Pvt. Walter W. Taipale



    Pvt. Walter W. Taipale was born on May 1, 1917, in Toivola Township, Saint Louis County, Minnesota, to Antti A. Taipale & Erika Stenbacka-Taipale who were Finnish immigrants.  With his six sisters and two brothers, he grew up in Proctor, Minnesota.  He left high school after his first year and went to work for Oscar Meyer in Madison, Wisconsin, and lived with his sister and her husband at 114 South Butler Street.
    In January 24, 1941, in Milwaukee, he was inducted into the U.S. Army.  He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training.  At the same time, he was assigned to A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  The company originally was a Wisconsin National Guard Tank Company from Janesville, Wisconsin, and the Army filled vacant positions in the company with men from Wisconsin.
    A typical day for the soldiers started in 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress.  Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics at 8:00 to 8:30.  Afterwards, the tankers went to various schools within the company.  The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics.  
    At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M.  Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13th, such as: mechanics, tank driving, radio operating.  At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30.  After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played. 
    Almost a year after arriving in Kentucky, the 192nd Tank 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 S. Patton.  Those members of the battalion who were 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service. 
    The company traveled by train to San Francisco, California, and were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island, where they received inoculations and physicals from the battalion's medical detachment.  Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind 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. D 
    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 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 prepared to take part in maneuvers.
    On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  At all times two members of each tank and half-track crew had to remain with their vehicle.  They 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.  Some of the men believed this was the start of the maneuvers.  At 8:30 A.M., American planes took off to and filled the sky in every directionAt 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 in the formation.  As the planes approached the airfield, the tankers watched what was described as "raindrops" falling from the planes.
  When bombs began exploding, they knew the planes were Japanese.  For some reason, not known to the tankers, most of the Japanese planes did not attack the tanks.  The few that did had their bombs explode between the tanks.
    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 Dau, on December 12th, so it could protect a road and railroad from sabotage.  From there, on December 21sst, it was order to the Lingayen Gulf to rejoin the other companies of the 192nd which had been sent there to relive the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts.

    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 battalion 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.

    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.   
    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.  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 which resulted in 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.
    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. The company returned to the command of the 192nd on January 8, 1942.
    While American and Filipino forces were withdrawing from the Pilar-Bigac Line, the battalion prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops.  The morning of January 27th, a new battle line had been formed and all units were suppose to be beyond it.  That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were suppose to have withdrawn.  While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualties.       
   
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.  After attempting one landing, which failed, the Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting more landings.

    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 soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat.  The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten.  They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry.  To make things worse, the soldiers' rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942.  This meant that they only ate two meals a day.   
    The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantly clad blond on them.  The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
    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.   Both, of the pockets, were wiped out.
   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.
    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 uphillwhich was hard for men who were half-starved and, in many cases, sick.  At one point, the members of the company had to run past Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor.  They received little water and little food on the march.  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 detachments of 100 men. After this was done, they were marched to the train stationed where they were packed into small wooden
boxcars used to haul sugarcane.  Each car could hold forty men or eight horses, but 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.  The POWs walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell.

   
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base put into use as a POW camp.  There was one water faucet for the entire camp, and men literally died for a drink.  The death rate in the camp began to rise until as many as 55 men were dying each day.  The burial detail worked non-stop to bury the dead.  Often, when they returned the next morning to the cemetery, the wild dogs had dug up the bodies or the bodies were sitting up in their graves.

    To lower the death rate among the POWs, the Japanese opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.  It is not known if Walter was sent to the camp when it opened or if he was sent there after completing a work detail.

    In the camp, the POWs went out on work details that would return to the camp each evening, while other POWs worked in the camp farm.  The Philippine Red Cross attempted to help the POWs by bringing medical supplies to the camp for the POWs, but he Japanese refused to allow the medical supplies to be given to the POWs.

    According to medical records kept at the Cabanatuan, Walter became ill and was sent to the camp hospital on October 10, 1942, suffering from beriberi, scurvy, and dysentery.  Since they had no medicine, the medical staff of the hospital could do little for him.  According to records kept the medical staff, Pvt. Walter W. Taipale died of dysentery and beriberi on Tuesday, November 10, 1942, at approximately 4:00 P.M.  His parents learned of his death in August 1943.

    Pvt. Walter W. Taipale was buried in the Cabanatuan camp cemetery.  After the war, his remains were positively identified, and his parents requested that they be returned to the United States.  In November 1949, he was buried at Toivola Cemetery, Saint Louis County, Minnesota.






Return to Company A

NEXT