Pvt. Joseph P. Trlicik
Pvt. Joseph P. Trlicik was the son of Joseph F. Trlicik & Mary Pisklak-Trlicik. He was born on May 29, 1919, in Rabb's Prairie, Texas. With his brother and three sisters, he grew up there and attended school. He lived on a farm until he was inducted into the U. S. Army on March 18, 1941, at Fort Sam Houston.
Joseph did his basic training at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. He trained for three months before he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana. While there, he was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion for additional months of training.
On the side of a hill, the members
of the 192nd 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. Joseph
volunteered to join the 192nd
which had taken part in the
Louisiana maneuvers. The
battalion was made up primarily
of National Guardsmen from
Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, and
Kentucky. Joseph was
assigned to Headquarters
The morning of December 8, 1941, Joseph and his battalion received the news that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese just ten hours earlier. The battalion's tanks were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. HQ Company was ordered to the north end of the main runway.
Around 12:45 in the afternoon, while the tankers were eating lunch, planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, Joseph and the other soldiers thought the planes were American. It was only when they heard the whine of the bombs and watched as they exploded on the runways that the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese. Since Joseph and his company did not have weapons to fight planes, they could do little more than watch.
For the next four months HQ Company worked to supply the tanks with gasoline and shells. Joseph often worked on a truck running supplies to the different companies of the battalion. One of the soldiers he worked with was Pvt. Walter Tucker of HQ Company who also was from Texas.
In early January, the 192nd was the last American unit to enter the Bataan Peninsula before the last bridge was destroyed during the withdraw into Bataan. Although Joseph most likely did not see front line action, he lived with the constant air raids and strafing by Japanese planes.
The morning of April 9, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company's trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Joseph was now a Prisoner of War.
On April 11th, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment. A Japanese officer ordered Joseph and the rest of his company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road. They were told to put their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans.
Joseph and his company boarded their trucks and drove to Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited. As they sat, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
As they sat watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the Japanese soldiers. He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. The Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, Joseph's group of POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours. The Japanese did not feed them or give them water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum. These two islands had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs. The POWs could do little since they had no place to hide. Some POWs were killed by incoming American shells. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move again by the Japanese. Joseph and the other men had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march, he received no water and little food. It took the members of HQ Company six days to reach San Fernando. Once there, the POWs were put into a school yard that had a fence around it. The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down.
During their time in the schoolyard, the POWs watched the Japanese bury three POWs. Two were still alive. When one of the men attempted to climb out of the grave, he was hit in the head with a shovel and buried.
At San Fernando, Joseph was put into a small wooden boxcar and taken to Capas. The cars could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the car. From Capas, Joseph walked the last ten miles to Camp O' Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed into service as a Prisoner of War camp. It turned out to be a death trap with as many as fifty POWs dying each day. There was only one working water faucet for the entire camp. To get a drink, men stood in line for days. Many died while waiting for a drink.
During Joseph's time at Camp O'Donnell, he came down with dysentery. When a new POW camp was opened at Cabanatuan, Joseph remained behind with the other POWs considered too ill to be moved.
While a POW, Joseph's family had no idea if he was dead or alive. In June 1942, his family was told by the army that he was Missing in Action. Two years later, the family received the news that Joseph was missing and presumed dead. In September 1945, the family received a letter from Major General Edward Witsel. The letter stated that Joseph had died as a POW on Tuesday, May 25, 1942, almost a month before they had received the first letter stating he was missing.
According to U. S. Army records, Pvt. Joseph P. Trlicik died from dysentery at Camp O'Donnell. After his death, his remains were buried in the camp's cemetery in Section I, Row 8, Grave 10. After the war, at the request of his family, Joseph's remains were returned to Texas. A memorial service was held at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in La Grange, Texas. Joseph was then buried at La Grange City Cemetery.