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 was working in a laundry when he was inducted into the U. S. Army on March 28, 1941.  His middle name was used on all his military records.  He did his basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and after completing his training he joined the 753rd Tank Battalion at Camp Polk, Louisiana. 
    While Peter was at Camp Polk, the Louisiana Maneuvers were taking place, but his battalion did not take part in them.  After the maneuvers, the 192nd Tank Battalion was ordered to Camp Polk and learned it was being sent overseas.  Since the battalion was predominately National Guardsmen, the men 29 years old and older or married were allowed to resign from federal service.  Peter was one of the last two men from the 753rd to have his name drawn for transfer to the 192nd Tank Battalion.

    After being transferred to his new battalion, he traveled by train to San Francisco, California, where they were taken by ferry to Angel Island.  On the island, they were inoculated for overseas duty and men with medical issues were replaced or held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion on a later date. 
    The battalion sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii, as part of a three ship convoy.  The ships arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover, so the soldiers received shore leave and allowed to explore the island.  They sailed again on Tuesday, November 4th for Guam. 
The ships took a southerly route away from the main 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 the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water.  The next morning the ships sailed for Manila. 
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 on Thursday, November 20th, at 8:00 A.M., and docked at Pier 7 later in the day.  At 3:00 P.M., the soldiers disembarked and were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Other battalion members boarded their trucks and drove them to fort north of Manila.  The maintenance section of the battalion remained behind and unloaded the battalion's tanks.
    At the fort, the tankers were met by Colonel Edward King, who 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 before leaving to have his own 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.

    On Monday, December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers.  The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern portion of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern portion.  At all times, two members of each tank and half-track remained with their vehicles.  Meals were served to the tankers from food trucks. 
    At six in the morning on December 8th, the officers of the battalion were called to the radio room at the fort.  They were ordered to bring their tank platoons up to full strength around Clark Airfield.  The tankers were receiving lunch from food trucks when, at 12:45, they saw a formation of planes approaching the airfield from the north.  At first they thought they were American planes and had enough time to count 54 planes.  As they watched, the saw "raindrops" falling from the planes.  When bombs began exploding, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese.
    As a member of HQ Company, Peter remained in the bivouac of the battalion.  After the attack, the tankers saw the carnage done during the attack.  The Japanese had effectively destroyed the Army Air Corps.  The tankers would spend the next four months attempting to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines.

    HQ, B, and C Companies received orders on December 21st to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf.   Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas.  When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.  After the attack, the tanks were repeated sent on wild goose chases against factious Japanese paratroopers.      
    On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta.  The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of river.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed the river.
    On December 25th, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road.  The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th, when the tanks fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan, and at San Isidro, south of Cabanatuan, on December 28th and 29th.  While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, but once again, they were able find a crossing over the river.
   
    The 192nd
took part in the Battle of the Points from January 27, 1942, until February 13, 1942.  The Japanese had been landed on two points and been cut off.  The tankers were sent in to wipe out these positions.  According to Capt. Alvin Poweleit, the battalion's surgeon, the tanks did a great deal of damage.
    At the same time, there was another battle taking place known as the Battle of the Pockets which lasted from January 23rd until February 17, 1942.  Japanese troops had been cut off behind the battle line.  Tanks from B and C Companies were sent in to wipe out the Japanese in the Big Pocket.  According to members of the battalion, two methods were used to wipe out the Japanese.
    The first method was to have three Filipinos sit on the back of the tank with bags of hand grenades.  As the tank passed over a Japanese foxhole, each man dropped a hand grenade into the foxhole.  The reason this was done was the grenades were from World War I, and one out of three exploded.
    The second method was to have the tank park with one track over the foxhole.  The tank would spin on one track and grind its way into the ground killing the Japanese in the foxhole.  The tankers slept upwind of the tanks because of the smell of rotting flesh in the tracks. 

    The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender.  While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them.  As he spoke, his voice choked.  He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued.  He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks.  During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together.   He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese.  The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company's trucks.  The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move.  Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, "Their last supper."        
   
On April 11th, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment.  George was now a Prisoner of War.  A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment.  Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them.  As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans.  They remained along the sides of the road for hours.

    HQ Company finally boarded its trucks and drove to just outside of Mariveles.  From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited.  As they sat, they 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 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.  As he drove away, the 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, and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march.  During the march they received no water and little food.  At San Fernando, they were put into a small wooden boxcars and taken to Capas.  The cars were known as "Forty or Eights" since they could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese put 100 POWs in each car and closed the doors.  Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars.  From Capas, they walked the last ten 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.  The burial detail buried long days burying the dead. 

    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 American 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.  When the Japanese figured out what he was doing, they stopped him.

    The first bridge that the detail rebuilt was at Calaun, where 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. 

    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 POWs were sent next to rebuild a bridge at Candelaria.  Once again, the people of the barrio 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 men in his group would be executed.  During Peter's time on the detail, one POW working at the saw mill providing wood for the bridges 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 from Candelaria.  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 Cabanatuan, the prisoners ate rice for their meals 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.  When Peter arrived at the camp, the death rate was 40 POWs a day.

    Peter was selected to go out on a work detail to Nichols Airfield known as the Pasay School Detail, because the POWs on the detail were housed in eighteen rooms at the Pasay School.  30 POWs were assigned to sleep in each classroom.  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 fishhead 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 next went to a tool shed and received their tools before being counted again.  At the end of the work day, the POWs were counted again before marching back to the school.  When they arrived back at the school, they were counted again, before they rushed to the showers.  There were only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs.  They finally were fed dinner, another meal of fish and rice and afterwards counted one final time, before the lights were turned off 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.  Meanwhile, the other Americans were ordered back 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."  The White Angel shot the POW as the man smiled at him.  After the man fell to the ground, the White Angel 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 White Angel was transferred and the second commanding officer of the detail was known as "the Wolf," who was a civilian that 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 than 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 next 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, but the guards took him back to school and strung him up by his thumbs outside the doorway.  After doing this, they 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 was happening on the detail.  It was only when the sick, from the detail, began to arrive at Bilibid that they learned what the detail was like.  The POWs sent to Bilibid, from the detail, were sent there to die so their deaths would look better when they were reported to the International Red Cross.
   
     

    At some point, Peter was returned to Cabanatuan which 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.
    Medical records kept at the camp show that Peter was admitted to Hospital Building #10 from Division I, Building #3 on July 16, 1944.  The records do not indicate why he was hospitalized.

    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 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., in what became known as "The Great Raid."  The raid took place to prevent the Japanese from executing the POWs like they had done 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 received medical treatment before being sent back to the United States.

    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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