Peterson_R

 

S/Sgt. Robert E. Peterson


    S/Sgt. Robert E. Peterson was born on March 6, 1921, to John E. Peterson and Maibel I. Schwarz-Peterson in Chicago, Illinois.  With his brother, Roy, and his sister, June, he was raised at 906 South Ninth Avenue in Maywood, Illinois.  His father was the Chief of Police in Maywood.  After high school, he worked as a underwriter for Aetna Insurance Company.

    Bob attended school in Maywood and was a 1938 graduate of Proviso Township High School.  At the age of fifteen, he got his parents to sign his enlistment papers to join the 33rd Tank Company of the Illinois National Guard on June 12, 1936.  He remained in the National Guard until June 11, 1939, when he was discharged.

    On October 1, 1939, Bob reenlisted in the National Guard with his two best boyhood friends, Jim Bainbridge and Ray Vadenbroucke.  A few weeks later the company was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for what was suppose to be a year of training.

    From November, 1940 to the late summer of 1941, the men of the 192nd Tank Battalion trained in offensive tanks tactics.  During this time Ray attended cryptology school.  In the late summer of 1941, the battalion was sent to take part in maneuvers at Camp Polk, Louisiana.  He also became the platoon sergeant of  the first tank platoon.

    It was after the maneuvers in Louisiana that Bob and the other members of the battalion learned they were being sent overseas.  Bob was given leave, said his goodbyes and returned to Camp Polk to prepare for duty overseas.
    The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco.  Arriving there, they were taken by ferry to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.  At Ft. McDowell, 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.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd.  The soldiers were given leaves so they could see the island.  On Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed for Guam.
   
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.  When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables.  The ships sailed the same day for Manila and entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th.  They docked at Pier 7 and the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. 
   At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward King.  The general apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.  He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own.  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 loaded ammunition belts and worked at cleaning the cosmoline out of their weapons.  They were scheduled to take part in maneuvers.

    On December 8, 1941, Carl's company was ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard it against Japanese paratroopers.  That morning they had been informed of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  He and the other tankers watched the attack on Clark Field since most of their weapons were useless against airplanes.  They fought the best they could with weapons that were not designed to fight aircraft.

     On December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Bob lived through the attack on Clark Field.  The tankers were assigned to guarding the perimeter of the airfield to prevent the Japanese from using paratroopers.

    After the Japanese landed troopers at Lingayen Bay, Bob and the other tankers were sent north.  From this time on, the tanks were used as a rear guard to hold a position so that the Filipino and American troops could withdraw.

    On January 31, 1942, Bob wrote a letter to his parents.  His family received the letter on March 31st.  In the letter he stated, "Things are a terrible mess."  He told his parents he was getting enough food and that they should not worry about him. 

    The tanks of B Company and C Company engaged the Japanese and wiped out what became known as Tuol Pocket.  Next, Bob and the rest of B Company was given the duty of guarding the east coast of the Bataan Peninsula from possible Japanese invasion.

    During the day, the tanks would hide under the jungle umbrella.  At night, the tanks would pull out onto the beaches.  One night, while he was on this duty that Bob and the other tankers were involved in a firefight with Japanese barges that were attempting to land troops. 

    On February 3, 1942, while on this duty, Bob lived through a strafing and bombing by the Japanese.  Everyday, "Recon Joe" would fly over attempting to locate the tanks.  After one member of the company attempted to shoot him down, the Japanese sent in fighters to strafe and bomb.  Three members of B Company died during the attack.  Bob was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.

    On April 9, 1942, Bob and the rest of the 192nd became Prisoners Of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese.  Bob and those members of the company who did not escape to Corregidor made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.  After being searched, Bob started what became known as the Death March.

    Bob, Jim Bainbridge and Ray Vadenbroucke made the march together.  Jim Bainbridge was ill with dysentery, so Bob and Ray carried him between them.  At San Fernando, the three soldiers were packed into a boxcar.  At Capas, they disembarked and walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell.

    Since conditions at Camp O'Donnell were extremely bad, Bob, Ray and Jim went out on a work detail to collect scrap metal.  The POWs would tie ropes between cars or trucks and then tow them to San Fernando.  Each man sat in a vehicle and steered it as it was pulled.  When the detail ended, but was sent to Cabanatuan.  According to records kept by the medical staff he was admitted to the camp hospital on June 30, 1942.  The records do not indicate what the illness was or when he was discharged.

    Bob was transferred to Bilibid Prison outside of Manila because of malnutrition.  He remained at Bilibid until April 1943, when he was returned to Cabanatuan.  During his time as a POW, in addition to malnutrition, he also suffered from dysentery, beriberi, and pneumonia.

    On August 13 1943, the POWs were taken, by train, to the Port Area of Manila.  The POWs were boarded onto the Noto Maru on August 25th, and packed into one hold.  The ship sailed, as part of a four ship convoy, on the 27th but dropped anchor off Bataan.  On its trip to Formosa depth charges were dropped since American submarines were believed to be in the area of the ships.  During the voyage, the prisoners heard a "bang" under the ship.   They assumed that it was a torpedo from an American submarine.

    The ships arrived at Takao, Formosa, on August 30th.  The convoy sailed again on August 31st and arrived at Moji, Japan, September 4th. 
    During the trip to Japan, the POWs were packed into the ship's hold so tightly that they could not use the the half barrel that was suppose to be the toilet.  The floor of the hold was covered in human waste since most of the men were suffering from dysentery.  The smell got so bad that the Japanese covered the hatch of the hold.  The POWs received water twice a day and were fed once a day. 
 

    As the ship made its way to Japan men died of sickness and starvation.  With each death, there was more room in the ship's hold.  The bodies of the dead were hosted out of the hold by ropes and dumped in the sea.  The suction of the ship's propellers pulled the bodies into them and resulted in the bodies being cut up.    The Japanese finally decided that the only way to deal with the smell coming from the hold was to bring the POWs on deck and wash them down with seawater.  They also washed down the floor of the hold at the same time.

    Once at Moji, the POWs were broken into two groups.  Bob's group of POWs were marched to the train station and taken by train to the camps along the line.  Forest's POW detachment was taken to Sendai Camp #6, arriving at the camp on September 4th.  In the camp, he was designated POW #98.
    The POWs were housed in barracks with two tiers of bunks.   They were issued Japanese clothing made of thin cloth and shoes with webbing between two toes.  The POWs worked in a copper mine owned by Mitsubishi.  Each day, the POWs were marched up the side of a mountain to the top and then down into the mine.  To their amazement, their guards always seemed to be waiting for them.  It turned out there was a tunnel into the mine which the guards used so they did not have to climb the mountain.
    Within weeks it snowed.  The area received as much as ten feet of snow which, since the barracks were unheated, served as insulation against the cold.  The POWs barely survived the winter.
    When the Japanese surrendered, the camp commandant announced to the the POWs that he was turning over the camp to the American officers.  An American Naval plane flew over the camp.  The pilot dropped a note to the POWs and told them to paint one stripe on the roof of a barrack if they needed medicine, two stripes if they needed food, and three stripes if they needed clothing.  The POWs painted one stripe on one barrack, two stripes on another barrack, and three stripes on a third barrack. 
    When the plane returned. he dropped another note saying that there was no way for him to drop everything, so B -29s would have to drop the supplies.  The POWs had no idea what the pilot was talking about.  When the B-29s appeared over the camp, the POWs had never seen anything so large in the sky.  The POWs received so much food and clothing that they shared it with the Japanese civilians who had been kind to them. 

    One morning American soldiers drove into the camp.  They told the liberated POWs to stay in the camp until the runway for Yokohama air field had been repaired.  Food and clothing also dropped to the former prisoners while they waited.  He was officially liberated on September 16, 1945.

    When the rail line was repaired, Bob and the other men rode the train into Yokohama.  From there, they boarded U. S. S. Monitor and were returned to the Philippines.  In the Philippines, Bob was reunited with his boyhood friend Ray Vanderbroucke.  His other boyhood friend, Jim Bainbridge, had died while a POW.  On October 8, 1945, Bob left the Philippines for home.

    Bob returned home and was sent to Madigan General Hospital at Ft. Lewis, Washington.  While there, he fell down a flight of stairs and broke his elbow.  He was  next sent to Billings General Hospital at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, to recover from his years as a POW.  On December 18th, he stopped at home.  It was the from there, he was sent to Percy Jones Convalescent Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan.  He was discharged from the army on April 22, 1946, and returned to Maywood. 
    Bob married Lillian Gorka.  Together, they raised three children; Ray, Cathy and Steve.  Bob opened his own insurance business in Maywood and remained in the National Guard and rose to the rank of captain before leaving the National Guard.  Bob was also active in the Maywood VFW and American Legion.

    Robert E. Peterson never really recovered from his time as a POW.   His health began to decline from the beatings he experienced while a POW.  He passed away on May 6, 1965, and was buried at Concordia Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois.


 

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