|Pvt. Lester Irwin
| 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.
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
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.
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
September of 1945, Les was liberated from
captivity by the occupational forces of the
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.