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,
, 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
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
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 sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and informed that their time in the
regular army had been extended. Upon hearing this news, Wesley and the other members of the battalion
were told that they were being sent overseas.
The reason 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 battalion traveled by train to San Francisco. On the ferry,
U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, 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
The 192nd was boarded onto the
U.S. A. T. Gen. 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 2 and had a two day layover, so t
he soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, 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
and, another transport, the
S. S. President Calvin Coolidge
. Sunday night, November 9th, 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
Dateline. 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.
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 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, 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
On Monday, December 1, 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 8, December 7 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 12, 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
On December 23 and 24, 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 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.
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 BamBam River which they were
suppose to hold for as long as possible.
The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29 serving as a rear guard against the
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 30, 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 31 and January 1. 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
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 1, 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 2 to 4, 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 7, 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 27, 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 27, 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
On January 28, 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.
The company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets - from January 23 to February
17- to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive
was stopped and pushed pack to the original line of defense. 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 each tank company was rotated 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
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 tanks.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline,
against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the
back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they
got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do
this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would
pop and wound the men inside the tank. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank
Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a
time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the
pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
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
"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
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
"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
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
, 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 Tokyo Headquarters Camp
which also had the Shinagawa Hospital where the really sick POWs were sent from various camps. The camp was
located on an island, which had been reclaimed through the work done by the first POWs in the camp, and composed
of seven buildings, one of which housed the headquarters for all the POW camps in the Tokyo Area.
The POWs worked as stevedores on the docks or at a railroad loading and unloading ships
or train cars. The sick were forced to work if they could stand, and even POWs with tuberculosis were made
to work in the camp garden. Red Cross medicines, medical supplies, an instruments were withheld and used by
the Japanese who stated that the supplies were under control of the Imperial Army which could do as it wished
Food for the POWs was primarily barley and millet as the main food stuffs and rice was
seldom see by the POWs. Occasionally, the POWs also received Miso soup, octopus, seaweed, and a Japanese
radish known as a daikon. To supplement their meals, the POWs would steal vegetables from the camp
garden. If caught, they were beaten with bamboo poles, kicked with hob-nailed boots, slapped, and thrown
into the guardhouse.
Punishment consisted of beatings being given to the POWs, and the POWs were beaten, they
often were forced to beat each other. The POWs were beaten anywhere on their bodies, including their
faces. The beatings were done with fist, wooden clogs, bamboo practice swords, or any other item
available at the time. Collective punishment was also a common practice and the POWs stood at attention until
the guilty party confessed.
It is known that Wesley was next sent to Hiraoka #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, which opened on May 20, 1945. There the POWs
worked in a steel mill. Those POWs working in the steel mill were not given safety devices to protect him
from excessive heat and fumes resulting in many of the POWs becoming ill.
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.
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
"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.
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
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
later lived in Waunakee, Wisconsin.
Wesley Elmer passed away on June 8, 1995, and was buried at East Lawn Cemetery in Beloit,