Pfc. Paul Henry Vetter
Pfc. Paul H. Vetter was born
August 9, 1917, in Michael, Illinois. He was
one of nine children of Olando Vetter and Seralda
"May" Paige-Vetter. The family resided in
Carlin, Calhoun County, Illinois, in 1940.
Paul entered the army in January 1941. He was assigned to B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion as a replacement when openings in the company were created because men from each of the letter companies were transferred to Headquarters Company when it was formed. Since Paul was from Illinois, he was assigned to the company which had originally been an Illinois National Guard tank company.
When Paul arrived at Ft. Knox, he and the other
men were assigned to tents instead of
barracks. Being winter, the tent got cold
at night in spite of its stove. It
was during this time that he received his basic
training. This training was done by
sergeants from the different companies of the
Paul spent the next eight months training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. During this time, he qualified as a tank driver. His company continued to train for the next several months until they were sent on maneuvers in Louisiana. According to members of the battalion, they were assigned to the 2nd Armor Division and part of the Red Army. The opposing Blue Army was under the command of General George Patton.
one point, the 192nd broke through the
defensive lines of the Blue Army and on
their way to overrun its command post when
the maneuvers were suddenly canceled.
Instead of returning to Ft. Knox, the
battalion was ordered to remain behind at
Camp Polk. On the side of a hill, the
members learned they were being sent
overseas as part of Operation PLUM.
Within hours, many men had figured out they
were being sent to the Philippine
The tank battalion received
that it was to
B and C
ran low on
enough for one
to support the
Paul took part in the death march and marched to San Fernando. Arriving there, he and the other prisoners boarded a train and were shipped to Capas. The POWs were packed in so tightly that when a man died, he remained standing. At Capas, Paul and the other men disembarked the train and walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was a death trap. There was only one water spigot for the entire camp. Men literally died waiting in line for a drink of water. The Japanese guards would randomly turn off the water at any moment. The death rate among the POWs rose so high that the Japanese opened a new camp in an attempt to lower it.
Being one of the healthier POWs, Paul was sent
to Cabanatuan. During his time in the
camp, he became ill. According to records,
he was admitted to the camp hospital on January
19, 1943. It is not known what he was
admitted for and how long he was a patient, but
he was discharged. On March 26, 1943, he
was again admitted to the hospital. Again,
no illness or date of discharged were given.
After arriving at Moji, Japan, Paul worked in an
unknown mine. According to the
military records held at the National Archives,
Paul was sent to Tokyo #10-D, which was
also known as Tsurumi Camp and arrived in the
camp on September 8, 1944. The POWs worked at
the Osaka Shipyard Company where Japanese
warships were built.
In Japan, his clothing began to deteriorate until all he had to wear was a G-String. One morning Paul and another POW discovered the guards were gone. Not too long later, American bombers appeared over the camp and began dropping food and other supplies to the POWs. The POWs made clothing from the parachutes.
Paul and some other liberated POWs made their way to the coast where they made contact with U. S. Navy personnel. When Paul reached the Naval personnel, he was wearing a parachute. The Navy gave the liberated POWs clothing and cleaned them up. His first meal as a freed man was a spaghetti dinner.
After returning to the Philippines, he was promoted to corporal and received medical treatment. Paul returned to the U. S. on the U.S.S. Joseph T. Dyckman, on October 16, 1945, and called home from San Francisco, California. He asked his brother if his girlfriend, Minnie, was still waiting for him. His brother said she was. Paul and Minnie Haus married on November 6, 1945. Paul was discharged, from the army, on May 10, 1946.
Paul became a father of two children; Roger and Virginia. When the children were baptized, their baptismal gown was made from the parachute's silk he had found and used to wrap himself with while attempting to reach U. S. troops after the war had ended. The only thing that was changed for each baptism was the color of the ribbons on the gown.
Paul held a variety of jobs, including owning his own gas station in Godfrey, Illinois. He bought a home in Dow, Illinois, and custom built all the cabinets in the house. For the rest of his life, Paul carried on his back the scars from a beating he received while a prisoner. Paul's family also recalled that on his back and legs were scars from cigarette burns that he received from the Japanese during torture. He never told his family the story of the beating or how he got the cigarette burns.
On February 19, 1979, Paul H. Vetter passed away at 61 years old from a heart attack. He was buried at St. Anselm's Catholic Cemetery in Kampsville, Illinois.