Pfc. Earl Orrin Burchard
| Pfc. Earl O.
Burchard was the son of Orrin Burchard and Villa
Johnson-Burchard and was born on October 22, 1917,
in Superior, Wisconsin. With his two sisters
and two brothers, he grew up at 413 South Linn
Street in Janesville, Wisconsin.
In October of 1940, Earl enlisted in the 32nd Tank Company of the Wisconsin National Guard, because he wanted to fulfill his military obligation. He also knew that the unit was being called to federal service which would fulfill his military obligation, and if he had to serve in the army, he would like to serve with friends from his hometown.
Earl, with the other members of the Janesville
Tank Company, arrived at Fort Knox, Kentucky, on
November 28, 1940. There the company was
now A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. For
the following months, they would train in tank
tactics. In his opinion, this training was
helpful in what lay ahead of them.
During his time at Ft. Knox, Earl trained as a
Earl next took part in maneuvers in Louisiana
during the late summer of 1941. According
to members of the battalion, their tanks, as
members of the Red Army, broke through the Blue
Army's defenses and were on their way to capture
it's command center when the maneuvers were
suddenly canceled. The commanding general
of the Blue Army was George S. Patton.
From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over
four different train routes. Arriving in
San Francisco, California, 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
major health issues were released from service
and replaced, while those with minor health
issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin
the battalion at a later date.
On December 8, 1941, the same day as the attack
on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese bombed Clark
Field. The 192nd was still
guarding the perimeter of Clark Field. At
8:30 A.M., planes took off and the sky was
filled with American planes all morning.
At noon, all the planes landed and were parked
in a straight line outside the mess hall.
The pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 planes
approached the airfield from the north.
The tankers on all 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.
For the next four months, Earl and the other
members of A Company fought to slow the Japanese
advance in the Philippines. His battalion
was the last American unit to withdraw into the
Bataan Peninsula. During the Battle of
Bataan, Earl recalled that it seemed the
Americans could never see the enemy, but the
Japanese seemed to always be able to see them.
On April 9, 1942, the Filipino and American forces on Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese. That morning, Earl was trying to get some rest and was laying on the ground outside the Battalion Headquarters of the 192nd. He heard the news as it came in from General King's headquarters. Earl was ordered to take the surrender message to Companies A and C of the 192nd.
Earl took part in the death march and did the
march alone. During the march, he never
saw another member of his tank company. At San
Fernando, he and the other POWs were put into
small wooden boxcars used to haul
sugarcane. Each car could hold forty men
or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100
POWs into each car and closed the doors.
Those men who died remained standing since the
dead could not fall to the floors until the
living left the cars at Capas.
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 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
In July, a list of POWs who were being sent to
Japan was posted in the camp. Earl's name
was on it. On July 15, trucks arrived at
the camp and the POWs were boarded. The
POWs arrived at Bilibid seven hours later.
Their dinner was rotten sweet potatoes.
Since it was night, they had to eat in the
dark. They remained at Bilibid until July
17 at 8:00 A.M. and walked to Pier 7. They
were boarded onto the Nissyo
Maru. The Japanese
attempted to put the entire POW detachment in
the forward hold but failed, so 600 of the POWs
were put into the read hold.
Earl was assigned to Fukuoka Camp #23. There, he was reunited with Bob Bartz of A Company. The camp consisted of a mess hall, a hospital, six unheated barracks located on top of a hill with a ten foot high wooden fence around it. In the barracks, the POWs slept in 15 X 15 foot bays. Six POWs shared a bay. At 6:00 A.M., 6:00 P.M., and 9:00 P.M., the Japanese took row call. For the first two weeks in the camp, the POWs learned the Japanese words for mining equipment.
The POWs received their jobs from the camp
commandant who spoke adequate English. The
POWs were divided into two groups of
miners. The "A" group mined during the
day, while the "B" group mined at night.
Every ten days the groups would swap
used to work ten days on the day shift and
ten days nights and the only time we got off
was when we switched shifts-then we got the
extra time until the alternate shift.
It was a merry-go-round." When
the POWs arrived at the mine, they were turned
over to civilian supervisors who in Burchard's
opinion treated the POWs worse than the guards.
things got worse for the POWs, so they knew the
Japanese were losing the war. At 5:00 P.M.
on August 15th they learned the war was
over. The POWs did not believe it.
The next day the camp commandant, at 10:00 A.M.,
informed the POWs that the war was over.
He also told them that they had to stay in the
camp. On August 24th, the Japanese gave
the POWs paint and canvas and told them to paint
"POW" on the canvas and put it on the barracks'
Earl was returned to the Philippine Islands and assigned to Clark Field. It was also at this time that he was promoted to sergeant. He returned to the United States on the S.S. Klipfortaine, on October 19, 1945, and was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington. From there, he was sent to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Clinton, Iowa. He was discharged from the army on May 22, 1946. The one lasting effect of his captivity is that he had a hard time being around other people.
Pfc. Earl O. Burchard returned to Janesville and
married Rita McGuire on April 26, 1947, and the
couple became the parents of six sons and three
daughters. He went into business for
himself doing body work on cars and next worked
for a car dealer in Janesville.
Earl O. Burchard passed away on October 5, 2002, in Carmichael, California, and was buried at Saint Patrick's Cemetery in Placerville, California.