Cpl. Russell Hugo Vertuno

   

    Cpl. Russell H. Vertuno was born on November 6, 1917, in Oak Park, Illinois, to William F. Vertuno and Leonore Urban-Vertuno.  With his two sisters, he grew up in Melrose Park and later lived at 907 South 10th Avenue in Maywood, Illinois.  He graduated from Lincoln Grade School and Proviso Township High School as a member of the Class of 1935.  While attending Proviso, Russell earned a major letter as the member of the baseball team.  His family would later move to Melrose Park.

    After high school, Russell worked at a company that made molded products.  He also joined the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Tank Company in Maywood on September 23, 1940.  His reason for doing this was that the draft law had just been passed requiring all young men to serve one year in the military.   Like the other men who joined at the time, he knew that the tank company was being called to federal duty in November 1940.

    At Fort Knox, Russell was assigned to ordnance.  It was doing this job that Russell was injured when his legs were crushed between two trucks.  Russell was hospitalized but returned to the battalion on September 13, 1941.  The battalion had been sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where it was taking part in the maneuvers.

    After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered report to Camp Polk.  It was on a side of a hill that the battalion members learned that it had been assigned to duty overseas.  It was at this time that Russell returned to the battalion.  Most of the members of the battalion were allowed to return home to say their goodbyes, while others remained at Camp Polk, to ready the tanks and half-tracks and tanks they had received from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
    The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco, California and ferried to Ft. McDowell onAngel 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.  Other men were simply replaced.

    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaoo, on Sunday, November 2nd.  Since the ships had a two day layover, the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. 

    The soldiers had a short stay in Hawaii. During this time, Russell wrote this letter home:

 

    "Dear Folks,

         Well, today I am twenty-four years old, but I still feel the same.  We are still anchored in the harbor at Honolulu, so my birthday is spent in Hawaii. although I would much rather spend it in Maywood. 

         On Tuesday we toured the island and had an enjoyable time.  We started at about nine in the morning on what was a complete circle of the island. The first point of interest was the 'upside down waterfall.'  This is a very steep hill, and when it is raining hard and when it is raining hard and the wind is blowing hard, the water seems to be  flowing uphill. Of course we got there when the sun was shining, so we only saw the hill.

        Continuing along the road we came to a precipice which is right at the side of the road.  A cement

    guardrail at the edge of the road is the only barrier that keeps cars from going over a drop of 3105 feet.  There

     is a recess in the side of the mountain on the other side of the road in which is erected a plaque which commemorates the'Battle of Nuuanu' fought in the valley in 1795 when Kamehameha I and his cohorts  hurled his enemies over the precipice.

    Next on the itinerary, although we didn't stop there, was Pearl Harbor.  This is the United States' biggest naval base.  Approximately half the Pacific fleet was in; also there were three aircraft carriers and two hospital ships. 

        We drove to Schofield Barracks which was the largest army post previous to the Selective Service Act. Schofield is very nice: there are beautiful buildings and the very green lawns and pretty flowers set all over the post.  At the present, several buildings are being erected which will make Schofield even larger.

        Along the road we saw pineapple plantations and sugar cane plantations.  There are narrow gage railroads all over the island to carry the pineapples and sugar cane to the canneries and refineries.  We saw old men and old women working in the fields.  There were also palm trees and coconut trees and flowers all over the island.

        At Haleiwa Beach we saw five and six foot waves breaking and forming a very white surf.  Surf board riders stood up on their boards and waited for the waves to catch them and carry them to shore.  We ate a bite at the Sea View Inn around noon.  I had sliced papaya.  This is a fruit on order of a pear, that is, it is shaped like a pear but the meat itself is the color of a cantaloupe.  A slice of lemon is served with the papaya and the juice gives the fruit a distinctive flavor;  if one doesn't use the lemon, and thinks of fruit such as a banana or orange, then the papaya tastes like a banana or orange.

        When had just passed the Boy's Industrial School when something went wrong with the bus, so the driver pulled in to Kahuku and phoned for another bus to pick us up.  We had a wait of 90 minutes so we strolled around the town.  I bought a pipe and some tobacco and then returned to the bus and read a magazine. The pickup bus finally came and rode to our next stop which was the Mormon Temple. 

        The temple was a very large white stone building surrounded by spacious green lawns which were very well kept.  There were high hedges clipped so that they were almost geometrically perfect, around the temple.

   Three or four cement pools led from the entrance up to the temple.  Each one was a bit high then the proceeding one. On each side of the pools was a single line of trees, straight as an arrow.  In the distance were some green hills, and on the ground there were varied colored flowers which made the grounds picturesque.

        Our next stop was quite a number of miles down the coast at a place called the 'Blow-hole.'  The surf rolls up the sand into a cavern and up over the rocks back into the sea.  This happens when the surf is high, but it was our luck to visit it on a day when the waves weren't comprised of two taps.  The two end taps dispense juice and the middle tap dispenses water.  Small paper cups are available, so I got one and proceeded to down about seven cups of juice.  I would had had more but my stomach was getting quite cold, so I desisted.

        Marty, Fred and I then hopped a bus for Waikiki.  We arrived there about 5 o'clock and sat down on a bench and watched the swimmers and surf-riders. A little later we got hungry so we pooled our resources, which amounted to forty-six cents.  Marty and I went across the street to the Piggly Wiggly and supper.

        We then rounded Diamond Head which is a large rock, and I was disappointed for I was looking form more than what I saw.  We then came to Waikiki Beach where some of the fellows got off.  Our S-4 gang stayed off the bus and went into town.

        By this time we were getting quite hungry so we stopped a t a restaurant and had a steak dinner with lemon cream pie desert.  The pie was so good it almost tasted like homemade pie. After supper we walked around until ten-thirty and then went back to the ship. 

        Tuesday morning Fred Lovering and I started out to walk to Waikiki., but we only got half-way.  It was quite warm, so we sat down in a park and rested for two hours and then started back for down.  We walked up one street and down another, until we covered the whole business district.

        Wednesday afternoon we got off the ship again.  Marty Cafferman, Les Watson and I went to the Dole plant, but we were too late to be able to go through the factory.  However, we did get some pineapple juice.  In the main office there is a niche in the wall that holds a fountain.  We bought a loaf of bread for 9 cents, a sliced veal loaf for 25 cents, and a box ov vanilla cookies for 10 cents.

        The sunset was very pretty.  After the moon and stars had been out for awhile we got on the bus for town.  With some hours walking behind us, we decided to head for the boat.

        I am typing this in our S-4 office this morning. We still don't know when we are to pull out, but I guess it will be within twenty-four hours.

                                                                                                                      Love,

                                                                                                                                   Russ"

 


    On Wednesday, November 5th, the ships sailed from Hawaii for Guam but took a southerly route away from the shipping lanes.  At one point smoke from a unknown ship was seen on the horizon.  The heavy cruiser escorting the two transports engines whined up, the bow came out of the water, and the the ship shot of in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out the ship was from a friendly country.
During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship, was seen on the horizon.  The cruiser that was escorting the two transports revved its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country.   During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship, was seen on the horizon.  The cruiser that was escorting the two transports revved its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country. When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, water, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila.  It was while the ships were at Guam that the  last letter his parents received from him was mailed.  After the ships left Guam, they passed an island at night in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they would soon be at war.  The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th.  They docked at Pier 7 later that day, and the soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. 

    At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward King apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field.  The fact was that he learned of their arrival days earlier.  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.
   
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts, did tank maintenance, and prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.

    On Monday, December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard it against paratroopers.  The 194th Tank Battalion was assigned the northern half of the airfield while the 192nd protected the southern half.  At all times, two crew members had two remain with their tank or half-track and received their meals from food trucks.  HQ Company made sure that the companies had what they needed.
   
The morning of December 8, 1941, just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the tankers were ordered the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  All morning long as they sat on their tanks, they watched as American planes filled the sky.  At noon, the planes landed.       
    As the tankers were having lunch, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north.   
When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.  Since they had few weapons that could be used against Japanese, they could do is watch.

    Russell, being assigned to ordnance, drove a truck.  His job was to make sure that the tanks received the ammunition and fuel they needed to keep fighting.   He did this for the next four months as the Battle of Bataan continued.
    The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender.  While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them.  As he spoke, his voice choked.  He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued.  He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks.  During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together.   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.  Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, "Their last supper."
   
On April 11th, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment.  A Japanese officer ordered the 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 with 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.  They remained along the sides of the road for hours.           
    The company finally boarded their trucks and drove to just outside of Mariveles, where they were ordered by the Japanese out of their trucks.  From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and were ordered to sit.  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 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 sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
    
    Later in the day, the POWs were order to move to a schoolyard 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 were firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs who could do little to protect themselves 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.
    It was from this school yard that they began the death march and made their way to San Fernando.  During the march he saw men who had fallen shot and bayoneted where they fell.  At San Fernando, the POWs were put in a bull pen and ordered to sit.  When they were ordered to move again, they formed 100 men detachments and were marched to the train station.  At the station, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars which could hold forty men of eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors.  Those POWs who died in the cars did not fall to the floors until the living left the cars at Capas and marched the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.      

    Camp O'Donnel was an unfinished Filipino training base that was put into service as a POW camp.  Disease spread quickly among thesine there was no medicine to treat the sick. The death rate among the prisoners rose to as many a 55 men a day.  The situation reached the point that the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan and sent those prisoners considered healthy to the camp.  When the POWs were transferred to the camp, Russell remained at Camp O'Donnell since he was too ill to be moved. 
    According to medical records kept at the camp, Cpl. Russell H. Vertuno died of dysentery on June 17, 1942, at the age of 24.  He was buried in the camp cemetery in Section N, Row 10, Grave 2. 
After the war, Russell was reburied in Plot N, Row 2, Grave 83, at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila. He was posthumously awarded the American Defense Medal, the Bronze Star and the Victory Medal of World War II.  
    On Sunday, November 18, 1945, at St. John's Lutheran Church in Melrose Park, Illinois, his family had a memorial service for Russell.

    One side note that should mentioned is that Russell's two sisters, Rose and Virginia, were both engaged to other members of Company B.  Both of their fiancÚs died while Japanese POWs.


 

 


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