Sommerlund

 

Pvt. William Herman Sommerlund


    Pvt. William H. Sommerlund was born in Granton, Wisconsin, on September 8, 1919.  He was the son of Hans and Minnie Sommerlund who had come to the United States from Denmark.   As a child he attended local schools in Granton.

    As a teenager, William went to Iowa to find work on farms.  In early 1941, when it became apparent that he was going to be drafted into the army, he went back to his Granton to enlist in the army.

    On April 7, 1941, at Camp Grant, Illinois, William was inducted into the U.S. Army and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training.  Upon arriving there, he was assigned to A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion which was originally a Wisconsin National Guard Company from Janesville.  After completing basic training, William attended tank school where he qualified as a tank driver.

    In July 1941, he returned home on a seven day furlough to visit his parents before returning to Ft. Knox.  After he returned, the 192nd was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers from September 1st through 30th.  It was after the maneuvers the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox.  It was there that the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas.  He received a furlough home to say his goodbyes.

    A Company traveled west to San Francisco by train and arrived in San Francisco, California, where they were ferried to Ft. MacDowell on Angel Island.  There, they received a physical and inoculations, by the battalion's medical detachment, and those men with minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Some men were simply replaced.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S. A. T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th.  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 2nd and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
    On Wednesday, November 5th, 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 11th.  During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.  On Saturday, November 15th, 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 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning.  At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
    At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that 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 that they received Thanksgiving dinner before he went to have his own dinner. 
Ironically, November 20th 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 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  At all times, two tank crew members remained with their tanks and received their meals from food trucks.

    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.  A number of the tankers believed this was the start of the maneuvers.  At 8:30 A.M., American took off to intercept any Japanese planes and filled the skyAt noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, and were lined up 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.  As the planes approached the airfield, the soldiers 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.
    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 than 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 company was sent to the Barrio of Dau, on December 12th, so it would be close to a highway and railroad to guard them against saboage.  From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River.
    On December 23rd and 24th, 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 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 were   asked to hold the position for six hours; they held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.

    The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to a line from on the night of December 27th and 28th.  From there, they fell back to the south bank of the BamBan River which they were suppose to hold for as long as possible.
    On a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30th, the company was bivouacked for the night and 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 the Gumain River, the night of December 31st to the morning of January 1st, 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 1st, 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 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.  It was also in January 1942, that the food ration was cut in half.  It was not too long after this was done that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers.

    A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read.  The company returned to the command of 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.

    During the next four months, William fought numerous engagements against the Japanese.  At one point, his company was strafed and bombed by Japanese planes attempting to knock out American artillery located next to the company's bivouac area.

    William was wounded twice during the Battle of Bataan.  On one occasion he received a bullet wound to the head.  On another occasion, he was hit in right thigh by shrapnel from an exploding shell.
    The company's last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea.  By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way.  Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave.  When asked about the Philippines, he said, "There are times when men must die."  The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.

    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.
    On April 9, 1942, William and the other tankers received the order "crash."  They preceded to circle their tanks and pile their ammunition and on them.  They opened the gasoline valves and fired a armor-piecing shell into the motor of each tank.  The soldiers then dropped a hand grenade into each tanks.

    William and the rest of the company stayed in their bivouac and waited for orders to march.  The next day Japanese soldiers arrived.  The Japanese roughed up the Americans and took anything they wanted from them.  William and the other members of the company were then ordered to go to Mariveles.  It was from Mariveles that William started what became known as the death march. 

    On the march, William received no water and little food.  At one point, he and the other men had to run across a field being used by Japanese artillery to shell Corregidor.  As they crossed in front of the artillery, shells from Corregidor landed around them.

    At San Fernando, William boarded a small wooden boxcarused to haul sugarcane.  Each car could hold 40 men, but 100 POWs were packed into the each car and the doors were closed.  At Capas, the POWs disembarked and walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.

    Conditions in Camp O'Donnell were horrible, and as many as 50 POWs died each day.  To relieve the conditions in Camp O'Donnell, the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.  William was sent to this camp in early June 1942.  During his time in the camp he suffered from beriberi and dysentery.  Medical records from the camp show that he was admitted to the camp hospital on April 1, 1943, for beriberi and dysentery.  While he was in the hospital, he was also tested for tuberculosis, but his results were negative.  When he was released from the hospital was not recorded, but he remained at Cabanatuan until July 1943, when he was sent to the Port Area of Manila.

    On July 23, 1943, William was boarded onto the Clyde Maru, which sailed on July 23rd, but instead of heading to Formosa, it headed to Santa Cruz, Zambales and arrived there the same day.   The ship stayed in harbor for three days as manganese ore was loaded.  It sailed on July 26th and arrived in Formosa on July 28th.  On August 5th it sailed and arrived at Moji, Japan, on August 7, 1943. 

    After he arrived in Japan, William, and the other POWs, were taken to a train deport and sent to Omuta, Kyushu.  From there, he was sent to Fukuoka #17.  The POWs in the camp were used as slave labor in a condemned coal mine.  The POWs head to work bent over since they were much taller than the average Japanese.

     The barracks the POWs were housed in were 120 feet long and 20 feet wide.  Each was divided into ten rooms.  Four to six POWs slept in a room. 

     At some point in 1945, William was transferred to Fukuoka #1.  The date this transfer took place is not known.  One day the prisoners got up to work but were told that this was a holiday.  William and the other POWs knew something was up since this was the first holiday that they got the day off for.  When the guards fled and American planes appeared over the camp and dropped food and clothing, the POWs knew the war was over. 

    In September, 1945, William and the other POWs were liberated.  At the time of his liberation, he weighed 86 pounds.  After liberation,he saw the effects of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.  He was returned to the Philippines, to be fattened up, before being returned to the United States.  While he was in the Philippines, he was promoted from private to corporal and finally to sergeant.

    William arrived back with the United States on October 28, 1945, on the S.S. Klipfontein, at Seattle, Washington.  It was almost four years, to the day, since he had left the U.S. for the Philippines.  He was Madighan General Hospital at Ft. Lewis, Washington, and later sent to Schick General Hospital in Clinton, Iowa.  There, he met his future wife who was working as a medical assistant in the hospital.   William was discharged on January 28, 1947, and married on March 24, 1950.

    William stayed in Iowa and became a farmer.  In 1999, William was diagnosed with cancer, and just before Christmas, he suffered a stroke.  William H. Sommerlund passed away on January 13, 2000.

    The photo at the top of this page was taken after William had returned home in 1945.



 

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