Bataan Project - 194th Tank Battalion, Co. A - Pvt. Walter B. Straka
Bataan Project

Pvt. Walter Bernard Straka


Born: 24 October 1919 - Brainerd, Minnesota

Parents: Frank & Mary Straka

Siblings: 1 sister, 2 brothers

Home: 220 North Eighth Street, Brainerd, Minnesota

Nickname: "Jake"
Enlisted: Minnesota National Guard
    - 1936
        - joined when he was 16 years old
        - Captain Ernest Miller convinced Walter's father to let him to stay in
            - the two men were good friends

Inducted:

    - U.S. Army

        - 10 February 1941 - Brainerd, Minnesota
        - Walter commented on leaving Brainerd, "I can never remember seeing such a crowd.  It was almost as though they had a premonition that something would happen."

Training: 

    - Fort Lewis, Washington

Units: 

    - A Company, 194th Tank Battalion
        - tank crew member

Note: On August 15, 1941, the 194th received orders, from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, 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 for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundred of miles away.  The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field.  By the time the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
    The next morning, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore.  Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Overseas Duty:
    - 4 September  1941
        - battalion traveled by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California
    - Arrived: 7:30 A.M. - 5 September 1941
        - ferried to Ft. McDowell, Angel Island on U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe
        - given physicals and inoculations
        - men with medical conditions replaced
    - S. S. President Calvin Collidge

        - Boarded: Monday - 8 September 1941 - 3:00 P.M.
        - Sailed: 9:00 P.M. - same day

            - at some point Walter and the other soldiers took a tour of the ship
        - Arrived: Honolulu, Hawaii - Saturday - 13 September 1941 - 7:00 A.M.
        - Sailed: 5:00 P.M. - same day
            - took a southerly route away from major shipping lanes
            - escorted by, U.S.S. Astoria, and an unknown destroyer
        - Tuesday- 16 September 1941 - crossed International Dateline
            - date became - Thursday - 18 September 1941
        - Arrived: Manila - Friday - 26 September 1941
            - disembarked: 3:00 P.M.
            - taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg
            - returned to Manila to help 17th Ordnance unload tanks

Stationed:
    - Ft. Stotsenburg
        - lived in tents until barracks completed - 15 November 1941  
        - 1 December 1941
            - tanks ordered to perimeter of Clark Field
            - 194th guarded north end of airfield with 192nd guarding south portion
            - two crew members of each tank and half-track remained with vehicle at all times
                - meals served by food trucks
            - those not assigned to a tank or half-track remained at command post 

Engagements: 

    - Battle of Luzon

        - 8 December 1941 - 6 January 1942
            - during attack on Clark Field his tank driver, Arvid Danielson, was hit by shrapnel in his posterior
            - he was bleeding so bad, that Walter used his t-shirt to stop the bleeding
                - saved Danielson's life

            - American planes were lined up in a straight line outside the mess hall
             - about them, he said, "The Japanese came in low and fast , bombing and strafing, and they got almost all of them."

            - 12 December 1941
                - moved to new bivouac south to San Fernando near Calumpit Bridge
                    - arrived 6:00 A.M.
            - 15 December 1941
                - received 15 Bren gun carriers
                - turned some over to 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts
        - 194th sent to Batangas
            - Walter recalled that as they went through Manila they saw Gen. MacArthur pinning medals on members of his staff

                - he found it amusing since none of them had been in combat
            - at Batangas, his tank platoon was on one end of the town and the Japanese were at the other end of the town
            - 22 December 1941
                - sent to Rosario
                    - west and north of the of barrio
                    - ordered out of the 71st Division Commander
                        - said they would hinder the cavalry's operation
            - 22/23 December 1941
                - operating north of Agno River
                - main bridge at Carmen bombed

                - wounded

            - 24 December 1942

                - ordered to proceed to Carmen area along Agno River

                - arrived 7:00 P.M.

                    - saw Japanese planes over Clark Field

                    - the planes never attacked the tanks

            - 24/25 December 1941
                - tank battalions make end run to get south of Agno River
                    - ran into Japanese resistance but successfully crossed river
            - 25/26 December 1941
                - held south bank of Agno River from west of Carmen to Carmen-Akcaka-Bautista
                  Road
                - 192nd held from Carmen to (Route 3) to Tayug (northeast of San Quintin)
            - 26/27 December 1941
                - ordered to withdraw
                    - 1 platoon forced its way through way through Carmen
                        - lost two tanks
                            - one tank belonged to company commander - Captain Edward Burke
                                - believed dead, but was actually captured
                            - one tank crew rescued
                - new line Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas-San Jose
                - rest of battalion made a dash out
                    - lost one tank at Bayambang
                    - another tank went across front receiving fire and firing on Japanese
                - Lt. Petree's platoon fought its way out and across Agno River
                - D Company, 192nd, lost all its tanks except one
                    - the tank commander found a crossing
                    - Japanese would use tanks later on Bataan
            - 29/30 December 1941
                - new line at Bamban River established
                - tank battalions held line until ordered to withdraw
            - 30/31 December 1941
                - tank battalions held Calumpit Bridge
                - covering withdraw of Philippine Divisions south on Rt. 3, San Fernando
            - 2 January 1942
                - both tank battalions ordered to withdrawal to Lyac Junction
                - 194th withdrew there on Highway 7
            - 5 January 1942
                - C Company and A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, withdrew from Guagua-Poraline Line and moved into position between
                  Sasmuan and Lubao
                - 1:50 A.M. - Japanese attempted to infiltrate
                    - bright moonlight made them easy to see
                    - tanks opened fire
                    - Japanese lay down smoke which blew back into them
                - 3:00 A.M. - Japanese broke off engagement
                    - suffered 50% casualties
                - Remedios - established new line along dried creek bed 
            - 6/7 January 1942
                - 194th, covered by 192nd, crosses Culis Creek into Bataan
                - both battalions bivouacked south of Aubucay-Hacienda Road
                - rations cut in half
Of the withdrawal he said, "This meant that, as the units withdrew, all would clear through us, after which we would put ourselves between them and the Japanese."

    - Battle of Bataan

        - 7 January 1942 - 9 April 1942
           - January 1942
                - tank companies reduced to three tanks per platoon
           - 8 January 1942

                - composite tank company made up of tanks from the 192nd and 194th sent to protect
                  East Coast Road north of Hermosa
                    - their job was to keep the East Road open  north of Hermosa and prevent the
                      Japanese from driving into Bataan before the main battle line had been formed
                - remainder of tanks ordered to bivouac for night south of Aubucay-Hacienda Road
                    - tankers had been fighting for a month without a rest
                    - tanks also needed overdue maintenance
                    - 17th Ordnance
                - all tank companies reduced to ten tanks
                - three per tank platoon
                - sent to reopen Moron Road so General Segunda's forces could withdraw
                - tanks knock out an anti-tank gun
                - two tanks disabled by landmines but recovered
                - mission abandoned
                - Gen. Segunda's troops escaped using beach but lost their heavy equipment
            - 12 January 1942
                - C Company, with D Company, 192nd, sent to Cadre Road
                    - forward position with little alert time
            - 13 January 1942
                - mines planted by ordnance prevented them from reaching Cadre Road
                - returned to battalion
            - 16 January 1942
                -  C Company sent to Bagac to reopen Moron Highway
                    - highway had been cut by Japanese
                    - Moron Highway, and Junction of Trail 162
                        - tank platoon fired on by antitank gun
                            - tanks knock out gun
                            - cleared roadblock with support of infantry
            - 20 January 1942
                - Banibani Road -tanks sent in to save 31st Infantry command post
            - 24 January 1942
                - tanks order to Hacienda Road in support of troops
                     - landmines planted by ordnance prevented them from reaching road
            - 26 January 1942
                - the battalion held a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road
                - four self-propelled mounts with the battalion
            - 9:45 A.M. - warned by Filipino a large Japanese force was coming
                - when the enemy appeared they opened up with all the battalion had
                - 10:30 A.M. - Japanese withdrew after losing 500 of 1200 men
                - prevented new defensive line being formed from being breached
            - 28 January 1942
                - 194th tanks given beach duty protecting southern beaches
                - guarded coast from Limay to Cabcaben
                - half-tracks patrolled roads
                    - maintained radio contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols
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."
        - February 1942
            - tank battalions on their own guarded airfields
            - battalions also guarded beaches to prevent Japanese from landing troops      
        - March 1942
                - two tanks were bogged down in mud
                - the tankers were working to get them out
                - Japanese Regiment entered the area
                - Lt. Col. Miller ordered tanks and artillery to fire at point blank range
                    - Miller ran from tank to tank directing fire
                - wiped out Japanese regiment
        - 4 April 1942
            - Japanese launched major offensive
            - tanks sent into various sectors to stop Japanese advance
        - 6 April 1942
            - four tanks sent to support 45th Philippine Infantry and 75th Infantry, Philippine Scouts
                - one tank knocked out by anti-tank fire at junction of Trails 8 & 6
                - other tanks covered withdraw
            - 3rd Platoon sent up west coast road
                - near Mount Samat ran into heavy Japanese force
                - the tanks withdrew to Marivales
        - 8 April 1942
            - fighting on East Coast Road at Cabcaban
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."
            - 10:30 P.M. - Gen. King announced that further resistance would result in the massacre of 6,000 sick or wounded troops and 40,000
              civilians
            - less than 25% of his troops were healthy enough to continue fighting
            - he estimated they could hold out one more day
            - sent his staff officers to negotiate the surrender of Bataan
            - 11:40 P.M. - ammunition dumps blown up

Prisoner of War: 

    - 9 April 1942

        - Death March
        - received order to destroy equipment and report to kilometer marker 168.2.
            - Provisional Tank Group Headquarters
        - Japanese officers told Col. Ernest Miller to keep them there until ordered to move
    - 10 April 1942
        - 7:00 P.M. - started march from Provisional Tank Group headquarters
        - 3:00 A.M. - halted and rested for an hour
        - 4:00 A.M. - resume march
            - at times slipped on remains of dead who had been killed by Japanese shelling
    - 11 April 1942
        - 8:00 A.M. -reached Lamao
            - allowed to forage for food
        - 9:00 A.M. - resumed march
        - Noon - reached Limay and main road
            - officers, majors and up, separated from lower ranking officers and enlisted men
    - Death March

        - Limay - joined main march
        - 4:00 P.M officers put on trucks
            - officers arrived at Balanga
            - Japanese find handgun in field bag of an officer
                - he was clubbed and bayoneted
                - because of this they were not fed

        - Walter did march with Jim McComas and three other members of A Company

            - helped each other throughout march
        - Orani
            - herded into a fenced in area and ordered to lie down
            - in morning found they had been lying in human waste
            - latrine in one corner was crawling with maggots
            - ordered to form 100 men detachments
            - POWs marched at faster pace
            - fewer breaks
                - when given break, the POWs sat on road
        - North of Hermosa the POWs reached pavement
            - made march easier
            - POWs given an hour rest on road
            - those who attempt to lay down are jabbed with bayonets
            - POWs march through Layac and Lurao
            - rains - POWs drank as much as they could
        -  San Fernando
            - POWs put in groups of 200 to be fed
                - one POW sent to get a box of rice for each group
                - pottery jars of water given out the same way
    - 20 April 1942
        - formed detachments of 100 men and marched to train station
        - POWs put into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane
            - each boxcar could hold eight horses or forty men
            - 100 POWs packed into each car
            - POWs who died remained standing
    - Capas - dead fell to floor as living left boxcars
        - as POWs formed ranks, Filipinos threw sugarcane to POWs
        - also gave them water
        - POWs walked last 8 kilometers to Camp O'Donnell

        - took Walter ten days to complete march

        - As for food on the march, in Straka's own words, "All the food they gave us could have been put in a quart bucket."
He also said pointing to a coffee cup,"A cup full of of rice like that and that's all I got on the entire march.....I got out of line once to get some water at an artesian well, and I got a rifle butt right in the back.  It still bothers me to this day where I got hit."

POW Camps:

    - Philippine Islands:

        - Camp O'Donnell

            - 1 April 1942 - unfinished Filipino training base Japanese put into use as a POW camp
                - Japanese believed the camp could hold 15,000 to 20,000 POWs
            - POWs searched upon arrival at camp
                - those found with Japanese money were accused of looting
                - sent to guardhouse
                - over several days, gun shots heard southeast of the camp
                    - POWs who had money on them had been executed
            - Japanese took away any extra clothing from POWs as they entered the camp and refused to return it
                - since no water was available for wash clothing, the POWs threw soiled clothing away
                - clothing was taken from dead
                - few of the POWs in the camp hospital had clothing
            - POWs were not allowed to bathe
            - only one water spigot for entire camp
                - POWs waited 2½ hours to 8 hours to get a drink

                    -of this, he said, "It was four days before I got a drink."
                    - water frequently turned off by Japanese guards and next man in line waited as long as 4 hours for water to be turned on again
                    - mess kits could not be cleaned
                - POWs had to carry water 3 miles from a river to cook their meals
                - second water spigot installed a week after POWs arrived
            - slit trenches overflowed since many of the POWs had dysentery
                - flies were everywhere including in camp kitchens and food
            - camp hospital had no water, soap, or disinfectant
            - the senior POW doctor wrote a list of medicines he wanted to treat the sick and was told by the camp commandant, Capt. Yoshio
              Tsuneyoshi, never to write another letter
                - Tsuneyoshi said that all he wanted to know about the American POWs was their names and numbers when they died
                    - refused to allow a truckload of medicine sent by the Archbishop of Manila into the camp
                    - 95% of the medicine sent by Philippine Red Cross was taken by the Japanese for their own use
            - POWs in camp hospital lay on floor elbow to elbow
            - operations on POWs were performed with mess kit knives
            - only one medic out of six assigned to care for 50 sick POWs, in the hospital, was well enough to work
            - as many as 50 POWs died each day
                - each morning dead were found everywhere in the camp and stacked up under the hospital
                - ground under hospital was scrapped and cover with lime to clean it
                - the dead were moved to this area and the section where they had laid was scrapped and cover with lime
                - usually not buried for two or three days
            - work details: if a POW could walk, he was sent out on a work detail
                - POWs on burial detail often had dysentery and malaria
                    - to bury the dead, the POWs held the body down with a pole while it was covered with dirt
                    - the next day when they returned, the bodies often were sitting up in the graves or had been dug up by wild dogs
            - POWs volunteered to go out on work details to get out of camp

            - upon first arriving at the camp, he recalled, "There were about 30 days at the beginning were we couldn't bury any bodies until Corregidor surrendered.  There was nothing to do but place the hundreds that had died in neat rows and wait."
       
- Work Detail   
           
- drove a truck
from Manila to bridge detail

                - men drove trucks without guards

                - wore an armband that allowed them to travel unescorted
            - came down with cerebral malaria    

            - so sick he had no idea how he got to Cabanatuan
        - Cabanatuan 

            - Straka came down with cerebral malaria and put into the camp
                - POWs received half food rations

              hospital on June 18, 1942.

            - in his own words, "The only thing different about it (being in the hospital) was that we didn't have to work.  But then are rations were cut
              in half too.  We knew about how many in the hospital and counted the rate they were dying.  We had it figured out just about how long we
              could live."

            - he suffered from malaria for a year and a half, he recalled, "When I went to sleep at night, I prayed that I would not wake up. Because if
              my religion, I could not kill myself, but there seemed no hope."

            - discharged from hospital - Monday - 1 February 1943

            Note: 16 April 1943 - parents learned he was a POW
            - hospitalized - Wednesday - 21 April 1943

            - discharged - no date given
        - July 1944 - volunteered for transport to Japan
        - 15 July 1944
            - 25 to 30 trucks arrived at camp to transport POWs to Manila 
                - POWs left at 8:00 P.M.
        - Bilibid Prison
            - arrived at 2:00 A.M. - 16 July 1944
            - only food they received was rotten sweet potatoes

Hell Ship:

       - Nissyo Maru
        - Friday - 17 July 1944 - POWs left prison at 7:00 A.M.
        - Boarded ship: same day
            - Japanese attempted to put all the POWs in one hold
            - when they couldn't, they put 900 the POWs in the forward hold
            - 600 POWs held in rear hold
        - Sailed: Manila - same day
            - dropped anchor at breakwater until 23 July 1944
            - POWs were not fed or given water for over a day and a half after being put in the ship's hold
            - POWs fed rice and vegetables twice a day and received two canteen cups of water each day
            - 23 July 1944 - 8:00 A.M. - ship moved to area off Corregidor and dropped anchor
        - Sailed: Monday - 24 July 1944 - as part of a convoy
            - some POWs cut the throats of other POWs and drank their blood
            - convoy attacked by American submarines
                - four of the thirteen ships in the convoy were sunk
                - a torpedo hit the ship but did not explode
        - Arrived: Takao, Formosa - Friday - 28 July 1944 - 9:00 A.M.
        - Sailed: same day - 7:00 P.M.
            - 30 July 1944 - 2 August 1944 - sailed through storm
        - Arrived: Moji, Japan - Thursday - 3 August 1944 - midnight

            -POWs issued new clothing

                - took the clothing back when they reached the camp
            - POWs disembarked and taken to a pier - Friday - 4 August 1944 - 8:00 A.M.
                - POWs put into a movie theater
                - later divided into 200 men detachments and sent to different POW camps
            - taken by train to POW camps along train lines

    - Japan

        - Fukuoka #3
            - wooden fence surrounded camp

            - Barracks:

                - flimsy wooden barracks

                    - 150 POWs in a barracks

                - two tiers around perimeter of barracks

                    - POWs slept on straw mats on tiers

                    - bottom tier 6 inches from floor

                    - top tier 6 feet from floor

                        - reached tier by ladders

                    - little heat from charcoal stoves

                    - POWs were constantly cold
                - venom
                    - barracks were infested with lice, bedbugs, and fleas

            - Latrines:
                - in separate room in each barracks
                    - 6 wooden stalls
                    - 1 urinal
                    - 4 sinks
                    - waste from latrines used in gardens
            - Bath:
                - dirty water used to bathe in
                    - smelled like sulpher
                - POWs could bathe daily in winter
                    - every other day in summer
                - went to bed right after bathing
            - Meals:
                - no mess hall
                - breakfast and dinner consisted of millet and daikon soup
                    - daikon was a white radish
                - lunch
                    - millet in a bento box
                    - POWs working outside received the largest meals
                    - no Red Cross food was ever given to the POWs

                    - on two occasions, POWs received rotten meat or fish

                        - gladly ate it
        - Hospital:
            - held 50 to 60 men
                - averaged 200 a day
                - fever was the only illness that got a POW out of work
                    - those sick with a temperature of 102 degrees or lower were sent to work

                        - To meet worker quotas, the sick POWs were required to work even if it meant they could possibly die from doing it
                    - contributed to the deaths of POWs
            - surgery was performed with crude tools or hacksaws
                - Japanese withheld Red Cross medicine, medical supplies, and equipment from POWs
                 - found in a warehouse after the war
            - Japanese doctor misappropriated the medical supplies

                - also made sick stand at attention in cold for four or five hours
                - as they stood there they were beaten
                - only after this was done did they receive medical treatment

        - Clothing:

            - Five days a month the POWs could exchange clothing

            - Japanese guard beat with fists or kicked the POWs who showed up to exchange clothing
                - felt the clothing was not worn out enough or too dirty

                - POWs stopped attempting to exchange clothing

            - 1300 work uniforms were found in a warehouse after the war
                 - 500 pairs of socks were also found
        - Shoes:

            - POWs who attempted to exchange shoes for new ones were beaten with their own shoes
            - Japanese claimed they had no shoes for the POWs, but after the war, over 100 pairs were found in a warehouse
            - 250 pounds of leather for shoe repair was also found
        - Work:
            - POWs worked as stevedores, mechanics, machinists, and laborers

            - at Yawata Steel Mills they did manual labor shoveling iron ore and rebuilding the ovens
                - work day was 9 to 10 hours long

            - sent into hot ovens to clean debris, since Japanese would not let them cool off

                - POWs worked as fast as they could
            - many of the products from the mill helped the Japanese war effort

                - manufactured hand grenades and shell casings

            - If an air raid took place while the POWs were at the mill, they were put into railway cars and the train was pulled into a tunnel.                          - Those POWs further from the tunnel took cover in two air raid shelters.

        - Punishment:
            - The POWs were beaten daily with fists and sticks for nor reason or violating camp rules, not saluting,

                - POWs taken to guardhous

                - beaten up with fists and clubs

                - stripped of clothing and thrown into water tank
                   - stood at attention outside in the cold, while standing water

                   - poured water over them.
                - after a few hours, the POW was sent back to his barracks
                    - POWs in man's barracks were punished by not receiving their cigarette ration
            - two brigs in the camp which had as many as 20 POWs in them at a time

            - POWs given water treatment

                - water forced up POW's nose until he passed out
                - revived and beaten
                - water treatment administered again

            - POWs burned with cigarettes
            - collective punishment
                - all the POWs were beaten for one POW violating a rule
                    - made to stand at attention for long periods of time

                    - 60 to 70 POWs were made to crawl on hands and knees

                        - beaten as they crawled
                    - rations were often reduced

        - 23 January 1945 - parents received two postcards from him written when he was at Cabanatuan and had no idea he was in Japan
        - 29 May 1945 - mother learned he was POW at Fukuoka #3

Liberated:
    - Walter was in the mill when the POWs were informed that the war was over

    - 13 September 1945
        - went to Nagasaki
            - remembered everything was ruined
            - deloused by Americans
            - weighed 89 pounds

        - sent to Okinawa

            - learned that the steel mill was suppose to be the site for second atomic bomb

            - flew over twice attempting to drop bomb
        - flown to Philippine Islands

    - 6 October 1945 - family learned he was liberated
Transport:
    - U.S.S. Marine Shark
        - Sailed: Manila - October 1945
        - Arrived: 1 November 1945 -  San Francisco, California

Hospitals:

     - Letterman General Hospital - San Francisco, California

       - sent telegram to mother - 2 November 1945
    - Schick General Hospital - Clinton, Iowa
       - learned his father had died in March 1945

Promoted: corporal

Discharged: November 1946 - Ft. Sheridan, Illinois
    - still suffered from dysentery

Married: Cleta Marie Sylvester

Children:

    - 4 daughters, 3 sons

Note: He is the last surviving National Guard member of A Company and possibly the last member of the 194th Tank Battalion


 

 


Walter Straka Interview




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