Tennenberg




Pvt. Lester Irwin Tenenberg
    Pvt. Lester I. Tenenberg was born on July 1, 1920, to Mr. & Mrs. Gus Tenenberg and lived at 1209 West Sherwin Avenue in Chicago.  As a student, he attended Lane Technical High School and after high school, he worked at the Liquid Carbonic Company.
    In September, 1940, Les knew that it was only a matter of time before he would be drafted into the army.  To prevent this from happening, and to have a say with whom he served with, Les joined the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Tank Company in Maywood, Illinois.  The reason he did this is that the company was going to be federalized for one year.

On November 28, 1940, the company boarded a train for Fort Knox, Kentucky, as Company B, 192 Tank Battalion.  Here Les had the privilege of serving the company as its first cook.  When other members of the company completed baking school, he then trained as a tank crew member.
    A typical day started at 6:15 A.M. with reveille, but most of the soldiers were already up so they could wash, dress, and be on time for assembly.  Breakfast was from 7 to 8 A.M. which was followed buy calisthenics from 8 to 8:30.  After this, the remainder of the morning dealt with .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistols, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in military tactics.
    At 11:30, the tankers got ready for lunch, which was from noon to 1:00 P.M., when they went back to work by attending the various schools.  At 4:30, the tankers day ended and retreat was at 5:00 P.M. followed by evening meal at 5:30.  The day ended at 9:00 P.M. with lights out, but they did not have to be in bed until 10:00 P.M. when taps was played.

    After Fort Knox, Les and the other members of the company were sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana.  The 192nd Tank Battalion took part in the Maneuvers of 1941.  To Les, these "maneuvers" were somewhat of a joke because the 192nd had few tanks.  Without knowing it, the 192nd had already been selected for overseas duty in the Philippine Islands.  On the side of a hill, the members of the battalion were informed that they would be in the Philippines from six months to six years.  The192nd was sent west to Angel Island where it awaited transit to the Philippines.
    The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco.  Arriving there, they were taken by ferry to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.  At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated.   Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
    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.   The ship 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, another transport, 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.
    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 they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.  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 with the 194th Tank Battalion.  
    On December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers.  Two crew members had to be with their tank at all times.  They received their meals from food trucks.

    On December 8, 1941, the tank company was ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard it against Japanese paratroopers.  That morning they had been informed of the attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier.  He and the other tankers watched the attack on Clark Field since most of their weapons were useless against airplanes.  They fought the best they could with weapons that were not designed to fight aircraft.        
    The tank battalion received orders on December 21st that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf.   Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas.  When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.   On December 22nd, Lt. Ben Morin's tank platoon was ordered north to Lingayen Gulf to engage Japanese troops landing there.  The tank of Sgt. Willard Von Bergen, which Pvt. Lester Tenenberg was a member of the crew of, was one of the tanks in the platoon.        
    About two miles south of Agoo, Morin stopped the platoon and asked an American officer where the Japanese where.  The officer told him about a mile up the road.  The tank platoon continued up the road.  Morin's tank was hit by a shell on the left side of the hull.  The hit knocked the door loose in front of his driver's, Pvt. Louis Zelis, position.  Within seconds, a second direct hit tore the door away and left it dangling over the front slope plate of the hull.  Morin signaled Pvt. Zelis to pull off the road to the right to take them out of the line of fire.  Ben did this to give his crew the chance to put the door back in place before continuing the attack.
  
  
  While the tank was stopped, a Japanese medium tank charged down on Morin's tank from concealment.  The Japanese tank struck Morin's tank full in the left front at the driving sprocket.  Pvt. Zelis backed onto the road again and tried to go forward.  Since the left driving sprocket was sprung out of line, it was jammed in the track.  The motive power of the right track pulled Morin's tank off the road to the left.  More shells struck the tank on the right side of the hull and in the right rear.  One shell pierced the armor and entered the battery case causing the engines to stop.  The radio and forward guns went dead, and the engine caught fire resulting in smoke entering the fighting compartment.
    The remaining three tanks having no way of communicating with Morin's tank withdrew from the area.  They did so believing that the crew was dead.  Just after Morin's tank was disabled, Von Bergen's tank had an armor piercing shell go through its turret.


    On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta, where the bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River had been destroyed.  The tankers made and end run to get south of river and ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening but 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 tankers were fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and December were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th. 

    The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.  On December 31st/January 1st,  the tanks were stationed on both sides of the Calumpit Bridge when they received conflicting orders, from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff, about whose command they were under and to withdraw from the bridge.  The defenders were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan.  General Wainwright was unaware of the orders.
    Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River and about half the defenders withdrew.  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.
    At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5th/6th, the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force and using smoke as cover.  This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions.  At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
    The night of January 6th/7th the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge.  The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan, before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M.
    The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan on which was worse than having no road.  The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations.  After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
    A composite tank company was formed, the next day, under the command of Capt. Donald Haines, B Co., 192nd.  Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire.  The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road.
    When word came that a bridge was going to be blow, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company.  This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
    The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road.  It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance.  It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon.  The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance.  Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400 hour overhauls.
    It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver:  "Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal.  If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay."
    The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Heicienda Road on January 25th.  While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M.  One platoon was sent to the front of the the column of trucks which were loading the troops.  The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
    Later on January 25th, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight.  They held the position until the night of January 26th/27th, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads.  When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were suppose to use had been destroyed by enemy fire.  To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
    The tank battalions, on January 28th, 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, while the battalion's half-tracks were used to patrol the roads.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
    Companies A & C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company - which was held in reserve - and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan.  The tankers were awake all night and attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance planes.  During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and off shore.
    On one occasion, a member of the company, who had gotten frustrated by being awakened by the planes, had his half-track pulled out onto the beach and took pot shots at the plane.  He missed the plane, but twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared over the location and dropped bombs that exploded in the tree tops.  Three members of the company were killed.
    The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available.  The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces.  There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over the area.

    B Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers 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 exited 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.

    In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks.  This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day.  At the same time, food rations were cut in half again.  Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor.
    The Japanese lunched an all out attack on April 3rd.  On April 7th, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening.  During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew.  The number of operational tanks also became more critical with C Company, 194th - which was attached to the 192nd - having only seven tanks left. 

   The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle where they could not fight back.  The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company's offer of assistance in a counter-attack. 
When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.

     On April 9, 1942, the men of Company B were ordered to destroy their tanks and other equipment that could be used by the Japanese.  With this order, Les and the other men of the company became Prisoners of War.

    Les took part in the death march.  On the march he was accompanied by Bob Martin also of B Company.  Les would first be held as a POW at Camp O'Donnell.  The camp was a death trap with only one water spigot for the entire camp.  Les, like other POWs, wanted to get out of the camp because of the number of POWs dying each day.  He volunteered on a work detail to rebuild bridges.  The detail, later known as the "Lumban Bridge Detail" rebuilt bridges that had been destroyed during the American retreat for the Japanese Engineers.  This detail was also under the command of Lt. Col. Ted Wickord the commanding officer of the 192nd Tank Battalion.

    A work detail was organized to go to San Fernando.  The POWs on the detail collected scrap metal that was to be sent to Japan.  Disabled vehicles were tied together with rope, and one operational vehicle would pull the disabled ones.  A POW was assigned to each vehicle.  
    After months, the bridge building detail ended, the POWto"drive" it to San Fernando. 
   After the detail ended the POWs were sent to "Camp One" at Cabanatuan where in Les' case he worked on a farm.  At Camp One, the prisoners ate rice and lived in crude huts.  If a prisoner was late or missed a detail, that POW was made to kneel on a ladder with a pole placed behind the knees to cut circulation.  The prisoner stayed like this until he fell over.    

    On July 23, 1943, Les was boarded onto the Clyde Maru.  The ship sailed for Santa Cruz, Zambales, to load manganese ore.  After a three day stay, it sailed again and arrived at Takao, Formosa, on July 28th.  It remained in port until a nine ship convoy formed.  On August 5th, the convoy left Formosa. 

    The next day the POWs left the ship and were marched to a train station.  They boarded a train and took a two day ride to Omuta, Kyushu.  The POWs disembarked the train and formed lines.  They were marched eighteen miles to their new camp.  Eighteen men too ill to walk, were driven to the camp.

    In Japan, he was held at Fukuoka Camp #17, which was located near the town of Omuta.  Here, Les and the other prisoners would be used as slave labor to work in a coal mine that had been abandoned by the Japanese because it had been determined to dangerous to mine.  It was also at this camp that Les witnessed POWs willingly give up their food for cigarettes.  The men had given up all hope and wanted to die. 

    It was at Camp #17 that his friend, Bob Martin, would save Les' life.  Bob had been injured and assigned to work in the camp kitchen.  Bob would sneak food to the prisoners being held in the camp's internal guardhouse.  One of these prisoners was Les.  Bob did this knowing that he was risking his own life.  The two men would stay friends for the rest of their lives.    In September of 1945, Les was liberated from captivity by the occupational forces of the American military. 

    Les was returned to the Philippine Islands and received medical treatment.  He was returned to the United States, at San Francisco, on the U.S.S. Hugh Rodman arriving on October 8, 1945.  He was then taken to Letterman General Hospital for additional treatment.
   
In 1947, Les would change his last name to "Tenney," which is what many of the other POWs had called him in the camps.  Les would go to college and become a professor of finance and insurance at Arizona State University.
    After he retired, he wrote the controversial book My Hitch in Hell about his time as a POW.  Lester Tenney passed away in Carlsbad, California, on February 24, 2017.  He was the last surviving National Guard member of B Company and possibly the last surviving member of the company.





 


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