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
for Hawaii as
part of a
in Hawaii on
and had a
When the ships
ship since the
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 were housed in the Pasay School about a mile from the airfield. From the school, the POWs were awakened at 6:00 AM and walked to the airfield to work. With picks and shovels, the POWs leveled a mountain to extend the airfield's runways. The work was so hard and abuse so bad, that a large number of POWs died. During his time on the detail, Peter was assigned to driving a truck. In January 1943, Peter injured his back while on this detail. This injury would bother him the rest of his life.
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.
Peter returned home after being liberated and was discharged from the U.S. 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.