Spencer

Sgt. Norman Frederick Spencer


     Sgt. Norman Frederick Spencer was born in Marshfield, Wisconsin, on May 31, 1920.  He was one of fourteen children born to Robert H. Spencer & Clara E. Knudsen-Spencer.  In 1937, his family moved to 5833 Electric Avenue in  Berkley, Illinois.  After moving to Berkley, Norman attended Proviso Township High School in Maywood, Illinois, where he was a member of the Class of 1940.

    With his friend, Harry Jerele,  Norman enlisted in the Illinois National Guard, on June 31, 1938.  The reason they did this was that Norman lived across the street from a captain in the Illinois National Guard.  This captain convinced him that the National Guard would be a "good" experience for him.  

    Norman went to Fort Knox, Kentucky, when the 33rd Tank Company was called into federal service in November of 1940.  Upon arrival at Fort Knox, Kentucky, the Maywood Tank Company's name was changed to Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion.  

    While at Fort Knox, Norman was trained to operate the various equipment of the battalion.  In January of 1941, during his training, Norman was transferred into the Headquarters Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion and was promoted to sergeant. 
    Almost a year after arriving in Kentucky, the battalion was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers.  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.  Some of the soldiers received leaves home to say goodbye to their families and friends.
    The battalion traveled by train to San Francisco over different train routes.  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 Tuesday, November 4th, 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.
    The morning of December 8, 1941, the officers of the battalion were called together and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor just hours earlier.  The tank companies were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  Headquarters Company remained in the battalion's bivouac.
    That morning the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45 a formation of planes approached the airfield from the north.  When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.
    After about a two weeks, the tanks were sent north to Lingayen Gulf to engage the Japanese.  Norman's job was to carry messages between the companies.  He would do this job during the Battle of the Pockets, during the Battle of the Points, and through numerous other battles.  At one point, a photographer took a picture of Norman attempting to catch some sleep beside his motorcycle.  The picture was published in many American papers.
    On April 9, 1942, Norman became a Prisoner of War.  Being that he was with the Provisional Tank Group, he did not start the march at Mariveles.  The members of the group were marched out to the main road the morning of April 10th.  There, the enlisted men were separated from the officers.  When they reached the road, they spent the rest of the day sitting and guessing what was going to happen.
    After dark, they were ordered to move.  They made their way north while Japanese troops attempted to go south.  Marching on the stony road was hard.  At midnight, they were allowed to rest for an hour.  They marched again until dawn when they were given another break.

    When they reached the Lamao River, they could smell the corpses of those who had died two days earlier in the Japanese final push.  In front of the members of the Provisional Tank Group were a group of Army Air Corps members.  They broke from the ranks and drank from the river and filled their canteens with water.  This would later be the reason so many POWs died at Camp O'Donnell.

    The POWs made their way north through Limay.  At Orani, the POWs were put into a bull pen.  In one corner was slit trench that was suppose to be used as a washroom.  The surface of the pit was alive with maggots.  It was also there that they received their first food.
     At 6:00 P.M. the POWs were formed into detachments, they began to march north again.  When they were given a break, they were allowed to sit but they had stay in ranks. When they got north of Hermosa, they were on paved road which made it easier to walk.  It began to rain which was refreshing for the prisoners. 
    The POWs continued north through Layac before daylight.  They passed through Lurao in the morning and Guagua at midday.  Many POWs fell out at this point.  The guards beat the man, but if he refused to get up, they let me lay on the ground until he could continue or was taken by truck to San Fernando.
    At San Fernando, the men were forced into another bull pen.  This one was already filled with Filipino soldiers.  By night, not all the POWs could lie down.
The POWs were put into groups of 200 men to be fed.  A couple of the POWs would get the food which was distributed to each member of the group.  Water was given out in a similar fashion.
    The POWs were awoken at 4:00 A.M. and taken to the train station.  They were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane.  The cars were known as "Forty or Eights" because the cars could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese packed 100 POWs in them.  Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas.  They arrived at Capas at 9:00 A.M.
    The POWs marched the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.  Once in the camp, they were taken into a large field were they were counted and searched.  Blankets, knives, and matches were taken from the them.  Finally, the camp commandant came out, stood on a box and told them that they were enemies of Japan and would always be Japan's enemies.  The prisoners were than allowed to go to their barracks.
    Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army training base which the Japanese put into use as a POW camp.  The death rate began to climb and as many as 55 POWs died each day.  The burial detail worked all day long to bury the dead.  In the morning when the burials started again, the bodies of those already buried had been dug up by wild dogs or sitting up in their graves.
    The Japanese realized that they had do something to lower the death rate, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.  The healthier POWs were sent to the camp while the ill remained behind at Camp O'Donnell.
    It is not known if Norman went directly to Cabanatuan when it opened, or if he was sent to the camp when a work detail he was on ended.  According to records kept by the camp medical staff, Norman was admitted to the camp hospital on Monday, August 10, 1942, suffering from pellagra.
    On several occasions the Philippine Red Cross came to the camp with medical supplies for the POWs.  Each time they came, the Japanese refused to allow the medicine to be given to the POWs.  Since the medical staff had very little medicine, there was little that they could for the sick.
    According to records kept by the medical staff at the hospital, Sgt. Norman F. Spencer died from malaria and pellagra on Wednesday, December 2, 1942, at approximately 8:00 P.M.  He was 20 years old. 
    Sgt. Norman F. Spencer was buried in Plot 2, Row 16, Grave 2042 in the Cabanatuan Camp Cemetery.  After the war, his remains were positively identified.  He was reburied, at his family's request, at the new American Military cemetery at Manila in Plot F, Row 10, Grave 1. 
His friend, Harry Jerele, who joined the National Guard with him, also died while a POW.



 


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