PirnatP

 

Pvt. Paul Peter Pirnat


    Pvt. Paul Peter Pirnat was the oldest of twelve children born to Frank & Anna Pirnat.  He was born on June 6, 1919, in Hopkinton, Iowa, and known as "Peter" to his family and friends.  He grew up on the family's small farm near Worthington and attended school there.

    Peter moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and resided at 716 East 160th Street.  He worked in a laundry until he was inducted into the U. S. Army on March 28, 1941.  His middle name was used on all his military records.  Peter did his basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and joined the 753rd Tank Battalion.  He was one of the last two men from the battalion to have his name drawn for transfer to the 192nd Tank Battalion.

    After being transferred to his new battalion, he traveled by train to Angel Island.  On the island, he was inoculated for overseas duty.  The battalion sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii 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 Tuesday, November 4th 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 Thursday, November 20th the ships arrived at Manila Bay.  After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked.  The tankers rode buses to the train station where they got out and took a train to Ft. Stostenburg.  Other battalion members boarded their trucks and drove them to fort 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 love in tents.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.  He remained with the battalion until they had settled in and had their Thanksgiving Dinner.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons.  They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts.  The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.

    For the next four months, Peter and his company worked to keep the tanks of the 192nd supplied with gasoline and ammunition.  The morning of April 9, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni the Commanding Officer of HQ Company informed his men of the surrender.  He told them to destroy anything that could be used by the Japanese. 

    Peter and the other men remained in their encampment for two days before they were ordered by a Japanese officer to move out to the road that passed their encampment.  They were then told to kneel along the sides of the road.  As they knelt, Japanese soldiers took whatever they wanted from Peter's and the other men's possessions.

    HQ Company boarded trucks and drove to Mariveles.  From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited.  As they sat, Peter and the other Prisoners of War noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them.  They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.

    As they sat there watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the Japanese soldiers.  He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail.  The officer got back in the car and drove off.  The Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.

    Later in the day, Peter's group of POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles.  In the school yard, they found themselves sitting in a field between Japanese artillery and guns firing from Corregidor and Ft. Drum.  Shells began landing among the POWs who had no place to hide.  Some of the POWs were killed from incoming American shells.  The American guns did succeed at knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.

    The POWs were ordered to move again by the Japanese.  Peter and the other men had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march.  During the march he received no water and little food.  At San Fernando, he was put into a small wooden boxcar and taken to Capas.  From Capas, Peter walked the last few miles to Camp O' Donnell.

    Camp O'Donnell was a death trap with as many as fifty POWs dying each day.  There was only one working water faucet for the entire camp.  To get a drink, men stood in line for days.

    While Peter was at Camp O'Donnell, the Japanese began forming work details to rebuild what had been destroyed during the Battle of Bataan.  One of these details was a bridge building detail to rebuild the bridges that the Americans had destroyed during their retreat into Bataan.

    The commanding officer of this detail was Lt. Col. Ted Wickord of the 192nd Tank Battalion.  To get his men out of Camp O'Donnell, Wickord attempted to fill the detail with his own men.

    The first bridge that the detail rebuilt was at Calaun.  There, the POWs were amazed by the concern shown for them by the Filipino people. The townspeople arranged for their doctor and nurses to care for the POWs and give them medication.  They also arranged for the POWs to attend a meal in their honor.

    Peter's work detail was next sent to Batangas to rebuild another bridge.  Again, the Filipino people did all they could to see that the Americans got the food and care they needed.  Somehow the Filipinos convinced the Japanese to allow them to attend a meal to celebrate the completion of the new bridge.

    The next bridge Peter and the other POWs were sent to rebuild was in Candelaria.  Once again, the people of the town did what ever they could to help the Americans.  An order of Roman Catholic sisters, who had been recently freed from custody, invited Lt. Col. Wickord and twelve POWs for a dinner.  Lt. Col Wickord picked the twelve sickest men on the detail to attend the meal.

    It was also while Peter on this detail that the Japanese instituted the "blood brothers" policy.  If one POW escaped, the other nine men in his group would be executed.  During Peter's time on the detail, one man working with the saw mill POW group on the detail escaped.  To be true to their word, the Japanese executed nine other POWs.  Lt. Col. Wickord was sent to the execution so that he could provide a first hand account of the execution to the men on his detail.

    As it turned out, a POW, who was out of his head with fever, did try to escape.  The Japanese intended to execute the man and nine other POWs.  A Filipino doctor knowing the situation interceded on behalf of the POWs and convinced the Japanese that the man had been out of his head with fever and did not know what he was doing.  The man was sent to Cabanatuan and no POWs were executed.

    When the bridge building detail ended, Peter was sent to "Camp One" at Cabanatuan where he worked on a farm.  At Camp One, the prisoners ate rice and lived in crude huts.  If a prisoner was late or missed a detail, that POW was made to kneel on a ladder with a pole placed behind the knees to cut circulation.  The prisoner stayed like this until he fell over.  At this time the death rate in the camp was 40 POWs a day.

     Peter was selected to go out on a work detail to Nichols Airfield.  The POWs on the detail were housed at the Pasay School in eighteen rooms.  30 POWs were assigned to a room.  The POWs were used to extend and widen runways for the Japanese Navy.   The plans for this expansion came from the American Army which had drawn them up before the war.  The Japanese wanted a runway 500 yards wide and a mile long going through hills and a swamp.
    Unlike the Americans, the Japanese had no plans on using construction equipment. Instead, they intended the POWs to do the work with picks, shovels, and wheel barrows.  The first POWs arrived at Pasay in August 1942.  The work was easy until the extension reached the hills.  When the extension reached the hills, some of which were 80 feet high, the POWs flattened them by hand.  The Japanese replaced the wheel barrows with mining cars that two POWs pushed to the swamp and dumped as land-fill.  As the work became harder and the POWs weaker, less work got done.
    At six A.M., the POWs had reveille and "bongo," or count, at 6:15 in detachments of 100 men.  After this came breakfast which was a fish soup with rice.  After breakfast, there was a second count of all POWs, which included both healthy and sick, before the POWs marched a mile and half to the airfield.
    After arriving at the airfield, they were counted again.  They went to a tool shed and received their tools; once again they were counted.  At the end of the work day, the POWs were counted again.  When they arrived back at the school, they were counted again.  Then, they would rush to the showers, since there only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs.  They were fed dinner, another meal of fish and rice and than counted one final time. Lights were turned out at 9:00 P.M.
 

    The brutality shown to the POWs was severe.  The first Japanese commander of the camp, a Lt. Moto, was called the "White Angel" because he wore a spotless naval uniform.  He was commander of the camp for slightly over thirteen months.  One day a POW collapsed while working on the runway.  Moto was told about the man and came out and ordered him to get up.  When he couldn't four other Americans were made to carry the man back to the Pasay School. 
    At the school, the Japanese guards gave the man a shower and straightened his clothes as much as possible.  The other Americans were ordered to the school.  As they stood there, the White Angel ordered an American captain to follow him behind the school.  The POW was marched behind the school and the other Americans heard two shots.  The American officer told the men that the POW had said, "Tell them I went down smiling." There, the White Angel shot the POW as the man smiled at him.   As the man lay on the ground, he shot him a second time.  The American captain told the other Americans what had happened.  The White Angel told them that this was what going to happen to anyone who would not work for the Japanese Empire.
    The second commanding officer of the detail was known as "the Wolf."  He was a civilian who wore a Japanese Naval Uniform.  Each morning, he would come to the POW barracks and select those POWs who looked the sickest and made them line up.  The men were made to put one leg on each side of a trench and then do 50 push-ups.  If a man's arms gave out and he touched the ground, he was beaten with pick handles.
    On another occasion a POW collapsed on the runway.  The Wolf had the man taken back to the barracks.  When the Wolf came to the barracks that evening and the man was still unconscious, he banged the man's head into the concrete floor and kicked him in the head.  He then took the man to the shower and drowned him in the basin.
    A third POW who had tried to walk away from the detail told the guards to shoot him, the guards took him back to the Pasay School and strung him up by his thumbs outside the doorway and placed a bottle of beer and sandwich in front of him.  He was dead by evening.
    The remains of the POWs who had died on the detail were brought to Bilibid Prison in boxes.  The Japanese had death certificates, with the causes of death and signed by an American doctor, sent with the boxes.  The Americans from the detail, who accompanied the boxes, would not tell the POWs at Bilibid what had happened.  It was only when the sick, from the detail, began to arrive at Bilibid did they learn what the detail was like.  These men were sent to Bilibid to die since it would look better when it was reported to the International Red Cross.
   
     

    Cabanatuan was the last POW camp that Peter was held at as a prisoner.  During his time in the camp, Peter was given the job of driving the Japanese officers.  He had this job since many of the Japanese could not drive.  Although the job got him out of Cabanatuan, he hated doing it.

    As the war went on and rumors that the American forces were approaching the Philippines, the Japanese began to transfer large numbers of POWs to Japan or other parts of the Japanese Empire.  Peter was not selected to be transferred which most likely meant that the Japanese believed he was too ill to survive the trip.

    The night of January 30, 1945, Peter was one of 511 POWs liberated at Cabanatuan by U. S. Army Rangers.  What became known as "The Great Raid" was done to prevent the Japanese from executing the POWs like they had done to the POWs on Palawan Island in the Philippines.

    During his time as a POW, Peter suffered from various illnesses.  He had malaria, pellagra, and beriberi.  When he was liberated, he weighed 110 pounds and returned to the Philippines for medical treatment.

    Peter returned home on the S.S. Monterey, at San Francisco, on March 16, 1945.  After a stay at Letterman General Hospital, he returned home and was discharged from the Army on October 5, 1945.  He married and resided in Cleveland for the rest of his life.  Peter Pirnat passed away on January 8, 1974.    


 

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