Capt. Robert S. Sorensen was the son of John & Nora Sorensen. He was born on April 5, 1903, and grew
up at 215 West Second Street in Port Clinton, Ohio, with his two sisters and brother. He was called
"Bob" by his family and friends.
Robert attended Port Clinton Schools and was a 1920 graduate of Port Clinton High
While he was still in high school, Robert joined the newly organized tank company of the Ohio National Guard in
April 20, 1920, as a private.
After graduation from high school, he worked in his father's grocery store and enrolled at Ohio State
While he was a student, he became a member of the Theta Chi Fraternity.
On July 16, 1923, he was promoted to corporal and held the rank until July 15, 1924, when it appears he
left the National Guard.
He graduated in 1925, from Ohio State, and married Marjorie Beerman.
On November 17, 1925, Robert rejoined the National Guard as a private and held the
rank for two days when he resigned as an enlisted man. He was commissioned a second lieutenant on
December 2, 1925. He held the rank until July 1, 1930, he was promoted to first lieutenant.
In 1940, the tank company was called to federal service. It was
now known as C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. At this time, Robert held the rank of first lieutenant.
With the other members of C Company, Robert trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
When the commanding officer of C Company failed to pass his physical. Robert assumed
command of the company. With the command, he was also promoted to captain on February 13, 1941.
During his time at Ft. Knox, Robert received a week's furlough home on June 5,
1941. During that time, the couple visited friends and family in Port Clinton.
From September 1 through 30, the 192nd took part in maneuvers in
Louisiana. It was at the end of these maneuvers that the battalion learned they were being sent
overseas. Those men who were 29 years old or older, or married, were allowed to resign from federal
service. On October 12, his parents left Port Clinton and visited him at Camp Polk before he went
overseas. During the visit they had no idea that this was the last time they would see their son.
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.
After the companies were brought up to strength with replacements, the battalion was
equipped with new tanks and half-tracks with came from the 753rd Tank Battalion. The battalion traveled
over different train routes to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, where they were taken by the ferry, the
U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Angel Island. At Ft. McDowell, on the island, they
received physicals and inoculations. Men found with minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled
to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd 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. The ship 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, another transport, 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 Dateline. 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.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas,
coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. 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 Airfield. He made sure that they all
received Thanksgiving Dinner - which was
a stew which was slung into their mess kits - before he went to have his own. Some men didn't
even get this. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had
expected to be released from federal service.
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.
They spent the next seventeen days preparing their equipment for use in the maneuvers
they expected to take part in with the 194th Tank Battalion. They removed cosmoline from their guns,
which had been greased to prevent them from rusting at sea, and loaded ammunition belts.
On Monday, December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to
guard it against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion was assigned the northern half of the airfield
while the 192nd protected the southern half. At all times, two crew members had two remain with their
tank or half-track and received their meals from food trucks. HQ Company made sure that the companies had
what they needed.
Sometime during the fight for the Philippines, Robert was hospitalized
because he had received a shrapnel wound to his abdomen. When he was released, he was reassigned to
Headquarters Company. He would later assume command of B Company. According to members of the
company, he was an excellent commander. He was in command of the company when the order to surrender came
on April 9, 1942.
On April 8, a plan was put in place to have B Company, D Company, and A
Company of the 194th Tank Battalion launch a suicide attack against the Japanese to stop their advance. As
the tankers were preparing to attack, at midnight, the order was revoked.
The next morning, the order "crash" came, Robert was with
his tanks and ordered the crews to destroy them. The tank crews cut the gas lines and threw torches into the
tanks. Within minutes, the ammunition inside the tanks began exploding. After this was done, Robert and
Major John Morley in made their way, in Bob's jeep, to Bayacaguin Point which was
the command post for the tank group. Behind them in halftracks were the tank crews of B Company.
On April 10, the Japanese arrived and ordered the HQ personnel onto the
road. In a letter home, Robert
witnessed "Japanese Discipline." If a prisoner fell, he was kicked in his
stomach and hit in the head with a rifle butt. If he still did not get up, the Japanese guard determined that
the man was exhausted.
Once on the trail, the soldiers reached the main road, the first thing the Japanese did was
to separate the officers from the enlisted men. They now were Prisoners of War. The first thing the
Japanese did was to leave them sitting in the sun for the rest of the day. That night they were ordered
north. The march was difficult in the dark since they could not see where they were walking. Whenever
they slipped, they knew they had stepped on the remains of a dead soldier.
The POWs made their way north against the flow of Japanese troops who
were moving south. At Limay on April 11th, they were put into a school yard and told that the officers
would be driven to the POW camp.
At 4:00 AM, the officers were put into trucks for an unknown
destination. They were taken to Balanga, disembarked, and ordered to put their field bags in front of
them for inspection. During the inspection, one officer was found to have an automatic gun in his
bag. As punishment the POWs were not fed. They set in a paddy all day and were ordered to move near
sunset. They were made to march as punishment for the gun being in the bag. They reached Orani on
April 12 at three in the morning.
At Orani, Robert and the others were put into a bin. They were ordered to lay
down. In the morning, Robert and the other men realized that they had been lying in the human waste of POWs
who had already used the bin. At noon, he received his first food. It was a meal of rice and
salt. Later in the day, other POWs arrived in Orani. One group was the enlisted members of the tank
group. They had walked the entire way to the barrio.
At 6:30 that evening, Robert resumed the march. This part of the
march was different, since the POWs were marched at a faster pace. The guards also seemed to be nervous
about something. This time they made the POWs made their way to Hormosa. There, the road went from
gravel to concrete. When the POWs were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lay down were jabbed
The POWs continued the march. For the first time in months, it
began to rain. For the exhausted POWs the rain felt great. At 4:30 PM on April 13, he arrived at
San Fernando. The POWs were once again put into a bin.
At 4:00 in the morning, the Japanese woke the POWs and marched them to the train
station. They were packed into small wooden boxcars and rode the train to Capas. There, they
disembarked from the cars and walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell 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
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. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something,
so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to
Capas. There, the were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was
switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard
where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been
the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was known as Camp Panagaian. The transfer of POWs
was completed on June 4.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan
and taken part in the death march where held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was
closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor
surrender were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were
sent to the camp. Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered
if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled
the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught, were
tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW
successfully escaped from the camp.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the "Blood Brother" rule. If one
man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were
beaten. Those who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being executed. It is not known if
any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120
POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many
quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived
together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens.
The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day on
any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. The POWs on the farm detail would have to go to a
shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit
them over their heads.
The detail was under the command of "Big Speedo" who spoke very little
English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs "speedo." Although he was
known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was "Little Speedo" who was
smaller and also used "speedo" when he wanted the POWs to work faster. The POWs also felt he was
pretty fair in his treatment of them. "Smiley" was another guard who always had a smile on his
face but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason. He
liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked
over with it. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Each
morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the
shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
Other POWs worked in rice paddies. While working in the fields, the favorite
punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a
guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought, or were given,
medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as "lugow" which meant
"wet rice." During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no
fruit. Once in awhile, they received bread.
The camp hospital was known as "Zero Ward" because it was missed by the
Japanese when they counted barracks. The sickest POWs were sent there to die. The Japanese put a
fence up around the building to protect themselves, and they would not go into the building. There were two
rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower
platform which had holes cut into it so the they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the
In the Fall of 1942, Robert was sent to Bilibid Prison. He was
then sent to the Port Area of Manila for shipment to Japan. On November 7, 1942, he was boarded onto the
Nagato Maru for a seventeen day trip to Japan. After a stop at Formosa, the ship arrived at Moji,
Japan, where the POWs were split into three groups.
In Japan, Robert was held at
Umeda Camp, outside
Osaka. The POWs in the camp worked as stevedores on the docks of Osaka. While he was there, he once again
became ill and was sent
Itchioka Hospital Camp
which was the original POW camp and had opened in June 1942. The sick, in the hospital, were underfed and
did not receive the proper medical treatment. According to post-war trial documents, the sick at the
hospital were subjected to beatings, repeated kicking, being hit with belts, and hit with wooden shoes.
In addtion Red Cross food, medical supplies, and medicines were appropriated by the Japanese for their own use.
It was at Itchioka Hospital that Capt. Robert S. Sorensen died on Monday, June 22,
1943 of dysentery. He was 40 years old. In early August 1943, Robert's wife, Marjorie, received
word of his death.
After his death, the body of Capt. Robert S. Sorensen was cremated and
his ashes were placed in a box and given to the camp commandant. After the war, his family requested that
his remains be returned to Port Clinton, but sometime later, his family appears to have changed their
mind. Capt. Robert S. Sorensen was finally buried at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila in
Plot E, Grave 4, Row 44.
The Sorensen Family also had Robert's name put on his parents headstone
in Lakeview Cemetery in Port Clinton, Ohio, after the war.