Blonien

 

Pvt. Elmer Florian Blonien


 

    Pvt. Elmer F. Blonien was born on April 12, 1916, to John K. Blonien and Katherine Muellenbach-Blonien.  In 1930, his family moved to Wood County, Wisconsin, where his family resided in the town of Rudolph.  It is known he had one brother and three sisters.   He worked in his father's feed store until he was drafted into the Army. His mother also ran the local post office.  

    On April 7, 1941, Elmer was inducted into the U. S. Army.  He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training.  During the trip down to Ft. Knox, Elmer became friends with Albert Dubois, who he had met while playing cards on the train.  When DuBois ran out of money, Elmer gave him three dollars so that he could keep playing.  

   At Ft. Knox, Elmer was assigned to A Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion. The reason this was done was the army was attempting to fill out the rosters of the letter companies with men from the home states of each company, and the company had originally been a Wisconsin National Guard tank company.  During his time at Ft. Knox, he trained as a tank driver.  It should be noted that newspaper articles from the 1940s state he was a medic.

    In the late summer of 1941, Elmer took part in maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1st though 30th.  After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk instead of returning to Ft. Knox.  It was on the side of a hill, that he learned his battalion was being sent overseas. 
    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.

    The battalion traveled by over different train routes to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, and  were ferried, on the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, they received inoculations and physicals from the battalion medical detachment, and those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and scheduled to rejoin 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 27.  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 2 and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. 
    On Wednesday, November 5, 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. President Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11.  During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.  On Saturday, November 15, 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. During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.  The cruiser that was escorting the two transports 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.
    When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, 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 20, 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 Gen. Edward P.  King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field.  He made sure that they all received what they needed and that they had Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.  Ironically, November 20 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 which had been greased to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance and prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.     
    On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  At all times, two members of each tank or half-track crew remained with their vehicles and were fed from food trucks.

    The morning of December 8, 1941, Capt. Walter Write informed his company that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese.  At first, the tankers thought that this was the start of the expected maneuvers.  The tankers were put on full alert and took their positions around the airfield.   At 8:30 A.M., American planes took off to intercept any Japanese planes and filled the sky all morningAt noon, the planes landed to be refueled and were lined up near the mess hall, so that pilots could have lunch.

    The tankers were eating lunch when white planes were seen approaching the airfield from the north at about 12:45.  Many of the tankers counted 54 planes as the planes approached the airfield and watched what was described as "raindrops" falling from the planes.  When the "raindrops" exploded on the runway, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.
    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  Since the battalion's bivouac was near the main road between the fort and airfield, the soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks and trucks.  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. 
    That night, since they did not have any foxholes, the men used the old latrine pit for cover.  Being that it was safer in the trench than in their tents, the other men slept in the pit.  The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes.  The next morning the decision was made to move the company into an tree covered area.  Without knowing it, Elmer had slept his last night on a cot or bed, and from this point on, the men slept in blankets on the ground.

    The company was sent to the Barrio of Dau, on December 12, so it could protect the highway and railroad from sabotage.  From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River.  There, the tanks, with A Company, 194th held the position so other units could withdraw. 

    It was at this time that Elmer sent a cable gram, on December 19th, home to his parents.  In it he told them he was fine and in good health, except for the hail.  Which was his way of saying that the greatest danger they faced was the strafing by the Japanese planes.
    On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write.  After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River after the main bridge had been destroyed.  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 25, 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 27.
    The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27 and 28.  From there they fell back to the south bank of the BamBan River which they were suppose to hold for as long as possible.  The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29 serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.

    A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read.  On a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30th, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries.  The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks' machine guns.  As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac.  When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened up on them.  When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion.  To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.  

    At the Gumain River, the night of December 31st to the morning of January 1, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river.  When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts.  The Japanese were taking heavy casualties, so they attempted to use smoke to cover their advance, but the wind blew the smoke into the Japanese.  When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had suffered fifty percent casualties.
    At Guagua, A Company, with units from the 11th Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese.  Somehow, the tanks were mistaken, by the Filipinos to be Japanese.  The 11th Division accurately used mortars on them.  The result was the loss of three tanks.

    On January 1, the tanks of the 194th were holding the Calumpit Bridge allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to cross the bridge toward Bataan.  General Wainwright was attempting to hold the main Japanese force coming down Route 5 to prevent the troops from being cut off.  General MacArthur's chief of staff gave conflicting orders involving whose command the defenders were under which caused confusion.  Gen. Wainwright was not aware these orders had been given. Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges 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 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.  It was also in January 1942, that the food ration was cut in half.  It was not too long after this was done that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers.  The company returned to the command of the 192nd.
   The tanks often were the last units to disengage from the enemy and form a new defensive line as Americans and Filipino forces withdrew toward Bataan.  The night of January 7th, the A Company was awaiting orders to cross the last bridge into Bataan.  The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but the battalion's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, ordered the engineers to wait until he had looked to see if they were anywhere in sight.  He found the company, asleep in their tanks, because they had not received the order to withdraw across the bridge.  After they had crossed, the bridge was destroyed.
    On January 10, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Abucay to Lamao along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
    A Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese Marines who had been trapped behind the main defensive line.  The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket.  Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank, that had been relieved, left the pocket.
    To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used.  The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank.  As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole.  Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
    The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole.  The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
    While American and Filipino forces were withdrawing from the Pilar-Bigac Line, the battalion prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops.  The morning of January 27, a new battle line had been formed and all units were suppose to be beyond it.  That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were suppose to have withdrawn.  While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualties. 
    On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings. 
    A Company also took part in the Battle of the Points to wipe out Japanese troops who had been trapped behind the main defensive line.  The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket.  Another tank did not enter the pocket until the tank, which had been relieved, had left the pocket.
    To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used.  The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank.  As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole.  Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
    The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole.  It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
    The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat.  The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten.  They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry.  To make things worse, the soldiers' rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942.  This meant that they only ate two meals a day.   
    The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantly clad blond on them.  The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
    On March 2 or 3, during the Battle of the Points.  The tanks had been sent in to wipe out two pockets of Japanese soldiers who had been landed behind the main defensive line.  The Japanese were soon cut off.  When the Japanese attempted to land reinforcements, they landed them at the wrong place creating another pocket.   Both of the pockets were wiped out.
   The company's last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea.  By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way.  Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave.  When asked about the Philippines, he said, "There are times when men must die."  The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost. 
    The Japanese lunched an all out attack on April 3.  On April 7, 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."  

    On April 9, 1942, Elmer became a Prisoner of War and made his way to Mariveles where he started what became known as the death march.  The POWs walked out of the barrio heading north toward San Fernando.  The first few miles it was all uphill and many of the prisoners quickly had a hard time keeping up with their group.

    At one point, the POWs had to run across an field where the Japanese had artillery that was firing on Corregidor.  At San Fernando, Elmer and the other men were packed into small wooden boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane.  Each car could hold eight horses or 40 men.  The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors.  Those who died could not fall to the floors since there was no room to fall. 

    Albert DuBois stated that the march was harder on Elmer because he was a big man.  In his opinion, Elmer's health began to fail as a result of the march.  At Capas, the POWs who were still living climbed out of the cars.  The bodies of the dead fell to the car floors as the living left the cars.

     The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O'Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942.  When the POWs arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the they had and refused to return it to them.  They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse.  Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp.  These POWs had been executed for looting.
    There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink.  The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again.  This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
    There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled.  In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed.  The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery.  The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
    The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant.  When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter.
    The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp.  When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
    The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them.  When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150 bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
    Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it.  The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria.  To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it.  The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
    Work details were sent out on a daily basis.  Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work.  If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick, but could walk, to work.  The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.  The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
    On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas.  There, the were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards.  At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan.  The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup.  From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Panagaian.
    To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp.  The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch.  It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
    The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens.  Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn.  Other POWs worked in rice paddies.  Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools.  As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.  While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard.  Returning from a detail the POWs bought, or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
    The camp hospital was composed of 30 wards.  The ward for the sickest POWs was known as "Zero Ward," which got its name because it had been missed when the wards were counted.  Each ward had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each.  The sickest men slept on the bottom tier.

    Sometime during Elmer's imprisonment at Cabanatuan, he became ill with malaria, which resulted in his developing a spleen infection.  Elmer was put in the camp hospital on October 5, 1942.  Abie Abraham, who was Elmer's friend, was also in the hospital.  In a letter to Elmer's family, he told how Elmer talked about his family and how much he loved them. 

    According to Albert DuBois of A Company, he saw Elmer twelve hours before Elmer died.  Elmer no longer had the smile on his face that he always seemed to have.  His face was filled with pain.

    DuBois spoke to the doctor treating Elmer.  The doctor looked at him and said, "I don't know if he can live without a spleen, but he can't live with the one he has."  The doctor removed Elmer's spleen without anesthesia, anesthetic, or the proper medical equipment.  

    Both Dubois and Forest Knox, also of A Company, stated that Elmer was in terrible pain.  According to Knox, Elmer lay on a stretcher all night after the surgery and held onto the handles of the stretcher twisting his hands in pain.  The result was that the flesh was gone from the palms of his hands.  During this time, Elmer never made a sound.

    Pvt. Elmer H. Blonien died after surgery on Tuesday, October 20, 1942, at approximately 3:45 PM.  He was buried in the camp cemetery at Cabanatuan.   His parents would not learn of his death until August 1943.  It should be noted that other records, kept by the medical staff show, that Elmer died on November 15, 1942.

    After the war, on December 15, 1947, the the remains of Pvt. Elmer F. Blonien were disinterred from Grave 721, Row 0, Plot 10 at the Cabanatuan Camp Cemetery.  They were given the identification number of X-4048., and were reburied on March 22, 1948. 

    When the new American Cemetery was opened, the remains were disinterred again and buried at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila as an "unknown."  Since Elmer' Blonien was buried as an unknown, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila.

    In addition, Elmer's parents held a memorial service for him at Saint Philip's Catholic Church in Rudolph on Thursday, July 22, 1943, and had a memorial headstone placed in the town cemetery in Rudolph.  In addition, the American Legion Post, in Rudolph, took the name to the Elmer F. Blonien Post.


 

 

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