Thorman

 

Capt. Russell C. Thorman


    Capt. Russell C. Thorman was born on October 21, 1903, and was the son of William F. Thorman & Minnie Drafahl-Thorman, and was one of the couple's five sons.  Russell worked as a salesman for a lumberyard, married Thelka, and was the father of a daughter.  The family lived at 465 South Fremont Street in Janesville, Wisconsin,   

    On June 8, 1921, Russell joined the Wisconsin National Guard and worked his way up the ranks from private until on June 8, 1921, he was promoted to corporal.  On November 9, 1932, he was promoted to sergeant and on January 31, 1938, he resigned as an enlisted man, and February 1, 1938, he was commissioned a second lieutenant.  He was than promoted to first lieutenant on March 7, 1940. 

    When the 32nd Division Tank Company was federalized in the fall of 1940, Thorman traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for one year of training.  In January 1941, he was transferred to B Company, and then Headquarters Company when it was formed.  He went  back to A Company, as its commanding officer, when Capt. Walter Write was put in command of D Company.  Later, he was the battalion's Staff Officer for Personnel or S-1 and later he became the battalion's adjutant.

    After taking part in maneuvers in Louisiana, Thorman and the other members of the battalion were ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox  It was at that time that the battalion members learned they were being sent overseas.  Being over 29 years of age, he was given the opportunity to resign from federal service but chose to remain with the 192nd.
    Over different train routes, the companies of the battalion arrived in San Francisco, California, and were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  There, the battalion's doctors gave the men physicals and inoculations.  Those with minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Other 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 transport, 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 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.
    Thorman lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field and spent four months working to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines.  At some point, he was promoted to captain.  On April 9, 1942, he became a Prisoner of War.  He took part in what became known as the death march.  Thorman did the march with Dale Lawton and Carl Nickols.  For the POWs the heat, the lack of food, and the lack of water made the situation worse.  During five days on the march, all the three soldiers had to eat was one ball of rice.

    At San Fernando, Thorman and the others were crammed into small wooden boxcars known as “Forty or Eights.”  The cars could hold forty men or eight horses, but somehow the Japanese got 100 men into each one and closed the doors.  At Capas, the POWs got out of the cars.  The bodies of the dead fell out of the cars and onto the ground as the living exited the cars.  Thorman and the other men walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.

    It is not known if Capt. Thorman left Camp O'Donnell on a work detail.  What is known is that he was next held at Cabanatuan.  Medical records kept at the camp show that he was hospitalized on July 19, 1942, but do not state the reason he was admitted to the hospital or when he was discharged.  He remained in the camp until September 24, 1944, when his name appeared on a list of POWs being sent to Bilibid.

    After being transferred to Bilibid, Thorman’s name appeared on another list of POWs posted on December 8, 1944.  On December 12th, the POWs heard rumors that a detail was being sent out.  The POWs went through what was a farce of an physical.  They were told cigarettes, soap, and salt would be issued.  The POWs were also told that they would also receive a meal to eat and one to take with them.  The Japanese stated they would leave by 7:00 in the morning, so the lights were left on all night.  At 4:00 A.M. the morning of December 13th, the other POWs were awakened.

    By 8:00, the POWs were lined up and roll call was taken of the men who had been selected for transport to Japan.  The prisoners were allowed to roam the compound until they were told to "fall-in."  The men were fed a meal and then marched to Pier 7 in Manila.  During the march down Luzon Boulevard, the POWs saw that the street cars had stopped running and many things were in disrepair.

After arriving at Pier 7, the POWs were allowed to sit down.  Many fell asleep and slept to around 3:45.  About 5:00 P.M., the POWs were boarded onto the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan. 

    Thorman was held in the rear hold.  The sides of the hold had two tiers of bunks that went around the diameter.  The POWs near the hatch used anything they could find to fan the air to the POWs further away from it. 

     The ship remained docked in Manila and did not sail until 3:30 A.M. as part of the Convoy-37.  Inside the holds, the temperature was near 100 degrees.  After the ship sailed, the POWs could tell they were in open water from the wave swells.  The ships sailed for Subic Bay to pick up Japanese civilians and reached the bay at 2:30 in the morning.

    The morning of December 14th at about 8:00, the prisoners were eating when they heard the sounds of guns.  At first, they thought the anti-aircraft gun crews were just drilling since they had not heard any planes.  It was only when the first bomb hit that they knew it was no drill.  The waves caused by the explosions caused the ship to rock.  A Japanese guard, who had been at Cabanatuan, yelled to the POWs, "All go home; Speedo!"  The POWs knew what he meant, and it was later confirmed when they heard that the ship had turned back and dropped anchor.  The attacks now seemed to be concentrated on the the Oryoku Maru's bridge. 

    The POWs heard the change in the sound of the planes' engines as they began their dives toward the ships in the convoy.  Explosions were taking place all around the POWs.  Bullets from the planes ricocheted into the hold causing many casualties.  The POWs lived seven or wight attacks during which the ship was bombed and strafed.   The last attack ended at 5:00 P.M.

    The attacks followed a pattern.  30 or 50 planes would attack the ship for 20 or 30 minutes before ending the attack.  There would be a lull of 20 to 30 minutes when a new attack would begin.  At first, it seemed as if the planes were going after the other ships in the convoy to knock out the anti-aircraft guns. 
    At 4:30 P.M., the heaviest attack on the ship took place with three bombs hitting the ship on its bridge and stern.  Bombs that fell close to the ship threw spouts of water over it.  Bullets hit the metal haul plates like hail but most did not penetrate because of the angle they hit the side of the ship.   During the attack, Fr. Cummings, an Army chaplain, led the POWs in "The Lord's Prayer."
    At dusk, the ship raised anchor and sailed toward the east before it turned south and next went west for some time.   It finally, turned north and continued to sail north for some time before it dropped anchor at 8:00 P.M.  It had made a complete circle.

    That night the POWs heard a great deal of running around taking place on the deck and the Japanese were shouting to or from shore or another ship.  The POWs believed that the ship was surrounded tugs, launches, and rowboats.  The POWs finally realized, sometime after midnight, that the Japanese were taking the women and children off the ship since they could hear people shouting and children crying.  The medics in the ship's hold were ordered out, by a Japanese officer, to tend to the Japanese wounded.  One of the medics recalled that the dead, dying and wounded were everywhere.

    At 4:00 A.M., the Japanese interpreter yelled into the hold that in two or three hours, the ship would dock at the pier and the POWs would be taken ashore.  When daylight came, the interpreter shouted that the first 25 men would be taken ashore.  Suddenly, he looked up and shouted "Planes, many planes!"  The POWs knew it was the real thing, but the planes just circled the ship and did not attack because they were pursuit planes looking for Japanese planes.
    When the fighter bombers appeared, the POWs took cover and this time knew that the attack was aimed at their ship.  The bombs appeared to be larger and many hit the ship.  Holes from shrapnel appeared in the sides of the ship and water came in from the explosions.  The bow of the ship took a major hit and there were several hits on the stern of the ship.  When the bombs hit they killed 80 of 120 officers who were in it. 
In the hold the POWs crowded together.  Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling.  After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started.  A Catholic priest, Fr. Duffy, began praying, "Father forgive them.  They know not what they do."   
    It was at this time that the POWs made their way to the deck and found that the ship was 400 to 500 yards from shore.  The men who could swim jumped over the side into the water.  Those who could not swim jumped over holding wooden planks to keep them afloat. 
Japanese soldiers fired on the POWs  to keep them in the water so they would not escape. 
    Four American planes flew low over the water seeing the large number of men in the water and jumping from the ship.  Those men in the water waved frantically at the planes so that they wouldn't be strafed.   One of the planes broke formation and returned, even lower, over the POWs.  This time the pilot dipped his plane's wings to show that he knew they were Americans and rejoined the other planes.  The planes flew off and the POWs knew it would be awhile before the planes would return to sink the ship.
    When the POWs reached shore, they were held on the beach until they were moved to a grove of trees.  It was there that they were allowed to form a water line.  For many of the POWs it was their first water in three days. 
Later in the day, the POWs were moved to a single tennis court.  The Japanese packed 1300 of the POWs on the court with 100 wounded POWs taking up a great amount of room at one end.  They could barely sit down and only lay down by lying partially on another man.  During this time, the POWs were not fed but did receive water.

    While the POWs were at Olongapo, a Japanese officer, Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart, that those too badly wounded to continue the trip would be returned to Bilibid.  Fifteen men were selected and loaded onto a truck.  They were taken into the mountains and never seen again.  They were executed and buried at a cemetery. 

    The POWs remained on the tennis court for nine days.  During their time of the courts, American planes attacked the area around them.  The men watched as the fighter bombers came in vertically releasing bombs as they pulled out of their dives.  On several occasions, the planes dove right at the POWs, dropped their bombs, and pulled out.  The bombs drifted over the POWs and landed away from them exploding on contact.

     Since the POWs had no place to hide, they watched and enjoyed the show.  They believed that the pilots knew they were Americans but had no way of knowing if this was true.  But what is known is that not one bomb was dropped on them even though they could be seen from the planes.

    The evening of December 16th, the Japanese brought 50 kilo bags of rice for the POWs.  About half of the rice had fallen out of the bags because of holes.  Each POW was given three spoons of raw rice, and a quarter of a spoon of salt.

    At about 8:00 AM on the morning of December 22nd, 22 trucks arrived at the tennis court.  Rumors flew on where they were going to be taken.  At about 4:00 PM, a Taiwanese guard told the POWs, in broken English,"No go Cabanatuan. Go Manila; maybe Bilibid."  The guard knew as little as the POWs. 

     On December 22nd, the POWs were taken by truck to San Fernando, Pampanga, arriving there about four or five in the afternoon.  Once there, they were put in a movie theater.  Since it was dark, the POWs saw it as a dungeon. 

     During their time at San Fernando, Pampanga, the POWs lived through several air raids.  The reason for the air raids was the barrio was military headquarters for the area.  Most of the civilians had been moved out of the barrio.   Many of the Americans began to believe they had been taken there so that they would be killed by their own countrymen. 

     December 23rd, at about 10:00 PM, the Japanese interpreter came and spoke to the ranking American officer about moving the POWs.  The Japanese loaded the seriously ill POWs into a truck.  Those remaining behind believed they were taken to Bilibid.  The remaining POWs were moved to a trade school building in the barrio.

     After 10:00 AM on December 24th, the POWs were taken to the train station.  The POWs saw that the station had been hit by bombings and that the cars they were to board had bullet holes in them from strafing.  180 to 200 were packed into steel boxcars with four guards also in the cars.  The doors of the boxcars were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible.  Ten to fifteen POWs rode on the roofs of the cars along with two guards.  The guards told these POWs that it was okay to wave to the American planes. 

     On December 25th, the POWs disembarked at San Fernando, La Union, at 2:00 AM and disembarked.  They walked two kilometers to a school yard on the southern outskirts of the barrio.  From December 25th until the 26th.  The POWs were held in a school house.  The morning of December 26th, the POWs were marched to a beach.  During this time the prisoners were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water.  The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater.   Many of those men died.

     The remaining prisoners at San Fernando, La Union, where they boarded onto another "Hell Ship" the Enoura Maru.   On this ship, the POWs were held in three different holds.  The ship had been used to haul cattle.  The POWs were held in the same stalls that the cattle had been held in.  In the lower hold, the POWs were lined up in companies 108 men.  Each man had four feet of space.  Men who attempted to get fresh air by climbing the ladders were shot by the guards.  

    The Daily routine for the POWs on the ship was to have six men climb out of the hold.  Once on deck, they used ropes to pull up the dead and also pull up the human waste in buckets.  Afterwards, the men on deck would lower ten buckets containing rice, soup, and tea.

    During the night of December 30th, the POWs heard the sound of depth charges exploding in the water.  The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on December 31st and docked around 11:30 AM.  After arriving at Takao, Formosa, each POW received a six inch long, 3/4 inch wide piece hardtack to eat.  This was the first bread they had since receiving crackers in their Red Cross packages in 1942.

    While in the harbor, the POWs received little water.  From January 1st through the 5th, the POWs received one meal and day and very little water.  This resulted in the death rate among the POWs to rise.  On January 6th, the POWs began to receive two meals a day.

    The morning of January 9th the POWs were receiving their first meal of the day, when the sound of ship's machineguns was heard.  The explosions of bombs falling closer and closer to the ship were also heard.  The waves created from the explosions rocked the ship. 

     One bomb that hit the ship exploded in the corner of the forward hold killing 285 prisoners.  The surviving POWs remained in in the hold for three days with the dead.  The stench from the dead filled the air.   On January 11th a work detail was formed and about half the dead were removed from the hold. 

    The dead were unloaded from the ship, and a POW detail took the corpses to a large furnace where they were cremated.  These men reported that 150 POWs had been cremated.  Their ashes were buried in a large urn.

    A few days later, another detail was formed which removed the remaining dead from the hold.  The bodies were taken to a beach and buried in a mass grave.  After the war, the remains were exhumed and reburied in Hawaii.

    Capt. Russell Thorman died during the attack on the Enoura Maru on January 9, 1945.  It is not known if his body was taken ashore or if he was buried in the mass grave at Formosa.  Since his final resting place is not known, his name appears on the Tablets of the missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.


 

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