| Pvt. Robert
Edward Boehm was born on November 25, 1921, to
Edward H. Boehm & Margaret Mary Tilton-Boehm,
and was the couple's only child. He was
raised at 113 North Walnut Street in Janesville,
Wisconsin, and attended local schools.
On November 25, 1941, he was called to federal
service with the 32nd Tank Company of the
Wisconsin National Guard which was now A
Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. Traveling
Fort Knox, Kentucky, on November
18, 1940, he spent nearly a year training with
his company. It was during this training
that he qualified as a tank driver and machine
gunner and assigned to tank crew of Sgt. Herb
In the late summer of 1941, Robert took part in
maneuvers in Louisiana. After the
maneuvers the battalion was ordered to Camp
Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft.
Knox. On the side of a hill, he and the
rest of the battalion learned that they were
being sent overseas. Those men who were 19
years old or older, were given the chance to
resign from federal service. They were
replaced with men t=from the 753rd Tank
Battalion. The battalion also received the
753rd's M3A2 tanks. After receiving a
leave home, he returned to Camp Polk,
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
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.
was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen.
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.
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 11th. 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.
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 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 Gen. Edward P. King, who
apologized because the men had to live in tents
along the main road between the fort and Clark
Field. He made sure that they had what
they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner
before he went to have his own dinner.
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
For the next seventeen days, Bob and the other
members of his tank crew, Herb Durner,
and Ken Squire
worked to prepare their tank for
maneuvers. One of the biggest jobs they
had was removing cosmoline from the guns of the
tanks which had been greased to prevent them
from rusting at sea. They
also prepared to take part in maneuvers with the
194th Tank Battalion.
On Monday, December 1, the
tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark
Field to guard against paratroopers. The
194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern half
of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the
southern half. At all times, two members
of every tank and half-track crew remained with
their vehicles. Meals were brought to them
by food trucks.
The morning of the
attack on Pearl Harbor, Capt. Walter Write told
his men about the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbor and ordered all the tankers to the
perimeter of Clark Field. Most of the
tankers believed that this was the start of the
As they sat in their tanks, they watched as
American planes flew overhead all morning.
Around noon, all the planes landed to be
refueled and were lined up in a straight line
outside the mess hall. The pilots went to
lunch while their planes were suppose to
Around 12:45 in the afternoon, planes approached
the airfield from the north. Like the
other men, Robert believed they were American
until they felt and heard bombs exploding.
During the attack, Bob and the rest of his tank
crew fired at the planes, but could do little
damage since they did not have the proper
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
else 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.
After the attack on December 12, the
company was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it
would be close to a highway and railroad and
prevent sabotage. From there, the
company was sent to join the other companies of
the 192nd just south of the Agno River.
On December 23 and 24,
the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where
the tankers lost their company commander, Capt.
Walter Write. After he was buried, the
tankers made an end run to get south of Agno
River. As they did this, they ran into
Japanese resistance early in the evening but
successfully crossed at the river in the
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 were
asked to hold the position for six hours; they
held the position until 5:30 in the morning on
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.
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
As the Filipino and American forces fell back
toward Bataan, A Company took up a position near
the south bank of the Gumain River the night of
December 31 and January 1. Believing that
the Filipino Army was in front of them allowed
the tankers to get some sleep. It was that
night that the Japanese lunched an attack to
cross the river. Robert climbed out of his
tank to see what was going on and had the steel
helmet he was wearing shot off his head.
He got back into the tank.
As the Japanese attempted to advance they were
cut down by the tankers. The tankers
created gaping holes in their ranks. To
lower their losses, the Japanese tried to cover
their advance with a smoke screen. Since
the wind was blowing against them, the smoke
blew into the Japanese line. When the
Japanese broke off the attack, they had lost
about half their men.
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.
The company rejoined the 194th west of Guagua
and was returned to the 192nd.
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 7, 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.
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
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
also took part in the Battle of the Pockets 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.
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.
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
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.
April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched a attack
supported by artillery and aircraft. A
large force of Japanese troops came over Mount
Samat and descended down the south face of the
volcano. This attack wiped out two
divisions of defenders and left a large area of
the defensive line open to the Japanese.
When General King saw that the situation was
hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the
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 6,000 troops who were sick or wounded
and 40,000 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, Robert became a Prisoner of
War when Bataan was surrendered to the
Japanese. He and the other members of A
Company made their way to Mariveles where they
began the death march.
The POWs, marched for days without food or
water. At San Fernando, they were packed
into wooden boxcars used for hauling
sugarcane. The POWs were packed in so
tightly, that men suffocated from lack of air
and after dying remained standing. At
Capas, the prisoners disembarked and the dead
fell to the floors of the cars.
The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to
Camp O'Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino
Army Training Base. The Japanese pressed
the camp into use as a POW camp on April 1,
1942. When they arrived at the camp, the
Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the
POWs 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
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
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
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. After arriving in the
camp. Robert was assigned to Barracks #7.
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.
Robert also came down with dysentery and put
into the camp hospital on July 16, 1942, and was
discharged from the hospital on September
6. He was again hospitalized on Saturday,
April 3, 1943, but no illness or date of
discharge were given.
It is known that Robert
went out on a work detail, but what he did on
the detail is not known. Medical records
from the Naval Hospital at Bilibid show that he
was admitted to the hospital. When he was
discharged, he was returned to what was referred
to as "The Japanese Detail."
Robert remained in the
Philippines until December 1944, when he
sailed for Japan, on December 27, 1944, on the Enoura
Maru which also carried survivors
of the Oryoku Maru sinking
that took place on December 15. The
ship reached Formosa safely.
The POWs from the Brazil Maru were
transferred to the ship on January 6, and put in
its forward hold. One of those transferred
to the ship was his friend Lt. Leroy
Scoville. While in harbor, at Formosa on
January 9, 1944, the Enoura Maru
was attacked by American planes and one of the
bombs exploded alongside the ship blowing a hole
in its hull. A second bomb fell right
through the open hatch exploding in the hold
that Robert was being held in. The bomb
fatally wounded Leroy Scoville. Scoville
asked Robert to give his parents a aluminum
wristlet he was wearing before he died. It
was the only possession that he still had after
the Oryoku Maru
The dead POWs were left in the hold with the
living. When it appeared that the
Japanese intended to leave them there, the POWs
stacked the bodies under the hatch so that they
would be the first thing the Japanese saw when
they looked into the hold. The Japanese
finally brought a barge alongside the ship and
loaded the dead on it. From there, the
bodies were taken to shore and were dragged by
their feet to the grave the Japanese created on
Robert arrived in Japan at Moji, on the Brazil
Maru, and was held as a prisoner at
#3-B, where he POWS in
the camp worked in the Yawata Steel Mills, where
they shoveled iron ore and rebuilt the
ovens. The POWs were also sent into the
ovens to clean out the debris. Since the
ovens were hot, because the Japanese would not
let them cool off, the POWs worked faster on
this detail. Many of the products from the
mill helped the Japanese war effort. If an
air raid took place while the POWs were at the
mill, they were put into railway cars and the
train was pulled into a tunnel. They
worked at the from 8:00 A.M. until 4:00 P.M. and
received a half hour lunch.
The barracks that the POWs
lived in were always cold since the Japanese
heated them on a minimal basis and were infested
with lice, fleas, and bedbugs. Only the
sick rooms had heat. All POWs who died
were reported to have died in the camp hospital.
Food for the POWs consisted of a main dish of
rice, wheat, wheat flour, corn, and, Kaoliang, a
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 quotas for
workers, the sick POWs were required to work
even if it meant they could possibly die from
doing it. The Japanese camp doctor made
the sick stand out in the cold for hours.
He beat them and allowed the guards to beat
them. The only other member of A Company
in the camp was Thomas Samek who died in
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
The POWs were beaten daily
with fists and sticks for violating camp rules,
and the guards often required them to stand at
attention, in the cold, while standing
water. In one incident an entire barracks
was slapped in the face, by the guards, because
some POWs had smoked in the barracks.
During the winter, POWs who were being punished
often had water thrown on them. A group of
about 60 POWs were made to crawl on their hands
and knees, while carrying other POWs, on their
backs. As they crawled, they were hit with
bamboo sticks, belts, and rifle butts.
There were two brigs in the camp which had as
many as 20 POWs in them at a time.
Another incident involved an
American soldier who traded with the Japanese.
The war was almost over and Japan was about to
surrender. The soldier traded for roasted
beans. As it turned out, the beans had
been tainted with arsenic. The soldier
died the next day. After going through all
he had suffered, the soldier died when freedom
was almost his.
The Yawata Steel Mills were
the primary target for the second atomic bomb,
but since the sky was extremely overcast, the
bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. This time,
they saw Japanese workers facing in the
direction of radio speakers with their heads
bowed. The Americans thought that the
emperor had passed away. The truth was
that the second atomic bomb had been dropped on
Nagasaki, and the emperor was announcing Japan's
surrender. An American ensign, who could
read and speak Japanese, saw a newspaper with
the announcement of the surrender. He was
the first person to inform his fellow POWs that
the war was over. They were then told the
same news by a Japanese officer.
Robert remained in the camp until he was
liberated by American troops in September 13,
1945. After liberation, he was sent to
Nagasaki for processing. In somewhat of an
ironic situation, Robert was interviewed by
Thomas W. Ehrlinger who had been his roommate at
the University of Wisconsin. Ehrlinger's
job was to process the former POWs.
Robert returned to the United States on October
19, 1945, arriving on the S.S. Simon
Bolivar at Seattle. He later
returned to Janesville after the war and met
with LeRoy Scoville's family during which he
gave them the wristlet.
Robert transferred to the United States Air
Force and remained in the military until July
31, 1962. While he was stationed at
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base at Dayton, Ohio,
he married Helen Marie Fox on October 19,
1946. In 1956, he and his family drove the
Alcon Highway when he was stationed at Elmendorf
Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, and his
youngest daughter was born on the base.
During this time, Robert rose in rank to
Sergeant Major and became the Personnel
Officer. After he retired, he moved to
Eagle River, Alaska. There, he and his
wife raised their six children. To support
his family, he took tourists on hunting
Robert Boehm died in a hang-gliding accident at
Kincaid Park in Anchorage, Alaska, on September
11, 1977. He was buried at Ft. Richardson
National Cemetery, Ft. Richardson, Alaska.