Cpl. Russell Hugo Vertuno

   

    Cpl. Russell Hugo 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 of 1940, when the company was federalized.

    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 to remain behind at Camp Polk.  It was on a side of a hill that the battalion members learned that it had been assigned to duty overseas.  After almost one year of service, Russell was sent to the Philippine Islands with 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.  Arriving there, they were taken by ferry to Angel 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.

    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. 

    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 Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed from Hawaii 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 Gen. Edward King.  The general apologized that the men 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.

    About 4:00 in the morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which was taking place.  They were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  At 12:45 in the afternoon, the attack came.  The Army Air Corps was wiped out, and the Americans would begin a series of withdrawals toward the Bataan Peninsula. 

    Russell, like the other men on the peninsula, knew that their cause was hopeless.  But, they also knew that the longer they fought the more time they would buy for the Allies to reinforce Australia.  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. 

    With the other members of his company, Russell became a Prisoner of War when the Filipino-American Forces, on Bataan, were surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942.  Russell took part in the death march and was held as a POW at Camp O'Donnell.  It was at Camp O'Donnell that Russell 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.

    Russell was posthumously awarded the American Defense Medal, the Bronze Star and the Victory Medal of World War II.   After the war, Russell was reburied in Plot N, Row 2, Grave 83, at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila. 

    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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