Cpl. Elmer J. Bensing Jr., was the son of Elmer J. Bensing Sr & Lenore Wilson-Bensing, and was born on December 12, 1918, in Louisville, Kentucky. With his three younger brothers and two younger sisters, he resided at 1452 South Hemlock Street. He was a high school graduate and worked in payroll at an auto body shop before he was inducted in the Army. |
On January 22, 1941, Elmer was inducted into the army at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He did his basic training there and qualified as a radioman. He was assigned to D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion during his basic training.
In September of 1941, Elmer took part in the Louisiana maneuvers. After the maneuvers ended, Elmer and the rest of the battalion learned they were being sent overseas. He returned home to say his goodbyes and married Thelma A. Weidner on October 5, 1941.
The decision for this move - which had been made in August 1941 - was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island which was hundred of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat - with a tarp on its deck - which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs so that they could say goodbye to family and friends. They returned to Camp Polk and traveled by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, and were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe. On the island they were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases by the battalion's medical detachment. Some men were held back for health issues but scheduled to join the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S.
Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line. On Saturday, November 15th, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. 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.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents
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. It was at this time that Elmer was transferred to the Provisional Tank Group as a radio operator. He was most likely assigned to a half-track.
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.
On December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese bombed Clark Field. The tankers fought back the best that they could, but their weapons weren't of much use against planes.
During the Battle of the Philippines, Elmer fought to slow the Japanese advance as long as possible. Since no help was coming, it was just a matter of time before the battle would be lost.
The Japanese liked to use snipers. The snipers would climb high into the tree. They then would tie themselves onto a large branch of the tree with a vine. On one occasion, being in an area where several soldiers had been shot, Elmer took his sub-machine gun and began shooting at a vine running up a tree. He followed the vine up the tree until he cut it with his fire. The Japanese sniper fell from the tree.
An all out attack was lunched on April 3rd. On April 7th, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company's offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
It was at this time that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile. Approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
Tank battalion commanders received this order, "You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word 'CRASH', all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished."
On April 9, 1942, the members of the tank group were informed of the surrender to the Japanese. On April 10th, the Japanese arrived and ordered the HQ personnel onto the road. When the POWs were ordered to move, they found walking on the gravel trail difficult. When the trial ended, the POWs and the POWs were on the main road, the first thing the Japanese did was separate the officers from the enlisted men.
The Prisoners of War were then left in the sun for the rest of the day. That night they were ordered north. The march was difficult in the dark since they could not see where they were walking. Whenever they slipped, they knew they had stepped on the remains of a dead soldier. The POWs made their way north, against the flow of Japanese troops, who were moving south. At Limay on April 11th, they were put into a schoolyard until ordered to move.
They made their way north to Balanga and arrived in Orani on April 12th, where they were reunited with the officers of the tank group. At 6:30 that evening, the POWs resumed the march and were marched at a faster pace. The guards also seemed to be nervous about something. This time they made the POWs make their way to Hormosa. There, the road went from gravel to concrete. This change of surface made the march easier. When the POWs were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lay down were jabbed with bayonets.
The POWs continued the march and for the first time in months it began to rain which felt great. At 4:30 PM on April 13th, they arrived at San Fernando, where they were once again put into a pen. At 4:00 A.M., the Japanese woke the POWs, formed detachments of 100 men, and marched them to the train station.
The POWs continued the march and for the first time in months it began to rain which felt great. At 4:30 PM on April 13th, they arrived at San Fernando, where they were once again put into a pen which was already occupied by Filipino soldiers. The POWs were put into groups of 200 men to be fed. A couple of the POWs would get the food which was distributed to each member of the group. Water was given out in a similar fashion. That night not all the POWs could lie down to sleep. At 4:00 A.M., the Japanese woke the POWs, formed detachments of 100 men, and marched them to the train station.
At the train station, the POWs were crammed into small wooden boxcars known as "Forty or Eights," since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese forced 100 men into each boxcar and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing since there was no room for them to fall to the floors. At Capas, the living left the cars and the dead fell to the floors. From there, he walked the last ten miles to Camp O' Donnell.
As a POW, Elmer was held at Camp O'Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army training base that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp. There was only one water faucet for the entire camp. Men stood in line for days to get a drink of water. Disease in the camp ran wild because they had no medicine to treat the sick. The death rate among the POWs rose to as many as 50 men a day.
Elmer was sent to Cabanatuan #1 when it opened. He was assigned to Barracks 12 in the camp. While he was a prisoner, he contracted malaria, berberi and dysentery. According to medical records kept at the camp. he was admitted to the camp hospital on January 14, 1943. He remained in the camp until July 1943. At that time he was sent to Manila and boarded onto the Clyde Maru. The ship sailed on July 23, 1943.
The POWs were taken to the Port Area of Manila for shipment to Japan. He and the other POWs were put into the holds of the Clyde Maru and spent 12 days in the holds on the trip to Japan. The only washroom were buckets that were lowered down by ropes. During the trip, many of the prisoners died. The bodies were pulled from the hold on ropes and thrown overboard.
In Japan, the ship docked at Moji. From there, Elmer was taken to Fukuoka
Camp #3-B. There he worked in a Yawata Steel Mills which were 75 miles from Nagasaki. The POWs did manual labor. They shoveled coal and cleaned the blast furnaces. Being that the Japanese placed little value on the lives of the prisoners, they were expected to clean the furnaces while they still hot.
Although medical supplies for the POWs were sent to the camp by the Red Cross the Japanese commandant would not give the American medical staff the medicine that was in the packages. Any surgery in the camp had to be performed with crude medical tools even though the Red Cross had sent the proper surgical tools. To meet worker quotas, the sick POWs were required to work even if it meant they could possibly die from doing it.
Three days a month, the POWs were allowed to exchange their worn out clothing for new clothing, but a Japanese guard beat POWs attempting to exchange their clothing. The POWs went without clothing to avoid the beatings, which resulted in men developing pneumonia and some of them died.
The POWs were beaten daily with fists and sticks for violating a camp rule, and the guards often required them to stand at attention, in the cold, while standing in water. During the winter, they often had water thrown on them.
When the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the prisoners were returned to the camp early. They did not return to work for days. When they did go back to the mills, they again came back to the camp early.
As they returned, they saw Japanese facing speakers and listening. An American who could speak Japanese told them that the war was over. When a Japanese officer repeated this, the prisoners knew that it was true.
On September 20, 1945, the former POWs were rescued by American troops. Elmer was returned to the Philippines. He was boarded onto the U.S.S. Marine Shark arriving at San Francisco on November 1, 1945. His journey back to the U. S. had ended where it began a little over four years earlier. Elmer
was awarded a number of medals. Among them were the purple heart and bronze star.
Elmer was discharged on February 26, 1946. He returned to Thelma and the couple raised a son and daughter. To support his family, he worked as a payroll clerk at K.A. Barker Construction Company.
Elmer J. Bensing passed away on December 23, 1998, in Louisville, Kentucky. After a memorial service at Chapel Hill United Church of Christ, he was buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Louisville.