Samek

 

Pfc. Thomas H. Samek


    Pfc. Thomas H. Samek was born on June 16, 1922, to Frank Samek and Martha M. Koepp-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, in 1930, leaving his mother to raise him and his brother, Karl.  The brothers delivered newspapers to help his mother, who worked as a seamstress, support the family.

    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.
    A typical day for the soldiers started in 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress.  Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics at 8:00 to 8:30.  Afterwards, the tankers went to various schools within the company.  The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics. 
    At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M.  Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as: mechanics, tank driving, radio operating.   At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat followed by dinner at 5:30.  After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played.

    In the late summer of 1941, Tom went on maneuvers with the 192nd in Louisiana from September 1 through 30.  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 decision for this move -  which had been made in August 1941 - was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance.  He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island which was hundred of miles away.  The island had a large radio transmitter.  The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
    When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.  The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat - with a tarp on its deck - which was seen making its way to shore.   Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
    Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs so that they could say goodbye to family and friends.  They returned to Camp Polk and traveled by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, and were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe.  On the island they were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases by the battalion's medical detachment.  Some men were held back for health issues but scheduled to join the battalion at a later date.  Other men were simply replaced.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S. A. T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27.  During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP.   They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
    On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and the S. S. Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11.  During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.  On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.  The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
   When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day.  At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning.  At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  The truck drivers drove their trucks to the fort while the maintenance section remained at the pier to unload the tanks.
    At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P.  King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field.  He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.  Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
    The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg.  The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent.  There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents. 
    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 1, 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 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 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 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, most of the Japanese did not attack the tanks.
    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use.  When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building.  Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
    That night, the tankers lived through several more air raids.  Most slept under their tanks since it was safer then sleeping in their tents.  They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed for the next three and one half years.
    The next day, those men not assigned to a tank or half-track walked around Clark Field to look at the damage.  In his opinion, there were hundreds of dead.  Some were pilots who had been caught asleep, because they had flown night missions, in their tents during the first attack.  Others were pilots who had been killed attempting to get to their planes.  
    The company was sent to the Barrio of Dau, on December 12, 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.
    On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta,, where 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 but successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
    On December 25, 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 were asked to hold the position for six hours; they held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
    The company lost 2nd Lt. William Read when he was killed on December 30th.  That night on a road east of Zaragoza, the company was bivouacked and had posted sentries.  The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks' machine guns.  As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac.  When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened up on them.  When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion.  To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.
    At Gumain River, the night of December 31st to the morning of January 1, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river.  When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts.  The Japanese were taking heavy casualties, so they attempted to use smoke to cover their advance, but the wind blew the smoke into the Japanese.  When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had suffered fifty percent casualties.
    At Guagua, A Company, with units from the 11th Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese.  Somehow, the tanks were mistaken, by the Filipinos to be Japanese.  The 11th Division accurately used mortars on them.  The result was the loss of three tanks.  
    On January 1, the tanks of the 194th were holding the Calumpit Bridge allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to cross the bridge toward Bataan.  General Wainwright was attempting to hold the main Japanese force coming down Route 5 to prevent the troops from being cut off.  General MacArthur's chief of staff gave conflicting orders involving whose command the defenders were under which caused confusion.  Gen. Wainwright was not aware these orders had been given. 
    Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River.  Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted.  From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.

    On January 5, while attached to the 194th Tank Battalion, A Company withdrew from the line.  Lt. Kenneth Bloomfield received orders to launch a counter-attack against the Japanese on a tail picked by Provisional Tank Group command. Bloomfield, while attempting to attack, radioed the tank group that the trail did not exist.
    It was evening and the tankers believed they were in a relatively safe place near Lubao along a dried up creek bed.  Bloomfield told his men to get some sleep.  Their sleep was interrupted by the sound of a gun shot at about 1:50 A.M.  The tankers had no idea that they were about to engage the Japanese who had lunched a major offensive across an open field wearing white shirts which made them easy targets.  There was a great deal of confusion and the battle lasted until 3:00 A.M., when the Japanese broke off the attack.  Within days of this action, the company returned to the command of the 192nd.
    The tanks often were the last units to disengage from the enemy and form a new defensive line as Americans and Filipino forces withdrew toward Bataan.  The night of January 7, the A Company was awaiting orders to cross the last bridge into Bataan over the Culis Creek.  The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but the battalion's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, ordered the engineers to wait until he had looked to see if they were anywhere in sight.  He found the company, asleep in their tanks, because they had not received the order to withdraw across the bridge.  After they had crossed, the bridge was destroyed.
    The next day the tanks received maintenance.  It was the first rest that the two tank battalions had since December 24.
    On January 28, 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.
    The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available.  The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces.
    It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver, "Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal.  If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay."
    A Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a failed offensive.  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, that had been relieved, 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, and as the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into it.  Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
    The other method used was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole.  The driver then gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around in a circle and grinding its way down into the foxhole.  The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.

   The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat.  The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten.  They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry.  To make things worse, the soldiers' rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942.  This meant that they only ate two meals a day.  
    The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantly clad blond on them.  The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
    On March 2 or 3, during the Battle of the Points, the tanks had been sent in to wipe out two pockets of Japanese soldiers who had been landed behind the main defensive line.  The Japanese were soon cut off.  When the Japanese attempted to land reinforcements, they landed them at the wrong place creating another pocket.   Both, of the pockets, were wiped out.
    On April 4, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack supported by artillery and aircraft.  A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano.  This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.  When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.
    It was at this time that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile.  Approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day.  In addition, he had over 6000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40000 civilians who he feared would be massacred.  At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
    Tank battalion commanders received this order, "You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word 'CRASH', all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished."
    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. 
    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 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 reached 800. 

   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 sentence.
   The POWs on the detail built runways with the only tools that they had which 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, 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 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 25, 1945, when he was transported to Japan on the Enoshima Maru.  The ship docked at Moji on January 30th and the POWs were marched to a schoolhouse.  When they arrived they had to strip in the cold since they were infested with lice and the Japanese wanted to delouse them.  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." 
    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.
    Although medical supplies for the POWs were sent to the camp by the Red Cross the Japanese commandant would not give the American medical staff the medicine that was in the packages.  Any surgery in the camp had to be performed with crude medical tools even though the Red Cross had sent the proper surgical tools.  The sick POWs were required to work even if it meant they could possibly die from doing it.
     Three days a month, the POWs were allowed to exchange their worn out clothing for new clothing, but a Japanese guard beat POWs attempting to exchange their clothing.  The POWs went without clothing to avoid the beating.  This resulted in men developing pneumonia.  Some of these POWs died.
    The POWs were beaten daily with fists and sticks, and the guards often required them to stand at attention, in the cold, while standing water.  During the winter, they often had water thrown on them.

    Shortly after arriving in Japan, 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, and had Pfc. Thomas H. Samak buried, next to his father, at Walnut Hill Cemetery in Baraboo, Wisconsin, on November 11, 1948. 


 

 

 

 

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