Vetter

 

Cpl. Paul Henry Vetter


    Cpl. 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 192nd. 

    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.

     At 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 Islands. 
    From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes.  Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Those with health issues were released from service and replaced.
    The battalion sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover.  The soldiers received passes and allowed to explore the islands.  They sailed again on October 29th for Guam.  When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water.  The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay.  After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked.  Most of the battalion boarded trucks and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila.
    At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward King.  King welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed.  He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to love in tents.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons.  They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts.  The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
    The morning of December 8th, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier.  The 192nd letter companies were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield. 
    All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north.  The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes.  When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese.  After the attack the 192nd remained at Ft. Stotsenburg for almost two weeks.  They were than sent to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed. 

    On April 8, 1942, Paul lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field.  Having heard the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the tanks were guarding the perimeter of the airfield from Japanese paratroopers.

    With the other members of the 192nd, Paul fought for four months to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippine Islands.  On April 9, 1942, Paul became a Prisoner Of War when the Filipino and American soldiers were surrendered to the Japanese.

    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.
    Paul was sent to Bilibid Prison at some point.  Paul remained in Bilibid until August 13, 1944, on that date he and the other POWs were marched to the Port Area of Manila.  They were boarded onto the Noto Maru and sailed for Japan on August 22, 1944.  On its way to Japan, the ship stopped at Formosa.  During the trip, the convoy the ship was in came under attack by American submarines.  One submarine fired two torpedoes at the Noto Maru.  The torpedoes were set deep and passed harmlessly under the ship.  

    After arriving at Moji, Japan, Paul worked in an unknown mine.  According to the military records held at the National Archives, Paul was a POW at Shinjuku Camp which was located in the Tokyo Bay Area.  This camp never existed under that name.  The POWs in the camp worked at a coal mine. 
    One day Paul did not understand the instructions that the Japanese guard had given him on how to do the work on the docks.  Paul was attempting to tell the guard that he did not know what he wanted Paul to do.  Another POW told Paul what to say to the guard.  Whatever he said resulted in him receiving a beating.  The other American had attempted to be funny at Paul's expense. 
Paul carried the scars from the beating for the rest of his life. 
    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.

    Paul returned to the U. S. on the U.S.S. Joseph T. Dyckman, in September 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.


 

 

Return to B Company

Next