Elmer

 

Tec 5 Wesley Roy Elmer


    T/5 Wesley R. Elmer and his twin brother, Ray, were born December 3, 1922, in unincorporated Keysville, Wisconsin.   He was one of the ten children of Hubert L. Elmer and Myrtle A. McKinney-Elmer.  Like many others, Wesley left school after completing grade school and went to work as a farmhand and ended up working near Janesville, Wisconsin.

    With his friend, Donald Knipschield, he joined the Wisconsin National Guard's 32nd Tank Company headquartered in Janesville.  Since both of them were underage, they each forged the signatures of the other man's parents on the enlistment papers.

    In the fall of 1940, the 32nd Tank Company was called to federal service as A Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion.  For almost a year the battalion trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  The one thing that Wesley stood out in was his inability to keep in step while drilling.  No matter how he tried, he just could not keep in step with the other soldiers.  It was also at this time that Wesley trained as a bow gunner in a tank.
    A typical day started at 6:15 A.M. with reveille, but most of the soldiers were already up so they could wash, dress, and be on time for assembly.  Breakfast was from 7 to 8 A.M. which was followed buy calisthenics from 8 to 8:30.  After this, the remainder of the morning dealt with .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistols, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in military tactics.
    At 11:30, the tankers got ready for lunch, which was from noon to 1:00 P.M., when they went back to work by attending the various schools.  At 4:30, the tankers day ended and retreat was at 5:00 P.M. followed by evening meal at 5:30.  The day ended at 9:00 P.M. with lights out, but they did not have to be in bed until 10:00 P.M. when taps was played.

    In the late summer of 1941, the battalion took part in maneuvers in Louisiana.  Upon completion of the maneuvers, they were informed that their time in the regular army had been extended.  Upon hearing this news, Wesley and the other members of the battalion were informed that they were being sent overseas.

    The battalion traveled by train to San Francisco.  By ferry, they were taken to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, they received inoculations and physicals.  Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island.  They were scheduled to join the battalion at a later date.
    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 Dateline.  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. During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.  The cruiser that was escorting the two transports revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out that the unknown ship was from 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 Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized to the men that they 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.  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. 
    On Monday, December 1st, 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 December 8th, December 7th in the United States, the 192nd was brought up to full strength at the perimeter of Clark Field.  A week earlier, they had been given assigned positions around the airfield to guard against enemy paratroopers.  At 8:30, the American planes took off and filled the sky.  They landed at noon, to be refueled, and lined up, in a straight line, near the mess hall while the pilots went to lunch.    
    The tankers were eating lunch when a formation of 54 planes was spotted approaching the airfield from the north.  The tankers believed the planes were American.  As they watched, raindrops fell from the planes.  When bombs exploded on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.  The tankers manned the machine guns on their turrets, but besides these, they had few weapons to use against the planes.  What amazed them was that most of the Japanese planes ignored the tanks.  The few that did attack them dropped their bombs between the tanks.
    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 those men assigned to tanks slept under them.  Those members of the company not assigned to a tank or half tack slept in a dried up latrine near the battalions bivouac.  In both cases it was safer than sleeping in their tents. 
    The next morning, they saw the bodies of the dead everywhere.  The pilots who had been on duty, the night before the attack, were killed during the attack trying to get to their planes.

    A Company, on December 12th, was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it would be close to a highway and railroad and guard them against sabotage.  From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River.  The rest of the battalion had been ordered north to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese were landing.
    On December 23rd and 24th, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the 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. They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
    On December 25th, 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 27th.
    The 192nd, and part of the 194th, fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27th and 28th.  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 28th and 29th serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.   
    A 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 bodies.
   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 31st and January 1st.  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.
    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.
    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.
    On January 1st, the tanks of the 194th were holding the Calumpit Bridge allowing the Southern Luzon forces to cross the bridge toward Bataan.  General Wainwright was attempting to hold the main Japanese force coming down Route 5 to prevent the troops from being cut off.  General MacArthur's chief of staff gave conflicting orders involving whose command the defenders were under which caused confusion.  Gen. Wainwright was not aware these orders had been given.
    Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River.  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 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.  It was also at this time that food rations were cut in half.  It was not too long after this malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers.
           The 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 7th, the A Company was awaiting orders to cross the last bridge into Bataan over the Culis Creek.  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.
    While American 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 27th, 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 casualties.    While American 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 27th, 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 casualties. 
    On January 28th, 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 landings.  They also took part in the Battle of the Pockets and the Battle of the Points.

    A major problem they had to deal with was Japanese snipers.  At night, the Japanese would sneak behind the main battle lines.  On one occasion, Wesley was with Phil Parish when they came under fire by a sniper.  Instead of wasting time attempting to pick the sniper off, Wesley took his Tommy-gun and fired at the tree.  As he fired he moved his fire up the tree.  His bullets hit the rope that held the sniper to the tree causing him to fall from the tree to his death.

    According to Abel Ortega, it was during the battle with the Japanese that Wesley excelled.  Ortega recalled that on Bataan, Wesley would simply go off into the jungle by himself.  When he returned, he would always be carrying Japanese guns, swords or canteens.  In Ortega's opinion. the only way Wesley could have gotten these things was by taking them off the dead bodies of Japanese soldiers.  Ortega believed that once in combat, Wesley demonstrated the best qualities of a soldier.

    Wesley also was wounded during the fight against the Japanese.  During one engagement, a shell exploded near him.  The explosion resulted in his being hit below the ear and in the shoulder by shrapnel.

    After four months of constant strafing and bombing by the Japanese, Wesley became a Prisoner of War when the defenders of Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese.  From Mariveles, at the southern tip of Bataan, Wesley began what became known as the Bataan Death March.

    When he started the march, he was selected to drive a staff car for a Japanese officer.  He did this job until the officer wanted to be driven down to Mariveles.  When Wesley heard this, he ran off when the officer was not looking.  His reason for doing this was that he knew that the Mariveles area was being shelled by Corregidor.

    When Wesley was reunited with his company, he was already weak from lack of rest and malnutrition.  He did not believe that he would survive the march.  Wesley credited his friend, Donald Kniepschield, with helping him survive the march.  What Donald did was set goals for himself and Wesley.  "On the march, a lot of guys were dropping like flies.  The ones who could get up, the Japanese beat them with billy-clubs until they got back in ranks.  The ones that couldn't, they would just run a bayonet through them and leave them lying on the side of road.  Don would would look at me and say. 'You see that tree way up the road. I think I can make it to that tree.' Well, I knew that if Don could make it that far that I could too.  About the time we got to the tree, someone else behind us would fall out of ranks and the Japanese would run a bayonet through them.  Then Don would say, 'You see that building up the road, well, I think I can make it to that building.' There is something about seeing a guy bayoneted that gives you more energy."  Donald's goal selection helped Wesley to complete the march.  Wesley did not know how long it took him to complete the march, but he believed it was somewhere around fourteen days.

    In his opinion, the Japanese treated the Filipinos worse than they treated the Americans.  The reason was that they could not understand why the Filipinos had fought alongside the Americans. "The Japanese didn't like the Filipinos very much.  Every time they thought a Filipino looked the wrong way, they would run a bayonet through them."

    The first camp Wesley was held in was Camp O'Donnell.  There, about 2,000 American POWs died from disease and malnutrition.  The Filipino death rate was somewhere around 10,000 soldiers.  Of this, he said, "They were dying off at about 100 a day.  We were moved to another camp, guys didn't die as fast there, although I can remember one point when we were losing about 50 a day." 

    Wesley came close to dying from dysentery while a POW at the camp.  What kept him alive was that the medic assigned to care for him would beat him with a stick.  This beating would get him angry which kept him alive. 
    The death rate in the camp reached 55 American POWs a day. It was at this time that the Japanese decided to do something and opened a new camp at Cabanatuan in another former Philippine Army Base.  Being considered healthier, Wesley was sent to the camp.

    There fewer prisoners died, but the living conditions were not that much better.  During this time, Wesley's weight dropped to 68 pounds.  His normal weight was around 150 pounds.  Part of the problem was that Wesley vomited everything he ate.  On June 18, 1942, he was put in the camp hospital.  According to records kept by the staff, he was suffering from dysentery and appendicitis.  He was so sick, that the Japanese removed him from the camp hospital and left him in the grass to die. 

    Wesley credits a Sgt. Kenneth Grover with saving his life.  Sgt. Grover, seeing the condition that Wesley was in, picked him up and carried him over to water.  There, he washed him.  He next got Wesley a meal of sugar and rice.  He would feed some to Wesley and when he vomited it up, feed him a little more.  He continued to do this until Wesley kept the food down.

    While he did this, Sgt. Grover asked Wesley about his home and family.  This got Wesley thinking of them and created in him a desire to see them again.  In Wesley's opinion this "will to live" kept him alive.

     Wesley, at this time, also had an appendicitis attack.  The doctors knew that they had to operate to save his life, but their surgical tools were in poor condition.  They finally removed his appendix by sterilizing a razor blade.  Since there were no antibiotics, an infection set in, and it took a great deal of time for him to heal.  The Japanese only allowed him eleven days to recover before he returned to work, which meant he returned to work ill.  As if this was not enough, Wesley also suffered from beriberi, diphtheria and had gall bladder problems while in the camp. He was returned to the hospital and discharged on January 6, 1943.

    In August 1943, Wesley volunteered to go to Japan.  The POWs were driven in trucks to Manila and boarded onto a transport.  The ship, the Coral Maru, was a cattle boat.  It sailed for Japan on September 20, 1943.  After three days at sea, it arrived at Takao, Formosa, on September 23rd.  After a three day stay, it sailed on September 26th, and arrived in Japan on October 5, 1943.  Upon arriving in Japan, Wesley, was sent to a camp designated as Shinjuku Camp.  This designation meant the specific camp was not known.

    On November 28, 1944, Wesley was moved to Shinagawa where he collected scrap metal.  From this camp, he was sent to the Headquarters Camp in Tokyo.  He was next sent to Haraoka #3 near Nangano, Japan. He and the other POWs worked in freight yards and in sugar lockers.  The final camp he was in was Sendai #10, where the POWs worked in a steel mill.
   The Japanese withheld clothing, medical supplies and treatment, and food from the POWs that came in the Red Cross packages.  The POWs were also required to work long hours even when they were sick if they could stand.  Those POWs working in the steel mill were not given safety devices to protect him from excessive heat and fumes.

    Wesley refused to keep track of time while a prisoner.  "Some of the fellows made calendars and would cross off one day after another, but I didn't.  By not counting the days, the time seemed to fly."

    Wesley stated that not all the Japanese were hostile to the POWs.  He recalled that a Japanese woman gave him and the other prisoners cigarettes.  A guard caught her and beat her severely.  Later, she returned and again gave the POWs cigarettes.

    Wesley also stated that the certain guards enjoyed setting the POWs up for punishment.  "One favorite tricks of the Japs was for one to come along and give you a cigarette while you were working.  Then just as you started to smoke it, another in on the plan would beat you for smoking without letting him know you were going to do it.  It didn't take us long to catch on to that one."        
    During his three and a half years as a POW, Wesley suffered from a variety of diseases; such as: dysentery, diphtheria and jaundice.  He believed he survived because of his attitude.  "I just wanted to live.  A lot of guys got to the point where they didn't care anymore and they gave up.  I always thought about getting back to the States.  That kept me going."           
    While he was a POW in Japan, another POW was caught stealing rice.  The Japanese made the man stay out in the snow and cold with only a pair of shorts on.  When the man's body began to disintegrate, the Japanese shot him.   
    On May 20, 1945, the Japanese opened Sendai #10, and he was sent there.  The POWs worked in a coal mine.  It is not to clear when this happened, but records at the camp indicate that Wesley was sent to Morioka Hospital.  No other information on how long he was there was given in the records.  He apparently was returned to Sendai #10 and was listed on the liberation roster.
    At the end of the war, Wesley was liberated and returned to Manila.  After being fattened up, he boarded the Simon Bolivar which sailed for the United States in late September 1945 and arrived in San Francison on October 21, 1945, nearly four years to the day that he had sailed for the Philippines from there. After disembarking, he was taken to Letterman General Hospital and later returned home to Beloit, Wisconsin.  He was discharged from the army on May 7, 1946.  Wesley married, became a father, and later lived in Waunakee, Wisconsin.  

    Wesley Elmer passed away on June 8, 1995, and was buried at East Lawn Cemetery in Beloit, Wisconsin.


 

Return to Company A

 

Next