Pvt. Edward L. DeGroot
Pvt. Edward L. DeGroot was born on January 10, 1919, in Franksville, Wisconsin, to Peter and Mary Barth-DeGroot. He was the third oldest of the couple's seven children. In 1940, his family was living on County Line Road in Racine County, and he was working as a clerk in a grocery store when the draft act took affect.
On January 29, 1941, Ed joined the United States Army to fulfill his military obligation. He enlisted with his brother and three friends, because they wanted to be assigned to communications and had been promised that they would be allowed to serve together.
Ed and his friends were sent to the recruit center at Fort Sheridan, Illinois. After three days there, he was informed that he had been assigned to Company A of the 192nd Tank Battalion which was training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Ed was sent to Fort Knox without his brother or his three friends; so much for promises made by the Army.
Ed and the other new members of the 192nd were not put into their new companies immediately. Instead, they lived in tents and received their training by sergeants assigned to the 192nd. Ed recalled that Ben Morin was one of the sergeants assigned this job.
As a member
of A Company, Ed was trained as a tank driver
and was assigned to the tank of Sgt. Herb Durner.
Other members of the crew were Cpl. Ken Squire,
who was the radio operator, and Pvt. Bob Boehm,
the gunner. As Ed looked back on this
training, he concluded that it was of some
value, but it was totally inappropriate for
combat in the jungle.
192nd, Ed went on maneuvers in Louisiana from
September 1 through 30. At one point the
battalion, which was part of the red army, broke
through the blue army's defenses and was on its
way of capturing its headquarters when the
maneuvers were canceled. The commanding
office of the blue army was General George S.
Patton. It was after the maneuvers the
battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana,
instead of returning to Ft. Knox.
Just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 8, 1941, Ed and the other soldiers lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. Since their guns were useless against planes, they could do little more then watch.
morning, about 8:30, all the American planes
took off and filled the sky. In any
direction the tankers looked, there were
planes. At noon, the planes landed, to be
refueled, and were lined up, in a straight line,
outside the mess hall. The pilots went to
The company was sent to the Barrio of Dau, on
December 12, so it could protect a highway and
railroad against sabotage. They remained
there until ordered to rejoin the battalion.
In one incident, that took place December 23 and 24,
the company was sent north of the Agno River.
While they were north of the river, the main bridge
on the Carmen Road was destroyed. The tank
company found itself in danger of being caught
behind enemy lines. This resulted in the
company having to make end runs to cross the river
on one of the two remaining bridges and successfully
crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
Ed believed that fighting the Japanese was made difficult because, in Ed's opinion, the equipment they had received was outdated, and they had received the wrong type of ammunition to be used in the turret cannon. In his opinion, another problem was that the tanks had only received a limited number of armor piercing shells to use against enemy tanks. Recalling this, he said, "It was really a delaying action. They (Japanese) didn't realize we had as little as we did."
Ed was involved in numerous engagements as Company A was assigned the duty of protecting the west coast of Bataan from Japanese invasion. It was during this duty, that Company A would engage the enemy, who had landed troops behind the Filipino and American lines, in what was to become known as the Battle of the Points.
Ed saw a great deal of action during the Battle of the Points. In an attempt to end resistance on Bataan, the Japanese had landed troops on a small point of land on Bataan behind Filipino and American lines. When additional Japanese troops were landed to relieve their comrades, they were landed on the wrong point. This created a second pocket of Japanese troops.
the infantry, Company A was sent to wipe-out
these troops which had been cutoff from the main
Japanese force. Ed believed that the tanks
were ineffective because of the terrain and
jungle. With the help of B Company tanks,
the pockets were wiped out.
April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an 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.
During the morning of April 9, 1942, Ed and the other men of Company A learned of the surrender at their bivouac area. Ed was distressed by the news of the surrender because he believed that he and his fellow soldiers were capable of defeating the enemy. He also came through the fighting without being wounded. Of this he said, "I guess that's what you call the fortunes of war. Some guys were killed the first day, and some went through without a scratch."
The next morning, A Company started what has become known as the death march at Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. Ed would do the march with his friends Sgt. Owen Sandmire and Sgt. Harvey Riedemann. The march would be Ed's first experience of man's inhumanity to man.
It was on the march that Ed developed the philosophy that he believed kept him alive. Ed never allowed himself to placed in a situation where he would be vulnerable. During the march he marched in the middle of the formation. In his own words, "You had to watch out for each other, otherwise the Japanese cleanup squadrons would get you." Although he saw bodies of dead men and heard the sound of guns, he never witnessed anyone being shot or bayoneted by the Japanese. He said of the march, "They didn't run you, but you kept going. If you fell behind, the guards bayoneted you."
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 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 he was assigned to the burial detail. This was not an enviable job since hundreds of POWs were dying each day. While working this detail, Ed recalled burying Larry Grim and Wesley Fancher of A Company. One of his happiest days, at the camp, was when he was taken off of this detail.
Ed was next
sent to Cabanatuan when it was opened to lower
the death rate among the POWs. At the
camp, we was assigned to Barracks 2, Group
2. In the barracks with him were Leonard Adams
Andrews of the 192nd. While a
prisoner there, he worked in the camp farm and
sent out on a work detail to build
runways. Of his treatment, he said, "The Japanese would beat
us up at the drop of a hat. Thev'd
slap us or cuff us with the butt of a
gun. They were brutal and inhumane in
the way they beat people up."
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
He believed what saved his life and the lives of other men was the occasional Red Cross package the POWs received. "If it wasn't for the food and vitamins, I don't think we could have survived. Getting those packages gave us the will to live."
As the war continued and it became apparent to the Japanese the the Americans would soon be invading the Philippine Islands, Ed was sent to Manila for shipment to Japan in what would become known as a Hell Ship. The ship that Ed and the other Americans were boarded on was the Canadian Inventor II. The ship sailed on July 4, 1944 but returned to Manila with boiler problems. While repairs were made, the POWs were held in its holds for eleven days.
On the ship was Ed's friend from A Company, Sgt. Owen Sandmire. Somehow, Sandy and Ed got made cooks. They were responsible for the prisoners' evening meal which meant that they were allowed out of the hold to prepare the evening meal. Ed believed that being allowed out of the hold helped him survive the trip to Japan.
On July 16, the Canadian Inventor sailed a second time. While at sea, it once again experienced boiler problems and could not keep up with the other ships in the convoy. Because of this, the Canadian Inventor was left on its own to make port and arrived at Takao, Formosa, on July 23rd.
For the next twelve days the ship remained in port. During this time salt was loaded onto the ship. When the Canadian Inventor sailed on August 4, it made its way along the west coast of Formosa to Keelung Harbor. It arrived there on August 5th and remained in port for twelve days as more repairs were made to its boiler.
On August 17 the ship sailed for Japan, but because of more boiler problems, it stopped at Naha, Okinawa. After six days, the Canadian Inventor sailed for Moji, Japan, and finally arrived there on September 1.
The POWs nicknamed the ship the "Mita Mita Maru." Mati mati in Japanese means "to wait" and that is what the POWs did in the hold of the ship. In the end, Ed spent sixty days in the hold of the tramp steamer as it made its long, slow journey to Japan.
As a prisoner in Japan, Ed was sent to Omine Machi Camp. There, he spent the rest of the war working in a coal mine. As a slave laborer, Ed operated a air hammer in the mine. He said of his time there, "I operated an air hammer in a little coal mine on the island of Honshu."
guards stole items from Red Cross packages and
withheld the packages from July 1, 1944, to
September 2, 1945. The Japanese
intentionally opened packages and mixed up
contents so that the ranking Allied officer
would not know how much should be in each
package. They also took much of the food
in the packages. When they were given to
the POWs they were often contained less than
what had been sent. In addition, when Red
Cross packages arrived, they were withheld from
POWs from three to seven months after arriving.
After being liberated, Ed boarded the U.S. Consolation, on or about September 16, 1945, suffering from beriberi. The ship returned the POWs to the Philippines where they received medication and shots. When he was deemed healthy enough to return home, Ed boarded the the ship, S.S. Klipfontaine for the United States. Ed saw the United States for the first time in four years on October 27, 1945, which was exactly four years, to the day, xince he had left from San Francisco for the Philippine Islands in 1941. Ed was promoted to Staff Sergeant and discharged on July 17, 1946.
Ed returned to Racine and married, Evelyn Kothe on July 1, 1948. Together they would be the parents of four daughters and two sons. Ed worked in a department store a few years before he went to work as an insurance agent in Racine. He worked in insurance until he retired. His time in the camp left him with hearing loss. The other effect was on how he slept, "I sleep very poorly. But I consider myself very fortunate overall."
retired, Ed had the opportunity to return to the
Philippines as part of a tour of former
POWs. Ed really thought about going back,
but in the end, he decided not to go. Of
this, he said, "I'm not
quite sure why. I think it was because
I wanted to know what it would be
like to be in the same area as a free man."