Pvt. Walter W. Taipale
| Pvt. Walter W. Taipale was born on May 1, 1917, in Tovola Township,
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. He 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.
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 Patton. Those members of the battalion who were 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service.
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 Calvin Coolidge 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 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.
On the morning of December 8, 1941, the members of A Company were informed of the Japanese attack on Clark Field. His tank and the others were sent to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. About 12:45 in the afternoon as the tankers were eating lunch, planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, the soldiers thought the planes were American. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.
The 192nd remained at Clark field for about a week before they were ordered to the barrio of Dau so it would be near a road and railroad. For the next four months, the tankers held positions so that the other units could disengage and form a defensive line. At Gumain River, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river. When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easily seen since they were wearing white t-shirts. It was there that the tankers found that the Japanese soldiers were high on drugs when they attacked. Among the dead Japanese, the tankers found the hypodermic needles and syringes. The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese for several weeks. On another occasion the company was in bivouac on two sides of a road. They posted sentries and most of the tankers attempted to get some sleep. The sentries heard noise down the road and woke the company. Every man grabbed a weapon. As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac. The tankers opened fire with everything they had. When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion.
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 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 uphill. At one point, the members of the company had to run past Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor. They received little water and little food. 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 ranks. They were marched to the train stationed and packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. Each car could hold forty men or eight horses. 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. They walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base. There was one water faucet for the entire camp. Men literally died for a drink. The death rate in the camp began to rise until as many as 55 men dying each day. The burial detail worked non-stop to bury the dead. Often, when they returned the next morning, 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. 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. The 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. His parents requested that they be returned to the United States. In November 1949, he was buried at Toivola Cemetery, Saint Louis County, Minnesota.
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