  After these maneuvers, Joseph and the other members of the battalion learned that their one year of military service had been extended from one to six years.  He received a pass home to say goodbye to his family and friends.
    From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes.  Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Those with health issues were released from service and replaced.
    The battalion sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii, on the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott, as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover.  The soldiers received passes and allowed to explore the islands.  They sailed again on October 29th for Guam.  When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water.  The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay.  After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked.  Most of the battalion boarded trucks and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila.
    At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward King.  King welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed.  He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.

    Seventeen days days after arriving in the Philippine Islands, Joseph lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.  When the planes appeared over the airfield and the bombs began hitting the ground, Joseph ordered his half track to move about a mile from the runway.  It was from that position that his crew began shooting at the planes.  It was at this time that he was given command of a half track.

    For the next four months, Joseph worked to supply the tank crews with information to fight against the Japanese.  On one occasion, Joseph was attempting to locate the A Company tanks.  He was not having too much luck since the tanks were constantly on the move.  As he sat in his half track he heard tanks approaching, to his surprise, it was his company's tanks.  They had received orders to withdraw from the area and head to the south.  If they had not ran into him, he would have been left behind and fallen into Japanese hands.  Since he had no radio, he had not heard the order to withdraw.

    On another occasion, he was at the battalion's headquarters.  The tanks were in contact with HQ by radio.  As he listened, he heard the conversation between the tanks as they fought a running battle with the Japanese.  While they were fighting the Japanese, the tankers were attempting to find a place where they could cross the Agoo River.

    In a third incident, Joseph's halftrack was sent to San Jose in the Nueva Ecija Province, as they drove they passed a truck loaded with ammunition stuck in a ditch.   They stopped to help the driver.  Not too long after they got there, the Japanese began firing on them with mortars.  The shelling got so bad that the Americans abandoned their attempt to save the truck and ammunition.

    When Philippines were surrendered, Joseph became a Prisoner of War.  From Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan, Joseph started what he and the other POWs called, "The March".  At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars that could hold eight horses or forty men.  One hundred men were packed into each car.  At Capas, the living left the cars and the dead fell to the ground.
    Joseph made his way to Camp O'Donnell an unfinished Philippine Army training base that the Japanese pressed into service as a POW camp.  The death rate at the camp was high with as many as 55 POWs dying each day.  The POWs got their water from one spigot which served the entire camp. 
    The Japanese finally acknowledged that they needed to do something, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.  It is not known if Joseph went directly to the camp or if he was sent to the camp after a work detail came to an end.  After arriving in the camp, Joseph was hospitalized on August 14, 1942, suffering from diphtheria.  He was discharged from the hospital on September 10, 1945.  On Tuesday, September 24th, he was readmitted to the hospital suffering from post-diphtheria paralysis.  He recovered and was discharge a second time.

    Joseph was held at Camp O'Donnell, Cabanatuan and Bilibid Prison in the Philippines.  He would later be taken to Japan on the Clyde Maru.  The ship sailed on July 23, 1943,  but instead of heading to Formosa, it sailed to Santa Cruz, Zambales.  There, it loaded manganese ore.  It sailed again, three days later, on July 26th arriving at  Takao, Formosa, on July 28th. 

    On August 5th, the Clyde Maru sailed again.  It arrived at Moji, Japan, on August 7th.  The next day the POWs disembarked the ship and were taken to a train station.  After a two day train trip, Joseph reached the Fukuoka #17.  Although the date is unknown, Joseph was transferred to Fukuoka #1.
    Joseph was liberated at the end of the war and returned to the Philippines for medical treatment.  He returned home on the U.S.S. Joseph Dychman arriving at San Francisco on October 16, 1945. 
He returned to Janesville after the war and was discharged from the army on June 3, 1946.  He went back to school and attended Milton College in Milton, Wisconsin, and Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.  He married, Jean Ouger on May 16, 1946 in Lake Park, Minnesota.  The couple became the parents of four children.  Joseph spent much of his adult life as a employment counselor to the disabled.  Joseph H. O'Connell died in March 15, 1981, in Galveston, Texas. 

    Joseph O'Connell is buried at Sam Houston National Cemetery in Houston, Texas, in Section A, Site  764. 


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