Pfc. Thomas H. Samek
| Pfc. Thomas H. Samek was born
on June 16, 1922, to Frank and Martha M.
Samek. He was the younger of two sons born
to the couple. Tom grew up at 704 Fifth Street
in Janesville, Wisconsin. When he was eight,
his father passed away leaving his mother to raise
him and his brother. Tom and his brother,
Karl, delivered newspapers to help his mother
support the family. Their mother supported
the family by working as a seamstress,
Tom attended local schools and then Janesville High School. While he was in high school, Tom's mother signed the necessary papers enabling him to enlist in the Wisconsin National Guard's 32nd Tank Company. The tank company was headquartered in an armory in Janesville. He may have done this to help his family financially.
In November of 1940, while Tom was in his senior year of high school, the tank company was called to federal service. Tom left school and traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky where he trained for the next ten months.
In the late summer of 1941, Tom went on
maneuvers with the 192nd in Louisiana.
After the maneuvers, the battalion learned it
was being sent overseas for further
training. Tom like the other members of
the battalion was given a furlough home to take
care of unfinished business and say his
On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to
the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard
against Japanese paratroopers. From
this time on, two tank crew members remained
with each tank at all hours.
The morning of December 8, 1941, Capt. Walter
Write informed his company that Pearl Harbor had
been bombed by the Japanese. The tanks
were put on alert and took their positions
around the airfield. At 8:30 A.M.,
American planes took off to intercept any
Japanese planes. Sometime
before noon, the alert was canceled and the
planes landed and were lined up, in a straight
line, near the mess hall. The pilots went
The tankers were eating lunch when planes were seen approaching the airfield from the north at about 12:45. Many of the tankers counted 54 planes. The planes approached the airfield and watched hat was described as "raindrops" falling from the planes. When the raindrops began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.
The members of A Company lived through the
bombing of Clark Field. During the attack,
they could do little since their guns were not
made to use against planes. For
some reason, not known to the tankers,
the Japanese did not attack the
A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to
an area east of Pampanga. It was there
that they lost Lt. William Reed who was
killed by enemy fire. The company returned
to the 192nd on January 8, 1942.
On April 9, 1942, Tom with the many of the other
members of the 192nd became Prisoners of War.
Tom took part in the death
march and was held as a POW at Camp
O'Donnell. He was next held at
In September 1943, Tom was sent to Las Pinas on a work detail. The POWs on the detail built runways for an airfield. The only tools that they had were picks and shovels. He remained on the detail until September 22, 1944. The detail ended suddenly when American dive-bombers appeared over the airfield and began strafing. As they did, the POWs cheered.
When the detail ended, Tom was sent to Bilibid Prison. There, he was examined and declared healthy enough to be sent to Japan. In October 1944, Tom and other POWs were marched to the Port Area of Manila and boarded onto the Hokusen Maru. The ship sailed on October 3, 1944. During this portion of the trip, three of the ships in the convoy were sunk by an American submarine. One torpedo hit the Hokusen Maru but did not explode. The POWs heard it scrapping the side of the hull as it ran along it.
The surviving ships arrived at Hong Kong on
October 11th. On October 13th, the convoy
was attacked by American planes. The ships
remained at Hong Kong until October 21st.
The ships sailed again and arrived at
Takao, Formosa on October 24th. During
the trip to Formosa, twelve of the ships in
the convoy were sunk by American
submarines. The POWs
remained in the Hokusen Maru's holds
until they were disembarked on November
8th. On Formosa, Tom was held at Toroku
Tom remained in the camp until January 14, 1945. He was transported to Japan on the Melbourne Maru. The ship docked at Moji on January 23rd. Forrest Knox recalled that this was the last time he saw Tom. "The last time I saw him was on the dock at Moji. in southern Japan, a concentration point for Nip troops and supplies going south and returning from the south." There, Tom worked as a stevedore. The POWs loaded and unloaded war materials for the Japanese war effort. To get from the camp, the POWs were transported by train in gondola cars regardless of weather.
Later, Tom was sent to the Japanese city of Yawata. He was imprisoned at Fukuoka #3-B near the Yawata suburb of Tobata. With him in the camp were seven other members of the 192nd Tank Battalion including Robert Boehm of A Company. The POWs in the camp worked in the Yawata Steel Mills. There, the men shoveled coal and ore and cleaned blast furnaces.
In early 1945, Tom became ill and was diagnosed with enteritis. This infection of the intestines resulted in him being sent to a hospital for prisoners in Moji. It was at the hospital that Pfc. Thomas H. Samek died on Monday, February 12, 1945. He was 23 years old.
After the war in 1948, Martha Samek requested that her son's remains be returned to Wisconsin. She had Pfc. Thomas H. Samak buried next to his father at Walnut Hill Cemetery in Baraboo, Wisconsin.