Pvt. William Herman Sommerlund
| Pvt. William
H. Sommerlund was born in Granton, Wisconsin, on
September 8, 1919. He was the son of Hans
and Minnie Sommerlund who had come to the United
States from Denmark. As a child he
attended local schools in Granton. As a teenager, William
went to Iowa to find work on farms. In early
1941, when it became apparent that he was going to
be drafted into the army, he went back to his
Granton to enlist in the army.
On April 7, 1941, at Camp Grant, Illinois, William was inducted into the U.S. Army and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. Upon arriving there, he was assigned to A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion which was originally a Wisconsin National Guard Company from Janesville. After completing basic training, William attended tank school where he qualified as a tank driver.
In July 1941, he returned home on a seven day furlough to visit his parents before returning to Ft. Knox. After he returned, the 192nd was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers from September 1 through 30. It was after the maneuvers the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. It was there that the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas. He received a furlough home to say his goodbyes.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf 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 that a large radio transmitter. The island was hundred of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
A Company traveled west to San Francisco by train and arrived in San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. There, they received a physical and inoculations, by the battalion's medical detachment, and those men with minor medical conditions were held 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. A. T. 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 2 and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and the S. S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line. On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
Guam on Sunday, November 16,
the ships took
for Manila the
day. At one
an island at
night and did
so in total
This for many
soldiers was a
sign that they
Bay, at 8:00
and docked at
Pier 7 later
At 3:00 P.M.,
most of the
taken by bus
drove them to
behind at the
pier to unload
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 and took their positions
around the airfield. A number of the
tankers believed this was the start of the
maneuvers. At 8:30 A.M., American took off
to intercept any Japanese planes and filled the
sky. At noon, the planes
landed, to be refueled, and were lined up near
the mess hall. The pilots went to lunch.
The tankers were eating lunch
when planes were seen approaching the
airfield, from the north, at about
12:45. Many of the tankers counted 54
planes. As the planes approached the
airfield, the soldiers watched what was
described as "raindrops" falling from the
planes. When the raindrops began
exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the
planes were Japanese.
The company was sent to the Barrio of Dau, on
December 12, so it would be close to a highway
and railroad to guard them against
saboage. From there, the company was sent
to join the other companies of the 192nd just
south of the Agno River.
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
command of the 192nd on January 8, 1942.
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
During the next four months, William fought numerous engagements against the Japanese. At one point, his company was strafed and bombed by Japanese planes attempting to knock out American artillery located next to the company's bivouac area.
William was wounded twice during the Battle of
Bataan. On one occasion he received a
bullet wound to the head. On another
occasion, he was hit in right thigh by shrapnel
from an exploding shell.
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
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.
William and the rest of the company stayed in their bivouac and waited for orders to march. The next day Japanese soldiers arrived. The Japanese roughed up the Americans and took anything they wanted from them. William and the other members of the company were then ordered to go to Mariveles. It was from Mariveles that William started what became known as the death march.
On the march, William received no water and little food. At one point, he and the other men had to run across a field being used by Japanese artillery to shell Corregidor. As they crossed in front of the artillery, shells from Corregidor landed around them.
At San Fernando, William boarded a small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. Each car could hold 40 men, but 100 POWs were packed into the each car and the doors were closed. At Capas, the POWs disembarked and walked the last 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.
On July 23, 1943, William was boarded onto the Clyde Maru, which sailed on July 23, but instead of heading to Formosa, it headed to Santa Cruz, Zambales and arrived there the same day. The ship stayed in harbor for three days as manganese ore was loaded. It sailed on July 26 and arrived in Formosa on July 28th. On August 5 it sailed and arrived at Moji, Japan, on August 7, 1943.
After he arrived in Japan, William, and the other POWs, were taken to a train deport and sent to Omuta, Kyushu. From there, he was sent to Fukuoka #17. The POWs in the camp were used as slave labor in a condemned coal mine. The POWs head to work bent over since they were much taller than the average Japanese.
The barracks the POWs were housed in were 120 feet long and 20 feet wide. Each was divided into ten rooms. Four to six POWs slept in a room.
At some point in 1945, William was transferred to Fukuoka #1. The date this transfer took place is not known. One day the prisoners got up to work but were told that this was a holiday. William and the other POWs knew something was up since this was the first holiday that they got the day off for. When the guards fled and American planes appeared over the camp and dropped food and clothing, the POWs knew the war was over.
In September, 1945, William and the other POWs were liberated. At the time of his liberation, he weighed 86 pounds. After liberation,he saw the effects of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. He was returned to the Philippines, to be fattened up, before being returned to the United States. While he was in the Philippines, he was promoted from private to corporal and finally to sergeant.
William arrived back with the United States on October 28, 1945, on the S.S. Klipfontein, at Seattle, Washington. It was almost four years, to the day, since he had left the U.S. for the Philippines. He was Madighan General Hospital at Ft. Lewis, Washington, and later sent to Schick General Hospital in Clinton, Iowa. There, he met his future wife who was working as a medical assistant in the hospital. William was discharged on January 28, 1947, and married on March 24, 1950.
William stayed in Iowa and became a farmer. In 1999, William was diagnosed with cancer, and just before Christmas, he suffered a stroke. William H. Sommerlund passed away on January 13, 2000.
The photo at the top of this page was taken after William had returned home in 1945.