Tennenberg




Pvt. Lester Irwin Tennenberg
     Pvt. Lester I. Tennenberg was the son of Mr. & Mrs. Gus Tennenberg on July 1, 1920.  He lived on the north side of Chicago at 1209 West Sherwin Avenue.  As a student, he attended Lane Technical High School in Chicago.  After high school, he worked as a helper on a delivery truck for a radio store. 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.

    In November, 1940, the men of the 33rd Tank Company were federalized and sent to 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. 

    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 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 loaded ammunition belts and worked at cleaning the cosmoline out of their weapons.  They were scheduled to take part in maneuvers.

    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.        
    War came to the Philippine Islands just ten hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor when planes appeared over Clark Field and bombed the American planes sitting on the runways.   On December 21st, 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 Tennenberg 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.  Von Bergen's tank had an armor piercing shell go through its turret.

    For the next four months, as a member of Sgt. Von Bergen's tank crew, Les fought to hold the Japanese as long as they could.  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.  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 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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