Pfc. Thomas H. Samek
| Pfc. Thomas H. Samek was born
on June 16, 1922, to Frank and Martha M. Samek and
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, so Tom and his
brother, Karl, delivered newspapers to help his
mother support the family, who supported the
family by working as a seamstress,
Tom attended local schools and 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 which was headquartered in an armory in Janesville. He may have done this to help his family financially.
In November 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, on November
28th, where he trained for the next ten months.
In the late summer of 1941, Tom went on
maneuvers with the 192nd in Louisiana from
September 1st through 30th. 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 goodbyes.
December 1st, the tankers were ordered to
the perimeter of Clark Field 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
were eating lunch when planes were seen
approaching the airfield from the north at
about 12:45. Many of the tankers had
time enough to count 54 planes in
formation. As the planes approached the
airfield, the tankers watched what was
described as "raindrops" falling from the
the raindrops began exploding on the
runways, the tankers knew the planes
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,
most of the Japanese did not attack the
this, A Company was sent, in support of the
194th, to an area east of Pampanga, where they
lost Lt. William Read who was killed by
enemy fire. The company returned to the
command of the 192nd on January 8, 1942.
It was also at this time, January
were cut in
was not too
this was done
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
and next held at Cabanatuan.
In September 1943, Tom was sent to Las Pinas on
a work detail to build a runway at Nichols
Field. The plans for the runway had been
drawn up before the war, but the Japanese had no
intention of using construction equipment to
build it. Instead they used the
POWs. With the arrival of his POW
detachment the number of POWs on the detail
The POWs suffered extreme brutality at the hands
of the guards. Those men who died were
cremated and their ashes were taken to Bilibid
Prison. The POWs from Las Pinas, would not
tell the POWs at Blibid anything about what was
going on, on the detail. It was only when
sick POWs began arriving from the detail that
the POWs learned the detail was a death
When the detail ended, Tom was sent to Bilibid Prison, where 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 and 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 where they 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 22 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.