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,
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
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
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
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.
The brutality shown to the POWs
the camp, a
was called the
the camp for
One day a POW
Moto was told
about the man
and came out
him to get
made to carry
the man back
to the Pasay
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.
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.