Sgt. Joseph H. O'Connell was son of William & Margaret O'Connell and born on
May 15, 1924, in Indiana. He grew up on Rural Route #2 in Harmony Township, Rock County, Wisconsin, with
his three brothers. While in high school, Joseph joined the Wisconsin National Guard. He was
only sixteen years old when his tank company was called to federal duty as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion in
November of 1940. This resulted him leaving high school to fulfill his military obligation.
Joseph trained for almost a year at Fort Knox, Kentucky. While he was there, he
received his high school diploma in 1941. In February, 1941, Joseph was assigned to Headquarters Company
was formed from the four letter companies of the 192nd. He was a clerk for the company and later a
commander of a half-track crew.
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
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 192nd took part in maneuvers in Louisiana from
September 1 through 30. During the maneuvers the company made sure the tank companies had what they
needed. Ronald like the other men hoped that they would be released from federal duty upon completion of
the maneuvers. Instead, they were ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and on the side of a hill, they heard
the news that they were being sent overseas instead. Ronald received a furlough home to say goodbye to
his family and friends.
The decision 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 west over different train routes and arrived at Ft. Mason in
San Francisco and were ferried, on the
U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Angel Island where they given physicals and inoculated by the
battalion's medical detachment. Anyone who had a medical condition was replaced or held back
and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
The 192nd was boarded onto the
U.S.A.T. Gen. 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. 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 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. President 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 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.
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 Colonel Edward P. 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 live in tents, but he fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days
before they arrived. After making sure the soldiers had their Thanksgiving Dinner, he left to have his
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.
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.
At six in the morning on December 8, the officers of the battalion were called to the
radio room at the fort. They were ordered to bring their tank platoons up to full strength at the
perimeter of airfield. All morning the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes
landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, the tankers were having lunch and watched
as 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. As they watched, the saw "raindrops"
falling from the planes. When bombs began exploding, the soldiers knew the planes were
When the planes appeared over the airfield and the bombs began hitting the ground, Joseph
ordered his half-track to move about a mile from the runway. It was from that position that his crew
began shooting at the planes. It was at this time that he was given command of a half track.
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
On For the next four months, Joseph worked to supply the tank crews with information to
fight the Japanese. On one occasion, Joseph was attempting to locate the A Company tanks. He was
not having too much luck since the tanks were constantly on the move. As he sat in his half track he
heard tanks approaching, to his surprise, it was his company's tanks. They had received orders to
withdraw from the area and head to the south. If they had not ran into him, he would have been left
behind and fallen into Japanese hands. Since he had no radio, he had not heard the order to
On another occasion, he was at the battalion's headquarters. The tanks were in
contact with HQ by radio, and as he listened, he heard the conversation between the tanks as they fought a
running battle with the Japanese. While they were fighting the Japanese, the tankers were attempting to
find a place where they could cross the Agoo River.
In a third incident, Joseph's half-track was sent to San Jose in the Nueva Ecija
Province, as they drove they passed a truck loaded with ammunition stuck in a ditch. They stopped to help
the driver. Not too long after they got there, the Japanese began firing on them with mortars. The
shelling got so bad that the Americans abandoned their attempt to save the truck and ammunition.
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for
all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time,
food rations were cut in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a
platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor.
The Japanese lunched an all out attack on April 3. On April 7, the 57th
Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators
prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks
successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while
hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being
near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company's offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
It was at this time that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile,
since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more
day. In addition, he had over 6000 troops who sick or wounded and 40000 civilians who he feared would be
massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
Tank battalion commanders received this order
: "You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy
within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word 'CRASH', all tanks and combat
vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as
The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer, gave his
men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his
arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice
choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next
told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks. During the announcement, Bruni emphasized
that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies
that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company's
trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough
bread and pineapple juice for what he called
"Their last supper."
On April 11th, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's
encampment. Donald was now a Prisoner of War. A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their
possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were
ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the
Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the
Americans. They remained along the sides of the road for hours.
HQ Company finally boarded trucks and drove to just outside of Mariveles. From there,
they walked to Mariveles Airfield and ordered to sit. As they sat, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese
soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were
going to kill them.
As they prepared to die, a car pulled up and a Japanese officer got out of the car and
spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. After talking to the sergeant, he got back in the car and
drove off. The sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, the POWs were order to move and taken to a school yard in Mariveles and
ordered to sit. Behind them were Japanese artillery pieces. The guns were firing on Corregidor and
Ft. Drum. When the two American strongholds began returning fire, the prisoners found themselves in the
line of fire and shells began landing around them. Five POWs who hid in an old brick building were killed
when it took a direct hit. When the barrage ended, three if the four Japanese guns had been
It was from this school yard that the POWs began the death march. The first five
miles of the march was uphill. They made their way north from Mariveles to San Fernando. During the
march men who had fell were shot and bayoneted where they fell.
When they reached San Fernando, the POWs were put in a bull pen which had been created
by putting barbwire around a school yard. They were left there for hours sitting in the sun. At
some point, the Japanese ordered them to form 100 men detachments. When this was done, they were marched
to the train station.
At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden
boxcars known as "Forty or
Eights." The cars could hold forty men of eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and
closed the doors. Those POWs who died in the cars did not fall to the floors until the living left the
cars at Capas. From Caps, the POWs walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell which 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 searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese
money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the
southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two
to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and
the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This
situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing
when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the
camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon
overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp
including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American
doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies,
he was told never to write another letter. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical
supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross
sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six
medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the
Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150 bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to
the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried
in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground
under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were
placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave
a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs
needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick, but could walk, to work. The
death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to
do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to
Capas. There, the were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was
switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a
schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan
which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was known as Camp Panagaian.
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. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the
surrender came were sent to the camp. Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only
entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that
patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught,
were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW
successfully escaped from the camp.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120
POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting.
Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group
lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood
Brothers. Those who did escape and were caught and tortured before being executed. It is known that no
POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens.
The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day
on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. The POWs on the farm detail would have to go to
a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to
hit them over their heads.
The detail was under the command of "Big Speedo" who spoke very little
English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs "speedo." Although he
was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was "Little Speedo" who
was smaller and also used "speedo" when he wanted the POWs to work faster. The POWs also felt
he was pretty fair in his treatment of them. "Smiley" was another guard who always had a smile
on his face but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no
reason. He liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard
enough got knocked over with it. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked
over with it. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their
tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
Other POWs worked in rice paddies. While working in the fields, the favorite
punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a
guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought, or were given,
medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched
when they returned.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as "lugow" which meant
"wet rice." During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no
fruit. Once in awhile, they received bread.
The camp hospital was known as "Zero Ward" because it was missed by the
Japanese when they counted barracks. The sickest POWs were sent there to die. The Japanese put a
fence up around the building to protect themselves, and they would not go into the building. There were
two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the
lower platform which had holes cut into it so the they could relieve themselves. Most of those who
entered the ward died. Medical records from the camp indicate that William was hospitalized on July 15,
1942. According to the records, he had "ascaris lumbricoides" which meant that he had round
worms. This was a result of the unsanitary conditions in the camp. The records do not show when he
was released from the hospital.
The POWs had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of
four men. Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in
graves containing 15 to 20 bodies. The death rate at the camp was still 9 POWs a day into November 1942,
which dropped in December when the Japanese issued Red Cross Packages for Christmas. In addition, other
changes were made that lowered the number of deaths.
After arriving in the camp, Joseph was hospitalized on August 14, 1942, suffering from
paralysis caused by diphtheria. It is known he was discharged from the hospital on September 10, 1942,
but readmitted on Tuesday, September 24th, still suffering from post-diphtheria paralysis. He finally
recovered and was discharged a second time.
Joseph went to Japan on the
Clyde Maru which sailed on July 23, 1943, but instead of heading to Formosa, it sailed to Santa
Cruz, Zambales, where it loaded manganese ore. It sailed again, three days later, on July 26th, arriving
at Takao, Formosa, on July 28th.
On August 5th, the
Clyde Maru sailed again and arrived at Moji, Japan, on August 7th. The
next day the POWs disembarked the ship and were taken to a train station. After a two day train trip,
Joseph reached the
At the camp, the POWs worked in a condemned coal mine where each team of POWs was
expected to load three cars of coal a day. The POWs worked 12 hour work days with the constant threat of
rocks falling on them. Those POWs who the Japanese believed were not working hard enough were beaten.
The POWs worked in three shifts with a 30 minute lunch and one day off every ten days.
The camp was surrounded by a 12 foot wooden fence that had three heavy gauge electrified
wires attached to it. The first wire was at attached at six feet with the others higher up. The POWs
lived in 33 one story barracks 120 feet long and 16 feet wide and divided into ten rooms. Officers slept
four men to a room while enlisted men slept from four to six men in a room. Each room was lit by a 15 watt
bulb, and at the end of each building was a latrine with three stools and a urinal. The POWs slept on beds,
that were 5 feet 8 inches long by 2Ã‚Â½ feet wide, made of a tissue paper and cotton battling covered with a cotton
pad. Three heavy cotton blankets were issued to each POW plus a comfortable made of tissue paper, scrap
rags, and scrap cotton.
Life at Fukuoka #17 was hard and there were prisoners who would steal from other
prisoners. To prevent this from happening, the POWs would "buddy up" with each other.
Another problem in the camp was that POWs traded their food rations for cigarettes. POWs who did this were
referred to as "future corpses." The situation got so bad that the Japanese finally stepped in
and stopped it.
A meal consisted of rice and a vegetable soup three times a day. Those POWs
working in the mine received 700 grams a day, while camp workers received 450 grams a day. Officers, since
they were not required to work, received 300 grams a day. Those working in the mine received three buns
every second day since they did not return to camp for lunch. The meals were cooked in the camp kitchen
which was manned by 15 POWs. Seven of the POWs were professional cooks. The kitchen had 11 cauldrons,
2 electric baking ovens, 2 kitchen ranges, 4 storerooms, and an ice box. To supplement their diets, the
prisoners also ate dog meat, radishes, potato greens and seaweed. As they entered the mess hall, they
would say their POW number to a POW at a board. He would take a nail and place it in the hole in front of
the man's number. After all the POWs had been fed, the board was cleared for the next meal.
There were also bathing rooms in the camp with two bathing tanks that were 30 feet long,
10 feet wide, and 4 feet deep. The tubs were heated with very hot water. The POWs working in the mine
bathed during the winter after cleaning themselves before entering the tubs. They did not bathe during the
summer months to prevent skin diseases.
The camp hospital was a building of ten rooms that could each hold 30 men. There
was an isolation ward for 15 POWs usually men suffering from tuberculosis. The POW doctors had little to no
medicines or medical supplies to treat the ill. Dental treatment consisted of removing teeth without
In addition, the sick were forced to work. The Japanese camp doctor allowed the
sick, who could walk, to be sent into the mine. He also took the Red Cross medical supplies meant for the
POWs for his own use and failed to provide adequate medical treatment. Food that came in the packages was
eaten by the guards. Those POWs working in the mine were given more Red Cross supplies than the other POWs.
Corporal punishment was an everyday occurrence at the camp. The guards beat the
POWs for slightest reason and continued until the POW was unconscious. The man was then taken to the
guardhouse and put in solitary confinement without food or water for a long period of time.
The Japanese interpreter in the camp refused to perform his duties resulting in the POWs
receiving beatings because they could not explain the situation. He also would inform the guards of any
alleged violations of camp rules which resulted in the POWs being severely beaten. This happened frequently
at the mine with the interpreter usually the person responsible. He also, for no reason, slapped and beat
On one occasion in November 1944, shirts had been stolen from a bundle in a
building. The Japanese ordered all the POWs to assemble and told them that they would not be fed until the
shirts were returned. The men returned the shirts anonymously, and the POWs received their meal at 10:00
During the winter, the POWs were made to stand at attention and had water thrown on them
as they stood in the cold, or they were forced to knee on bamboo poles. It is known that the POWs were made
to stand in water and shocked with electrical current. At some point, Jim recalled, two POWs were tied to a
post and left to die. This was done they had violated a camp rule.
During his time at the camp, he suffered from beriberi. While he was there, the
camp was hit by bombs from American planes. The American section of the camp was badly damaged, so they
moved in with the British and Dutch POWs.
On August 9, 1945, some of the POWs saw the atomic bomb that had been dropped on
Nagasaki. Those who saw it described said it was a sunny day and that the explosion still lit up the
sky. The pillar of smoke that rose from the bomb was described as having all the colors of the
rainbow. Afterwards, the POWs saw what they described as a fog blanketing Nagasaki, and that the city
seemed to have vanished.
On August 18, 1944, a short wave message from Japan listed Ralph as a POW. This
was the first news his family had received about him since they had first received word that he was a prisoner of
The POWs went to work and talked to the Japanese civilians who spoke about how those, who had
survived the blast, would touch their heads and pull out their hair. They stated these Japanese died within
days. They also told of how a detachment of Japanese soldiers who had been sent into Nagasaki, to search
for survivors, and suffered the same fate.
When the POWs came out of the mine, they found that the next shift of POWs was not waiting to
go to work. That night, the POWs were made to stand at attention for two hours. They all had their
blankets because they believed they were going to be moved. Instead, they were returned to their
barracks. The next day, when it was their turn to go to work, they were told it was a holiday, and they had
the day off. They knew something was up because they had never had a holiday off before this.
Joseph was liberated at the end of the war and returned to the Philippines for medical
treatment. He returned home on the
U.S.S. Joseph Dychman arriving at San Francisco on October 16, 1945, almost four years to the day since he
had left from San Francisco. Joesph returned to Janesville after the war and was discharged from the army
on June 3, 1946. He went back to school and attended Milton College in Milton, Wisconsin, and Iowa Wesleyan
College in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. He married, Jean Ouger on May 16, 1946 in Lake Park, Minnesota. The
couple became the parents of four children. Joseph spent much of his adult life as a employment counselor
to the disabled. Joseph H. O'Connell died in March 15, 1981, in Galveston, Texas, and was buried at Sam
Houston National Cemetery in Houston, Texas, in Section A, Site 764.