| Sgt. Owen L. Sandmire was born October 24, 1918, to Leonard and Bessie Sandmire in Viola, Wisconsin, and was the fourth child of eight children. "Sandy" as he was called by his friends, grew up first in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, where he graduated from Reedsburg Elementary School. His family then moved to Lime Ridge, Wisconsin, where he graduated from Lime Ridge High School in 1938. |
Sandy went out on his own at fifteen since it would make it easier on his family. His father was a barber and could not make enough to support his large family. To support himself, Sandy moved to Janesville, Wisconsin, looking for work.
On September 16, 1940, Sandy enlisted into the Wisconsin National Guard's 32nd Tank Company from Janesville. Sandy decided to do this after drinking a few beers with some National Guardsmen. His reason for doing this was the draft act had recently been passed and he did not want to be drafted into the army. It also had already been announced that the tank company was going to be called to federal duty. Sandy and his friend, Bob Stewart, were also not having very good luck finding steady jobs, so being in the army with regular pay sounded good to both of them. Two months later, Sandy would be called to federal duty when the 32nd Tank Company was federalized as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, and left for Fort Knox, Kentucky, on November 28, 1940.
At Ft. Knox, Sandy was trained as a tank driver. This would be the position he would hold throughout his tour of duty with the 192nd. Since the members of the battalion were trained to do more than one job, he was also trained on a motorcycle as a reconnaissance sergeant. It was also at this time that he became good friends with Harvey Riedeman.
After almost nine months of training at Fort Knox, the 192nd was sent to Louisiana to take part in the maneuvers of 1941 from September 1 through 30. On route to the maneuvers, on his motorcycle, Sandy served as traffic director of the convoy. According to him, the worst thing about the maneuvers was the snakes. It was after the completion of the these maneuvers that the 192nd was informed that they had been selected 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 battalion traveled by train to San Francisco over different train routes to Ft. Mason in San Francisco and were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they received inoculations and physicals from the battalion's doctors, and those men with treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S. 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. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two day layover. 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 during this part of the trip that it was joined by the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge and, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville. On Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they woke up the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11, since the ships had crossed the International Date Line during the night. It was during this part of the voyage, 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 took off in the direction of the smoke, which turned out to be from a ship from a friendly country.
The next day, Sunday, November 16, they arrived at Guam, where the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing the next day for Manila. At one point, the ships passed an island at night. While they passed the island, they 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., the soldiers disembarked and most were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. The truck drivers drove their trucks to the fort while the maintenance section remained behind to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that they had what they needed and that they received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. Of their Thanksgiving Dinner he recalled, "Contrary to what you might have heard, we did NOT have turkey. We had slumgullion (a stew) slung onto our mess kits without benefit of tables or plates or whatever. We were confined to temporary quarters in nothing more than tents -- eight men tents -- paramedical tents and that was our quarters until the war broke out. Of course they were building facilities, but we never got to occupy them."
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. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons. The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance as they readied their tanks to take part in maneuvers.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks.
The morning of December 8, 1941, Capt. Walter Write informed his company that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese. The tanks were put on alert at their positions around the airfield. At 8:30 A.M., American planes took off to intercept any Japanese planes. Sometime before noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, and were lined up near the pilots' mess hall. The pilots went to lunch.
Sandy recalled that around 12:45 P.M., he and the other tankers looked up at the formations of planes over their heads. The tankers commented on how beautiful they looked and had enough time to count 54 planes. When the first bombs exploded, he and the other men ran to take cover. Sandy avoided being hit by enemy fire by playing "leap-frog" over a wall. If the Japanese planes came from the side of the wall he was on, he would jump to the other side and use the wall to shield himself from enemy bullets. During the attack, a Filipino woman was hit by enemy fire in the hip. Sandy attempted to help her, but she would not allow him to help her.
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.
On December 12, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it could guard a highway and railroad from sabotage. From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River.
On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write. While withdrawing from the area, A Company had been given cigar boxes that Philippine Ordnance had made into land mines. Sandy and another soldier were suppose to place them along the sides of the road since the Japanese, like the Americans, marched alongside the roads in the ditches.
Since the soldiers never had been trained in the use of landmines, Capt. Walter Write told the soldiers, "Sergeant, get the men back. This mine doesn't look right and may go off." As he released the mine, it went off in his hands blowing off his arms, one leg and blinding him. He died of his wounds a short time later. In Sandy's opinion, the morale of the company dropped after Write's death.
After Write was buried, the battalion's tanks made an end run to get south of Agno River after the main bridge had been destroyed. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening but successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
On December 25, 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 27.
Of that time, Sandy recalled that the tankers had Christmas dinner. He said, "I remember is was Christmastime and its the first decent meal we had, and would you believe -- we had turkey -- on Christmas Day. This was a blessing because we hadn't had a shower -- hadn't even had my clothes off for eighteen straight days. I slept on my tank or in my tank or on the run, or wherever we could get a minutes rest." .
It was in the jungle that the tankers found out how inappropriate the M3 tanks were for use in the Philippines. Off the road, they had to travel with their turrets backwards. If the tankers did not do this, the guns would get stuck in the jungle growth. The tanks were also restricted to the roads since they would get stuck in the mud of the rice fields. The high silhouettes and straight sides of the M3 also made the tanks easy targets for the Japanese.
On a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries. The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks' machine guns. As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac. When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened up on them. When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion. To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.
At Gumain River, the night of December 31 to the morning of January 1st, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river. When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts. The Japanese were taking heavy casualties, so they attempted to use smoke to cover their advance, but the wind blew the smoke into the Japanese. When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had suffered fifty percent casualties.
At Guagua, A Company, with units from the 11th Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese. Somehow, the tanks were mistaken, by the Filipinos to be Japanese. The 11th Division accurately used mortars on them. The result was the loss of three tanks.
On January 1, the tanks of the 194th were holding the Calumpit Bridge allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to cross the bridge toward Bataan. General Wainwright was attempting to hold the main Japanese force coming down Route 5 to prevent the troops from being cut off. General MacArthur's chief of staff gave conflicting orders involving whose command the defenders were under which caused confusion. Gen. Wainwright was not aware these orders had been given.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River. 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 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
It was while the tanks were dropping back from San Fernando that they found themselves facing Japanese infantry. "On our retreat back from San Fernando back toward Bataan, when we were going to establish this defensive line all the way across the Philippines, we set up a defensive line one night with our tanks that were left.
"In the jungles over there you can imagine how dark it is when there's no moon. When the moon is out it is pretty decent , but when there is no moon it's absolutely black. Well, doggone if those Japanese infantry troops didn't literally attack those tanks by hand. They didn't have machine guns fortunately. They just swarmed around us with hand guns and rifles and whatnot. Well, what were we to do? We couldn't lower our guns down far enough to shoot them. If you stuck your head out of the tank to shoot them with your pistol, man, you were a dead man. So all we could do is gradually retreat out of the mess.
"Well, in the mean time one of the tanks in our company, about in the middle of the retreat, doggone if one of these Japs didn't come up a lay a magnetic type mine, armor piercing, on top of the front, you might say, about where the bow gunner would sit. When that thing went off, zing, right through! Fortunately, it only took from the calf on down -- that part of the leg. His name was Emil Schmidt."
On January 28, the tank battalions 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. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
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 company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets - from January 23 to February 17 - to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive was stopped and pushed pack to the original line of defense. 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 each tank company was rotated 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.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
What made this job so hard was that the Japanese dug "spider holes" among the roots the trees. Because of this situation, the Americans could not get a good shot at the Japanese.
The tanks of A, B, and C Company were able to clear the pockets. But before this was done, one C Company tank which had gone beyond the American perimeter was disabled and the tank just sat there. When the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there. During the night, its crew was buried alive, inside the tank, by the Japanese. When the Japanese had been wiped out, the tank was turned upside down to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the crew. The tank was put back into use.
The tanks were also used to clear the Japanese in what was called "The Battle of the Points." The Japanese had attempted to land troops behind the main defensive line and ended up with troops trapped on two different points on the peninsula.
During this engagement, Sandy recalled that there were cliffs that had caves in them. The Japanese Marines used the caves for protection and would climb to the cliffs to enter them or leave them. The tankers fired into the caves repeatedly until the Japanese were dead or came out of the caves.
Sandy and John Hopple, of B Company, and two other men of the 192nd risked their lives to rescue another member of their battalion who had been wounded. The four went into an area under fire, put the man on a stretcher, and carried him out. The other three men with Sandy were wounded. Sandy could not recall if the man that was rescued survived or if he died of his wounds But the other three men, who had been wounded rescuing him, died of their wounds. For this action under enemy fire, Sandy was nominated for the Silver Star which he received years after the war.
Remembering the event, he said, "This is where the Silver Star action comes in. The Japanese landed and made a beachhead on the ocean-side. They didn't come by land. They came by barge or whatever. They established the beachhead. These (Japanese Marines) are the ones who would dig these "spider holes" alongside these monstrous trees. The roots weren't round like we are familiar with here. The roots were flat and ran up and down. Some of the roots were a foot thick. and two or three feet high, and made a perfect defense against bullets an even small cannon that we had wouldn't penetrate it. Armor piercing would but explosive would, yeah, but explosive would not.
One of the tanks in our company (actually C Company) got stalled out there trying to drive the Japanese back , and during the night when these Japanese were digging these spider holes, they may they may have shot the men or threw a grenade in there or probably just buried them alive but somehow they put the dirt from the spider holes into the tank so there was no sign of digging. No sign of any dirt. At night they would come out of these spider holes and, man, they would just raise hell. It was a terrifying experience never knowing what was going on.
The following day one of our men in our company - I believe his name was Corporal Bruce -- had gone in doing some reconnoitering and got shot. Well, here he is literally out in the middle of no-man's land and he couldn't get back. So myself and a fellow named Hopplen from B Company and two others, so hep me, whose names I can't remember, we scrounged our way out there with a stretcher , got him on the stretcher and started bringing him back when two of the guys, I believe it was two, got shot carrying out. I didn't get a scratch carrying this guy out and I presume the fourth guy didn't either. Anyway, the two who that were shot were pretty bad and so was Corporal Bruce. We took them in an ambulance -- of course there was no ambulance drivers around, so I was a "handcuff volunteer" to take them to the hospital. So down I went, down this Bataan highway, whatever they called it. Had to go all the way down to Mariveles and back up the other side, the bay side of the peninsula to get to the hospital. Well, hell, the rocks were just -- aww -- they wee just great big cobblestones -- not fit for truck driving. Fine for tanks, but for vehicles and trucks it was almost impossible. Anyway, when I got them all over there they were all dead. I guess this one guy lived a day or so but all died with the exception of myself and this other guy who helped bring them out. This was were I was recommended for, but not awarded, the Silver Star."
It was also during this time that Sandy and Albert DuBois accidentally gave a tank crew from B Company a good scare. The two soldiers were on guard duty and found the duty boring. To keep themselves entertained, the two men began tossing a "dummy" hand grenade to see who could throw it the farthest. During one of his tosses, Sandy's throw went through the open hatch of a tank. Believing the grenade was live, the crew began digging through the junk on the floor in an attempt to get the grenade out of the tank. When it did not explode, the tank crew members looked out of the turret and found Sandy walking alongside of the tank. Sandy looked up at the crew and asked, " Did anyone see a practice grenade land around here?" In Sandy's opinion, if the crew could have, they would have shot him on the spot.
Sandy's tank was near kilometer 208 a little ahead of the remainder of A Company. "Photo Charlie" flew over and stayed around for awhile. His tank crew believed their tank was pretty well camouflaged, but had dug small trenches to take cover in if they were attacked. Not too long after "Photo Charlie" had left, a Japanese glider bomber came in and laid a bomb beside their tank. They were on the other side of the tank, so they did not get hit by shrapnel. They quickly moved the tank into denser jungle.
During the Battle of Bataan, Sandy came down with dysentery. While he was ill, his tank was destroyed. This resulted in Sandy assuming the role of reconnaissance sergeant for the 192nd. To do this duty, he was assigned an Indian Motorcycle. Having trained at Fort Knox on Harley-Davidison motorcycles, Sandy found it hard to adjust to the controls of the motorcycle which were just the opposite of a Harley.
The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry. To make things worse, the soldiers' rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day.
The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantly clad blond on them. The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
Of this, he said, "During the course of all these battles which all take gas and ammunition, which we we were sorely sort short of, and running out of food, ammunition, gasoline, and our vehicles were going to pot, we were down to the point where we couldn't do a thing except for a major crisis where the Japanese had broken through and we would try to seal up the hole to make sure they didn't break through."
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.
On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan. It was the evening of April 8 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."
Having eaten everything that moved in the jungle, out of food, ammunition and medical supplies, on April 8, 1942, the word came down to Sandy and the other tankers that Bataan was going to be surrendered. Sandy was ordered to destroy the remaining tanks and make them unusable to the Japanese. Of this, he said, "I happened to be at kilometer 208 and Mariveles, which is the southern tip of Bataan peninsula -- about 125 kilometers from San Fernando which was our starting point. Our unit was pretty much thinly spread out over the west coast of Bataan. We must have been in this particular location for two weeks before we got the word that there had been a surrender. Of course we were just about dead on our feet anyway because we couldn't do anything. We were out of gasoline. We still had some ammunition bu the food was down to practically nothing. We were killing everything we could find in the jungle -- birds, lizards, snakes -- the mules, the horses, and water buffalo had long since been gone. The rice was practically gone. Very little, if any vegetables or wild fruits of the jungle that we could live on. Well, the word came down that we could destroy all of our ordnance equipment which was tanks, machine guns, cannons, and so forth, but the quarter master equipment, which was trucks, were to be turned over to the Japanese.
I unluckily, got the job of destroying all the tanks we had left. So, I took them back into the boonies as far as I could drive them before we just stopped and tried to get them in a semi-circle with the engines facing me. Then, with my own tank, I fired rounds of armor piercing ammunition into the back end of each one of these tanks which ruptured the gasoline tank, ruined the mortars and what not, and then fired high explosive shells into each one these individual tanks, setting them on fire. By the time I got through with them they were practically useless except for scrap metal. I understand that during the course of the war they salvaged all of those tanks out of the jungle and sent all that scrap metal back to Japan."
Sandy was now a Prisoner of War. His company was ordered to go to Mariveles at Bataan's southern tip. Remembering this, he said, "At the time of surrender the Japanese had absolutely no organization, no way of knowing how many troops there may be, what they were going to do with us -- nothing! We were on our own to get to kilometer post 208, which was at least two miles down into the jungle, out to the main highway. I guess they called it the west Bataan highway for want for a better description and we were to get to Mariveles which was to be our assembly point for all the troops -- Filipino, American, or whatever. It took us two days to get down there. You either walked, or hitched a ride, or however you get down there.
We were halfway in good spirits because we thought the war was over for us. We wouldn't have to worry about getting killed and the enemy would feed us and clothe us. All night long, I had a little duffel bag with my personnel articles like a toothbrush, toothpaste, and maybe a razor. My watch I had, but they found that. My Elgin watch that I had bought back in the states. Everybody was literally stripped -- just nothing.
Of course there was no organization. They had raw rice so we filled our pockets with raw rice and started on this march from Mariveles. -- started the so called Death March. For how many days it took us to get to San Fernando, we ate raw rice -- all the way up there-- trying to wash it down with whatever little water I could find. I never had any meat of any kind, no vegetables -- just raw rice and cooked rice that the Japanese had given us, not along the way, but at night when we settled down. We would have to sit on the ground with our feet and knees drawn up to our chest as tight as we could and the next guy with his knees right against your back and that's the way you sat all night, just like this. Huddled, just like that, all night. And this went on for the first three nights.
You can imagine how we felt without much food, no rest, no sleep, and worrying about the guards because if you moved they'd beat the hell outa of you or use their bayonets, or shoot you, or behead you or whatever -- whatever their mood was. And this type of treatment went on all the way up that death march -- all the way up to San Fernando."
On the march, Sandy stayed with the members of A Company. For the marchers the worst thing was the heat and lack of water. Those men who fell out were killed. Prisoners became so desperate that they often risked their lives to get a drink of water. The Filipino civilians along the route risked their lives, and often gave their lives, to give the soldiers a drink of water. The soldiers often drank water in the ditches alongside the road. This water was filled with bacteria. Often, the bodies soldiers who were killed by the Japanese were floating in the water. Those who drank this water came down with dysentery.
At San Fernando, Sandy and the other Prisoners of War boarded a train and were crammed into small wooden boxcars. With the Filipino sun beating down on the roofs of the boxcars, the journey by train was unbearable. The prisoners were packed in so tightly that when a man died, he could not fall down. There were no provisions for water or toilets, so the floors of the boxcars became a sea of diarrhea, vomit and urine. The prisoners disembarked from the train at Capas and marched the final few miles to Camp O'Donnell.
The camp was an unfinished Filipino training base that was pressed 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.
Sandy did not stay at Camp O'Donnell for long because he went out on a work detail to Manila. The detail was under the command of Japanese engineers whose job it was to rebuild the bridges, roads and airfields that had been destroyed by the Filipino and American troops as they retreated into Bataan. While working on this detail, the POWs lived in a bowling alley in Manila. With him on this detail were Forrest Knox, Lloyd Richter, Alva Chapman of A Company.
While on this detail, Sandy came down with diphtheria. A Japanese doctor took one look at him and said, "No good, no good," and gave Sandy two aspirin. This was the only help that Sandy ever received as a POW. He laid in his own filth unable to eat or swallow. He lost his eyesight, and his weight dropped to 89 pounds. To this day, Sandy has no idea of how he survived this illness.
Sandy also suffered from scurvy on the detail. His skin became raw and hurt. The POWs somehow got a hold of alcohol. He put a little on his skin. It felt better so Sandy splashed himself with the alcohol. It began to burn so badly that he took a shower for almost a hour.
Sandy also recalled that a Filipino had been accused of stealing a truck by the Japanese. Each night, the POWs heard the man's screams as he was tortured. The Japanese put lit cigarettes in the mans nostrils and ears. They also beat the man. Sandy stated that he found out later that the man had not stolen the truck.
Medical records kept at the camp indicate that Sandy was in the camp hospital on July 20, 1942. The records do not indicate what his illness was or the date he was discharged. In June 1943, when the detail ended, Sandy was sent to Cabanatuan.
During his time in the camp, Sandy worked in the rice fields planting rice. Sandy recalled that guards played a game of hitting the slowest moving POWs across the head with a pole as if they were playing golf. The guards goal was to see how far they could get the man's hat to roll.
Sandy was sent out on a work detail to build runways at an airfield the Japanese were the extending runways. The POWs did the work with picks and shovels and worked a week at the airfield and spent the next week at a farm.
Of the treatment of the POWs, he said, "What they did to us is take a ball bat and put it right between your knees and make you kneel down with the ball bat. A little of that and you couldn't walk. The other was that they'd give you a 50 pound sack of cement and make you hold hold it like this, (Arms outstretched fully front -- chest high) and I mean you held it like this. And if you started dropping down, they'd belt you across the back, and you'd pick it and held the fool thing until you either passed out, or they gave up, or you held it long enough to satisfy them."
Body lice was one of the worst things that the POWs suffered from in the camp. To get rid of them, the POWs rubbed a concoction of paste that he believed was made from rotten eggs. Whatever it was, it helped relieve the POWs from the lice.
Sandy was returned to Cabanatuan and remained there for sixteen months until he was sent to the Port Area of Manila in July 1944. Before he was sent to Japan, an American doctor recommended that he have his tonsils out since he had, had diphtheria. While performing the tonsil surgery, the doctor was allowed only one 60 watt bulb for light. The light was allowed to be on only a short time at night. The doctor removed Sandy's tonsils with only a local anesthetic that he was running out of about the time the bulb was turned off.
At some point Sandy was admitted to Zero Ward suffering from diphtheria. Of this he said, "Would you believe I survived diphtheria with one aspirin. Lost absolute control of all my bodily functions and laid in my own urine and excrement for six weeks. Lost my eyesight and went down to 85 pounds laying there in Zero Ward. Nobody ever comes out of Zero Ward alive, but I did. How I survived I just don't know."
While he was at the camp. he worked on the farm, Sandy was at the planting potatoes. He had been on the detail for about a week and had learned how to plant the potatoes. One guard known as "Air Raid" because when things did not go right he had a short temper and went off on the POWs. Air Raid came up to Sandy and asked, "Do you understand how to do this?" to Sandy, who was sitting on the ground, said, "Yes." Air Raid did not know that Sandy had been planting potatoes for a week and believed Sandy was telling him that Sandy knew more about planting potatoes than he did. He came over to Sandy and said, "Oh, a smart ass, huh!" and hit him in the head with a pick handle. Sandy figured Air Raid thought he was saying that he knew more about planting sweet potatoes then he did. The result was that Sandy was in the camp hospital for ten days.
It was also at this time that Sandy lost his vision. He believed it was a result of diphtheria. How long it took to get his vision back he did not recall.
Sandy was boarded onto the Canadian Inventor for shipment to Japan. The prisoners were packed into the hold of the ship so tightly that they had to sleep in shifts.
The bathroom for the prisoners was a rack that hung over the side of the ship. To get to it, the POWs had to climb up ladders from the hold. This situation meant that there was always a line of men on the ladders attempting to get to the rack. Since many of the men were suffering from dysentery, vomiting, or had diphtheria, they did not always make it out of the hold before they relieved themselves. This was due to the fact that they were so sick and weak that they could not control their bodily functions. The trip to Japan aboard the ship took two months.
It was in the hold of the ship that Sandy was reunited with Ed DeGroot of A Company. The two men somehow got the job of preparing the evening meal for the other POWs which allowed the two men to get out of the hold of ship.
According to Sandy, after stopping at Formosa and unloading salt, the ship sailed for Japan empty except for the POWs. During this part of the trip it ran into rough waters and, for ten days, bounced in the water like a cork. The stern of the ship would come out of the water and the ship would shake as the propeller spun in the air. When the stern reentered the water, the ship took off.
The ship arrived at Moji and the POWs were unloaded and were taken by ferry to the Island of Honshu. They next took a train to Fukuoka. In Japan, Sandy was assigned to Omine Machi POW Camp. There, the POWs were used as slave labor in a coal mine that had been condemned before the war. If the Japanese believed POWs were not working hard enough they would beat them.
Somehow Sandy ended up running the pneumatic drill and cut holes into the cool vain. He did this for about a year. When he had finished drilling the Japanese would put dynamite charges into the holes and light the fuses. As they waited for the Japanese to blast out the coal, the POWs got their only break. The coal that was loosened by the blast was cleaned up by the next shift of POWs. The next day, they started all over again.
One day, while the POWs were walking into the mine to their work places, Sandy was the last man in line. A big Korean, who was in servitude to the Japanese, was standing in the shadows. Since Sandy was extremely tired and had his head down, he did not see the Korean and salute him. The Korean, whose battery was attached to his helmet light by a wire, swung the battery and hit Sandy in the back of his head. Knocked unconscious, Sandy fell to the ground breaking his left wrist and was left for dead in a ditch. This made mining extremely painful, and his wrist would bother him for the rest of his life.
In his estimate, during his time as a POW, Sandy suffered from dysentery, diphtheria, pellagra, scabies, malaria, a skin rash, scurvy, dengue fever, and beriberi. He would suffer from the skin rash the rest if his life.
The camp guards stole items from Red Cross packages and withheld the packages from July 1, 1944, to September 2, 1945. The Japanese intentionally opened packages and mixed up contents so that the ranking Allied officer would not know how much should be in each package. When they were given to the POWs they were often contained less than what had been sent. In addition, when Red Cross packages arrived, they were withheld from POWs from three to seven months after arriving.
Sandy was able to adapt to any situation and learned to mend his own shoes. When other POWs learned of this, he found himself the proprietor of the prison camp's shoe repair shop. He also believed that his attitude kept him alive. "I saw so many of my friends just lay down and die. I just hung in there and did anything to keep alive."
One day the prisoners did not have roll call and the guards were gone. This was the first sign that the prisoners had that the war was over. Sandy recalled that the camp commandant was still in the camp and paid the price for being there. Many of the POWs held him directly responsible for the deaths of many POWs. Some of the POWs pulled him from his quarters and tore him to pieces. They believed he was receiving the same treatment he had ordered that they be given.
Fearing for their lives, the prisoners stayed in the camp for ten days. American B-29s appeared over the camp and dropped 55 gallon drums containing food to the former POWs. What amazed the prisoners was that the Japanese civilians would bring the drums to them without touching anything in them.
The prisoners were finally boarded onto a train for the East Coast of Japan. They were deloused and the clothing, that had dropped to them, burned. After receiving new clothing, the former prisoners were boarded onto the U.S.S. Consolation on September 16, 1945, at Wakayama, Japan. Sandy was malnourished and returned to the Philippines to be "fattened up." He next was flown, on a DC3, back to the United States. In October 1945, Sandy was reunited with his parents.
Besides the Silver Star, Sandy also received the Purple Heart, the POW Medal, the Bronze Star, the Asiatic/Pacific Campaign, the American Defense Medal, World War II Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the Philippine Defense Medal, and the Combat Infantry Badge. The 192nd Tank Battalion received the Presidential Unit Citation with Two Oak Leaf Clusters. He was discharged, from the army, on May 11, 1946.
On September 25, 1946, Sandy married Mary Jane Craig in Richland Center, Wisconsin. They resided in Madison, Wisconsin, where he worked for the Oscar Meyer Company and started their family. The family would later relocate to Sherman, Texas, when he was transferred as the power plant supervisor for the Oscar Meyer plant. He retired after 33 years, in 1981 and moved to Sarasota, Florida.
Sandy had a recurring nightmare of being chased by a Japanese guard. When the guard caught him, he couldn't move his arms and the guard beat him mercilessly.
The picture of Sandy, at the bottom of this page, was taken while he was a prisoner at Omine Machi in Japan. The shirt he was wearing was actually given to him for the photo and his POW number pinned on it. After the photo was taken, his number was removed, he took off the shirt, and it was given the next POW to wear in his photo.
Owen Sandmire passed away on March 10, 2004, from injuries he received in a motorcycle accident. After his death, and following his request, he was cremated.