Samek

 

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 goodbyes.
  
    The battalion traveled by train to San Francisco.  By ferry, they were taken to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, they received inoculations and physicals.  Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island.  They were scheduled to join the battalion at a later date.
   
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd.  The soldiers were given leaves so they could see the island.  On November 5th, the ships sailed for Guam.   At one point, the ships passed an island at night.  While they passed the island, they did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables.  The ships sailed the same day for Manila and entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th.  They docked at Pier 7 and the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. 
    At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.  He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own. 
Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
   
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons.  The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance as they readied their tanks to take part in maneuvers.

       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 to lunch.

    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 tanks.
    Sometime after the attack, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it could protect  a highway and railroad from sabotage.  From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River.  There, the tanks, with A Company, 194th held the position. 
    On December 23rd and 24th, the company was in the area of Urdaneta.  It was there, that the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write.  After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River after the main bridge had been destroyed.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
    On December 25th, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.

    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 January 28th, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
    A Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese Marines who had been trapped behind the main defensive line.  The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket.  Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank had left the pocket.
    To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used.  The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank.  As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole.  Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
    The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. Driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole.  The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.

    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 Cabanatuan. 
    Cabantuan was opened by the Japanese to lower the death rate among the POWs.  When the POWs received Red Cross packages, the death rate dropped.   Medical records from the camp show that Tom was hospitalized on August 13, 1942.  The records do not show why he was admitted or when he was discharged.

    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 POW Camp.
    On Formosa, Tom worked in a sugar mill.  This was probably the easiest job he had as a POW.  It also allowed him to steal sugar for food.  With him at the mill were Forrest Knox, Emil Schmidt, and John Wood

    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. 

 


 

 

 

 

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