Trinka

 



Pvt. Vendel J. Trinka Jr.
    Pvt. Vendel J. Trinka Jr. was born on May 25, 1919, in Michigan, to Vendal J. Trinka Sr., and Elizabeth Kriston-Trinka and was the oldest child of four children.  His parents were Hungarian immigrants, and later divorced, lived on a farm near Hewitt, Marathon County, Wisconsin.
    Vendel was inducted in the U.S. Army on April 7, 1941, and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training.  He was assigned to A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion during basic training.  The company had been a Wisconsin National Guard Tank Company so the Army  filled out the company with men from Wisconsin.
    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.
    Almost a year after arriving in Kentucky, his battalion, the 192nd Tank Battalion, was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers from September 1st through 30th.  During the maneuvers the battalion performed exceptionally well.  After the maneuvers, instead of returning to Ft. Knox, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana.  None of the members had any idea why they were being kept there.
    On the side of a hill, the battalion members were informed that they were being sent overseas.  They were told that this 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 reason the battalion was being sent to the Philippines was because of an event that happened during the summer of 1941.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots - whose plane was lower than the others - noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and another in the distance.  He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island, hundreds of miles to the northwest, which had a large radio transmitter.  The squadron continued its flight plan and landed in the evening.
    Since it was too late to do anything that day, another squadron was sent to the area the next day, but the buoys had been picked up and a fishing boat was seen making its way to shore.  Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was poor, no ship was sent to the area to intercept the boat.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
    The company traveled by train to San Francisco, California, and were ferried,on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, they received inoculations and physicals from the battalion's medical detachment.  Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind 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. 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 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. During this part of the voyage, 
    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 to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
    On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  They remained there off and on for several days.  At all times, two crew members remained with the tanks and received their meals from food trucks.  
    On December 8, 1941, ten hours after Pearl Harbor was attacked, Vendel lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field.  That morning, as tankers sat in their tanks, the sky above them was filled with American planes.  At noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch.
    The tankers eating when they saw two formations of planes approaching the airfield from the north.  They had time enough to count that the formation was made up of 54 planes.  Many believed the planes were American until they saw what looked like raindrops falling from them.  When the raindrops began exploding on the runways, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese.
    During the attack, the tankers took cover, since most of their weapons were useless against planes. 
    Sometime after the attack, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it would be close to a highway and railroad.  From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River.  
    On December 23rd and 24th, 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 the river in the Bayambang Province.
    On December 25th, 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 held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.    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 Reed.  The company returned to the 192nd on January 8, 1942.
    The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to a line from on the night of December 27th and 28th.  From there they fell back to the south bank of the BamBan River which they were suppose to hold for as long as possible.    
    On January 28th, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
    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.  On a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30th, 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 the Gumain River, the night of December 31st 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 1st, 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.    On January 1st, 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 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.    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 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.    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 2nd to 4th, 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 the food ration was cut in half, and it was not too long after this that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began to spread among the soldiers.  After this, the company returned to the command of the 192nd. It was not too long after this was done that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers. 
     While American and Filipino forces were withdrawing from the Pilar-Bigac Line, the battalion prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops.  The morning of January 27th, a new battle line had been formed and all units were suppose to be beyond it.  That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were suppose to have withdrawn.  While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualties.
    On January 28th, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings. 
    A Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese Marines who had been trapped behind the main defensive line.  The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket.  Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank had left the pocket.
    To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used.  The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank.  As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole.  Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
    The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole.  The driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole.  The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.     On another occasion the company was in bivouac on two sides of a road.  They posted sentries and most of the tankers attempted to get some sleep.  The sentries heard noise down the road and woke the company.  Every man grabbed a weapon.  As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac.  The tankers opened fire with everything they had.  When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion.
     On March 2nd or 3rd, 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 Japanese were soon cut off.  When the Japanese attempted to land reinforcements, they landed them at the wrong place creating another pocket.  Both were wiped out. 
   The company's last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea.  By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way.  Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave.  When asked about the Philippines, he said, "There are times when men must die."  The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
    On April 4, 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 Japanese.  When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.
    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 the underfed sick men.  At one point, the members of the company had to run past Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor.  They received little water and little food during the march.  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 ranks.  They were marched to the train stationed 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.  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.  They walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
    Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base.  There was one water faucet for the entire camp.  Men literally died for a drink.  The death rate in the camp began to rise until as many as 55 men dying each day.  The burial detail worked non-stop to bury the dead.  Often, when they returned the next morning, the wild dogs had dug up the bodies or the bodies were sitting up in their graves.
    To lower the death rate among the POWs the Japanese opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.  It is not known if Vendel was sent to the camp when it opened or if he was sent there after returning from a work detail.  According to records kept by the medical staff, Vendel was hospitalized on Sunday, July 19, 1942, suffering from malaria.  He remained in the camp's hospital until he was discharged on December 4th.
    Not long after being discharged from the hospital Trinka was selected to go to Lipa Batangas on a work detail.  The POW on the detail built runways at Lipa Airfield, and every other day, the POWs worked on a farm.   What is known Trinka was sent from the detail to the hospital at Bilibid Prison on January 7, 1943, with chronic bronchitis.  He remained in the hospital ward on February 7, 1943, when he was discharged and sent to Cabanatuan.    
    In July 1943, Vendel was sent out on a work detail to Nichols Field.  The POWs on the detail were housed at the Pasay School in eighteen rooms.  30 POWs were assigned to a room.  The POWs were used to extend and widen runways for the Japanese Navy.   The plans for this expansion came from the American Army which had drawn them up before the war.  The Japanese wanted a runway 500 yards wide and a mile long going through hills and a swamp.
    Unlike the Americans, the Japanese had no plans on using construction equipment.  Instead, they intended the POWs to do the work with picks, shovels, and wheel barrows.  The work was easy until the extension reached the hills.  When the extension reached the hills, some of which were 80 feet high, the POWs flattened them by hand.  The Japanese replaced the wheel barrows with mining cars that two POWs pushed to the swamp and dumped as land-fill.  As the work became harder and the POWs weaker, less work got done.
    At six in the morning, the POWs had reveille and "bongo," or count, at 6:15 in detachments of 100 men.  After this came breakfast which was a fish soup with rice.  After breakfast, there was a second count of all POWs, which included both healthy and sick, before the POWs marched a mile and half to the airfield.
    After arriving at the airfield, they were counted again.  They went to a tool shed and received their tools; once again they were counted.  At the end of the work day, the POWs were counted again.  When they arrived back at the school, they were counted again.  Then, they would rush to the showers, since there only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs.  They were fed dinner, another meal of fish and rice and than counted one final time. Lights were turned out at 9:00 P.M.        The longer they worked the weaker the POWs became.  The Japanese solution was to increase the brutality shown to the POWs.  The first Japanese commander of the camp, a Lt. Moto, was called the "White Angel" because he wore a spotless naval uniform.  He was commander of the camp for slightly over thirteen months.  One day a POW collapsed while working on the runway.  Moto was told about the man and came out and ordered him to get up.  When he couldn't four other Americans were made to carry the man back to the Pasay School. 
    At the school, the Japanese guards gave the man a shower and straightened his clothes as much as possible.  The other Americans were ordered to the school.  As they stood there, the White Angel ordered an American captain to follow him behind the school.  The POW was marched behind the school and the other Americans heard two shots.  The American officer told the men that the POW had said, "Tell them I went down smiling." There, the White Angel shot the POW as the man smiled at him.   As the man lay on the ground, he shot him a second time.  The American captain told the other Americans what had happened.  The White Angel told them that this was what going to happen to anyone who would not work for the Japanese Empire.
    The second commanding officer of the detail was known as "the Wolf."  He was a civilian who wore a Japanese Naval Uniform.  Each morning, he would come to the POW barracks and select those POWs who looked the sickest and made them line up.  The men were made to put one leg on each side of a trench and then do 50 push-ups.  If a man's arms gave out and he touched the ground, he was beaten with pick handles.
    On another occasion a POW collapsed on the runway.  The Wolf had the man taken back to the barracks.  When the Wolf came to the barracks that evening and the man was still unconscious, he banged the man's head into the concrete floor and kicked him in the head.  He then took the man to the shower and drowned him in the basin.
    A third POW who had tried to walk away from the detail told the guards to shoot him, the guards took him back to the Pasay School and strung him up by his thumbs outside the doorway and placed a bottle of beer and sandwich in front of him.  He was dead by evening.
    The remains of the POWs who had died on the detail were brought to Bilibid Prison in boxes.  The Japanese had death certificates, with the causes of death and signed by an American doctor, sent with the boxes.  The Americans from the detail, who accompanied the boxes, would not tell the POWs at Bilibid what had happened.  It was only when the sick, from the detail, began to arrive at Bilibid did they learn what the detail was like.  These men were sent to Bilibid to die since it would look better w
when it was reported to the International Red Cross.    
    Vendel was sent to Japan on on the Taga Maru.  The ship sailed from Manila on September 20, 1943, and arrived at Takao, Formosa, on September 23rd.  The ship remained in port for three days before it sailed.  It arrived at Moji, Japan, on October 5th, and the POWs disembarked, broken into detachments, and taken by train to the various POW camps. In Vendel's case it was Hirohata Camp.
     The POWs in the camp worked at the Seitetsu Steel Mill.  The work included cleaning slag from the furnaces, working the blast furnaces, and unloading cargo and ore.  On July 16, 1944, the camp was closed and the POWs were sent to Nagoya #9.  In this new camp, the POWs once again worked as stevedores.  This time on the Iwase Docks.     
    In the camp, the Japanese did not give out the Red Cross packages to the POWs.  Instead, they raided the packages and took the canned meats, fruit, soup, chocolate and cigarettes from the packages for themselves.  The POWs also were beaten for braking camp rules.
    While he was in the camp, 15 POWs were accused of stealing rice from sacks that they were unloading from a ship.  One of these POWs was, Lyle Harlow, a member of the 192nd.  Once they returned to the camp, they were forced to kneel for from an 1 to 5 hours to get them to confess.  Six of the fifteen men confessed and the others were fed and sent to their barracks.
    When the camp commandant left the camp at 8:30 that evening, all the POWs were called from the barracks by the second in command and ordered to stand at attention.  They were then beaten with pick axe handles, rope, that was about 3 inches thick and five feet long, clubs, and farrison belts across the buttocks, face, and legs.
    When the POWs passed out, they were either thrown into a large tub of water, with their hands and feet bound, or they had water poured on them until they revived.  They once again had to stand at attention as the beating continued for a total of 3 hours.  One POW counted that he received 150 blows to his face and 20 on his buttocks.
    Vendel was in this camp when he was liberated on September 5, 1945.  After Vendel was liberated he was returned to the Philippines for medical treatment.  He  was returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Joseph T. Dychman, arriving, at San Francisco, on October 16, 1945.  He was sent to Letterman General Hospital for further medical treatment.  It was at this time that he learned that his father had died on August 8, 1945.  Vendel, because of health reasons, was not discharged until March 3, 1947.
    Vendel married Violet S. Ogenich on July 31, 1954, in Chicago, Illinois.  The couple resided in  Lansing, Illinois, and became the parents of one daughter and two sons.  He supported his family by working as a carpenter.   Violet passed away on July 22, 1981, and after her death, Vendel moved to Prattsville, Arkansas.  According to his death certificate, Vendal Trinka committed suicide on September 10, 2000, and his remains were cremated. 



 

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