|Pvt. Donald Roy Berger
| Pvt. Donald R.
Berger was born in August 9, 1923, in Janesville,
Wisconsin, to Roy C. Berger and Linda Emily
Maahs-Berger. With his two sisters and
brother, he lived at 506 Linn Street in
Janesville. When he was twelve, his mother
passed away. He left school after his
sophomore year and worked for an architecture
firm. It was at this time that he joined the
Wisconsin National Guard, but his father had to sign
the papers since he was not eighteen years
In September 1940, the National Guard company was federalized and designated as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. On November 25th, the company readied itself for training at Fort Knox, Kentucky and company boarded the train for Ft. Knox on November 28th. Donald was seventeen years old when the company was federalized.
When the tankers arrived at Ft. Knox, they learned that their barracks were not finished. The area of the fort that they were assigned to was brand new, so they found themselves living in tents with stoves in them. They remained in the tents several months until their barracks were finished. When they did move into their barracks, the roads in front of them were mud since the winter was extremely wet.
Donald, like all the other members of the battalion, learned to operate all the equipment of the battalion. It is not known what he specific training he received at Ft. Knox. A typical day for the soldiers started in 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics at 8:00 to 8:30. Afterwards, the tankers went to various schools within the company. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics.
At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13th, such as: mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat. Afterwards, retreat was at 5:50. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played.
In late August 1941, the battalion was informed it would take part in maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1st through 30th. During the maneuvers the battalion performed exceptionally well. After the maneuvers, instead of returning to Ft. Knox, the battalion was ordered to ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana. None of the members had any idea why they were being kept there.
On the side of a hill, the battalion members were informed that they were being sent overseas. Those members of the battalion who were married, or 29 years old, or older, were given the opportunity to resign from federal service and replaced by men from the 753rd Tank Battalion. The 192nd also received the tanks of the battalion.
The reason for this move was because of an event that happened during the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, on a routine patrol, when one of the pilots, whose plane was at a lower altitude, noticed something odd in the water. He took his plane lower and identified a flagged buoy in the water. and saw another flagged buoy in the distance. The squadron flew toward it and 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, hundreds of miles away, with a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its designated patrol and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. By the time the planes landed that evening and reported what had been seen, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next morning, another squadron was sent to the area but the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore. Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted. It was on August 15th that the decision was made to send the battalion to the Philippines.
The battalion traveled by train routes to San Francisco, California, and were taken to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island by the ferry the U.S.A.T Frank M. Coxe. On the island, they received inoculations and physicals, and those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island. They were scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while others were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S 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 the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island, since the ship had a two day layover.
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 the ship was joined by the U.S.S. Louisville and, the transport, S.S. Calvin Coolidge. The night of Sunday, November 9th, the ships crossed the International Date Line and the next morning when the soldiers awoke it was Tuesday, November 11th. During this part of the voyage, 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 took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country.
Arriving at Guam, on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, vegetables, and coconuts before sailing for Manila the next day. 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. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way. The ships entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th, at 8:00 A.M., and docked at Pier 7 later in the day. At 3:00 P.M., the soldiers disembarked and were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Other battalion members boarded their trucks and drove them to fort north of Manila. The maintenance section of the battalion remained behind and unloaded the battalion's tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. The fact was he had only learned of their arrival a few days earlier. He made sure that the soldiers all 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.
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 the morning of December 8, 1941, the members of B Company were informed of the Japanese attack on Clark Field. His tank and the others were sent to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. About 12:45 in the afternoon as the tankers were eating lunch, planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, the soldiers thought the planes were American. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
The 192nd remained at Clark Field and lived through bombings that took place on a almost daily basis. On December 21st, the 192nd was ordered to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf to relieve the 26th Cavalry Philippine Scouts. HQ Company was to support B and C Companies. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
On December 25th, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th, holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.
The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th. On January 1st, Gen. Mac Arthur's chief of staff issued conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 so the Southern Luzon Forces could withdraw toward Bataan. These orders told them to withdraw from their positions. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff.
Because of the orders, some of the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges withdrew over the Pampanga River. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
During the withdraw into the peninsula, the company crossed over the last bridge which was mined and about to be blown up. The 192nd held its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it and then cover the 192nd's withdraw. A Company was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
On one occasion the company were in bivouac on two sides of a road. The tankers posted sentries and most of the men attempted to get some sleep. The sentries heard a noise down the road and woke the company. Every man grabbed a weapon. As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac. The tankers opened fire with everything they had. When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion.
During the Battle of the Points the tanks were sent in to wipe out Japanese troops that had broken through the main defensive line and than trapped behind the line after the Filipino and American troops pushed the Japanese back. According to members of the battalion it took two ways to wipe out the Japanese.
The first method was to have three Filipino soldiers sit on the back of the tanks with sacks of hand grenades. When the Japanese dove back into their foxholes, the tank would go over it and the soldiers would drop three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the ordnance was from World War I, one out of three hand grenades would explode.
The second method was simple. The tank was parked with one track across the foxhole. The driver spun the tank on one track. The tank dug into the dirt until the Japanese soldiers were dead.
The Japanese lunched an all out attack 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. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since 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 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."
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. Donald was now a Prisoner of War. 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.
HQ Company finally boarded trucks and drove to just outside of Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and ordered to sit. As they sat, John and the other Prisoners of War 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 there watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in front of the soldiers. He got out and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. As he drove away, the sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, the POWs were moved to a school yard in Mariveles. In the school yard, they found themselves between Japanese artillery and guns firing from Corregidor and Ft. Drum. Shells began landing among the POWs who had no place to hide. Some of the POWs were killed from incoming shells since they had no place to hide. The American guns did knock out three of the Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march they received no water and little food. At San Fernando, they were put in a bull pen, ordered to sit, and left sitting in the sun.
Later, they were ordered to form detachments of 100 men and marched to the train station where they were put into a small wooden boxcars known as "Forty and Eights" because they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each boxcars so tightly that those men who died could not fall to the floors of the cars. At Capas, the living disembarked and walked the last ten miles to Camp O' Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base. There was one water faucet for the entire camp. Men literally died for a drink. The death rate in the camp began to rise until as many as 55 men dying each day. The burial detail worked non-stop to bury the dead. Often, when they returned the next morning, the wild dogs had dug up the bodies or the bodies were sitting up in their graves.
The Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan to lower the death rate. Donald was sent to the camp. Shortly after arriving in the camp, Donald became ill and was put in the camp hospital on June 18, 1942. The medical staff had little medicine to treat the POWs.
According to the records kept by the medical staff at the prison, Pvt. Donald R. Berger, who was 18 years old, died on Wednesday, July 1, 1942, at approximately 9:00 P.M., from malaria, dysentery, and inanition. He was buried in the camp cemetery.
After the war, the remains of Pvt. Donald R. Burger were disinterred but could not be identified. The reason for this was the records for Cabanatuan showed what grave a man was buried in but not where in the grave his body had been placed. He was reburied at the new American Military Cemetery as an unknown.
Pvt. Donald R. Burger's name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.