Porwoll

 

Sgt. Kenneth John Porwoll


Born: 13 April 1920 - Saint Cloud, Minnesota

Parents: Joseph & Katherine Porwoll

Siblings: 1 sister, 2 brothers

Hometown: Brainerd, Minnesota
Education:
    - college student

Enlisted:

    - Minnesota National Guard

        - 1939

Inducted:

    - U. S. Army

        - 10 February 1941 - Brainerd, Minnesota
            - Rank: Corporal
     "The people lined the streets to see us off, and we remembered that through our trials in the
      the pacific."

Training: 

    - Fort Lewis, Washington
        - promoted: Sergeant

        - tank commander

Units: 

    - A Company, 194th Tank Battalion

Note: On August 15, 1941, the 194th received orders, from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for duty in the Philippines because of an event that happened during the summer.  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 for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundred of miles away.  The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field.  By the time the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. 
    The next morning, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore.  Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Overseas Duty:
    - 4 September  1941 -
        - battalion traveled by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California
    - Arrived: 7:30 A.M. - 5 September 1941
        - ferried to Ft. McDowell, Angel Island on U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe
        - given physicals and inoculations
        - men with medical conditions replaced

    - Ship: U.S.S. President Coolidge
        - Boarded: Monday - 8 September 1941 - 3:00 P.M.
        - Sailed: 9:00 P.M. - same day
        - Arrived: Honolulu, Hawaii - Saturday - 13 September 1941 - 7:00 A.M.
        - Sailed: 5:00 P.M. - same day
        - Arrived: Manila - Friday - 26 September 1941
            - disembark ship - 3:00 P.M.
            - taken by bus to Fort Stostenburg
        - returned to Manila to help 17th Ordnance with unloading of tanks

Stationed:
    - Ft. Stotsenburg
        - lived in tents until barracks completed - 15 November 1941 
        - 1 December 1941
            - tanks ordered to perimeter of Clark Field
            - 194th guarded north end of airfield with 192nd guarding south portion
            - two crew members of each tank and half-track remained with vehicle at all times
                - meals served by food trucks
            - those not assigned to a tank or half-track remained at command post Engagements:
    - Battle of Luzon
        - 8 December 1941 - 6 January 1942
            - 8 December 1941
                - lived Japanese attack on Clark Field
                - planes did not go after tanks
                - after attack 194th sent to a bivouac three kilometers north of Clark Field
                    - from there they were sent to Barrio of San Joaquin on the Malolus Road
            - 12 December 1941
                - moved to new bivouac south to San Fernando near Calumpit Bridge
                    - arrived 6:00 A.M.
            - 15 December 1941
                - received 15 Bren gun carriers
                - turned some over to 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts
            - 22 December 1941
                - sent to Rosario
                    - west and north of the of barrio
                    - ordered out of the 71st Division Commander
                        - said they would hinder the cavalry's operation
            - 22/23 December 1941
                - operating north of Agno River
                - main bridge at Carmen bombed
            - 24/25 December 1941
                - tank battalions make end run to get south of Agno River
                    - ran into Japanese resistance but successfully crossed river
            - 25/26 December 1941
                - held south bank of Agno River from west of Carmen to Carmen-Akcaka-Bautista
                  Road
                - 192nd held from Carmen to (Route 3) to Tayug (northeast of San Quintin)
            - 26/27 December 1941
                - ordered to withdraw
                    - 1 platoon forced its way through way through Carmen
                        - lost two tanks
                            - one tank belonged to company commander - Captain Edward Burke
                                - believed dead, but was actually captured
                            - one tank crew rescued
                - new line Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas-San Jose
                - rest of battalion made a dash out
                    - lost one tank at Bayambang
                    - another tank went across front receiving fire and firing on Japanese
                - Lt. Petree's platoon fought its way out and across Agno River
                - D Company, 192nd, lost all its tanks except one
                    - the tank commander found a crossing
                    - Japanese would use tanks later on Bataan
            - 29/30 December 1941
                - new line at Bamban River established
                - tank battalions held line until ordered to withdraw

            - 30/31 December 1941
                    - tank battalions held Calumpit Bridge
                    - covering withdraw of Philippine Divisions south on Rt. 3, San Fernando

            - 31 December 1941 - parents received cable from him saying he was okay

    - Battle of Bataan

        - 7 January 1942 - 9 April 1942

           - January 1942
                - tank companies reduced to three tanks per platoon

                - food rations cut in half
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."
           - 8 January 1942
                - composite tank company made up of tanks from the 192nd and 194th sent to protect
                  East Coast Road north of Hermosa
                    - their job was to keep the East Road open  north of Hermosa and prevent the
                      Japanese from driving into Bataan before the main battle line had been formed
                - remainder of tanks ordered to bivouac for night south of Aubucay-Hacienda Road
                    - tankers had been fighting for a month without a rest
                    - tanks also needed overdue maintenance
                    - 17th Ordnance
                - all tank companies reduced to ten tanks
                - three per tank platoon
                - sent to reopen Moron Road so General Segunda's forces could withdraw
                - tanks knock out an anti-tank gun
                - two tanks disabled by landmines but recovered
                - mission abandoned
                - Gen. Segunda's troops escaped using beach but lost their heavy equipment
        - 12 January 1942
                - C Company, with D Company, 192nd, sent to Cadre Road
                    - forward position with little alert time
        - 13 January 1942
                - mines planted by ordnance prevented them from reaching Cadre Road
                - returned to battalion
        - 16 January 1942
                -  C Company sent to Bagac to reopen Moron Highway
                    - highway had been cut by Japanese
                    - Moron Highway, and Junction of Trail 162
                        - tank platoon fired on by antitank gun
                            - tanks knock out gun
                            - cleared roadblock with support of infantry
        - 20 January 1942
                - Banibani Road -tanks sent in to save 31st Infantry command post
        - 24 January 1942
                - tanks order to Hacienda Road in support of troops
                     - landmines planted by ordnance prevented them from reaching road
        - 26 January 1942
            - the battalion held a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road
                - four self-propelled mounts with the battalion
            - 9:45 A.M. - warned by Filipino a large Japanese force was coming
                - when the enemy appeared they opened up with all the battalion had
                - 10:30 A.M. - Japanese withdrew after losing 500 of 1200 men
                - prevented new defensive line being formed from being breached
        - 28 January 1942
                - 194th tanks given beach duty protecting southern beaches
                - guarded coast from Limay to Cabcaben
                - half-tracks patrolled roads
                    - maintained radio contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols

         - March 1942
                - two tanks were bogged down in mud
                - the tankers were working to get them out
                - Japanese Regiment entered the area
                - Lt. Col. Miller ordered tanks and artillery to fire at point blank range
                    - Miller ran from tank to tank directing fire
                - wiped out Japanese regiment

                - rations cut in half again
        "We ate snakes, we ate monkeys, the mules that pulled the artillery, and when we quit,
          there was nothing left alive on the peninsula but us skinny human beings."

        - 4 April 1942
            - Japanese launched major offensive
            - tanks sent into various sectors to stop Japanese advance
        - 6 April 1942
            - four tanks sent to support 45th Philippine Infantry and 75th Infantry,
              Philippine Scouts
                - one tank knocked out by anti-tank fire at junction of Trails 8 & 6
                - other tanks covered withdraw
            - 3rd Platoon sent up west coast road
                - near Mount Samat ran into heavy Japanese force
                - the tanks withdrew to Marivales
        - 8 April 1942
            - fighting on East Coast Road at Cabcaban

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."
        - February 1942
            - tank battalions on their own guarded airfields
            - battalions also guarded beaches to prevent Japanese from landing troops 

        - March 1942
                - two tanks were bogged down in mud
                - the tankers were working to get them out
                - Japanese Regiment entered the area
                - Lt. Col. Miller ordered tanks and artillery to fire at point blank range
                    - Miller ran from tank to tank directing fire
                - wiped out Japanese regiment
        - 4 April 1942
            - Japanese launched major offensive
            - tanks sent into various sectors to stop Japanese advance
        - 6 April 1942
            - four tanks sent to support 45th Philippine Infantry and 75th Infantry,
              Philippine Scouts
                - one tank knocked out by anti-tank fire at junction of Trails 8 & 6
                - other tanks covered withdraw
            - 3rd Platoon sent up west coast road
                - near Mount Samat ran into heavy Japanese force
                - the tanks withdrew to Marivales
        - 8 April 1942
            - fighting on East Coast Road at Cabcaban
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."
            - 10:30 P.M. - Gen. King announced that further resistance would result in the massacre
              of 6000 sick or wounded troops and 40000 civilians
            - less than 25% of his troops were healthy enough to continue fighting
            - he estimated they could hold out one more day
            - sent his staff officers to negotiate the surrender of Bataan
            - 11:40 P.M. - ammunition dumps blown up
Prisoner of War: 

    - 9 April 1942

        - Death March

           - did march with high school friends

                           - two tanks were bogged down in mud
                - the tankers were working to get them out
                - Japanese Regiment entered the area
                - Lt. Col. Miller ordered tanks and artillery to fire at point blank range
                    - Miller ran from tank to tank directing fire
                - wiped out Japanese regiment
- started march at Mariveles on southern tip of Bataan
           - POWs ran past Japanese artillery firing at Corregidor

           - "I was on the death march out of Bataan for eight days to San Fernando in 100

              degree temperatures without food and practically no water."

           - "We were so tired and weak that I almost had to think about how to walk. 'First

              it's my right foot, and then it's my left foot,' I would say to myself. I had to

              concentrate on walking. ... I don't know how it was that so many of us survived

              the march. It had to have been a lot of self-determination in each of us."
            - Did march with Byron Veilette, Sid Saign, Jim McComas, and Walter Straka
                - remembering the march he said,

            - "We'd walk by two artesian water holes everyday.  If anyone got near the wells,
              they shot him.  If they caught you with food, they shot you.  Then they would beat
              on a soldier and invite his companions to come out.  But the invitation meant
              death.  So most soldiers stayed in line.  You begin to hate yourself .  Then you died
              a little more inside.  And that gets heavy.  You're in a line of 200 men, but you feel
              alone." 

            - McComas had a malaria attack and the other men attempted to carry him

            - when he got worse, McCormas told them to leave him behind on the third day
            - the men threw McComas in a ditch where he hid in a culvert
            - they all knew what happened to POWs who fell out and did not talk about
              what they had done

            - unknown to them, the next day, McComas rejoined the march

            - recalling boyhood friend, Porwoll said, "It's strange what the human spirit will
              put up with, if you make up your mind.  That's the reason these fellows survived
              - they wanted to."

- San Fernando

           - POWs put into small wooden boxcars
               - 100 POWs packed into each boxcar
                   - those who died remain standing
           - Capas - living left cars - dead fell out of boxcars
           - POWs walked last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell

    - December 1943 - mother received POW postcard from him

POW Camps:

    - Philippine Islands:

        - Camp O'Donnell

            - unfinished Filipino training base
            - Japanese put camp into use as POW Camp
            - only one water spigot for the entire camp
            - as many as 50 POWs died each day

            - The second morning in camp Ken opened his eyes and saw a pair of eyes staring
              into his.  It was Jim McComas.  Ken asked him how he got there.  Jim told him that               after he was dropped in the ditch, he found a culvert where they had dropped him
              that he could crawl into and sleep.  He slept the rest of the day and night in it.
              When he woke, he joined the Americans who were marching past.
            - Japanese opened new POW camp to lower death rate

        - Bridge Building Detail

            - carried himself out of "Zero" ward to go on detail

            - detail made up of 300 POWs - most tank battalion

              members from the 192nd and 194th Tank Battalions

                - built three bridges

        - Cabanatuan
            - hospitalized - 8 August 1942
                - discharged - no date given
        - Bilibid Prison

            - hospitalized with dysentery - October 1942

            - assigned to Ward VIII

            - discharged and sent back to work detail
   
    - Las Pinas Work Detail - 6 December 1942

            - Nichols Field Detail

            - POWs built runways with picks and shovels at Nichols Field
                - literally removed the side of a mountain by hand
                - POWs killed by Japanese for violating rules

            - housed in Pasay School
                - fed leftovers from Japanese kitchen
   
                - POWs built a runway by removing the side of a hill with picks and shovels
                - Japanese sent ill to Bilibid to die  

        - Bilibid Prison
            - sent to Bilibid because he was too ill to continue working at Nichols Field

            - selected to be sent to Japan but was too sick

            - Pvt. Joseph Sanchez nursed him back to health

Hell Ship:

    - Taga Maru

        - Boarded: 18 September 1943

        - Sailed: Manila - 20 September 1943

        - Stopped: Tokao, Formosa - 23 September 1943

        - Arrived: Moji, Japan - 5 October 1943

POW Camp:

    - Japan

        - Niigata #5B

            - worked in Rinko Coal Mine

            - ran an elevator
        - 18 January 1945 - his mother received a letter from him which appeared to have been
           written in December 1943

        - Recalling his time in the he said:
    "The Japanese are superstitious to begin with.  we helped them even more so.  The prison buildings were two-story ones with heavy, low hanging beams on the first floor.  One had to duck beneath the beams in crossing the ground floor.  At night with the lights on , the ducking figures made weird, dodging shadows on the fence outside. 
     The Japanese believed them to be the spirits of dead Americans.  We gave the Japs a bit of a help with the superstition by telling them the coal cars on the circular track above the pit would go round and round when we left --- our spirits would be punishing them.
    One night there was a terrific wind and the coal cars started going round the track after slipping the blocks.  The Nips were scared to death and didn't know quite what to make of it."

        - POWs happy when they saw the first B-29s
            - each day the planes came over in increasing numbers

Liberated: 5 September 1945

    - POWs saw American carriers in Tokyo Harbor

    - left camp and found the headquarters 11th Airborne Division
        - returned to the Philippine Islands for medical treatment

Transport:

    - U.S.S. Joseph T. Dychman
        - Sailed: Manila - not known

        - Arrived: San Francisco, California - 16 October 1945

Hospitals:

        - Letterman General Hospital - San Francisco, California
        - Schech General Hospital - Clinton, Iowa
            - transferred -December 1945

        - Bruns General Hospital - Santa Fe, New Mexico

        - Glen Lake Sanatorium - Minnetonka, Minnesota
     - when asked about his POW experience, he said:  "I am very fortunate to be back in the United Sates."

Returned Home: 17 August 1946

Discharged
Education:

    - University of Minnesota

Career:

    - Capitol Gears - 33 years

Volunteered

    - VA Medical Center

        - barber for the homeless   

Married: Mary Ellen

    - 1953

    - father of nine children

Died: 11 November 2013

Buried:

    - Fort Snelling National Cemetery - Minneapolis, Minnesota 

Note: The photo at the bottom of the page was taken of Kenneth while he

           was a POW at Niigata #5B.


 

 

 

 

 


Ken Porwoll Interview



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