Sgt. Donald Kenneth Semrow
| Sgt. Donald K.
Semrow was born on January 4, 1922, in Janesville,
Wisconsin, to George P. Semrow and Alice L.
McPherson-Semrow. With his two sister and four
brothers, he lived at 303 South Pearl Street in
Janesville. While he was a child, his father
died, in 1929, his younger brother, Robert, died in
1930, and his mother died in 1939. With his
mother's death, Donald left school,, and his younger
brother, Bruce, and him were taken in by William and
Majorie Goselin. While living with the Goselins,
he worked as a janitor of the National Youth
Donald joined the Wisconsin National Guard in Janesville and was called to federal service in the fall of 1940. The company was designated A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, and left for Fort Knox, Kentucky, on November 28th. During his time at Ft. Knox, Donald learned to operate the equipment of the tank battalion. He also was promoted to corporal and completed the classwork to receive his high school diploma.
A typical day for the soldiers started in 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics at 8:00 to 8:30. Afterwards, the tankers went to various schools within the company. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics.
At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13th, such as: mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played. On January 13th, he was assigned to one of the schools at the fort for specialized training.
The 192nd was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers from September 1st through 30th. It was at the end of the maneuvers that the tankers were ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. On the side of a hill, the battalion members were informed that they were being sent overseas, and the decision had been made by General George S. Patton. Those members of the battalion who were 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service.
The battalion traveled by train, over different routes, to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, and were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the U.S.A.T Gen. Frank M. Coxe. On the island, they received inoculations and physicals, from the battalion's medical detachment, and those members of the battalion found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion, while other men were replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27, at 9:00 P.M. 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. After leaving Pearl Harbor, it was joined by the U.S.S. Louisville and the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. During this part of the voyage, on Saturday, November 15, smoke 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 ship was from a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam the next day, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila on Monday, November 17. 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.
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 received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. 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 prepared for maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members, or half-track crew members, remained with each vehicle at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
The morning of December 8, the members of A Company were informed of the Japanese attack on Clark Field by their officers, and the tank crews were brought up to full strength. Many of the soldiers believed that this was the start of the maneuvers. About 12:45 in the afternoon as the tankers were eating lunch, planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, the soldiers thought the planes were American. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.
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.
That night, the tankers lived through several more air raids. Most slept under their tanks since it was safer then sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed for the next three and one half years.
On December 12, A Company was ordered to the barrio of Dau so it would be near a road and railroad and protect them from sabotage. For the next four months, the tankers held positions so that the other units could disengage and form a defensive line. At some point, Donald was promoted to sergeant.
On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write. After he was buried, the tankers 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 at 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 were asked to hold the position for six hours; they held it until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
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 also in January 1942, that the food ration was cut in half. It was not too long after this was done that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers. January 1942, that food rations were cut in half. It wasn't too long after this that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever, began hitting the soldiers.
A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read. The company returned to the 192nd on January 8, 1942.January 1942, that the food ration was cut in half. It was not too long after this was done that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers.
On March 2 or 3, during "The Battle of the Points." The tanks had been sent in to wipe out two pockets of Japanese soldiers who had been landed behind the main defensive line. The first group Japanese had been cut off and when the Japanese attempted to land reinforcements, they landed them at the wrong place creating another pocket. The two pockets were wiped out.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack, with fresh troops from Shanghai, 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.
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."
The night of April 8, 1942, the members of A Company circled their tanks. Each tank fired one armor piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. The tankers next opened up the gasoline valves and dropped hand grenades into the turrets. The next morning at 7:00 A.M. they became Prisoners of War.
The POWs made their way north from Mariveles. The first five miles of the march were uphill which was hard on men who were underfed and sick. At one point, the members of the company had to run past Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor. They received little water and little food. When they reached San Fernando, they were put into a bull pen. In one corner of the bull pen was a trench the POWs were suppose to use as a washroom. The surface of the trench was alive with maggots. How long they remained in the bull pen is not known.
The Japanese ordered the POWs to form detachments of 100 POWs. They were marched to the train station and packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. Each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing since there was no place for them to fall. At Capas, the living left the cars and the dead fell to the floors of the cars. They walked the last 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.
While Donald a POW at Camp O'Donnell, he became ill and was put into the camp hospital. When the Japanese opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan, to lower the death rate among the POWs, Donald was considered too ill to be moved. According to the records kept by the medical staff at Camp O'Donnell, Sgt. Donald K. Semrow died from dysentery and malaria on Wednesday, July 22, 1942, and was buried in the camp cemetery in Section P, Row: 3 Grave 9.
After the war, the remains of Sgt. Donald K. Semrow were positively identified, and at the request of Donald's brother, Francis, the remains of Sgt. Donald K. Semrow were reburied at the new American Cemetery at Manila. He was buried in Plot N, Row 13, Grave 91.