Harger

 

Pfc. Rollie Clayton Harger


   

     Pvt. Rollie C. Harger was born in 1920 in Lorain County, Michigan, to Manuel and Mattie Conigan-Harger.  With his two sisters and brother, he was raised in Gladwin, Michigan, and attended Pontiac High School in Pontiac, Michigan.  He later moved to Fremont, Ohio, and lived with his ather's brother and his wife on their farm and worked as a farmhand.  At some point, he joined the Ohio National Guard's tank company which was headquartered in Port Clinton in 1940.

    On November 25, 1940, his tank company was federalized as C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  He trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky for nearly ten months. In the late summer of 1941, the battalion was sent to Louisiana, take part in maneuvers from September 1st through 30th. 

    After the maneuvers, the 192nd did not return to Ft. Knox as expected.  Instead, they were ordered to Camp Polk for further orders.  On the side of a hill, the tank battalion was informed that it was being sent  overseas.  Those members of the battalion 29 years old or older were allowed to resign from federal service.  Replacements for these men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion which had been sent to Camp Polk from Ft. Benning, Georgia.  The battalion not only supplied the 192nd with men, it also turned over its tanks and half-tracks.

   Rollie received a leave home to say goodbye to is family.  He returned home and married Jean Govitz.  When he left to return to Cam Polk, his wife had no idea it would be the last time she would ever see her husband.

    The 192nd Tank Battalion received orders for duty, in the Philippines, because of an event that happened during the summer of 1941.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water.  He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island.  When the squadron landed he reported what he had seen.  By the time a Navy ship was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
    Over different train routes, the battalion's companies traveled to San Francisco.  They were taken by ferry to Fort McDowell on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.  There, they were given physicals and inoculated for duty in the Philippine Islands.  Those men who were found to need minor medical treatment remained behind at the fort and scheduled to rejoin 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 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 Colonel 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. 
    The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers learned of the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor.  He and the other tankers were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.
    Around 12:45 P.M., the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield.  When bombs began exploding they knew the planes were Japanese.  Although they did the best they could, the tankers did not have the right type of weapons to fight the planes.
    Rollie spent the next four months taking part in a delaying action against the Japanese.  During the withdraw into the Bataan Peninsula, the tanks were often the last unit to disengage from the Japanese.
    Rollie took part in the Battle of the Points.  The Japanese lunched an offensive and broken through the defensive line on Bataan and were pushed back.  This resulted in two pockets of Japanese troops trapped behind American and Filipino lines.  During this battle, the tankers drove over the Japanese foxholes and soldiers sitting on the tanks dropped hand grenades into the foxholes.  In a matter of days, all resistance was wiped out.

    Another method the tankers used to wipe out the pockets was to park a tank with one track over the Japanese foxhole.  The crew would then spin the tank on one track while the other track dug into the ground.

    At 6:45 A.M. in the morning of April 9, 1942, the tankers received the order "crash."  They destroyed their tanks and waited for the Japanese to make contact with them.  When they did, they ordered the members of the company to make their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.
       From Mariveles, the POWs made their way north to San Fernando.  They received little food and almost no water.  At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into a bull pin.  In one corner was a slit trench that was used as a washroom.  The surface moved from the maggots that covered it.
    The Japanese ordered the POWs to form detachments of 100 men.  They were marched to the train station and put into small wooden boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane.  The cars could hold forty men or eight horses and were known as "Forty or Eights."  The Japanese packed 100 men into each car.  Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas.  From there, they walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell.
    Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army training base that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp.  There was one water faucet for the entire camp.  As many as fifty POWs died each day.  Disease spread quickly among the POWs.  To get out of the camp, POWs volunteered to go out on work details.
    It is not known if Rollie went out on a work detail or was sent to Cabanatuan when it was opened by the Japanese as an attempt to lower the death rate among the POWs.  In the camp he may have gone out on work details that left the camp daily and returned in the evening.   
    Rollie remained at the camp until he was selected to go out on a work detail.  In January 1943, he was sent to Lipa, Batangas.  The POWs on the detail built runways and revetments at Lipa Airfield and worked on a farm.  Not too long after going out on the detail he came down with dysentery.

    Rollie was sent to Bilibid Prison outside of Manila and admitted to the U.S. Naval Hospital Unit at the prison on January 12, 1943.  The medical staff indicated he was extremely ill with amoebic dysentery, emaciated, and suffering with bloody stools.  According to the medical staff at the prison, Pfc. Rollie C. Harger died of amoebic dysentery on Tuesday, January 13, 1943, at 9:35 P.M.  He was buried in the Bilibid Cemetery in Row 3, Section Y, Grave 39 in the Bilibid Hospital Burial Plot.
    After the war, at the request of his family, Rollie's remains were exhumed, and he was buried at the new American Military Cemetery at Manila.  He was buried in Plot A, Row 12, Grave 83. 


 

 

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