|Cpl. Albert Herman Cornils
Cpl. Albert H. Cornils was born on September 15,
1916, to Herman and Eva Cornils. With his
brother, he lived at 5140 Benton Avenue in Downers
Grove, Illinois, and attended Downers Grove High
School. After high school, Albert worked as
a wrapping clerk for a stationary company.
In September 1940, Albert was talked into joining
the Illinois National Guard at Maywood by his best
friend from high school, Lewis
Twelve weeks later, Al was at Fort Knox, Kentucky, training with the regular army. It was there that he attended code breaker school. The biggest problem during the training was the inexperience of the officers. This situation was not resolved until the battalion was in the Philippine Islands.
Al believed that the training at Fort Knox did little to prepare the men of the battalion for what lay ahead of them in the Philippines, since there were not too many similarities between Kentucky and the Philippines. The one thing that Al remembered, about the training at Fort Knox, was that he made friends for a life time.
In late summer 1941, Al and the battalion went to Louisiana for maneuvers from September 1 through 30. During the maneuvers, none of the soldiers had any idea that they had already been selected for overseas duty. It was only after the maneuvers had ended that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and there they learned that their time in the army was being extended another one to six years. Al received an offer to be reassigned and be posted in Washington D.C., as a code breaker, but he turned it down to stay with his friends.
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 company traveled west by train to San Francisco, California, and was taken by ferry to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the ferry the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe. At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated for overseas duty. Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while 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 Gen. 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 as they prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
On December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. Two crew members had to be with their tank at all times. They received their meals from food trucks.
The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield. The Army Air Corps took up at 8:30 and filled the sky. They had received word of the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield. As they sat in their tanks and half-tracks they watched as American planes filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch.
At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the soldiers lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield. That morning, they had been awakened to the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor just hours earlier. The tankers were eating lunch when planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, they thought the planes were American. They then saw what looked like rain drops falling from the planes. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. Albert remembered running toward a tree in an attempt to protect himself from enemy fire. To protect the equipment, everything was pulled out of the bivouac except for the trucks.
Some tankers attempted to shoot down the planes while riding in their half-tracks. Since the machine guns had not been sighted, most of them jammed. After the attack, the maintenance section was sent to the barrio of Bamban. Al would remain there for two weeks with Sgt. Albert McArthur and the maintenance truck while the tanks went north toward Lingayen Gulf on December 21st.
Along with the other members of Company B, Al worked to hold back the Japanese troops as long as possible. Al kept the maintenance truck moving and occasionally he would cannibalize other trucks for parts. The problem of inexperienced officers was resolved when General McArthur sent out a communique requesting the names of officers who were contributing to bad morale. Al, like the other members of his company, knew that the fight they were in would be lost, but he still fought on as long as possible.
The Japanese lunched an all out attack on April 4 against the defenders. 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.
On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan. It was the evening of April 8 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."
When the Filipino and American Forces on Bataan surrendered, Albert became a Prisoner of War. He first heard of the surrender on the radio. Al, at this time, was near town of Mariveles. The next morning Al was awakened by Japanese soldiers. The soldiers urged the Americans to move by the point of their bayonets. The POWs were not allowed to take anything with them besides the clothes on their backs. If the soldier had slept in his shorts, that was all he was allowed to take.
It was near Mariveles that Al was reunited with the rest of the company. At the start of the march, the prisoners already were starving and in no shape to march the distance the Japanese expected them to march. The soldiers started the march on the day of the surrender, April 9, 1942.
The POWs were marched and then given a rest to be fed. When it started to rain, the Japanese did not wait to feed them and forced the prisoners to start marching again. From the lack of food, Al was out of his head. Three other members of Company B, Sgt. Ray Vandenbrouke, T/Sgt. Albert McArthur and Sgt. James Bainbridge saved his life.
Having seen a number of prisoners bayoneted, McArthur, Vadenbroucke and Bainbridge knew that Al's falling out would mean he would be killed. The three men took turns carrying Al, between them, on the march. Of these three men, only Ray Vadenbroucke would survive the war and life in the prison camps.
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 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 barracks in the camp were built to hold 50 men. The reality is that most of the barracks housed between 60 and 120 men. The POWs slept on bamboo slats with mattresses, covers, or mosquito netting which resulted in many becoming ill. In the camp, he was assigned to Barracks #5, Group 3.
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. Al believed that he was more fortunate than some men because he did not get dysentery.
At this time, Al volunteered himself and Ray Vandenbrouke to go out on a work detail because Ray had malaria and Al knew that to survive they had to get out of the camp. The two men were sent to Clumpet to rebuild a bridge over the Pampanga River. The conditions on this detail were in Al's opinion the best he experienced as a POW.
Al was next sent to Lipa, Batangas, where he was assigned to building runways. The Japanese had extremely strict discipline for the prisoners there, but it was also there that Al received his first red cross package. From Lipa, Al was returned to Cabanatuan where he had his first attack of dysentery. Things in this camp were bad and fifty men were being buried a day. Al also came down with dry beriberi there. He believed what saved his life was that he would sun himself for hours.
Al was sent to Cabanatuan after the detail ended. According to medical records kept at the camp. Al was admitted to the camp hospital, on November 9, 1942, suffering from diarrhea. He remained in the hospital until November 25, 1942, when he was discharged and returned to duty.
Albert was next sent to Fort McKinley. It was while he was a POW there that he saw his first American planes since the start of the war. The POWs watched as the American and Japanese planes engaged in dogfights high above their heads.
While a POW in the Philippines, Al experienced several acts of kindness on the part of the Japanese guards. Al had a toothache and his face was swollen on one side. The guard noticed this and took Al to a Filipino dentist to have the tooth worked on. He also experienced acts of kindness by two guards that the prisoners referred to as "Big Santa" and "Little Santa". These two guards did little things for the prisoners to make their lives a little easier.
From McKinley Al was taken to Manila. Upon arrival at Manila, his detachment of POWs was suppose to be boarded onto the Arisan Maru. Since part of his group of POWs had not arrived, another detachment of POWs were boarded onto the ship. On October 1st, Al was boarded onto the Hokusen Maru for shipment to Formosa. As it turned out, the Arisan Maru was sunk by an American submarine on its way to Japan.
Albert and the other POWs were jammed into the Houkusen Maru's hold. The POWs on the ship were packed in the hold so tightly that they had to take turns sitting down. If someone died, the POWs would pass his body over their heads so that it could be taken on deck and thrown overboard. Other men lost their minds on the ship. Beneath them was coal that was being sent to Japan.
The ship sailed but dropped anchor at the harbor's breakwater. It remained there for three days and the temperatures in the hold rose to over 100 degrees causing some men to go crazy. The hatches of the hold were latched shut making it pitch black. In this situation, men went out of their minds. Albert kept his canteen filled with water and used it as a weapon. The sane POWs gathered in groups for protection with one standing guard.
As part of a ten ship convoy it sailed again on October 4 and stopped at Cabcaban. The next day, it was at San Fernando La Union, where the ships were joined by four more ships and five escorts. The ships stayed close to the shoreline to prevent submarine attacks which failed since, on October 6, two of the ships were sunk.
The ships were informed, on October 9, that American carriers were seen near Formosa and that American planes were in the area. The decision was made to head to Hong Kong. During this part of the trip, the ships ran into American submarines which sank two more ships.
The ship crisscrossed the China Sea before it arrived in Hong Kong on October 11, 1944. During the voyage, the prisoners heard the soundings of American submarines as they followed the transports. Al's body became covered with abscesses while in the ship's hold. When the ship arrived in Hong Kong, the POWs were allowed on deck to wash with salt water. This helped his sores to heal.
While in port, on October 16, American planes appeared and bombed and strafed the ships in the harbor. None of the bombs hit the ship. On October 21, the Hokusen Maru sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving there on October 24, 1944.
For the next fifteen days, the POWs remained in the hold until the Japanese decided that they were too ill to continue the trip to Japan. On November 11, they were disembarked and taken to a schoolhouse live. The camp was known as Inrin Temporary Camp. They were held in the camp until they were healthy enough to continue the trip to Japan. While there, he and the other POWs worked in gardens growing vegetables. This was the first decent food he and the other POWs had had in years. They also were treated better.
From Formosa, Al was sent to Japan on the Melbourne Maru. The ship sailed on January 14, 1945 and arrived at Moji on January 23. Al entered the country at Yokohoma Harbor. By train he was sent to Honshu in northern Japan to work in an open pit copper mine. The camp he was held in, Sendai #7, was about a day from the City of Sendai.
Al's job was to mine copper ore. To do this, Al was assigned a teenage Japanese boy as a helper. The two of them had to fill ore cars and then push them to the dumping area. It was hard work which was made harder by the cold weather in the winter.
Since the winters were harsh, the prisoners were issued warm clothing. The problem was that the POWs wore straw shoes which froze when they got wet. This resulted in Al getting frostbite on his feet. Food in the camp was scarce, but by this time even the Japanese people had little to eat.
How long Al remained at the camp is unknown. It is known that he was sent to Sendai #7. The POWs in this camp also worked in a copper mine. In the camp the POWs worked in a copper mine. The POWs in the camp were denied adequate food, clothing and medical treatment. After his arrival in the camp, the Japanese began having the prisoners stand at attention for long hours, without food or water, in near freezing temperatures because a camp rule had been broken. This went on until July when it was stopped. He was held in this camp until the war ended.
The prisoners were never informed of the end of the war. One day, the guards were simply gone. When they returned, they informed the POWs that the Americans were coming. When the American Navy arrived, food and clothing was dropped by planes to the former POWs. They were warned to stay out of the area where the supplies were being dropped. Some men didn't listen and were killed when they were hit by 55 gallon drums carrying the food.
In September 1945, Al was freed by the Navy. Only after he was freed did he learn that his parents had both passed away while he was a POW. His aunt and uncle had withheld the information from him so that he would have something to live for in the camps.
The former POWs were taken by train to Tokyo and boarded onto the U.S.S. Rescue and returned to the Philippines until he was healthy enough to be sent home. In late September, he was boarded onto the S.S. Klipfontaine and sailed for Seattle, Washington, and arrived on October 19th. After additional medical treatment, he was discharged, from the Army, on May 26, 1946.
Three weeks after returning home, he married Katherine Wolff on November 22, 1945, and the couple became the parents of two children. In 1955, the family moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, and spent the rest of his life there.
Albert Cornils passed away on December 7, 1995,. He was interred on the mausoleum at Memorial Gardens Cemetery, Colorado Springs.