|Pvt. Vendel J. Trinka
Pvt. Vendel J. Trinka Jr. was born on May 25, 1919, in
Michigam, to Vendal J. Trinka Sr., and Elizabeth
Kriston-Trinka. He was the oldest child of four
children. His parents were Hungarian
immigrants. The family moved to a farm in Hewitt
Township, Marathon County, Wisconsin.
Vendel was inducted in the U.S. Army on April 7, 1941, and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. He was assigned to A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion during basic training. The company had been a Wisconsin National Guard Tank Company so the Army filled out the company with men from Wisconsin.
Almost a year after arriving in Kentucky, his battalion, the 192nd Tank Battalion, was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers. During the maneuvers the battalion performed exceptionally well. After the maneuvers, instead of returning to Ft. Knox, the battalion remained at Camp Polk. None of the members had any idea why they were being kept there.
On the side of a hill, the battalion members 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.
The battalion traveled by train to San Francisco. By ferry, they were taken to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they received inoculations and physicals. Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island. They were scheduled to join the battalion at a later date.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S. 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 Colonel Edward King, who apologized that they 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 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.
On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. They remained there off and on for several days. At all times, two crew members remained with the tanks. On December 8, 1941, ten hours after Pearl Harbor was attacked, Vendel lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. As tankers sat at their tanks, the sky above them was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed and two crew members were allowed to go to a food truck to get lunch.
The tankers who manning their tanks watched as two formations of planes approached the airfield from the north. They counted the formations were made up of 54 planes. Many believed the planes were American until they saw what looked like raindrops falling from the planes. When the raindrops began exploding on the runways, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese.
Sometime after the attack, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it would be close to a highway and railroad. From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River. There, the tanks, with A Company, 194th held the position.
On December 23rd and 24th, the company was in the area of Urdaneta. It was there, that the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write. After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River after the main bridge had been destroyed. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They 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. A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Reed. The company returned to the 192nd on January 8, 1942.
On January 28th, the tank battalions 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. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
A Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese Marines 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 had left 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. The 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. On another occasion the company was in bivouac on two sides of a road. They posted sentries and most of the tankers attempted to get some sleep. The sentries heard noise down the road and woke the company. Every man grabbed a weapon. As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac. The tankers opened fire with everything they had. When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion.
On March 2nd or 3rd, during "The Battle of the Points." The tanks had been sent in to wipe out two pockets of Japanese soldiers who had been landed behind the main defensive line. The Japanese were soon cut off. When the Japanese attempted to land reinforcements, they landed them at the wrong place creating another pocket. The night of April 8, 1942, the members of A Company circled their tanks. Each tank fired one armor piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. The tankers next opened up the gasoline valves and dropped hand grenades into the turrets. The next morning at 7:00 A.M. they became Prisoners of War.
The POWs made their way north from Mariveles. The first five miles of the march were uphill. At one point, the members of the company had to run past Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor. They received little water and little food. When they reached San Fernando, they were put into a bull pen. In one corner of the bull pen was a trench the POWs were suppose to use as a washroom. The surface of the trench was alive with maggots. How long they remained in the bull pen is not known.
The Japanese ordered the POWs to form ranks. They were marched to the train stationed and packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. Each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car. Those who died remained standing since there was no place for them to fall. At Capas, the living left the cars and the dead fell to the floors. They walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base. There was one water faucet for the entire camp. Men literally died for a drink. The death rate in the camp began to rise until as many as 55 men dying each day. The burial detail worked non-stop to bury the dead. Often, when they returned the next morning, the wild dogs had dug up the bodies or the bodies were sitting up in their graves.
To lower the death rate among the POWs the Japanese opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan. It is not known if Vendel was sent to the camp when it opened or if he was sent there after returning from a work detail. According to records kept by the medical staff, Vendel was hospitalized on Sunday, July 19, 1942, suffering from malaria. He remained in the camp's hospital until he was discharged on December 4th.
Not long after being discharged from the hospital Trinka was selected to go to Lipa Batangas on a work detail. The POW on the detail built runways at Lipa Airfield. Every other day, the POWs worked on a farm. What is known Trinka was sent to the hospital at Bilibid Prison on January 7, 1943, with chronic bronchitis. He remained in the hospital ward on February 7, 1943, when he was discharged and sent to Cabanatuan.
In July 1943, Vendel was sent out on a work detail to Nichols Field. The POWs on the detail were housed at the Pasay School in eighteen rooms. 30 POWs were assigned to a room. The POWs were used to extend and widen runways for the Japanese Navy. The plans for this expansion came from the American Army which had drawn them up before the war. The Japanese wanted a runway 500 yards wide and a mile long going through hills and a swamp.
Unlike the Americans, the Japanese had no plans on using construction equipment. Instead, they intended the POWs to do the work with picks, shovels, and wheel barrows. The first POWs arrived at Pasay in August 1942. The work was easy until the extension reached the hills. When the extension reached the hills, some of which were 80 feet high, the POWs flattened them by hand. The Japanese replaced the wheel barrows with mining cars that two POWs pushed to the swamp and dumped as land-fill. As the work became harder and the POWs weaker, less work got done.
At six in the morning, the POWs had reveille and "bongo," or count, at 6:15 in detachments of 100 men. After this came breakfast which was a fish soup with rice. After breakfast, there was a second count of all POWs, which included both healthy and sick, before the POWs marched a mile and half to the airfield.
After arriving at the airfield, they were counted again. They went to a tool shed and received their tools; once again they were counted. At the end of the work day, the POWs were counted again. When they arrived back at the school, they were counted again. Then, they would rush to the showers, since there only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs. They were fed dinner, another meal of fish and rice and than counted one final time. Lights were turned out at 9:00 P.M.
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