Pvt. Joseph Donald Lajzer
| Pvt. Joseph D. Lajzer was born on
October 30, 1918, in Toledo, Ohio. He was
one of five sons and two daughters born to Peter
& Katherine Lazjer. With his three
brothers and two sisters, he lived at 3345 Maple
Street in Toledo and attended St. Albert's School
and then Webster Elementary School. He
attended Woodward High School for three years but
left to support his family. Joe worked
constructing a park with the Civilian Conservation
During Joe's training, he was trained as a tank driver and to do maintenance work on machine guns. He then was sent to Camp Polk Louisiana with the 753rd in 1941. At Camp Polk, he volunteered to join the 192nd Tank Battalion. The battalion had been selected for overseas duty and needed replacements for men who had been determined "too old" to go overseas. After volunteering, he was assigned to Company B.
The 192nd's deployment to the Philippines was
code named "PLUM." This was suppose to be
a secret move. One day Joe and three other
members of B Company went to a local
tavern. When the waitress saw him she
said, " Hey Joe! I hear you're going to the
Philippine Islands. Your code name is
PLUM." Joe thought to himself that it
wasn't much of a secret if the civilians knew
where they were going.
As a member of Company B, Joseph was assigned to ordnance and worked with Pvt. Carl Maggio and 1st Sgt. Roger Heilig. The men made sure that the tanks had the ammunition, food, and gasoline they needed.
Joe and Pvt. Carl Maggio were sitting outside their tent loading machine gun belts. They had heard the news about Pearl Harbor from the medics but did not believe it. As they worked they heard a noise, Joe and Carl looked up and saw planes. Since they all knew B-17s were suppose to be landing at Clark Field, Joe paid little attention to the planes.
When he heard the sound of bombs exploding Joe took off for cover. He remembered seeing men running in every direction. About two blocks from his tent, he found a ditch that was being dug and dove into it. He shared the trench with two Filipinos. Doing something was better than just sitting there, so Joe pulled out his .45 and started shooting at the planes.
Being assigned to ordnance Joe and 1st Sgt. Roger Heilig worked to get the tanks the supplies they needed. It was while Joe was doing this job that he met a British officer. The officer asked Joe and three other men if they could shoot a .45. Each took a turn attempting to hit a 1917 can of rations. Joe was the only one to hit it. The officer made Joe his Bren-gun carrier driver.
Joe drove the Bren-gun carrier for one or two weeks and drove the officer to the front. He would stop the carrier and the officer would get out. He told Joe to wait for him for an hour and if he didn't return to leave without him. The fifth day they did this Joe waited the hour. The officer did not return. Joe waited a second hour, after that hour Joe returned to the bivouac area. He never saw the officer again.
Joe was next posted on a machine-gun detail with two other members of the 192nd. They each worked a two hour shift. The machine-gun covered an area which the Japanese could attack through. One night Joe was doing his shift when a Sgt. Chuck Kimberly told him of the surrender. He finished the shift and left the other two men sleep. The next morning they destroyed the machine-gun. Not that long afterwards, Japanese soldiers came through the clearing that their machine-gun had covered.
The Japanese soldiers searched Joe and the others. The first soldier took his watch. The next Japanese soldier took his lighter and gave him matches. A third soldier took the matches.
Joe and his company made their way to Mariveles and stayed there for a day. They were fed a spoonful of rice and a square piece of bacon. Joe and two other men pulled their food so that they would each get a larger portion.
Joe took part in the death march and recalled that the POWs had no food, no water and no rest. On the march, he tried to help the weaker POWs to march. One of these was Maj. Havelock Nelson.
On the fourth day of the march, Joe and the other Prisoners Of War heard a rumor that the injured would be driven to the POW camp. Joe began to act like he was lame. He slowly began to fall behind his group. To his left was a guard, the guard looked at Joe and chased him with his bayonet pointed at Joe. He recalled that the prisoners marched well into the night, and as they marched, were unaware that they were marching on the bodies of the dead who had been run over by Japanese trucks.
At San Fernando, about 100 POWs were packed into a boxcar. Those who died remained standing until the car was emptied at Capas. When the prisoners got off the train, there were Japanese offering them money to buy food. Joe did not take it but knew others who did. He walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell.
The camp was an unfinished Filipino training
base which the Japanese pressed the camp 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
also searched the POWs and if a man was found to
have Japanese money on them, they were taken to
the guardhouse. Joe counted 38 men who
were seperated from the rest of the POWs.
Over the next several days, gunshots were heard
to the southeast of the camp. These POWs
had been executed for looting. Joe was
thankful that he had not taken the money at
Capas, and he was even more thankful that the
Japanese soldier had taken the matches from him.
To get out of Camp O'Donnell, Joe volunteered to
go out on a work detail to rebuild the bridges
they had destroyed during the withdraw into
Bataan. 250 POWs arrived at Calauan on May
10, from there, the POWs were divided up into
detachments and sent to different barrios.
In Joe's case, he was sent to a saw mill near
Lipa Batangas. Joe recalled that he and the
other POWs slept on the ground. He also
said that that each POW had to pick up a log and
carry it to the mill.
It was at Lipa Batangas that Joe and his fellow POW's had one of the few moments that could be described as humorous. The POWs had been working in the hot sun and wanted a break. Joe being the brave one went up to the Japanese officer in charge of the detail and in his gutter Japanese asked the officer for a break for the POWs. The officer did not respond. Joe returned to his fellow POWs cursing in English and Polish about the officer.
Again, his fellow POWs convinced Joe to go up to the officer and request a break. Joe again approached the officer and in his gutter Japanese asked for a break. When the officer did not respond a second time, Joe began to curse in Polish and English. The officer looked at him and said in perfect English that Joe was right and that the men deserved a break. Joe felt pretty silly.
When the officer got done talking, Joe asked him where he had learned to speak English. As it turned out, the officer had been educated at a university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He told Joe he returned to Japan to visit his mother and father and that the Japanese government would not let him out of the country.
Later in the day a American sergeant escaped. During the escape a Japanese soldier had been killed. The Japanese had forty Filipinos and seven GIs lined up. A Japanese lieutenant had a hat with 22 pieces of paper in it. He came up to Joe and the POWs he was with and told each man to pullout a sheet of paper. Three sheets of paper had "Xs" on them. He told them that the men who pulled out the sheets with the "Xs" would be killed. Another lieutenant, who went to the school in the U. S. came by and asked what was going on, when he found out, he said to the first Japanese officer that Joe and the other POWs had been with him and would not be executed.
on the detail until September 8 when the POWs
were sent to Cabanatuan which had opened to
replace Camp O'Donnell. The camp was
actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the
men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the
death march where held. Camp 2 did not
have an adequate water supply and was
closed. It later reopened and housed Naval
POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured
when Corregidor surrender were taken. The
Japanese wanted them to be separated from the
Bataan POWs. In addition, men from Bataan
who had been hospitalized when the surrender
came were sent to the camp. Camps 3 was
later consolidated into Camp 1.
In May 1943, the
work was sped
up. The POWs
weren't sure if
this was because
they were behind
schedule or if the
airfield was need
because of the
The runway was
built through rice
paddies which made
the work harder
since they still
had water in
Joe was sent to Bilibid and stayed in the prison
for about a month and was boarded onto "hell
ship" the Hokusen Maru on October 1,
ship sailed but dropped anchor at the
harbor's breakwater. It remained
there for three days and the temperatures in the
hold rose to over 100 degrees causing some men
to go crazy. The Japanese threatened to
kill the POWs if they didn't quiet the
men. To do this, the sane POWs strangled
those out of their minds or hit them with
The ships were informed, on October 9th, that American carriers were seen near Formosa and American planes were in the area. The decision was made that the ships would sail to Hong Kong. During this part of the trip, the ships ran into American submarines which sank two more ships. The Hokusen Maru arrived at Hong Kong on October 11th. While it was in port, American planes bombed the harbor on October 16th. On October 21st, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving on October 24th.
Many of the POWs disembarked the ship, on November 8th, and held at Inrin Temporary Camp on Formosa. The POWs did light work and gardened. The healthier POWs worked at a sugar mill. The Japanese told the POWs that if the Americans invaded Formosa that they would all be killed. When the Japanese decided to send the Hokusen Maru POWs to Japan, they determined he was too ill to go. Joe was reassigned to OKA Camp where the POWs constructed runways. Joseph also was held at Heito and Taihoku #6. Joe was one of eleven Americans held in his camp. Joe also worked on a sanitation detail at one of the camps. He recalled two men would carry a bucket and dump it into a concrete pool.
Joe and the other prisoners had no idea how the war was going. The first hint that something was happening was when they saw B-29s and P-38s over the island. The P-38's were involved in dogfights with Japanese planes. Around September 1st, 1945 food was dropped to the POW's from planes. The Japanese then gave each POW five cigarettes and a handful of peanuts. The POWs were told that they did not have to work that day.
On September 6, 1945, the U. S. Navy came to the island and the POWs were liberated. In September 1945, Joseph was returned to the Philippine Islands for medical treatment. He was boarded onto the U.S.S. Yarmouth and arrived in San Francisco on October 8, 1944.
Joseph Lajzer married, Adelina Lopez, and became a father of two children. He reenlisted, but this time in the U.S. Air Force. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War. He was a airplane mechanic at Kelly Air Force Base. When he retired from the Air Force, he resided in San Antonio, Texas.
Joseph Lazjer passed away
on March 16, 2013, in San Antonio, Texas.
He was buried at Fort Sam Houston National
Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas.