Thorman

 

Capt. Russell C. Thorman


    Capt. Russell C. Thorman was born on October 21, 1903, and was one of five sons of William F. Thorman & Minnie Drafahl-Thorman.  Russell worked as a salesman for a lumberyard, married Thelka, and was the father of a daughter.  The family lived at 465 South Fremont Street in Janesville, Wisconsin,   

    On June 8, 1921, Russell joined the Wisconsin National Guard and worked his way up the ranks from private until on June 8, 1921, he was promoted to corporal.  On November 9, 1932, he was promoted to sergeant and on January 31, 1938, he resigned as an enlisted man, and February 1, 1938, he was commissioned a second lieutenant.  He was than promoted to first lieutenant on March 7, 1940. 

    When the 32nd Division Tank Company was federalized in the fall of 1940, Thorman traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for one year of training.  In January 1941, he was transferred to B Company, and then Headquarters Company when it was formed.  He went  back to A Company, as its commanding officer, when Capt. Walter Write was put in command of D Company.  Later, he was the battalion's Staff Officer for Personnel or S-1 and later he became the battalion's adjutant.

    After taking part in maneuvers in Louisiana, Thorman and the other members of the battalion were ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox  It was at that time that the battalion members learned they were being sent overseas.  Being over 29 years of age, he was given the opportunity to resign from federal service but chose to remain with the 192nd.
    The decision for this move -  which had been made in August 1941 - was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, 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 which was hundred of miles away.  The island had a large radio transmitter.  The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
    When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.  The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat - with a tarp on its deck - which was seen making its way to shore.   Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.    
    Over different train routes, the companies of the battalion arrived in San Francisco, California, and were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe.  There, the battalion's doctors gave the men physicals and inoculations by the battalion's medical detachment.  Those with minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Other men were simply replaced.

    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S. A. T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th.  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, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
    On Wednesday, November 5th, 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 transport, S. S. Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th.  During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.  On Saturday, November 15th, 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 16th, 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 20th, 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 Colonel 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 20th 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.
    Thorman lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field and spent four months working to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines.  At some point, he was promoted to captain.  On April 9, 1942, he became a Prisoner of War.  He took part in what became known as the death march.  Thorman did the march with Dale Lawton and Carl Nickols.  For the POWs the heat, the lack of food, and the lack of water made the situation worse.  During five days on the march, all the three soldiers had to eat was one ball of rice.

    At San Fernando, Thorman and the others were crammed into small wooden boxcars known as “Forty or Eights.”  The cars could hold forty men or eight horses, but somehow the Japanese got 100 men into each one and closed the doors.  At Capas, the POWs got out of the cars.  The bodies of the dead fell out of the cars and onto the ground as the living exited the cars.  Thorman and the other men walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.

    It is not known if Capt. Thorman left Camp O'Donnell on a work detail.  What is known is that he was next held at Cabanatuan.  Medical records kept at the camp show that he was hospitalized on July 19, 1942, but do not state the reason he was admitted to the hospital or when he was discharged.  He remained in the camp until September 24, 1944, when his name appeared on a list of POWs being sent to Bilibid.

    After being transferred to Bilibid, Thorman’s name appeared on another list of POWs posted on December 8, 1944.  On December 12th, the POWs heard rumors that a detail was being sent out.  The POWs went through what was a farce of an physical.  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 other POWs were awakened.

    By 8:00, 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."  The men were fed a meal and then marched to Pier 7 in Manila.  During the march down Luzon Boulevard, the POWs saw that the street cars had stopped running and many things were in disrepair.

    After arriving at Pier 7, the POWs were allowed to sit down.  Many fell asleep and slept to around 3:45.  About 5:00 P.M., the POWs were boarded onto the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan. 

    Thorman was held in the rear hold.  The sides of the hold had two tiers of bunks that went around the diameter.  The POWs near the hatch used anything they could find to fan the air to the POWs further away from it. 

    One survivor said, "The fist fights began when men began 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 at 8:00 P.M., but it sailed around Manila Bay most of the night waiting for a convoy to form.  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."
    At 3:30 A.M., it became a part of a convoy, MATA 37, which moved without lights out of the bay.  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.
    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.
    The POWs were gathered together and marched to the tennis court at Olongapo Naval Station which was about 500 yards from the beach.  There, they were herded onto a tennis court.  The Japanese packed 1300 of the POWs on the court with 100 wounded POWs taking up a great amount of room at one end.  They could barely sit down and only lay down by lying partially on another man.  During this time, the POWs were not fed but did receive water.

    While the POWs were at Olongapo, a Japanese officer, Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart, that those too badly wounded to continue the trip would be returned to Bilibid.  Fifteen men were selected and loaded onto a truck.  They were taken into the mountains and never seen again.  They were executed and buried at a cemetery. 

    The POWs remained on the tennis court for nine days.  During their time of the courts, American planes attacked the area around them.  The men watched as the fighter bombers came in vertically releasing bombs as they pulled out of their dives.  On several occasions, the planes dove right at the POWs, dropped their bombs, and pulled out.  The bombs drifted over the POWs and landed away from them exploding on contact.

     Since the POWs had no place to hide, they watched and enjoyed the show.  They believed that the pilots knew they were Americans but had no way of knowing if this was true.  But what is known is that not one bomb was dropped on them even though they could be seen from the planes.

    The evening of December 16th, the Japanese brought 50 kilo bags of rice for the POWs.  About half of the rice had fallen out of the bags because of holes.  Each POW was given three spoons of raw rice, and a quarter of a spoon of salt.

    At about 8:00 AM on the morning of December 22nd, 22 trucks arrived at the tennis court.  Rumors flew on where they were going to be taken.  At about 4:00 PM, a Taiwanese guard told the POWs, in broken English, "No go Cabanatuan. Go Manila; maybe Bilibid."  The guard knew as little as the POWs. 

     On December 22nd, the POWs were taken by truck to San Fernando, Pampanga, arriving there about four or five in the afternoon.  Once there, they were put in a movie theater.  Since it was dark, the POWs saw it as a dungeon. 

     During their time at San Fernando, Pampanga, the POWs lived through several air raids.  The reason for the air raids was the barrio was military headquarters for the area.  Most of the civilians had been moved out of the barrio.   Many of the Americans began to believe they had been taken there so that they would be killed by their own countrymen. 

     December 23rd, at about 10:00 PM, the Japanese interpreter came and spoke to the ranking American officer about moving the POWs.  The Japanese loaded the seriously ill POWs into a truck.  Those remaining behind believed they were taken to Bilibid.  The remaining POWs were moved to a trade school building in the barrio.

     After 10:00 AM on December 24th, the POWs were taken to the train station.  The POWs saw that the station had been hit by bombings and that the cars they were to board had bullet holes in them from strafing.  180 to 200 were packed into steel boxcars with four guards also in the cars.  The doors of the boxcars were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible.  Ten to fifteen POWs rode on the roofs of the cars along with two guards.  The guards told these POWs that it was okay to wave to the American planes. 

     On December 25th, the POWs disembarked at San Fernando, La Union, at 2:00 AM and disembarked.  They walked two kilometers to a school yard on the southern outskirts of the barrio.  From December 25th until the 26th.  The POWs were held in a school house.  The morning of December 26th, the POWs were marched to a beach.  During this time the prisoners were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water.  The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater.   Many of those men died.

     The POWs were boarded onto another the Enoura Maru or the Brazil Maru.   On this ship, the POWs were held in three different holds.  The daily routine for the POWs on the ship was to have six men climb out of the hold.  Once on deck, they used ropes to pull up the dead and also pull up the human waste in buckets.  Afterwards, the men on deck would lower ten buckets containing rice, soup, and tea.

    During the night of December 30th, the POWs heard the sound of depth charges exploding in the water.  The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on December 31st and dropped anchor in the harbor around 11:30 AM.  After arriving at Takao, Formosa, each POW received a six inch long, 3/4 inch wide piece hardtack to eat.  This was the first bread they had since receiving crackers in their Red Cross packages in 1942.

    While in the harbor, the POWs received little water.  From January 1st through the 5th, the POWs received one meal and day and very little water.  This resulted in the death rate among the POWs to rise.  The Japanese emptied coal from the forward hold and, on January 6th, put 500 POWs, from the Brazil Maru  into the the hold of Enoura MaruIt was also on that date that the POWs began to receive two meals a day.

    The morning of January 9th the POWs were receiving their first meal of the day, when the sound of ship's machine guns was heard.  The explosions of bombs falling closer and closer to the ship were also heard.  The waves created from the explosions rocked the ship. 

    One bomb that hit the ship exploded in the corner of the forward hold killing 285 prisoners.  The surviving POWs remained in in the hold for three days with the dead, and the stench from the dead filled the air.   On January 11th a work detail was formed, the dead were removed from the hold, placed on a barge, and taken to shore.  The POWs on the detail were too weak to lift the bodies, so ropes were tied to the legs and the bodies dragged to shore and buried in a mass grave.  After the war, the remains were exhumed and reburied in Hawaii.

    Capt. Russell Thorman died during the attack on the Enoura Maru on January 9, 1945.  Several days after the attack, a burial detail was organized and a barge was tied to the ship so that the bodies of the dead could be loaded on it.  When the barge took the dead to shore, the POWs were too weak to carry them, so ropes were tied to the legs and they were dragged to shore.  Once on shore, the dead were buried in a mass grave. 
     After the war, the remains of all those who died on the Enoura Maru were reburied at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.  Each grave contains approximately six sets of remains.  Since his final resting place is not known, Capt. Russell C. Thorman's name appears on the Tablets of the missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.


 

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