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
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.
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
Medical records kept at Bilibid Prison indicate that Bob was admitted to the hospital suffering from pilonidal cyst on his tail bone while he was on the detail. He remained at Bilibid until May 17, 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,
on August 31st
and arrived at
As the ship
made its way
to Japan men
was more room
in the ship's
The bodies of
the dead were
hosted out of
the hold by
dumped in the
suction of the
being cut up.
the only way
to deal with
the hold was
to bring the
POWs on deck
and wash them
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.
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 on
the Dutch ship, S.S. Klipfontein, and
arrived at Seattle on October 9, 1945. He
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
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.