1st Sgt. Roger James Heilig
| 1st Sergeant
Roger J. Heilig was one of the three children of
Oscar A. Helig and Viola Strenging-Heilig. He
was born on March 8, 1921, in Oak Park, Illinois,
and lived at 2116 South 16th Avenue in Maywood,
Illinois. He attended Roosevelt Grade School,
in Broadview, and Proviso Township High School,
where he was a member of the graduating class of
1938. After high school, he worked as a
shipping clerk for the Jefferson Electric Company.
In 1937, Roger joined the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Tank Company from Maywood with his best friend, Warren Hildebrandt. To do this, he had to get his parents to sign a consent form since he was only sixteen years old. On April 8, 1940, he was honorably discharged, but he reenlisted a month later in May 1940.
On November 24, 1940, Roger went to Fort Knox, Kentucky, when the company was federalized and made part of the 192nd Tank Battalion. During his training, Roger attended technical school and learned chemical weapons and how to work with ordnance.
In the late summer of 1941, Roger took part in maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1 through 30. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. None of the members of the battalion had any idea why they were there. On the side of a hill, the members learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, many men had figured out they were being sent to the Philippine Islands.
The decision for this move - which had been made on August 15, 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.
After greasing their weapons with cosmoline, from Camp Polk, at 8:30 A.M. on October 20, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California. Arriving there, the soldiers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe. On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases by the battalion's medical detachment. Those men with minor health issues were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S. A. T. 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. they spent their time 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 the 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 U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S. S. 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 General Edward 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 love in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. King remained with the battalion until they had eaten their Thanksgiving Dinner, afterwards he had his own dinner.
For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. In Roger's case, he worked with Pfc. Carl Maggio and Pvt. Joseph Lajzer in munitions. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts.
The first week of December, 1941, the tankers were ordered to Clark Field to assigned locations. At all times, two members of each tank crew or half-track crew had to remain with their tank or half-track. On the morning of December 8, 1941, the members of B Company were informed of the Japanese attack on Clark Field, all tank crew members were sent to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.
About 12:45 in the afternoon as the tankers were eating lunch, planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, the soldiers thought the planes were American. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.
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. Those not assigned to tanks slept in a dried up latrine near their bivouac. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed. The tankers lived through two more attacks on December 10 and 13.
The tank battalion received orders on December 21 that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of 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.
It was at this time that Roger demonstrated his personal courage. He was standing on a dyke along the south bank of the Agno River with his tank behind him. As he stood there, he noticed men coming across the river in the distance. At first, he dismissed these men as Filipino soldiers and began walking back to the tank. Suddenly, he stopped and turned. He realized that the last Filipino troops had already crossed the river.
Roger ran to his tank, grabbed his Tommy-gun, ran back to the dyke and threw himself on the ground. He opened fire on the men in the river and on the north bank. The Japanese on the north bank returned fire and shelled his position with mortars; but Roger held his position. In the ensuing battle, Roger killed over thirty enemy soldiers as they attempted to cross the river. He held his position on the dyke until he was reinforced.
The tankers were fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. On January 1, conflicting orders were received by the defenders about who was their commanding officer, and they were ordered to withdraw into Bataan. These orders came from General MacArthur's chief of staff. At the time, the tanks were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw into 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 bridges over the Pampanga River and some withdrew. 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.
Company 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.
It is known that Roger was credited with
wiping out a Japanese machine gun nest during
Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the
91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly
known at Camp Panagaian. The camp was
actually three camps. Camp One was opened
for the POWs who were captured on Bataan.
Camp Two was two miles from Camp One and was
closed because it did not have an adequate water
supply. It was later reopened and house
Naval POWs. Camp Three, which was six miles
from Camp Two, was were the POWs from Corregidor,
and those men captured on Bataan, who had been in
the hospital, were sent. Camps One and Three
later were consolidated into one camp.
In early October 1944, 1775 POWs were marched to
the Port Area of Manila. When his POW group
arrived at the pier, the ship they where scheduled
to sail on, the Hokusen Maru, was ready to sail,
but some of the POWs in the detachment had not
arrived at the pier. Another POW detachment,
scheduled to sail on the Arisan Maru, had
completely arrived, but their ship was not ready
to sail. It was at that time that the
Japanese made the decision that they switch POW
detachments so the Hokusen Maru could sail.