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.
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 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
sky. At 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.