Cpl. Russell H. Vertuno was born on November 6, 1917, in Oak Park, Illinois, to William F.
Vertuno and Leonore Urban-Vertuno. With his two sisters, he grew up in Melrose Park and later lived at 907
South 10th Avenue in Maywood, Illinois. He graduated from Lincoln Grade School and Proviso Township High School
as a member of the Class of 1935. While attending Proviso, Russell earned a major letter as the member of
the baseball team. His family would later move to Melrose Park.
After high school, Russell worked at a company that made molded
products. He also joined the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Tank Company in Maywood on September 23,
1940. His reason for doing this was that the draft law had just been passed requiring all young men to serve
one year in the military. Like the other men who joined at the time, he knew that the tank company was
being called to federal duty in November 1940.
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
13, 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.
At Fort Knox, Russell was assigned to ordnance. It was doing this
job that Russell was injured when his legs were crushed between two trucks. Russell was hospitalized but
returned to the battalion on September 13, 1941. The battalion had been sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where
it was taking part in the maneuvers from September 1 through 30.
After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered report to Camp Polk.
It was on a side of a hill that the battalion members learned that it had been assigned to duty overseas. It
was at this time that Russell returned to the battalion. Most of the members of the battalion were allowed to
return home to say their goodbyes, while others remained at Camp Polk, to ready the tanks and half-tracks and tanks
they had received from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
The battalion traveled west by train to Ft, Mason in San Francisco, California and
ferried, on the
U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. At Ft. McDowell,
they were given physicals and inoculated. Those men found to have a minor medical condition 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.S. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27, as part of a three ship
convoy. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaoo, on Sunday, November 2. Since the ships had a two day layover,
the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
The soldiers had a short stay in Hawaii. During this time, Russell wrote this
Well, today I am twenty-four years old, but I still feel
the same. We are still anchored in the harbor at Honolulu, so my birthday is spent in Hawaii. although I
would much rather spend it in Maywood.
On Tuesday we toured the island and had an enjoyable
time. We started at about nine in the morning on what was a complete circle of the island.
The first point of interest was the 'upside down waterfall.' This is a very steep hill, and
when it is raining hard and when it is raining hard and the wind is blowing hard, the water seems to be flowing
uphill. Of course we got there when the sun was shining, so we only saw the hill.
Continuing along the road we came to a precipice which is right
at the side of the road. A cement
guardrail at the edge of the road is the only barrier that keeps cars from going over a
drop of 3105 feet. There
is a recess in the side of the mountain on the other side of the road in which is
erected a plaque which commemorates the'Battle of Nuuanu' fought in the valley in 1795 when Kamehameha I
and his cohorts hurled his enemies over the precipice.
Next on the itinerary, although we didn't stop there, was Pearl Harbor. This
is the United States' biggest naval base. Approximately half the Pacific fleet was in; also there were
three aircraft carriers and two hospital ships.
We drove to Schofield Ba
rracks which was the largest army post previous to the Selective Service Act.
Schofield is very nice: there are beautiful buildings and the very green lawns and pretty flowers set all
over the post. At the present, several buildings are being erected which will make Schofield even
Along the road we saw pineapple plantations and sugar cane
plantations. There are narrow gage railroads all over the island to carry the pineapples and sugar cane to
the canneries and refineries. We saw old men and old women working in the fields. There were also palm
trees and coconut trees and flowers all over the island.
Beach we saw five and six foot waves breaking and forming a very white surf. Surf board riders stood up
on their boards and waited for the waves to catch them and carry them to shore. We ate a bite at the Sea View
Inn around noon. I had sliced papaya. This is a fruit on order of a pear, that is, it is shaped like a
pear but the meat itself is the color of a cantaloupe. A slice of lemon is served with the papaya and the juice
gives the fruit a distinctive flavor; if one doesn't use the lemon, and thinks of fruit such as a banana or
orange, then the papaya tastes like a banana or orange.
When had just passed the Boy's Industrial School when
something went wrong with the bus, so the driver pulled in to Kahuku and phoned for another bus to pick us
up. We had a wait of 90 minutes so we strolled around the town. I bought a pipe and some tobacco and
then returned to the bus and read a magazine. The pickup bus finally came and rode to our next stop which was the
The temple was a very large white stone building surrounded by
spacious green lawns which were very well kept. There were high hedges clipped so that they were almost
geometrically perfect, around the temple.
Three or four cement pools led from the entrance up to the temple. Each one was a bit
high then the proceeding one. On each side of the pools was a single line of trees, straight as an arrow. In
the distance were some green hills, and on the ground there were varied colored flowers which made the grounds
Our next stop was quite a number of miles
down the coast at a place called the 'Blow-hole.' The surf rolls up the sand into a cavern and up
over the rocks back into the sea. This happens when the surf is high, but it was our luck to visit it on a day
when the waves weren't comprised of two taps. The two end taps dispense juice and the middle tap dispenses
water. Small paper cups are available, so I got one and proceeded to down about seven cups of juice. I
would had had more but my stomach was getting quite cold, so I desisted.
Marty, Fred and I then hopped a bus for Waikiki. We arrived
there about 5 o'clock and sat down on a bench and watched the swimmers
and surf-riders. A little later we got hungry so we pooled our resources, which amounted to forty-six
cents. Marty and I went across the street to the Piggly Wiggly and supper.
We then rounded Diamond Head which is a large rock, and I was disappointed for I was looking form more than what
I saw. We then came to Waikiki Beach where some of the fellows got off. Our S-4 gang stayed off the bus
and went into town.
By this time we were getting quite hungry so we stopped a t a
restaurant and had a steak dinner with lemon cream pie desert. The pie was so good it almost tasted like
homemade pie. After supper we walked around until ten-thirty and then went back to the ship.
Tuesday morning Fred Lovering and I started out to walk to Waikiki., but we only got half-way. It
was quite warm, so we sat down in a park and rested for two hours and then started back for down. We walked up
one street and down another, until we covered the whole business district.
Wednesday afternoon we got off the ship again. Marty
Cafferman, Les Watson and I went to the Dole plant, but we were too late to be able to go through the
factory. However, we did get some pineapple juice. In the main office there is a niche in the wall that
holds a fountain. We bought a loaf of bread for 9 cents, a sliced veal loaf for 25 cents, and a box ov
vanilla cookies for 10 cents.
The sunset was very pretty. After the moon and stars had
been out for awhile we got on the bus for town. With some hours walking behind us, we decided to head for the
I am typing this in our S-4 office this morning. We still
don't know when we are to pull out, but I guess it will be within twenty-four hours.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ships sailed from Hawaii for Guam but took a
southerly route away from the shipping lanes. At one point smoke from a unknown ship was seen on the
horizon. The heavy cruiser escorting the two transports engines whined up, the bow came out of the water, and
the the ship shot of in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the ship was from a friendly
During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship, was seen on the horizon.
The cruiser that was escorting the two transports revved its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took
off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly
country. During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship, was seen on the horizon. The
cruiser that was escorting the two transports revved its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in
the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country. When the ships
arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, water, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila. It was
while the ships were at Guam that the last letter his parents received from him was mailed. After the
ships left Guam, they passed an island at night in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign
that they would soon be at war. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th.
They docked at Pier 7 later that day, and the soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and were taken by bus to Ft.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward King apologized that the men had
to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. The fact was that he learned of their
arrival days earlier. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner before he
went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the
battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons which
had been greased to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts, did tank
maintenance, and prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
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.
The morning of December 8, 1941, just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the tankers
were ordered the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. All morning long as they
sat on their tanks, they watched as American planes filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed.
As the tankers were having lunch, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north.
When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. Since they had few
weapons that could be used against Japanese, they could do is watch.
Russell, being assigned to ordnance, drove a truck. His job was to make sure that the
tanks received the ammunition and fuel they needed to keep fighting. He did this for the next four months
as the Battle of Bataan continued.
The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer,
gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his
arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked.
He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next told the sergeants what
they should do to disable the tanks. During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender
together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the
Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company's trucks. The men waited in
their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called
"Their last supper."
On April 11, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment. A
Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their
encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their
possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their
possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans. They remained along the sides of the road for
The company finally boarded their trucks and drove to just outside of Mariveles, where they were
ordered by the Japanese out of their trucks. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and were ordered to
sit. As they sat, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized
that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
As they sat watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer
pulled up in a car in front of the soldiers. He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the
detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. The sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their
Later in the day, the POWs were order to move to a schoolyard in Mariveles. The POWs were
left sitting in the sun for hours. The Japanese did not feed them or give them water. Behind the POWs were
four Japanese artillery pieces which were firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered. Shells from
these two American forts began landing among the POWs who could do little to protect themselves since they had no place
to hide. Some POWs were killed by incoming American shells. One group that tried to hide in a small brick
building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese
It was from this school yard that they began the death march and made their way to San
Fernando. During the march he saw men who had fallen shot and bayoneted where they fell. At San Fernando,
the POWs were put in a bull pen and ordered to sit. When they were ordered to move again, they formed 100 men
detachments and were marched to the train station. At the station, the POWs were packed into small wooden
boxcars which could hold forty men of eight horses, but the Japanese packed
100 men into each car and closed the doors. Those POWs who died in the cars did not fall to the floors until the
living left the cars at Capas and marched the last miles to Camp O'Donnell, which 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
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 Japanese
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. When the POWs were transferred to the camp, Russell remained at Camp O'Donnell since
he was too ill to be moved.
According to medical records kept at the camp, Cpl. Russell H. Vertuno died of dysentery on
June 17, 1942, at the age of 24. He was buried in the camp cemetery in Section N, Row 10, Grave 2.
After the war, Russell was reburied in Plot N, Row 2, Grave 83, at the American Military
Cemetery outside of Manila. He was posthumously awarded the American Defense Medal, the Bronze Star and the Victory
Medal of World War II.
On Sunday, November 18, 1945, at St. John's Lutheran Church in Melrose Park, Illinois,
his family had a memorial service for Russell.
One side note that should mentioned is that Russell's two sisters, Rose and
Virginia, were both engaged to other members of Company B. Both of their fiancÚs died while Japanese