Schenk

 


Sgt. Harold Eugene Schenk


     Sgt. Harold E. Schenk was the son of Herman Schenk & Gertrude R. Stadler-Schenk.  He was born on September 25, 1918, in Nodaway, Missouri.  With his sister and two brothers, he grew up in Oregon, Missouri, where attended high school, for two years, before going to work in his family's automotive shop.

    It is not known when, but he joined the Missouri National Guard in Saint Joseph, Missouri.  His tank company was designated B Company, 194th Tank Battalion in November 1940, but, because of a strike in the lumber industry, it was not called to federal service until February 10, 1941.  The company traveled to Fort Lewis, Washington, for six months of training.

    When Headquarters Company was formed, Harold was transferred to the new company.  It is believed he was assigned to the maintenance section of the company.
    In the late summer of 1941, the battalion 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, 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 was sent to Angel Island where they were inoculated and given physicals by the battalion's medical detachment.  Those who passed their physicals were boarded onto the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge.   Those eho did not were replaced.  The ship sailed at 9:00 P.M. on September 8th and arrived in Hawaii on September 13th at 7:00 A.M., where the soldiers were allowed to go ashore.  Their stay in Hawaii was short, so they had to back on board before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M. 
    The ship took a southern route away from the normal shipping lanes and was escorted by the cruiser, the U.S.S. Astoria.  On several occasions smoke was seen on the horizon and the cruiser went to investigate.  Each time it turned out the ship was from a friendly country.  The ships entered Manila Bay on September 26th and disembarked later that day.  The members of the battalion, except for the maintenance section, were taken to Fort Stotsenburg by bus.  17th Ordnance and the maintenance section reattached the turrets on the tanks.  The turrets had been removed so that the tanks would fit into the ship's hold.

    The battalion spent the next few months preparing for further training.  In early October, they went on a training maneuver to simulate the invasion at Lingayen Gulf. 

    The first week of December 1941, the tanks of the 194th and the 192nd Tank Battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard it against Japanese paratroopers.  At all times two member of each tank crew had to remain with their tank.  The morning of December 8, 1942, they were told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that had happened hours earlier.  The members of HQ Company remained in the battalionís bivouac.
    The tankers lived in tents at the fort until their barracks were finished on November 15th. The first week of December, 1941, the tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against enemy paratroopers.  Two tank crew members remained with the tank at all times and received their meals from food tucks.
    The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers heard the news of Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor just hours earlier.  As they sat their tanks, the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, and were lined up in a straight line outside the mess hall.  The pilots went to lunch.
    The tankers were having lunch, which meant a tank crew member went to the food truck and got food for the other members of the crew.  As they sat in their tanks, they watched two formations, of 27 planes each, approaching the airfield from the north.  At first they believed the planes were American, it was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.
    During the attack the members of HQ Company took cover in ditches since they had few weapons that could be used against planes.  The attack lasted for about 45 minutes.  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.
    The battalion was sent to the barrio of San Jaoaquin on the Malolus Road and moved to an area just south of San Joaquin near the Calumpit Bridge on December 12th.  It would receive 15 Bren Gun carriers that were used to test the ground to see if it could support the weight of a tank.  The battalion moved again to west and north of Rosario and was operating in north of the Agno River the night of December 22/23.
    The tank battalions formed the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas defensive line the night of December 26/27.  They were holding a new line at the Bamban River the night of December 29/30 and were at the Calumpit Bridge the next night.
On January 5th, they were at Lyac Junction and dropped back to Remedios were a new defensive line was formed.
    The night of January 6/7, the 194th withdrew over a bridge on the Culis Creek covered by the 192nd Tank Battalion, and entered Bataan.  The 192nd crossed the bridge before it was destroyed and entered Bataan.
    The tank battalions were covering the East Coast Road on January 8th.  It was at this time that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks each and HQ Company with the 17th Ordnance Company were able to do long overdue maintenance on the tanks.
    The tanks continued to cover withdraws for the rest of January and February.  In March, HQ Company was recovering two tanks that had been bogged down  in the mud when the Japanese entered the area.   Lt. Col. Miller ordered the tanks to fire at point blank range and ran from tank to tank directing the fire.
    On April 4th, the Japanese lunched an all out offensive at 3:00 P.M., and the tanks were sent to various sectors in an attempt to stop the advance.  When it became apparent to Gen. Edward King that the situation was hopeless, he sent staff officers to negotiate the surrender of Bataan on April 8th.

    The morning of April 9, 1942, at 6:45, the tank crews heard the order "crash."  This meant that the tank battalions were to their destroy tanks, ammunition, and anything that the Japanese could use.  After this was done, the tankers waited until the Japanese made contact. 

    The Japanese arrived on April 10th and ordered the Prisoners of War to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.  The members of the 194th did not start the march until around 7:00 P.M.  They marched until 3:00 in the morning.  At that time, the marchers were given a one hour break.  At 4:00 A.M., they began the march again.  They reached the barrio of Lamao at around 8:00 A.M.  There the POWs were allowed to try to find food.  Little was found.

    The POWs again were ordered to move at 9:00 A.M.  The column reached Limay at noon.  For Harold and the other tankers, this was from where they really started the death march.  Up to this time, the guards, regular combat soldiers, had shown a great deal of respect for them since the guards were combat troops.  As they got further north, the treatment kept getting worse when non-combat troops took over for them.

    When the POWs reached San Fernando, they were herded into a bullpen.  The ground was covered in human waste from previous POWs.  The POWs remained there until they were ordered to form 100 men detachments next and were marched to the train station. There, they boarded small wooden boxcars which were known as forty or eights.  The cars could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car.

     During the trip to Capas, the POWs were packed in so tightly that those who died remained standing.  When the living left the cars, the dead fell to the floor.  After walking another ten miles, they finally reached Camp O'Donnell.

    Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army training base that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp with only one water spigot for the entire camp.  The death rate among the POWs increased the longer the POWs were in the camp.  It reached the point that even the Japanese realized that something had to be done.  They opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.

    Being a healthier POW, Harold was sent to Cabanatuan.  He remained there until December 12, 1942, when he went out on a work detail to Lipa Batangas.  The POWs on the detail built runways with picks and shovels.  Every other day, the POWs worked on local farms.  Harold remained on the detail for nearly two years when he was sent to Bilibid Prison. 

    Rumors stated that a detachment of POWs was going to be sent out.  On December 8th, a list of names was posted.  These men were given physicals.  On December 12, 1944, the POWs went through what was a farce of an inspection.  They were told cigarettes, soap, and salt would be issued.  The POWs were also told that they would also receive a meal to eat and one to take with them.  The Japanese stated they would leave by 7:00 in the morning, so the lights were left on all night.  At 4:00 A.M. the morning of December 13th, the POWs were awakened.    

    At 7:00 A.M., the POWs were lined up and roll call was taken of the men who had been selected for transport to Japan.  The prisoners were allowed to roam the compound until they were told to "fall-in."  At 11:30, the POWs formed 100 men detachments and marched the two miles to the pier.  During the march down Luzon Boulevard, the POWs saw that the street cars had stopped running and many things were in disrepair.   

    At the harbor, the POWs saw that American bombers were doing a job on the Japanese transports.  There were at least forty wrecked ships in the bay.  When the POWs reached Pier 7, there were three ships docked.  One was a rundown ship, the other two were large and in good shape.  They soon discovered that one of the two nicer ships was theirs.
    The POWs were allowed to sit, and many of them fell asleep.  At 5:00 in the afternoon, the POWs were boarded onto the Oryoku Maru and put in one of the ship's holds.  The high ranking officers were the first put into the ship's afthold.  Being the first on meant that they would suffer many deaths.  Around the perimeter of the hold were two tiers of bunks for the POWs.  The heat was so bad that men soon began to pass out.  One survivor said, "The fist fights began when men to pass out.  We knew that only the front men in bay would be able to get enough air."  The POWs who were closer to the hold's hatch, used anything they could find to fan air toward those further away from it.
    The ship sailed and became a part of a convoy which moved without lights.  The cries for air began as the men lost discipline, so the Japanese threatened to cover the holds and cut off all air.  When the Japanese sent down fried rice, cabbage, and fried seaweed, those further back from the opening got nothing.
    At 10:00 P.M., the Japanese interpreter threatened to have the guards fire into the holds unless the POWs stopped screaming.  Some of the POWs fell silent because they were exhausted, and others because they had died.  One major of the 26th Cavalry stated the man next to him had lost his mind.  Recalling the conversation he had with the man he said, "Worst was the man who had gone mad but would not sit still.  One kept pestering me, pushing a mess kit against my chest, saying, 'Have some of this chow? It's good.'  I smelled of it, it was not chow.  'All right'  he said, 'If you don't want it. I'm going to eat it.' And a little later I heard him eating it , right beside me."
    The Japanese covered the holds and would not allow the slop buckets to be taken out of the holds.  Those POWs who were left holding the buckets at first asked for someone else to hold it for awhile.  When that did not work, they dumped the buckets on the men around them.
    As light began to enter the hold as morning came, the POWs could see men who were in stupors, men out of their minds, and men who had died.  The POWs in the aft hold which also had a sub-hold, put the POWs who out of their minds into it.
    On the side of the holds, water had condensed on the walls so the POWs tried to scrap it off the wall for a drink.  The Japanese did allow men who had passed out to be put on deck, but as soon as they revived they went back into the holds.  The Japanese would not allow the bodies of the men who had died to be removed from the holds.  
    The POWs received their first meal at dawn.  Meals on the ship consisted of a little rice, fish, some water, and three fourths of a cup of water was shared by 20 POWs.  It was 8:00 A.M., off the coast of Luzon, and the POWs had just finished eating breakfast when they heard the sound of guns.  At first, they thought the gun crews were just drilling, because they had not heard any planes.  It was only when the first bomb hit in the water and the ship shook that they knew it was not a drill.
     At first it seemed that most of the planes were attacking the other ships in the convoy.  Commander Frank Bridgit, had made his way to the top of the ladder into the hold and sat down.  He gave the POWs a play by play of the planes attacking, "I can see two planes going for a freighter off our starboard side.  Now two more are detached from the formation.  I think they may be coming for us." 
    The POWs heard the change in the sound of the planes' engines as they began their dives toward the ships in the convoy.  Several more bombs hit the water near the ship causing it to rock  Explosions were taking place all around the ship.  In an attempt to protect themselves, the POWs piled baggage in front of them.  Bullets from the planes were ricocheted in the hold causing many casualties.  .
    Lt. Col. Elvin Barr of the 60th Coast Artillery came up to Maj, John Fowler of the 26th Cavalry on the cargo deck and said, "There's a hole knocked in the bulkheads down there.  Between 30 and 40 men have already died down there."  Barr would never reach Japan.  The attack by 30 to 50 planes lasted for about 20 to 30 minutes.  When the planes were ran out of bombs they strafed.  Afterwards, the planes flew off, returning to their carrier, and there was a lull of about 20 to 30 minutes before the next squadron of planes appeared over the ships and resumed the attack.  This pattern repeated itself over and over during the day. 
    In the hold, the POWs concluded that the attacking planes were concentrating on the bridge of the ship.  They noted that the planes had taken out all the anti-aircraft guns leaving only .30 caliber machine guns to defend the ship. 
    At 4:30 P.M., the ship went through the worse attack on it.  It was hit at least three times by bombs on its bridge and stern.  Most of the POWs, who were wounded, were wounded by ricocheting bullets and shrapnel from exploding bombs.  During the attack Chaplain Cummings, a Catholic priest, led the POWs in the Our Father.  As they prayed, the bombs that exploded near the ship sent torrents of water over the ship.  Bullets from the planes hit the metal plates, of the haul, at an angle that prevented most of them from penetrating the haul.  Somewhere on the ship a fire started, but it was put out after several hours.  The POWs lived through seven or eight attacks before sunset.  Overall, six bombs hit the ship.  One hit the stern of the ship killing many POWs.
    At dusk the ship raised anchor and headed east.  It turned south and turned again this time heading west.  The next turn it made was north. It headed in this direction for a good amount of time before dropping anchor at about 8:00 P.M.  The POWs figured out that they had just sailed in a circle.  What had happened is that the ship's had been hit during the attack and the ship could not be steered.
    Sometime after midnight, the POWs heard the sound of the Japanese civilians being evacuated from the ship.  During the night, the POW medics were ordered onto the deck to treat the Japanese wounded.  One medic recalled that the dead, dying, and wounded were everywhere.
    The ship reached Subic Bay at 2:30 in the morning and steamed closer to the beach where its anchor was dropped.  At 4:00 A.M., the POWs were told that they would disembark at daybreak at a pier.  The moaning and muttering of POWs who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night.  That night 25 POWs died in the hold.
    It was December 15th and the POWs sat in the ship's holds for hours after dawn.  The first 35 POWs were taken out of the hold and went into the water.  At 8:00 A.M. as the other POWs waited, the sound of A Japanese guard yelled into the hold at the POWs, "All go home; speedo!" He shouted that the wounded would be the first to be evacuated.   Suddenly, he looked up and shouted, "Planes, many planes!"  As the POWs were abandoning ship the planes returned and continued the attack.  The ship bounced in the water from the explosions.  Chief Boatswain Clarence M. Taylor who was in the water said, "I saw the whole thing. A bomb fall, hit near the stern hatch, and debris go flying up in the air."
    In the hold, the POWs crowded together.  Chips of  rust fell on them from the ceiling.  After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started.  In the hold a Catholic priest, Father Duffy, began to pray, "Father forgive them.  They know not what they do."
    The Japanese guards and interpreter had abandoned ship, but the ship's captain remained on board.  He told the POWs in his limited English that they needed to get off the ship to safety.  The POWs made their way over the side and into the water.  As they swam to shore, the Japanese fired at them, with machine guns, to prevent them from escaping.  
    Four of the planes flew low over the water above the POWs.  The POWs waved frantically at the planes so they would not be strafed.  The planes banked and flew lower over the POWs.  This time the pilots dipped their wings to show that they knew the men in the water were Americans.  About a half hour later, the ship began to really burn and the bodies of the dead could be seen on the decks.
    The Japanese sent out a motorboat with a machine gun and snipers on it.  The POWs attempting to escape were hunted down and shot.  It is believed as many as 30 men died in the water.
    There was no real beach so the POWs climbed up on a seawall and found the the Japanese Naval Landing Party had set up a machine gun and had just laid flat to rest when the gun opened up on them.   Those who came ashore were warned to stay in the water, but only did so when one man climbed up on the seawall and was wounded.  There were also Japanese snipers in wait to shoot anyone who attempted to escape.

    It is not known when, but Sgt. Harold Schenk died during the attack on the Oryoku Maru.  He may have been killed in the ship's hold from ricocheting bullets or from shrapnel from exploding bombs, or he may have been killed, by Japanese fire, as he swam to shore.  Whatever was the cause of his death, Sgt. Harold Schenk was reported to have died on December 15, 1944, during the sinking of the Oryoku Maru. 

    After the war, the name of Sgt. Harold Schenk was placed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.


 

 


 

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