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.  William was 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 the late summer of 1941, the 192nd was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers.  It was after the maneuvers at Camp Polk, Louisiana, that William and the rest of his battalion learned that they were being sent overseas.  He received a leave home to say his goodbyes.

    William and A Company traveled west to San Francisco.  Upon arriving, in San Francisco, he was ferried to Angel Island.  On the island, he received a physical and inoculations for duty in the Philippine Islands.
    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 that 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.  They remained there off and on for several days.  At all times, two tank crew members remained with the tank.

    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 took off to intercept any Japanese planes.  Sometime before noon, the alert was canceled and the planes landed 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.  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.
    After the attack, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it would be close to a highway and railroad.  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 a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Reed.  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.

    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.

    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 boxcar.  The POWs were packed into the cars.  At Capas, he disembarked and walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.

    Conditions in Camp O'Donnell were horrible.  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 May 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 tested for tuberculosis.  His results were negative.  When he was released from the hospital was not recorded.  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.  The ship sailed on July 23rd, but instead of heading to Formosa, it headed to Santa Cruz, Zambales.  It 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 then 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.  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 27, 1945, it was exactly four years, to the day, since he had left the U.S. for the Philippines.  He was sent to Schick General Hospital in Clinton, Iowa.  There, he met his future wife who was working as a medical assistant in the hospital.   They married on March 24, 1950.  William was discharged on January 28, 1947.

    William stayed in Iowa and became a farmer.  In 1999, William was diagnosed with cancer.  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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