Pvt. Emerson Samuel Rex
Pvt. Emerson S. Rex was born
August 20, 1919, to Emerson A. Rex and Estella C.
Crouse-Rex, in Mulberry, Indiana, and was one of
six children born to the couple. He would
later move to Frankfort, Indiana, where he lived
at 603 Sims Street. He graduated from
Frankfort High School, and, in 1937, he moved to
Janesville, Wisconsin, and lived with his brother
who ran the Rock County Jail.
In 1940, Emerson joined the Wisconsin National
Guard's 32nd Tank Company which was
headquartered in an armory in Janesville.
His reason for doing this was to fulfill his
military obligation and get on with his life.
Before he left for training
at Fort Knox, Kentucky, he got married Genevieve
Matheny on November 12, 1940, and started a home
at 615 South Pearl Street.
After training at Ft. Knox, Emerson took part in maneuvers in Louisiana in the late summer of 1940. It was after the completion of the maneuvers that he learned that his time in the military had been extended from one to six years. He also learned that additional training would be given to the battalion overseas.
Receiving a ten day pass home, Emerson said
goodbye to his wife, Genevive Manthey-Rex, and
baby. He returned to Camp Polk, Louisiana,
and prepared for shipment overseas.
Emerson took part in the death march and concluded that although they were treated poorly, the Americans were treated better than the Filipinos. He watched as Filipino prisoners were bayoneted or roughed up by the guards. It was his belief this was done because they had chosen to fight alongside the Americans against other Asians.
On the "Death March," the only water that Emerson and the other Prisoners Of War were allowed to drink was from the wallows of caribou or from the ditches alongside the road. The water in the ditches often had dead soldiers floating in it. Unlike many of the POWs, Emerson had iodine, which he had hidden during the shakedowns by the Japanese, which he used to disinfect the water and make it safe to drink.
When they reached San Fernando, the
POWs were put
in a bull pen
which had been
They were left
to form 100
When this was
to the train
To get out of the camp, Emerson went out on a
work detail to rebuild bridges that the
retreating Filipino and American forces withdrew
into the Bataan Peninsula. The detail was
under the command the Japanese engineers but the
ranking American officer was Lt. Colonel Ted
Wickord who had been the commanding officer of
The POWs first worked at Calauan. 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.
They were 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 the POWs were sent to build 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. Wickord picked the twelve sickess looking POWs.
When the detail ended, Emerson was sent to
Cabnanatuan which had opened while he was on the
October, 1942, Emerson was among POWs selected
to be transferred to the Port Area Detail in
Manila. This detail was designated as Camp
#11. The POWs worked as stevedores loading
and unloading ships at pier #7. It was
while he was a POW there that his family
received the first word that he was a Prisoner
of War in February 1943. He would remain
on this detail for over a year.
In July 1944, Emerson was selected to be sent to
Japan. He recalled that while he was on
the pier he saw John and Henry Luther who were
on what was called the Bachrach Garage
Detail. They were the last two members of
the Wisconsin National Guardsmen that he saw for
the rest of the war.
Emerson was not the only member of A Company in
the camp, with him were John Spencer and Boyd
Riese. In addition, there were other
members of the 192nd in the camp. Spencer
was later transferred to Sendai #6-B.
At this camp, Emerson worked in a
lead mine. Working as a miner, he came
down with lead poisoning and developed sores on
his arms and legs which left scars on his arms
and legs. The last six months he spent in the
camp he was so ill that he could not work.
Conditions in the camp were poor. During
his time in this camp, he only received two new
uniforms, rubber shoes and no socks. The
men slept, four to a bed on straw mats, in a
unheated barracks. To keep warm during the
extremely cold winters, the men sewed all their
blankets together and slept with their clothes
The main diet for the POWs in the camp consisted
of rice and soybeans. Since the diet in
the camp was not adequate, Emerson also suffered
from beriberi and dysentery. He lost his
vision in his right eye because of the poor
diet. It would return with a better diet
and treatment. By the time he was
liberated, he had lost 112 pounds. "Occasionally we would get
a little horse meat or mule meat." When asked if it tasted
good, he said, "It is - if you're
Emerson and the other POWs had no idea how the
war was going. They were told by the
Japanese that New York, Chicago, and San
Francisco had been bombed and destroyed.
Emerson and the other men never accepted these
stories as true, but the longer that he was in
the camp he began to lose his spirit. He
even reached the point that he no longer cared
who won the war.
The morning after the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, the POWs were made to do close order drill before they went to work, The next day, they were given a day off. Emerson recalled, "Although the Japs told us the war was over, we didn't believe them until the B-29s began dropping food." The next day the POWs awoke to find the guards were gone. When the Americans did not liberate the camp, the POWs sent men out to contact them.
Emerson was liberated on September 7, 1945, and
taken to Yokohama for transport to the
Philippines. He was promoted to corporal
and a week later he was promoted to
sergeant. He was flown to Hawaii by the
Air Transport Command and than to Hamilton
Airfield north of San Francisco arriving on
September 20th. After this, he was sent to
Vaughan VA Hospital in Hines, Illinois, to
recuperate. This hospital was next to
Maywood which was the hometown of B Company,
192nd Tank Battalion.
Emerson returned to Janesville, and his family,
and was discharged from the army on January 22,
1946. He married Betty Louise Reed on July
5, 1950, and was the father of two sons.
Later, he moved to the Rockford, Illinois before
he returned to Frankfort, Indiana. There,
he was employed by the Indiana State Highway
Department and an asphalt