Sgt. Owen Leonard Sandmire
Sgt. Owen L. Sandmire was born
October 24, 1918, to Leonard and Bessie Sandmire
in Viola, Wisconsin, and was the fourth child of
eight children. "Sandy" as he was called by
his friends, grew up first in Reedsburg,
Wisconsin, where he graduated from Reedsburg
Elementary School. His family then moved to
Lime Ridge, Wisconsin, where he graduated from
Lime Ridge High School in 1938.
Sandy went out on his own at fifteen since it would make it easier on his family. His father was a barber and could not make enough to support his large family. To support himself, Sandy moved to Janesville, Wisconsin, looking for work.
On September 16, 1940, Sandy enlisted into the Wisconsin National Guard's 32nd Tank Company from Janesville. Sandy decided to do this after drinking a few beers with some National Guardsmen. His reason for doing this was the draft act had recently been passed and he did not want to be drafted into the army. It also had already been announced that the tank company was going to be called to federal duty. Sandy and his friend, Bob Stewart, were also not having very good luck finding steady jobs, so being in the army with regular pay sounded good to both of them. Two months later, Sandy would be called to federal duty when the 32nd Tank Company was federalized as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, and left for Fort Knox, Kentucky, on November 28, 1940.
At Ft. Knox, Sandy was trained as a tank driver. This would be the position he would hold throughout his tour of duty with the 192nd. Since the members of the battalion were trained to do more than one job, he was also trained on a motorcycle as a reconnaissance sergeant. It was also at this time that he became good friends with Harvey Riedeman.
After almost nine months of training at Fort
Knox, the 192nd was sent to Louisiana to take
part in the maneuvers of 1941 from September 1st
through 30th. On route to the maneuvers,
on his motorcycle, Sandy served as traffic
director of the convoy. According to him,
the worst thing about the maneuvers was the
snakes. It was after the completion of the
these maneuvers that the 192nd was informed that
they had been selected for duty overseas.
Sandy recalled that around 12:45 P.M., he and
the other tankers looked up at the formations of
planes over their heads. The tankers
commented on how beautiful they looked and had
enough time to count 54 planes. When the
first bombs exploded, he and the other men ran
to take cover. Sandy avoided being hit by
enemy fire by playing "leap-frog" over a
wall. If the Japanese planes came from the
side of the wall he was on, he would jump to the
other side and use the wall to shield himself
from enemy bullets. During the attack, a
Filipino woman was hit by enemy fire in the hip.
Sandy attempted to help her, but she would not
allow him to help her.
On December 12th, the
company was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it
could guard 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.
Since the soldiers never had been trained in the use of landmines, Capt. Walter Write told the soldiers, "Sergeant, get the men back. This mine doesn't look right and may go off." As he released the mine, it went off in his hands blowing off his arms, one leg and blinding him. He died of his wounds a short time later. In Sandy's opinion, the morale of the company dropped after Write's death.
Write was buried, the battalion's tanks 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 the river in the
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
With B & C
Company tankers were able to clear the
pockets. But before this was done, one C
Company tank which had gone beyond the American
perimeter was disabled and the tank just sat
there. When the sun came up the next day,
the tank was still sitting there. During
the night, its crew was buried alive, inside the
tank, by the Japanese. When the Japanese
had been wiped out, the tank was turned upside
down to remove the dirt and recover the bodies
of the crew. The tank was put back into
were also used to clear the Japanese in what was
called "The Battle of the Points." The
Japanese had attempted to land troops behind the
main defensive line and ended up with troops trapped
on two different points on the peninsula.
Sandy and John Hopple, of B
Company, and two other men of the 192nd risked
their lives to rescue another member of their
battalion who had been wounded. The four
went into an area under fire, put the man on a
stretcher, and carried him out. The other
three men with Sandy were wounded. Sandy
could not recall if the man that was rescued
survived or if he died of his wounds But
the other three men, who had been wounded
rescuing him, died of their wounds. For
this action under enemy fire, Sandy was
nominated for the Silver Star which he received
years after the war.
It was also during this time that Sandy and Albert DuBois accidentally gave a tank crew from B Company a good scare. The two soldiers were on guard duty and found the duty boring. To keep themselves entertained, the two men began tossing a "dummy" hand grenade to see who could throw it the farthest. During one of his tosses, Sandy's throw went through the open hatch of a tank. Believing the grenade was live, the crew began digging through the junk on the floor in an attempt to get the grenade out of the tank. When it did not explode, the tank crew members looked out of the turret and found Sandy walking alongside of the tank. Sandy looked up at the crew and asked, " Did anyone see a practice grenade land around here?" In Sandy's opinion, if the crew could have, they would have shot him on the spot.
Sandy's tank was near kilometer 208 a little ahead of the remainder of A Company. "Photo Charlie" flew over and stayed around for awhile. His tank crew believed their tank was pretty well camouflaged, but had dug small trenches to take cover in if they were attacked. Not too long after "Photo Charlie" had left, a Japanese glider bomber came in and laid a bomb beside their tank. They were on the other side of the tank, so they did not get hit by shrapnel. They quickly moved the tank into denser jungle.
the Battle of Bataan, Sandy came down with
dysentery. While he was ill, his
tank was destroyed. This resulted in
Sandy assuming the role of reconnaissance
sergeant for the 192nd. To do this
duty, he was assigned an Indian
Motorcycle. Having trained at Fort
Knox on Harley-Davidison motorcycles,
Sandy found it hard to adjust to the
controls of the motorcycle which were just
the opposite of a Harley.
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
he said, "During
the course of all these battles which
all take gas and ammunition, which we we
were sorely sort short of, and running
out of food, ammunition, gasoline, and
our vehicles were going to pot, we were
down to the point where we couldn't do a
thing except for a major crisis where
the Japanese had broken through
and we would try to seal up the hole to
make sure they didn't break through."
Sandy was now a Prisoner of War. His
company was ordered to go to Mariveles at
Bataan's southern tip. Remembering this,
he said, "At the time
of surrender the Japanese had absolutely no
organization, no way of knowing how many
troops there may be, what they were going to
do with us -- nothing! We were on our
own to get to kilometer post 208, which was
at least two miles down into the jungle, out
to the main highway. I guess they
called it the west Bataan highway for want
for a better description and we were to get
to Mariveles which was to be our assembly
point for all the troops -- Filipino,
American, or whatever. It took us two
days to get down there. You either
walked, or hitched a ride, or however you
get down there.
At San Fernando, Sandy and the other Prisoners of War boarded a train and were crammed into boxcars. With the Filipino sun beating down on the roofs of the boxcars, the journey by train was unbearable. The prisoners were packed in so tightly that when a man died, he could not fall down. There were no provisions for water or toilets, so the floors of the boxcars became a sea of diarrhea, vomit and urine. The prisoners disembarked from the train at Capas and marched the final few miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Sandy did not stay at Camp O'Donnell for long because he went out on a work detail to Manila. The detail was under the command of Japanese engineers whose job it was to rebuild the bridges, roads and airfields that had been destroyed by the Filipino and American troops as they retreated into Bataan. While working on this detail, the POWs lived in a bowling alley in Manila. With him on this detail were Forrest Knox, Lloyd Richter, Alva Chapman of A Company.
While on this detail, Sandy came down with diphtheria. A Japanese doctor took one look at him and said, "No good, no good," and gave Sandy two aspirin. This was the only help that Sandy ever received as a POW. He laid in his own filth unable to eat or swallow. He lost his eyesight, and his weight dropped to 89 pounds. To this day, Sandy has no idea of how he survived this illness.
Sandy also suffered from scurvy on the detail. His skin became raw and hurt. The POWs somehow got a hold of alcohol. He put a little on his skin. It felt better so Sandy splashed himself with the alcohol. It began to burn so badly that he took a shower for almost a hour.
Sandy also recalled that a Filipino had been accused of stealing a truck by the Japanese. Each night, the POWs heard the man's screams as he was tortured. The Japanese put lit cigarettes in the mans nostrils and ears. They also beat the man. Sandy stated that he found out later that the man had not stolen the truck.
Medical records kept at the camp indicate that
Sandy was in the camp hospital on July 20,
1942. The records do not indicate what his
illness was or the date he was discharged.
In June 1943, when the
detail ended, Sandy was sent to
Sandy was sent out on a work detail to build runways at an airfield the Japanese were the extending runways. The POWs did the work with picks and shovels and worked a week at the airfield and spent the next week at a farm.
treatment of the POWs, he said,
"What they did to us is take a ball bat and put
it right between your knees and make you kneel
down with the ball bat. A little of that
and you couldn't walk. The other was that
they'd give you a 50 pound sack of cement and
make you hold hold it like this, (Arms outstretched fully front
-- chest high) and I
mean you held it like this. And if you
started dropping down, they'd belt you
across the back, and you'd pick it and held
the fool thing until you either passed out,
or they gave up, or you held it long enough
to satisfy them."
Body lice was one of the worst things that the POWs suffered from in the camp. To get rid of them, the POWs rubbed a concoction of paste that he believed was made from rotten eggs. Whatever it was, it helped relieve the POWs from the lice.
Sandy was returned to Cabanatuan and
remained there for sixteen months until he was
sent to the Port Area of Manila in July
1944. Before he was sent to Japan, an
American doctor recommended that he have his
tonsils out since he had, had
diphtheria. While performing the
tonsil surgery, the doctor was allowed only one
60 watt bulb for light. The light was
allowed to be on only a short time at
night. The doctor removed Sandy's tonsils
with only a local anesthetic that he was running
out of about the time the bulb was turned off.
While he was
at the camp. he worked on the farm, Sandy was at the
planting potatoes. He had been on the detail
for about a week and had learned how to plant the
potatoes. One guard known as "Air Raid"
because when things did not go right he had a short
temper and went off on the POWs. Air Raid came
up to Sandy and asked, "Do
you understand how to do this?"
to Sandy, who was sitting on the ground, said, "Yes." Air
Raid did not know that Sandy had been planting
potatoes for a week and believed Sandy was telling
him that Sandy knew more about planting potatoes
than he did. He came over to Sandy and said, "Oh, a smart ass,
huh!" and hit him in the head with a
pick handle. Sandy figured Air Raid thought he
was saying that he knew more about planting sweet
potatoes then he did. The result was that
Sandy was in the camp hospital for ten days.
Sandy was boarded onto the Canadian Inventor for shipment to Japan. The prisoners were packed into the hold of the ship so tightly that they had to sleep in shifts.
The bathroom for the prisoners was a rack that hung over the side of the ship. To get to it, the POWs had to climb up ladders from the hold. This situation meant that there was always a line of men on the ladders attempting to get to the rack. Since many of the men were suffering from dysentery, vomiting, or had diphtheria, they did not always make it out of the hold before they relieved themselves. This was due to the fact that they were so sick and weak that they could not control their bodily functions. The trip to Japan aboard the ship took two months.
It was in the hold of the ship that Sandy was
reunited with Ed DeGroot of A Company. The
two men somehow got the job of preparing the
evening meal for the other POWs which allowed
the two men to get out of the hold of
According to Sandy, after stopping at Formosa and unloading salt, the ship sailed for Japan empty except for the POWs. During this part of the trip it ran into rough waters and, for ten days, bounced in the water like a cork. The stern of the ship would come out of the water and the ship would shake as the propeller spun in the air. When the stern reentered the water, the ship took off.
The ship arrived at Moji and the POWs were unloaded and were taken by ferry to the Island of Honshu. They next took a train to Fukuoka. In Japan, Sandy was assigned to Omine Machi POW Camp. There the POWs were used as slave labor in coal mines.
Somehow Sandy ended up running the pneumatic drill and cut holes into the cool vain. He did this for about a year. When he had finished drilling the Japanese would put dynamite charges into the holes and light the fuses. As they waited for the Japanese to blast out the coal, the POWs got their only break. The coal that was loosened by the blast was cleaned up by the next shift of POWs. The next day, they started all over again.
One day, while the
POWs were walking into the mine to their work
places, Sandy was the last man in line. A
big Korean, who was in servitude to the
Japanese, was standing in the shadows.
Since Sandy was extremely tired and had his head
down, he did not see the Korean and salute
him. The Korean, whose battery was
attached to his helmet light by a wire, swung
the battery and hit Sandy in the back of his
head. Knocked unconscious, Sandy fell to
the ground breaking his left wrist and was left
for dead in a ditch. This made mining
extremely painful, and his wrist would bother
him for the rest of his life.
In his estimate, during his time as a POW, Sandy suffered from dysentery, diphtheria, pellagra, scabies, malaria, a skin rash, scurvy, dengue fever, and beriberi. He would suffer from the skin rash the rest if his life.
Sandy was able to adapt to any situation and learned to mend his own shoes. When other POWs learned of this, he found himself the proprietor of the prison camp's shoe repair shop. He also believed that his attitude kept him alive. "I saw so many of my friends just lay down and die. I just hung in there and did anything to keep alive."
One day the prisoners did not have roll call and the guards were gone. This was the first sign that the prisoners had that the war was over. Sandy recalled that the camp commandant was still in the camp and paid the price for being there. Many of the POWs held him directly responsible for the deaths of many POWs. Some of the POWs pulled him from his quarters and tore him to pieces. They believed he was receiving the same treatment he had ordered that they be given.
Fearing for their lives, the prisoners stayed in the camp for ten days. American B-29s appeared over the camp and dropped 55 gallon drums containing food to the former POWs. What amazed the prisoners was that the Japanese civilians would bring the drums to them without touching anything in them.
The prisoners were finally boarded onto a train for the East Coast of Japan. They were deloused and the clothing, that had dropped to them, burned. After receiving new clothing, the former prisoners were boarded onto the U.S.S. Consolation on September 16, 1945, at Wakayama, Japan. Sandy was malnourished and returned to the Philippines to be "fattened up." He next was flown, on a DC3, back to the United States. In October 1945, Sandy was reunited with his parents.
Besides the Silver Star, Sandy also received the
Purple Heart, the POW Medal, the Bronze Star,
the Asiatic/Pacific Campaign, the American
Defense Medal, World War II Medal, the Good
Conduct Medal, the Philippine Defense
Medal, and the Combat Infantry
Badge. The 192nd Tank Battalion received
the Presidential Unit Citation with Two Oak Leaf
Clusters. He was discharged, from the
army, on May 11, 1946.
Sandy had a recurring nightmare of being chased by a Japanese guard. When the guard caught him, he couldn't move his arms and the guard beat him mercilessly.
The picture of Sandy, at the bottom of this
page, was taken while he was a prisoner at Omine
Machi in Japan. The shirt he was wearing was
actually given to him for the photo and his POW
number pinned on it. After the photo was
taken, his number was removed, he took off the
shirt, and it was given the next POW to wear in
Owen Sandmire passed away on March 10, 2004, from injuries he received in a motorcycle accident. After his death, and following his request, he was cremated.