Rotharmel

Pfc. Lawrence Henry Rotharmel


Born: 14 August 1922 - Madera, California
Parents: Gottlieb Rotharmel & Mary Karg-Rotharmel
Siblings: 1 sister, 5 brothers
Nickname: "Larry"
Hometown: Fontes Road - Alisal, California
Occupation: family produce farm

Enlisted:

    - California National Guard

        - joined while he was still in high school 

Inducted:

    - U.S. Army

        - 10 February 1941 - Salinas Army Airfield

Training: 

    - Fort Lewis, Washington

        - C Company, 194th Tank Battalion
            - assistant tank driver/gunner
Note: On August 15, 1941, at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, the 194th received orders 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, by the time another squadron was sent to the area the next day, 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:
    - rode train to Ft. Mason, San Francisco, California
        - Arrived: 7:30 A.M. - 6 September 1941
    - ferried on U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Angel Island
        - given physicals and inoculated by battalion's medical detachment
        - men with medical conditions replaced
    - Ship: S.S. President Calvin 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
            - escorted by the heavy cruiser, U.S.S. Astoria, and an unknown destroyer
                - smoke seen on horizon several times
                -  cruiser intercepted ships
        - Arrived: Manila - Friday - 26 September 1941
            - disembark ship - 3:00 P.M.
            - taken by bus to Fort Stostenburg
            - maintenance section with 17th ordnance remained behind to unload the tanks and attached turrets
                -27 September 1941 - job completed at 9:00 A.M.
    - Stationed:
        - Ft. Stotsenburg, Philippine Islands
            - 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
            - Sent telegram home telling his parents he was okay and that they should not worry about him.  Asked them
, "But, how are things

              over there?"
            - Clark Field - watched attack from inside his tank
        - 12 December 1941
            - moved to new bivouac south to San Fernando near Calumpit Bridge
                - arrived 6:00 A.M.
            - C Company ordered to Southern Luzon
        - 15 December 1941
            - C Company holding Tagaytay Bridge - South Luzon
            - spent most of time chasing down Fifth Columnists
        - 24 December 1941
            - company moved over Taal Road to Santo Tomas
                - bivouacked near San Paolo
        - 25 December 1941
            - sent to assist in operations around Lucena, Paglibo, and Lucban
        - 26/27 December 1941
            - defended in Southern Luzon near Lucban
            - supported Philippine Army
        - 29/30 December 1941
            - new line at Bamban River established
            - tank battalions held line until ordered to withdraw
        - 30 December 1941
            - at Becaue covered withdraw of Philippine Divisions
            - it was around this time that the company rejoined the battalion at Guagua
        - 2 January 1942
            - both tank battalions ordered to withdrawal to Lyac Junction
            - 194th withdrew there on Highway 7
        - 5 January 1942
            - ambushed a Japanese force of 750 to 800 soldiers attempting to cut the highway
            - Japanese lost half their force
            - Labao was burning when tanks left area
         - 6/7 January 1942 - that night the 194th crosses bridge into Bataan
            - withdrawal covered by 192nd Tank Battalion 
    - Battle of Bataan
        - 7 January 1942 - 9 April 1942
            - January 1942
                - 2:30 A.M. attacked in force by Japanese who used a smoke screen
                    - 5:00 A.M. - Japanese broke off attack because of heavy casualties and sunrise
        - 16 January 1942 - Bagac
            - 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
    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."
         20 January 1942
            - Bani Bani 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
        - 25/26 January 1942
            - the battalion held a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road
                - four SPMs with the battalion
            - warned by Filipino a large Japanese force was coming
            - when the enemy appeared they opened up with all the battalion had  
                - Japanese withdrew after losing 500 of 1800 men

        - 28 January 1942
            - 194th tanks given beach duty protecting southern beaches of Bataan

    - February 1942
        - tank battalions took it upon themselves to guard three airfields
        - guarded beaches against Japanese landings
    - 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
        - gasoline rations cut to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks
        - Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that one platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor
            - Wainwright rejected idea
    - April 1942
        - 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
            - 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 that the 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 the massacre of 6,000 sick or wounded and 40,000
              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
    - 9 April 1942
        - received order to destroy equipment and report to kilometer marker 168.2.
            - Provisional Tank Group Headquarters
        - Japanese officers told Col. Ernest Miller to keep them there until ordered to move
    - 10 April 1942

        - started march
            - at times slipped on remains of dead who had been killed by Japanese shelling

        - POWs given ordered to sit in front of four guns firing on Corregidor

        - Corregidor returned fire and shells landed among POWs

            - POWs attempted to take cover

            - Corregidor knocked out three of the four artillery pieces
        - reached Lamao
        - reached Limay and main road
            - officers, majors and up, separated from lower ranking officers and enlisted men
        - marched through Balanga, Abucay and Samal
        - lower ranking officers and enlisted men arrive at Orani
        - higher ranking officers rejoin march
        - ordered to form 100 men detachments
            - POWs marched at faster pace
            - fewer breaks
                - when given break, the POWs sat on road
        - North of Hermosa the POWs reached pavement
            - made march easier
            - POWs march through Layac and Lurao
            - rains - POWs drank as much as they could
        -  San Fernando
            - POWs put in groups of 200 to be fed
                - one POW sent to get a box of rice for each group
                - pottery jars of water given out the same way
        - POWs formed detachments of 100 men and marched to train station
            - put into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane
                - each boxcar could hold eight horses or forty men
                - 100 POWs packed into each car
                - POWs who died remained standing
        - Capas - dead fell to floor as living left boxcars
            - as POWs formed ranks, Filipinos threw sugarcane to POWs
            - also gave them water
            - POWs walked last 8 kilometers to Camp O'Donnell

POW Camps:

    - Philippine Islands:
        - Cabcaban POW Camp - 19 May 1942
            - wounded by shrapnel from American shell
            - Japanese had placed a guns next to hospital ward

            - POWs used as a human shield
        - Bilibid Prison
            - sent there from Cabcaben
            - sent to Cabanatuan

        - Cabanatuan
            - original name - Camp Panagaian
                - Philippine Army Base built for 91st Philippine Army Division
                    - put into use by Japanese as a POW camp
                - actually three camps
                    - Camp 1: POWs from Camp O'Donnell sent there in attempt to lower death rate
                    - Camp 2:  two miles away
                        - all POWs moved from there because of a lack of water
                        - later used for Naval POWs
                    - Camp 3: six miles from Camp 2
                        - POWs from Corregidor and from hospitals sent there
                        - camp created to keep Corregidor POWs separated from Bataan POWs
                        - Corregidor POWs were in better shape
                            - January 1943 - POWs from Camp 3 consolidated into Camp 1
        - Camp Administration:
            - the Japanese left POWs to run the camp on their own
                - Japanese entered camp when they had a reason
                - POWs patrolled fence to prevent escapes
                    - Note: men who attempted to escape were recaptured
                    - Japanese beat them for days
                    - executed them
            - Blood Brother Rule
                - POWs put into groups of ten
                    - if one escaped the others would be executed
                    - housed in same barracks
                    - worked on details together
            - Barracks:
                - each barracks held 50 men
                    - often held between 60 and 120 men
                    - slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, covers, and mosquito netting
                        - diseases spread easily
                    - no showers
            - Morning Roll Call:
                - stood at attention
                    - frequently beaten over their heads for no reason
                - when POWs lined up for roll call, it was a common practice for Japanese guards, after the POWs lined up, to kick the POWs in
                  their shins with their hobnailed boots because they didn't like the way the POWs lined up
            - Work Details:
                - Two main details
                    - the farm and airfield
                        - farm detail
                            - POWs cleared land and grew comotes, cassava, taro, sesame, and various greens
                            - Japanese took what was grown
                    - Guards:
                        - Big Speedo - spoke little English
                            - in charge of detail
                            - fair in treatment of POWs
                            - spoke little English
                                - to get POWs to work faster said, "speedo"
                        - Little Speedo
                            - also used "speedo" when he wanted POWs to work faster
                            - fair in treatment of POWs
                        - Smiley
                            - always smiling
                            - could not be trusted
                            - meanest of guards
            - Airfield Detail:
                - Japanese built an airfield for fighters
                    - POWs cut grass, removed dirt, and leveled ground
                        - at first moved dirt in wheel barrows
                        - later pushed mining cars
                   - Guards:
                        - Air Raid
                            - in charge
                            - usually fair but unpredictable
                                - had to watch him
                        - Donald Duck
                            - always talking
                            - sounded like the cartoon character
                            - unpredictable - beat POWs
                            - POWs told him that Donald Duck was a big American movie star
                                - at some point, he saw a Donald Duck cartoon
                                - POWs stayed away from him when he came back to camp
                - Work Day: 7:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
                    - worked 6 days a week
                        - had Sunday off
            - Other Details:
                - work details sent out to cut wood for POW kitchens and plant rice
                    - they also were frequently hit with a pick handle, for no reason, as they counted off
                - POWs on the rice planting detail were punished by having their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on
                - the POWs had to go into a shed to get the tools, as they came out, they were hit on their heads
                - if the guards on the detail decided the POW wasn't doing what he should be doing, he was beaten
                - many POWs on details were able to smuggle in medicine, food, and tobacco into the camp
            - Burial Detail
                - POWs worked in teams of four
                    - carried 4 to 6 dead to cemetery at a time in liter
                    - a grave contained from 15 to 20 bodies 
            - daily POW meal
                - 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, sweet potato or corn
                - rice was main staple, few vegetables or fruits
        - Camp Hospital:
            - 30 Wards
                - each ward could hold 40 men
                    - frequently had 100 men in each
               - two tiers of bunks
                   - sickest POWs on bottom tier
               - each POW had a 2 foot by 6 foot area to lie in
            - Zero Ward
                - given name because it had been missed when counting wards
                - became ward where those who were going to die were sent
                - fenced off from other wards
                    - Japanese guards would not go near it
                    - POWs sent there had little to no chance of surviving
                    - medical staff had little to no medicine to treat sick
                    - many deaths from disease caused by malnutrition

            - POWs left camp - 18 September 1943

Hell Ship:

    - Coral Maru

        - ship also known as "Taga Maru" 

        - Sailed: Manila - 23 September 1943

        - Arrived: Takao, Formosa - 26 September 1943

        - Sailed: Unknown

        - Arrived: Moji, Japan

            - 5 October 1943
POW Camp:

    - Japan

        - Hirohata #1D

            - Camp:
                - less than two acres in area
                    - 200' by 400' in area
                - surrounded by a 12' high wooden fence that was topped with bamboo pointed bamboo spears and barbwire
            - Housing:
                - POWs housed in to 50' by 100' barracks with were not insulated and numerous windows
                    - slept on straw mattresses on wooden platforms
                    - the lower platform was 16' above the floor
                - 240 POWs lived in each barracks
            - Latrines
                - two 25' by 50' latrines in the camp
            - Meals:
                - prepared in a 20' by 40' building
                - ten men assigned to kitchen
                - cooked food in 13 cauldrons
                - rice and watery soup main meal
                - POWs ate in barracks on tables in the aisles
                - Red Cross food never issued to POWs
            - Hospital:
                - American doctor in charge of hospital but his diagnosis were overruled by a Japanese corpsman
                - corpsman ordered POWs with fevers to work
                - Red Cross medical supplies seldom issued to POWs
            - Clothing:
                - Red Cross clothing and shoes were misappropriated by Japanese
            - Work:
                - 30 POWs worked at the camp doing camp maintenance
                - 400 POWs worked at the Japan Iron Works Company
                    - marched to and from iron works
                    - POWs shoveled coal, fired furnaces, unloaded coke, loaded pig iron onto trains and ships, unloaded iron ore from trains and
                      ships
                - POW worked from 7:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
            - Punishment:
                - Japanese POWs for slightest reasons
                    - POWs beaten with belts, rope, clubs, fists
                        - hit in faces with belts
                    - had water thrown on them and made to stand in sub-zero temperatures
                    - faces pushed underwater in troughs and hit in back of the head with clubs when they attempted to pull face out of the water
                    - for stealing rice, 16 POWs were lined up and beaten in their faces with a wide, doubled over belt
                    - another 40 POWs were made to kneel for 8 hours
                    - every POW in the camp was made to kneel for 5 hours because a rule was violated

Liberated:

    - 4 September 1945
        - took a tour of Japan
        - found Japanese civilians were nothing like the soldiers

Promoted: Corporal
Transport:
    - U.S.S. General R. L. Howze
        - Sailed: Manila - 23 September 1945
        - Arrived: San Francisco, California - 16 October 1945

Married: Maxine Rippey - 16 October 1948

Children: 2 daughters, 1 son

Occupation: carpenter

Residence: Sacramento, California

    - moved to Sacramento from Salinas in 1975 

Died: 7 January 2012 - Sacramento, California

Buried:

    - Hillcrest Memorial Park - Bakersfield, California 


 

 


Lawrence Rotharmel Interview

 



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