PirnatP

 

Pvt. Paul Peter Pirnat


    Pvt. Paul Peter Pirnat was the oldest of twelve children born to Frank & Anna Pirnat.  He was born on June 6, 1919, in Hopkinton, Iowa, and known as "Peter" to his family and friends.  He grew up on the family's small farm near Worthington and attended school there.

    Peter moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and resided at 716 East 160th Street and was working in a laundry when he was inducted into the U. S. Army on March 28, 1941.  His middle name was used on all his military records.  He did his basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and after completing his training he joined the 753rd Tank Battalion at Camp Polk, Louisiana. 
    While Peter was at Camp Polk, the Louisiana Maneuvers were taking place, but his battalion did not take part in them.  After the maneuvers, the 192nd Tank Battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, instead of returning to Ft. Knox, and learned it was being sent overseas.  Since the battalion was predominately National Guardsmen, the men 29 years old and older or married were allowed to resign from federal service.  Peter was one of the last two men from the 753rd to have his name drawn for transfer to the 192nd Tank Battalion.
    The decision to send the 192nd overseas -  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.

    After being transferred to his new battalion, he traveled by train to San Francisco, California, where they were taken by the ferry, the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, they were inoculated for overseas duty by the battalion's medical detachment.  Men with minor medical issues were replaced or held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion on a later date. 
    The 192nd 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 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. President 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, the tankers were met by Gen. 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 love in tents.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.  He remained with the battalion until they had settled in and had their Thanksgiving Dinner before leaving to have his own dinner.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons.  They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts.  The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.

    On Monday, December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers.  The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern portion of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern portion.  At all times, two members of each tank and half-track remained with their vehicles.  Meals were served to the tankers from food trucks. 
    At six in the morning on December 8th, 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 around Clark Airfield.  The tankers were receiving lunch from food trucks when, at 12:45, they saw a formation of planes approaching the airfield from the north.  At first they thought they were American planes and had enough time to count 54 planes.  As they watched, the saw "raindrops" falling from the planes.  When bombs began exploding, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese.
    As a member of HQ Company, Peter remained in the bivouac of the battalion and took cover in a dry latrine near the bivouac.  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.  They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed.  They lived through two more attacks on December 10th and 13th.  

    HQ, B, and C Companies received orders on December 21st 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.  After the attack, the tanks were repeated sent on wild goose chases against factious Japanese paratroopers.      
    On December 23rd and 24th, 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, but they successfully crossed the river.
    On December 25th, 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 27th, when the tanks fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan, and at San Isidro, south of Cabanatuan, on December 28th and 29th.  While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, but once again, they were able find a crossing over the river.
   
    On January 1st, conflicting orders, about who was in command, were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 and allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward 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 bridge over the Pampanga River about withdrawing from the bridge with half of the defenders withdrawing.  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 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
    At 2:30 A.M., on January 6th, the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force using smoke which was an attempt by the Japanese to destroy the tank battalions. That night the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge.  The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
    The night of January 7th, the tank battalions were covering the withdrawal of all troops around Hermosa.  Around 6:00 A.M., before the bridge had been destroyed by the engineers, the 192nd crossed the bridge.
    The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan on which was worse than having no road.  The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations.  After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
    The next day, a composite tank company was formed under the command of Capt. Donald Haines, B Co., 192nd.  Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire.  The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road.
    When word came that a bridge was going to be blow, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company.  This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
    The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road.  It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance.  It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon.  The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance.  Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400 hour overhauls.
    It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver, "Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal.  If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay."
    The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Heicienda Road on January 25th.  While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M.  One platoon was sent to the front of the the column of trucks which were loading the troops.  The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
    Later on January 25th, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight.  They held the position until the night of January 26th/27th, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads.  When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were suppose to use had been destroyed by enemy fire.  To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
    The tank battalions, on January 28th, 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, while the battalion's half-tracks were used to patrol the roads.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.   
    Companies A & C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company - which was held in reserve - and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan.  The tankers were awake all night and attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance planes.  During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and off shore.
    On one occasion, a member of the company, who had gotten frustrated by being awakened by the planes, had his half-track pulled out onto the beach and took pot shots at the plane.  He missed the plane, but twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared over the location and dropped bombs that exploded in the tree tops.  Three members of the company were killed.
    The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available.  The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces.  There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over.
    The battalion 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.  Doing this was so stressful that the tank companies were pulled 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 exploded.
    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.
    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 3rd.  On April 7th, 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. King decided that further resistance was futile.  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 accomplished." 
    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.  George 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 its trucks and drove to just outside of Mariveles.  From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited.  As they sat, they 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 sat there watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the soldiers.  He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail.  The officer got back in the car and drove off.  As he drove away, the sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.

    Later in the day, Peter's group of POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles.  In the school yard, they found themselves sitting in a field between Japanese artillery and guns firing from Corregidor and Ft. Drum.  Shells began landing among the POWs who had no place to hide.  Some of the POWs were killed from incoming American shells.  The American guns did succeed at knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.

    The POWs were ordered to move again, by the Japanese, and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march.  During the march they received no water and little food.  At San Fernando, they were put into a small wooden boxcars and taken to Capas.  The cars were known as "Forty or Eights" since they could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese put 100 POWs in each car and closed the doors.  Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars.  From Capas, they walked the last ten miles to Camp O' Donnell.

    Camp O'Donnell was a death trap with as many as fifty POWs dying each day.  There was only one working water faucet for the entire camp.  To get a drink, men stood in line for days.  The burial detail buried long days burying the dead. 

    While Peter was at Camp O'Donnell, the Japanese began forming work details to rebuild what had been destroyed during the Battle of Bataan.  One of these details was a bridge building detail to rebuild the bridges that the Americans had destroyed during their retreat into Bataan.

    The American commanding officer of this detail was Lt. Col. Ted Wickord of the 192nd Tank Battalion.  To get his men out of Camp O'Donnell, Wickord attempted to fill the detail with his own men.  When the Japanese figured out what he was doing, they stopped him.

    The first bridge that the detail rebuilt was at Calaun, where the POWs were amazed by the concern shown for them by the Filipino people.  The townspeople arranged for their doctor and nurses to care for the POWs and give them medication. 

    Peter's work detail was next sent to Batangas to rebuild another bridge.  Again, the Filipino people did all they could to see that the Americans got the food and care they needed.  Somehow the Filipinos convinced the Japanese to allow them to attend a meal to celebrate the completion of the new bridge.

    The POWs were sent next to rebuild a bridge at Candelaria.  Once again, the people of the barrio did what ever they could to help the Americans.  An order of Roman Catholic sisters, who had been recently freed from custody, invited Lt. Col. Wickord and twelve POWs for a dinner.  Lt. Col Wickord picked the twelve sickest men on the detail to attend the meal.

    It was also while Peter on this detail that the Japanese instituted the "blood brothers" policy.  If one POW escaped, the other men in his group would be executed.  During Peter's time on the detail, one POW working at the saw mill providing wood for the bridges escaped.  To be true to their word, the Japanese executed nine other POWs.  Lt. Col. Wickord was sent to the execution so that he could provide a first hand account of the execution to the men on his detail.

    As it turned out, a POW, who was out of his head with fever, did try to escape from Candelaria.  The Japanese intended to execute the man and nine other POWs.  A Filipino doctor, knowing the situation, interceded on behalf of the POWs and convinced the Japanese that the man had been out of his head, with fever, and did not know what he was doing.  The man was sent to Cabanatuan and no POWs were executed.

    When the bridge building detail ended, Peter was sent to "Camp One" at Cabanatuan where he worked on a farm.  At Cabanatuan, the prisoners ate rice for their meals and lived in crude huts.  If a prisoner was late or missed a detail, that POW was made to kneel on a ladder with a pole placed behind the knees to cut circulation.  The prisoner stayed like this until he fell over.  When Peter arrived at the camp, the death rate was 40 POWs a day.

    Peter was selected to go out on a work detail to Nichols Airfield known as the Pasay School Detail, because the POWs on the detail were housed in eighteen rooms at the Pasay School.  30 POWs were assigned to sleep in each classroom.  The POWs were used to extend and widen runways for the Japanese Navy.   The plans for this expansion came from the American Army which had drawn them up before the war.  The Japanese wanted a runway 500 yards wide and a mile long going through hills and a swamp.
    Unlike the Americans, the Japanese had no plans on using construction equipment. Instead, they intended the POWs to do the work with picks, shovels, and wheel barrows.  The first POWs arrived at Pasay in August 1942.  The work was easy until the extension reached the hills.  When the extension reached the hills, some of which were 80 feet high, the POWs flattened them by hand.  The Japanese replaced the wheel barrows with mining cars that two POWs pushed to the swamp and dumped as land-fill.  As the work became harder and the POWs weaker, less work got done.
    At six A.M., the POWs had reveille and "bongo," or count, at 6:15, in detachments of 100 men.  After this came breakfast which was a fishhead soup with rice.  After breakfast, there was a second count of all POWs, which included both healthy and sick, before the POWs marched a mile and half to the airfield.
    After arriving at the airfield, they were counted again.  They next went to a tool shed and received their tools before being counted again.  At the end of the work day, the POWs were counted again before marching back to the school.  When they arrived back at the school, they were counted again, before they rushed to the showers.  There were only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs.  They finally were fed dinner, another meal of fish and rice and afterwards counted one final time, before the lights were turned off at 9:00 P.M.
 

    The brutality shown to the POWs was severe.  The first Japanese commander of the camp, a Lt. Moto, was called the "White Angel" because he wore a spotless naval uniform.  He was commander of the camp for slightly over thirteen months.  One day a POW collapsed while working on the runway.  Moto was told about the man and came out and ordered him to get up.  When he couldn't four other Americans were made to carry the man back to the Pasay School. 
    At the school, the Japanese guards gave the man a shower and straightened his clothes as much as possible.  Meanwhile, the other Americans were ordered back to the school.  As they stood there, the White Angel ordered an American captain to follow him behind the school.  The POW was marched behind the school and the other Americans heard two shots.  The American officer told the men that the POW had said, "Tell them I went down smiling."  The White Angel shot the POW as the man smiled at him.  After the man fell to the ground, the White Angel shot him a second time.  The American captain told the other Americans what had happened.  The White Angel told them that this was what going to happen to anyone who would not work for the Japanese Empire.
    The White Angel was transferred and the second commanding officer of the detail was known as "the Wolf," who was a civilian that wore a Japanese Naval Uniform.  Each morning, he would come to the POW barracks and select those POWs who looked the sickest and made them line up.  The men were made to put one leg on each side of a trench and than do 50 push-ups.  If a man's arms gave out and he touched the ground, he was beaten with pick handles.
    On another occasion a POW collapsed on the runway.  The Wolf had the man taken back to the barracks.  When the Wolf came to the barracks that evening and the man was still unconscious, he banged the man's head into the concrete floor and kicked him in the head.  He next took the man to the shower and drowned him in the basin.
    A third POW who had tried to walk away from the detail told the guards to shoot him, but the guards took him back to school and strung him up by his thumbs outside the doorway.  After doing this, they placed a bottle of beer and sandwich in front of him.  He was dead by evening.
    The remains of the POWs who had died on the detail were brought to Bilibid Prison in boxes.  The Japanese had death certificates, with the causes of death and signed by an American doctor, sent with the boxes.  The Americans from the detail, who accompanied the boxes, would not tell the POWs, at Bilibid, what was happening on the detail.  It was only when the sick, from the detail, began to arrive at Bilibid that they learned what the detail was like.  The POWs sent to Bilibid, from the detail, were sent there to die so their deaths would look better when they were reported to the International Red Cross.
   
     

    At some point, Peter was returned to Cabanatuan which was the last POW camp that Peter was held at as a prisoner.  During his time in the camp, Peter was given the job of driving the Japanese officers.  He had this job since many of the Japanese could not drive.  Although the job got him out of Cabanatuan, he hated doing it.
    Medical records kept at the camp show that Peter was admitted to Hospital Building #10 from Division I, Building #3 on July 16, 1944.  The records do not indicate why he was hospitalized.

    As the war went on and rumors that the American forces were approaching the Philippines, the Japanese began to transfer large numbers of POWs to Japan or other parts of the Japanese Empire.  Peter was not selected to be transferred which meant that the Japanese believed he was too ill to survive the trip.

    The night of January 30, 1945, Peter was one of 511 POWs liberated at Cabanatuan by U. S. Army Rangers., in what became known as "The Great Raid."  The raid took place to prevent the Japanese from executing the POWs like they had done on Palawan Island in the Philippines.

    During his time as a POW, Peter suffered from various illnesses.  He had malaria, pellagra, and beriberi.  When he was liberated, he weighed 110 pounds and received medical treatment before being sent back to the United States.

    Peter returned home on the S.S. Monterey, at San Francisco, on March 16, 1945.  After a stay at Letterman General Hospital, he returned home and was discharged from the Army on October 5, 1945.  He married and resided in Cleveland for the rest of his life.  Peter Pirnat passed away on January 8, 1974.    


 

Return to Company C

 

Next