Semrow

 

Sgt. Donald Kenneth Semrow


    Sgt. Donald K. Semrow was born on January 4, 1922, in Janesville, Wisconsin, to George P. Semrow and Alice L. McPherson-Semrow.  With his two sister and four brothers, he lived at 303 South Pearl Street in Janesville.  While he was a child, his father died in 1929, and his younger brother, Robert, died in 1930.  His mother died in 1939.  With her death, Donald left school.  Donald and his younger brother, Bruce, were taken in by William and Majorie Goselin.  While living with the Goselins, he worked as a janitor of the National Youth Administration.
    Donald joined the Wisconsin National Guard in Janesville and was called to federal service in the fall of 1940.  The company was designated A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, and left for Fort Knox, Kentucky, on November 28th.  During his time at Ft. Knox, Donald learned to operate the equipment of the tank battalion.  He also was promoted to corporal amd completed the classwork to receive his high school diploma.
   
In late August, the battalion was informed it would take part in maneuvers in Louisiana. During the maneuvers the battalion performed exceptionally well.  After the maneuvers, instead of returning to Ft. Knox, the battalion remained at Camp Polk.  None of the members had any idea why they were being kept there.
    On the side of a hill, the battalion members were informed that they were being sent overseas.  They were told that this decision had been made by General George Patton.  Those members of the battalion who were 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service. 
    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 Calvin Coolidge 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 Gen. Edward King.  The general apologized that the men 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.
    On the morning of December 8, 1941, the members of A Company were informed of the Japanese attack on Clark Field.  His tank and the others were sent to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  About 12:45 in the afternoon as the tankers were eating lunch, planes approached the airfield from the north.  At first, the soldiers thought the planes were American.  It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.
   The 192nd remained at Clark field for about a week before they were ordered to the barrio of Dau so it would be near a road and railroad.  For the next four months, the tankers held positions so that the other units could disengage and form a defensive line.  At some point, Donald was promoted to sergeant.

    At Gumain River, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river.  When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easily seen since they were wearing white t-shirts.  It was there that the tankers found that the Japanese soldiers were high on drugs when they attacked.  Among the dead Japanese, the tankers found the hypodermic needles and syringes.   The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese for several weeks.  
    On another occasion the company was in bivouac on two sides of a road.  They posted sentries and most of the tankers attempted to get some sleep.  The sentries heard noise down the road and woke the company.  Every man grabbed a weapon.  As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac.  The tankers opened fire with everything they had.  When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion.
 
   On March 2nd or 3rd, 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.
    The night of April 8, 1942, the members of A Company circled their tanks.  Each tank fired one armor piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it.  The tankers next opened up the gasoline valves and dropped hand grenades into the turrets.  The next morning at 7:00 A.M. they became Prisoners of War.
    
The POWs made their way north from Mariveles.  The first five miles of the march were uphill.  At one point, the members of the company had to run past Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor.  They received little water and little food.  When they reached San Fernando, they were put into a bull pen.  In one corner of the bull pen was a trench the POWs were suppose to use as a washroom.  The surface of the trench was alive with maggots.  How long they remained in the bull pen is not known. 
    The Japanese ordered the POWs to form ranks.  They were marched to the train stationed and packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane.  Each car could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese  packed 100 POWs into each car.  Those who died remained standing since there was no place for them to fall.  At Capas, the living left the cars and the dead fell to the floors.  They walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
   
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base.  There was one water faucet for the entire camp.  Men literally died for a drink.  The death rate in the camp began to rise until as many as 55 men dying each day.  The burial detail worked non-stop to bury the dead.  Often, when they returned the next morning, the wild dogs had dug up the bodies or the bodies were sitting up in their graves.
  
    While Donald a POW at Camp O'Donnell, he became ill and was put into the camp hospital.  When the Japanese opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan to lower the death rate among the POWs, Donald was considered too ill to be moved.  According to the records kept by the medical staff at Camp O'Donnell, Sgt. Donald K. Semrow died from dysentery and malaria on Wednesday, July 22, 1942.  He was buried in the camp cemetery.
    After the war,
at the request of Donald's brother, Francis, the remains of Sgt. Donald K. Semrow were reburied at the new American Cemetery at Manila.   He was buried in Plot N, Row 13, Grave 91.     


 

 

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