Pfc. Albert E. DeCurtins was one of twin sons born on August 2, 1917, in Wapakoneta,
Ohio, to Frederick & Margaret DeCurtins. He, and his five brothers and sister, grew up in both Wapakoneta and
at 337 East Wayne Street in Celina, Ohio. He attended school in both towns and graduated in 1935 from Immaculate
Conception High School, where he was a star basketball player. After high school, he worked as a Mersman Brothers
Table Factory in Celina.
Albert was inducted into the army in 1941. When Headquarters Company,
192nd Tank Battalion was formed in January, 1941, at
Fort Knox, Kentucky, Albert was assigned to the company. He trained there until the
late summer of 1941but what specific training he received is not known. In the late summer of 1941, he took part
in maneuvers in Louisiana. After the maneuvers the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of
returning to Ft. Knox. At Camp Polk, he and the other members of the battalion learned they were being sent
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
Traveling west over different train routes, the tankers arrived in San Francisco. They were
ferried to Angel Island, on the
U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe, where they received physicals and were inoculated. Men determined to have
minor medical issues were scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd 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 2nd and had a two day
layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the
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. 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.
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, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward
P. King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they
needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the
tankers, and that they had to live in tents. The fact was he had
not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He
remained with the battalion until they had received their Thanksgiving
Dinner. Afterwards, he went to have his own dinner.
For the next seventeen days the tankers spent
much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons, since the guns
had been greased to prevent them from rusting during the trip to the
Filipinos. They also spent a large amount of time loading
ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank
Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
The morning of Monday, December 1st, the tanks
and half-tracks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard the
airfield from Japanese paratroopers. Two members of each crew had
to remain with their vehicles at all times. HQ Company remained in
the battalion's bivouac.
The officers were informed of the attack on
Pearl Harbor and sent to their companies. All members of the tank
and half-track crews were ordered to their vehicles. That morning,
the sky was filled with American planes flying in every direction.
At noon, the planes landed to be refueled, lined up in a straight line,
and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, planes were seen
approaching the airfield from the north. When bombs began exploding
on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese. The attack
destroyed the Army Air Corps.
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.
That night, most men slept under their tanks
since it was safer than sleeping in their tents. They had no idea
that they had slept their last night in a bed. They lived through
two more attacks on December 10 and 13.
The battalion remained at Clark Field for two
weeks until it received orders to the Lingayen Gulf area were the
Japanese had landed. The battalion repeatedly dropped back as it
fought the Japanese.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the
area of Urdaneta and found the bridge they were going to use to cross the
Agno River was destroyed. The tankers made an end run to get south
of river and ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they
successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province. Later
on the 24th, the battalions formed a defensive line along the southern
bank of the Agno River with the 192nd on the right and 194th on the left.
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 and
withdrew, following the Philippine Army, to the Tarlec-Cabanatuan Line
and was near Santo Tomas and Cabanatuan on the 28 and 29.
The tank battalions next covered the withdrawal
of the Philippine Army at the Pampanga River. The battalion's
tanks were on both sides of the on December 31 at the Calumpit Bridge.
On January 1, conflicting orders, about who was
in command, were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop
the Japanese advance down Route 5 and allowing the Southern Luzon Forces
to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the
orders, since they came from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among
the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridge over the Pampanga
River about withdrawing from the bridge with half of the defenders
withdrawing. 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
At 2:30 A.M., on January 6, the Japanese
attacked at Remlus in force using smoke which was an attempt by the
Japanese to destroy the tank battalions. That night the tanks withdrew
into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th
Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover
the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last
American unit to enter Bataan.
The night of January 7, the tank battalions were
covering the withdrawal of all troops around Hermosa. Around 6:00
A.M., before the bridge had been destroyed by the engineers, the 192nd
crossed the bridge.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and
Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan on which was worse than
having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks
and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track
them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery
fire was landing all around the tanks.
The next day, a composite tank company was
formed under the command of Capt. Donald Haines, B Co., 192nd. Its
job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop
Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line
that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant
enemy artillery fire. The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac
south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road.
When word came that a bridge was going to be
blow, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the
composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but
the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac
Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road. It had
almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had
maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance. It was also on this
day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank
platoon. The men rested and the tanks received the required
maintenance. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal
and the radial engines long past their 400 hour overhauls.
It was at this time the tank battalions received
these orders which came from Gen. Weaver
, "Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and
firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize
withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the
close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking
positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and
personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will
not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay."
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions
of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Heicienda Road on January
25. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine
Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was
sent to the front of the the column of trucks which were loading the
troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could
withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
Later on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th
held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the
withdraw was completed at midnight. They held the position until
the night of January 26/27, when they dropped back to a new defensive
line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw
to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they
were suppose to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw,
they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were
still straggling in at noon.
The tank battalions, on January 28, 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, while the
battalion's half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The
Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented
them from attempting landings.
Companies A & C were ordered to the west
coast of Bataan while B Company - which was held in reserve - and 17th
Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan. The tankers were awake
all night and attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day,
which protected them from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance
planes. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats
both on and off shore.
On one occasion, a member of the company, who
had gotten frustrated by being awakened by the planes, had his half-track
pulled out onto the beach and took pot shots at the plane. He
missed the plane, but twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared over
the location and dropped bombs that exploded in the tree tops.
Three members of the company were killed.
The tank battalions, on their own, took up the
job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since
Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and
half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and
different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces.
There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came
The battalion also took part in the Battle of
the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers 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 exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful
that the tank companies were pulled out and replaced by one that was
being held in reserve.
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
Albert took part in the delaying action to slow the Japanese conquest of the
Philippine Islands. It was during this time, that a photo of a
half-track was taken on Bataan which often appears in books. The soldier sitting on
the front hood of the half-track, holding a tommy-gun was Albert DeCurtins.
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the
tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations were cut in half
again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to
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
It was at this time that Gen. Edward 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 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
Albert became a Prisoner of War when the Filipino and American defenders of Bataan were
surrendered to the Japanese. Capt. Fred Bruni came to the members of HQ Company and told them of the surrender
the evening of April 8 and told them they were surrendering the next morning. He told them to remain in the area,
but to destroy anything that the Japanese could use. He also somehow got a hold of enough bread and pineapple
juice for the soldiers to have what he called
, "Their last supper."
The next day, April 9, 1942, Albert became a Prisoner of War.
The members of the company remained in their bivouac for two days before the Japanese made
contact with them on April 11. He told them to move with their possessions to the road which ran in front of
their bivouac. The members of the company marched to the road and were made to kneel along the sides of the road
with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, Japanese soldiers passing them took whatever they wanted
from the Americans.
The Americans were ordered onto their trucks and drove toward
Mariveles. Outside the barrio, they were herded onto an airfield. As they sat at the airfield, they
noticed that Japanese soldiers were gathering across from them. The Americans realized that the Japanese were
forming a firing squad. As the Japanese were preparing to execute Albert and the other POWs, a Japanese officer
pulled up in a car and got out. He spoke to a Japanese sergeant then got back into the car and drove off.
The Japanese soldiers lowered their guns.
Not long after this incident, Albert and the other POWs were ordered to
move. They marched into Mariveles where they were ordered into a school yard. They were left there for a
day. During this time they went without food or water.
The Japanese ordered them to move. They marched until they were instructed to rest. As
they sat, t
hey realized that behind them was Japanese artillery. The four guns began firing on the
Islands of Corregidor and Ft. Drum. Soon the islands began firing upon the Japanese guns. The American
shells began landing among the POWs killing them. The POWs had no place to hide from the shells resulting in
American deaths. One group of POWs took cover in a small brick building which took a direct hit killing
them. Three of four of the Japanese guns were knocked out.
When the POWs were ordered again, they had started what became known as the
death march. Albert trudged 65 miles with his friend from Celina, Pvt. Peter Garmon. When they reached
San Fernando, they were put in a bull pen and ordered to sit. They remained there until the Japanese ordered
them to form 100 men detachments and marched to the train station. There, small wooden boxcars were waiting for
them to board. The cars were known as "forty or eights" and could hold forty men or eight horses, but
the Japanese put 100 men in each car and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing until the living
left the cars at Capas. The POWs walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the
Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the camp commander
told them that they were not prisoners of war but captives and would be treated as such. 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 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
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. To get out of the camp, POWs went out on work details.
The dead, at Camp O'Donnell, were taken to the camp cemetery and buried in shallow
graves. The reason for this was that the water table was high and the POWs could not dig deep. Once a
body was put in the ground, it was held down with a pole until it was covered by earth. The next day, the POWs,
on the detail, found wild dogs had dug up the bodies or the bodies were sitting up in the graves.
While in the camp, Albert met Fr. John Wilson, a Roman Catholic priest. As it
turned out, Fr. Wilson was also from Celina.
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. The
POWs were forced to work in the fields from 7:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening. Most of the food
they grew went to the Japanese not them. Other POWs worked in rice paddies.
The POW barracks were built to house 50 POWs, but most held between 60 and 120 men.
The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, covers, or mosquito netting. The result was many became ill.
Each morning, the POWs lined up for roll call. While they stood at attention, it wasn't
uncommon for them to be hit over the tops of their heads. In addition, one guard frequently kicked them in
their shins with his hobnailed boots. 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 buildings. 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. The
name soon meant the place where those who were extremely ill went to die. Each ward had two tiers of bunks and
could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each. Each man had a two foot wide by six foot long area
to lie in. The sickest men slept on the bottom tier since the platforms had holes cut in them so the sick could
relieve themselves without having to leave the tier.
When Cabanatuan Prison Camp opened in May 1942, Albert was sent there.
It was sometime during his imprisonment there that Albert developed dysentery. He was already sick with malaria
and was put in the camp hospital on July 18, 1942. Fr, and admitted to Building 1. Fr. John Wilson heard that
Albert was extremely ill and sought him out. Fr. John administered to Albert "The Last Rites" of the
Pfc. Albert E. DeCurtins died on Thursday, September 10, 1942, at
Cabanatuan Prison Camp. He was 25 years old. The medical staff recorded that Albert's personal
possessions consisted of a wallet with pictures and papers in it. Fr. John Wilson presided over the funeral
service. After the war, Fr. Wilson told the DeCurtins family of Albert's short life as a Japanese
The remains of Pfc. Albert E. DeCurtins were returned to the United States
after the war. Since the remains of the POWs in the grave had become mixed and none could be positively
identified, the men were buried in a common grave. On November 23, 1949, Albert and six other POWs were buried
in a mass grave at Fort McPherson National Cemetery in Nebraska. This location was selected because each family
would have approximately the same distance to travel to visit the grave. The men were buried in Section R,
Graves 37, 38, and 39.
After the war, the VFW Post in Celina was renamed the Eichar-DeCurtins VFW Post
5713. At some point in time, all five of Albert's brothers were members of the post.