Prueher

  

M/Sgt. George Ralph Prueher


    M/Sgt. George R. Prueher was one of five sons of George S. Prueher and Mary Schoenichi-Prueher.  He was born on October 7, 1920, in Bloomer, Wisconsin, and with his brothers and sister, George grew up in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.  He attended St. Charles School before his family moved to Janesville in 1930, where they lived at 440 Bluff Street and attended St. Mary's School where he played baseball.  After grade school, he attended Janesville High School, where he played tennis and graduated as a member of the Class of 1938.

    After George graduated high school, he worked for a construction company as a bookkeeper.  Like many young men of his age, he wanted to fulfill his military service before he was drafted into the army, so he joined the Wisconsin National Guard's 32nd Tank Company which was headquartered in an armory in Janesville. 

    In November 1940, his National Guard company was federalized as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  With the company, on November 25, George traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he attended classes and qualified as a company clerk.

    In January of 1941, Headquarters Company was created with soldiers from the four letter companies of the battalion.  During this time, he rose in rank from private first class to master sergeant.  George was transferred to the company as a clerk and assigned the duties of battalion personnel sergeant.  

    In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers from September 1 through 30.  As a member of HQ Company, George did not actively take part in maneuvers but worked to make sure the tanks and other equipment kept running and were supplied. 
    After the maneuvers, the 192nd was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox as expected.  It was on the side of a hill that the members of the battalion learned they were being sent overseas.  George received a furlough home to take care of unfinished business and to say his goodbyes.  But within a few hours of arriving home, he was called back to Camp Polk to take care of the business of requisitioning  the necessary supplies for duty overseas.
    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 192nd Tank Battalion received orders for duty, in the Philippines, because of an event that happened during the summer of 1941.  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, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island.  When the squadron landed he reported what he had seen.  By the time a Navy ship was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines. 
    The battalion took different train routes to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, and were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe.  On the island, they were given physicals and inoculated for duty in the Philippine Islands by the battalion's medical detachment.  Men who had minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Some men were simply replaced.  While on the island, George celebrated his 21st birthday. 

    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S. A. T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27.  During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP.   They 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, the transport, 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 Date Line.  On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.  The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
    When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day.  At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning.  At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.   
    After arriving in the Philippines, George was reassigned to Headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group as a clerk.  Holding this job, he continued to work to ensure that the tank group had what it needed.  He did this job until the American and Filipino forces, on Bataan, were surrendered.
    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 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 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."  

    On April 9, 1942, the members of the tank group were informed of the surrender to the Japanese.  On April 10th, the Japanese arrived and ordered HQ personnel onto the road that ran in front of their bivouac.  When the POWs were ordered to move, they found walking on the gravel trail difficult.  When the trial ended, and the POWs were on the main road, the first thing the Japanese did was separate the officers from the enlisted men. 
   The Prisoners of War were then left in the sun for the rest of the day.  That night they were ordered north.  The march was difficult in the dark since they could not see where they were walking.  Whenever they slipped, they knew they had stepped on the remains of a dead soldier. The POWs made their way north, against the flow of Japanese troops, who were moving south.  At Limay, on April 11, they were put into a schoolyard until ordered to move.
    They made their way north to Balanga and arrived in Orani, where they were reunited with the officers of the tank group who had ridden trucks to the barrio.  At 6:30 that evening, the POWs resumed the march and were marched at a faster pace.  The guards also seemed to be nervous about something.  This time the POWs make their way to Hormosa, where, the road went from gravel to concrete.  This change of surface made the march easier.  When the POWs were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lay down were jabbed with bayonets.
    The POWs continued the march and for the first time in months it began to rain which felt great.  At 4:30 PM on April 13th, they arrived at San Fernando, where they were once again found themselves in a bull pen which was already occupied by Filipino soldiers.  The POWs were put into groups of 200 men to be fed.  A couple of the POWs would get the food which was distributed to each member of the group.  Water was given out in a similar fashion.  That night, not all the POWs could lie down.  At 4:00 A.M., the Japanese woke the POWs, formed detachments of 100 men, and marched them to the train station.

    At the train station, the POWs were crammed into small wooden boxcars known as "Forty or Eights," since each car could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese forced 100 men into each boxcar and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing since there was no room for them to fall to the floors.  At Capas, the living left the cars and the dead fell to the floors.  From there, the surviving 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 Japanese lieutenant.
    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.
    In the camp, the Japanese instituted the "Blood Brother" rule.  If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed.  POWs caught trying to escape were beaten.  Those who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being executed.  It is not known if any 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.
    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.
    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. 

    After arriving in the camp, George became ill and entered the camp hospital suffering from dysentery.  According to medical records kept at the camp, M/Sgt. George R. Prueher died from dysentery on Thursday, July 1, 1942, at approximately 2:00 in the afternoon.  He was 21 years old. 
    After the war, the Remains Recovery Team recovered the remains of Sgt. George A. Prueher, but since the grave records at the camp only told them who was buried in a grave, they had no idea which remains belonged to which man in the grave.  Remains of men which were not identified were buried as unknowns at the new American military cemetery. 
    Since his remains were not identified, M/Sgt. George R. Pruher's name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila. 
In addition, on October 6, 1944, his parents held a memorial service for George, which was held at Saint Mary's Catholic Church in Janesville.

    It should be noted that George's younger brother, Franklin, was killed in action on December 25, 1944, when his troop ship was sunk by a German U-Boat in the English Channel.     


 


 

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