Pvt. Lester Irvin Tenenberg was born on July 1, 1920, to Fann Goldsmith-Tenenberg and August Tenenberg and lived at 1209 West Sherwin Avenue, Chicago, Illinois. As a student, he attended Lane Technical High School and after high school, he worked at the Liquid Carbonic Company. In September 1940, Les knew that it was only a matter of time before he would be drafted into the army. To prevent this from happening, and to have a say with whom he served, Les joined the Illinois National Guard’s 33rd Tank Company in Maywood, Illinois. The reason he did this is that the company was going to be federalized for one year and on October 16 the Selective Service Act was going into effect requiring males 21 years old and older to register.
The tank company was inducted into the U. S. Army on November 25, 1940, at 7:00 A.M. and designated B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. During this time, the soldiers were given physicals, and men who were inducted into the army that morning were released from federal service that afternoon after failing their physicals. The remaining men spent the next several days living in the armory. He was one of 131 men who traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for what was supposed to be a year of training.
One group of 17 soldiers left Maywood on Wednesday, November 27 at 7:00 A.M. in a convoy of one command car (or jeep), two trucks carrying supplies, and three private cars owned by members of the company. The trip was not easy since for 120 miles the road was covered in ice which cleared up near Indianapolis. They had dinner and spent the night at Ft. Benjamin Harris in Indianapolis. After showering and getting cleaned up, they continued the trip. As they got closer to Ft. Knox. the weather got warmer and the snow disappeared. During the trip, one of the main topics was were they going to live in tents or barracks. They reached the base late in the day on Thursday and found they were housed in barracks for the night. After this night, they were assigned tents with stoves in them for heat.
Most of the soldiers made the trip to Ft. Knox by train on Thursday, November 28. They marched down Madison to Fifth Avenue in Maywood Street and then north to the Chicago & Northwestern train station. In B Company’s case, they rode on the same train as A Company from Janesville, Wisconsin. After the company’s equipment and two tanks were loaded onto the train, it entered Chicago, where the soldiers rode busses to the Illinois Central Station and boarded a train that took them to Ft. Knox. Once at the fort, they were met by Army trucks at the station which took them to the fort where they reunited with the men who drove. The soldiers lived in six-man tents which had stoves for heat since their barracks were not finished. The battalion had a total of eight tanks which they were ordered not to abuse.
A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up by 5:45 since they wanted to wash and dress. After roll call, breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics from 8:00 to 8:30. Afterward, the tankers went to various schools within the company. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistols, 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. After lunch, the soldiers went back to work. 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 they ate they stood in line to wash their mess kits since they had no mess hall. On January 12, 1941, their mess hall opened and they ate off real plates with forks and knives. They also no longer had to wash their own plates since that job fell on the men assigned to Kitchen Police. 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. The game that many of the men began to play was chess and one group became known as “The Chess Clique.”
Those men who did go home arrived back at the base just before breakfast, which was at 6:00 A.M. on December 26. 1st/Sgt. Richard Danca was waiting for them since he had the job of picking men to be transferred to the soon-to-be-formed HQ Company. 35 men were picked because they had special training. Many of these men received promotions and because of their rating received higher pay. HQ Company was divided into a staff platoon, a reconnaissance platoon, a maintenance platoon, a motor platoon, and the usual cooks and clerks which every company had. Men were assigned various jobs such as scouts, radio operators, mechanics, truck drivers, and other duties.
B Company moved into its barracks in December 1940. The men assigned to the HQ Company still lived with the B Company since their barracks were unfinished. Most of the members of B Company were assigned to Barracks 53. The bunks were set up along the walls and alternated so that the head of one bunk was next to the foot of another bunk allowing for more bunks to be placed in the least amount of space. The one problem they had was that the barracks had four, two-way speakers in it. One speaker was in the main room of each floor of the barracks, one was in the sergeant’s office, and one was in the Lt. Donald Hanes’ office. Since by flipping a switch the speaker became a microphone, and the men watched what they said. The men assigned to HQ Company moved into their own barracks by February. The area outside the barracks was described as muddy and dusty most of the time. An attempt was made to improve the situation with the building of walkways and roads around the barracks. On January 12, 1941, their mess hall opened and they ate off real plates with forks and knives. They also no longer had to wash their own plates since that job fell on the men assigned to Kitchen Police.
During their free time during the week, the men could go to one of the three movie theaters on the outpost. They also sat around and talked. As the weather got warmer, the men tried to play baseball as often as possible in the evenings. At 9:00 P.M., when lights went out, most went to sleep. On weekends, men with passes frequently went to Louisville which was 35 miles north of the fort, while others went to Elizabethtown sixteen miles south of the fort. Those men still on the base used the dayroom to read since it was open until 11:00 P.M.
The lack of equipment was a major problem for the battalion. Many of the tanks were castoffs from the regular army or pulled from the junkyard at Ft. Knox and rebuilt by the tank companies. The tanks were also restricted in where they could be driven and very little training was done with the infantry. On December 2, each company received four additional tanks. According to information from the time, each company was scheduled to receive 17 tanks, three half-tracks, four motorcycles, two motorcycles with passenger cars, four, two-and-a-half-ton trucks, and a half-ton pickup truck. The men received training under the direction of the 69th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division. This was true for the tank crews and reconnaissance units who trained with the regiment’s tanks and reconnaissance units and later trained with their own companies.
Winter finally arrived on January 4, when the high for the day was 24 degrees and it snowed for the first time. Those on guard duty at night were happy they had been issued long-Johns but wished they had on two pairs. It was also in January that the companies had their first target practice and each company spent one week at the firing range learning to use their thirty caliber and fifty caliber machine guns as well as forty-five caliber pistols. This took place at the 1st Cavalry Test range where the tanks could be maneuvered and the guns fired at the same time. All those holding the rank of Private First Class were sent to motorcycle class at the Armored Force where they were taught the functions and duties of a motorcyclist in a garrison and in combat. Ten members of the company were sent to radio school from 8:00 to 11:30 A.M. They also received their government-issued toiletries. Each man received two face towels and one bath towel, a razor, tooth and shaving brushes, and another pair of pants which completed their compliment of clothing.
Most of the men were attending the various schools they were assigned to on January 13 taking classes lasting until May 31. The tankers went through intensive training in the various classes at the Armored Force School which taught classes in gunnery, radio communications, tank maintenance, vehicle maintenance, tank driving, as well as other classes. The entire battalion on January 28, took part in a one-day problem that had to do with the deployment of large units of tanks and to put into practice what they had learned in the classroom. They were up at 5:00 A.M. and reported to the tank parks of the 1st and 13th Armor Regiments. It was a long tough day for all the soldiers, but they all believed they had learned more in that one day than they had learned in an entire week of school. It was also at this time that each company had a tent so they could make minor repairs to their tanks. It was noted that the men from every company seemed to enjoy working on their own tanks. They were also taking the tanks out on the trails and obstacle driving which resulted in the companies developing many good tank crews.
During February, four composite tank detachments made of men from all the companies of the battalion left Ft. Knox – on different dates – on problematic moves at 9:00 A.M. The detachments consisted of three motorcycles, two scout cars, sixteen tanks, one ambulance, and supply, fuel, and kitchen trucks. The route was difficult and chosen so that the men could become acquainted with their equipment. They also had to watch out for simulated enemy planes. Bridges were avoided whenever it was possible to ford the water. They received their rations from a food truck.
In late March 1941, the entire battalion was moved to new larger barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks had bathing and washing facilities in them and a day room. The new kitchens had larger gas ranges, automatic gas heaters, large pantries, and mess halls. One reason for this move was the men from selective service were permanently joining the battalion.
On June 14 and 16, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of HQ Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. Each tank company traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance.
The detachments traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated, and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox through Lebanon, New Haven, and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers.
Congress on August 13, 1941, extended, by 18 months, the time that federalized National Guard units would serve in the regular army. It appears that the next day, the commanding officer of the 192nd, Major Bacon Moore, was informed the 192nd would be going overseas, but it is not known if he shared this information with his officers.
The 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941, to take part in maneuvers. About half of the battalion left Ft. Knox on September 1st in trucks and other wheeled vehicles and spent the night in Clarksville, Tennessee, where they spent the night. By 7:00 A.M. the next morning, the detachment was on the move. On the second day, the soldiers saw their first cotton fields which they found fascinating. They spent the night in Brownsville, Tennessee, and were again on the move the following morning at 7:00 A.M. At noon, the convoy crossed the Mississippi River which they found amazing, and spent the night in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At noon the next day, the convoy crossed the lower part of Arkansas and arrived at Tallulah, Louisiana, where, they washed, relaxed, and played baseball against the locals. It also gave them a break from sitting on wooden benches in the trucks. The remaining soldiers, the tanks, and other equipment were sent by train and left the base on September 3rd. When they arrived at Tremont, Lousiana, the men, and trucks who had driven to Louisiana were waiting for them at the train station.
The battalion was assigned to the Red Army, attached to the Fourth Cavalry, and stationed at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. Two days later it made a two-day move, as a neutral unit, to Ragley, Louisiana, and was assigned to the Blue Army. The battalion’s bivouac was in the Kisatchi Forest where the soldiers dealt with mosquitoes, snakes, wood ticks, snakes, and alligators.
During the maneuvers, tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack, in support of infantry, and held defensive positions. Some men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.” The maneuvers were described by other men as being awakened at 4:30 A.M. and sent to an area to engage an imaginary enemy. After engaging the enemy, the tanks withdrew to another area. The crews had no idea what they were doing most of the time because they were never told anything by the higher-ups. A number of men felt that they just rode around in their tanks a lot.
While training at Ft. Knox, the tankers were taught that they should never attack an anti-tank gun head-on. One day during the maneuvers, their commanding general threw away the entire battalion doing just that. After sitting out a period of time, the battalion resumed the maneuvers. The major problem for the tanks was the sandy soil. On several occasions, tanks were parked and the crews walked away from them. When they returned, the tanks had sunk into the sandy soil up to their hauls. To get them out, other tanks were brought in and attempted to pull them out. If that didn’t work, the tankers brought a tank wrecker from Camp Polk to pull the tank out of the ground.
It was not uncommon for the tankers to receive orders to move at night. On October 1st at 2:30 A.M., they were awakened by the sound of a whistle which meant they had to get the tanks ready to move. Those assigned to other duties loaded trucks with equipment. Once they had assembled into formations, they received the order to move, without headlights, to make a surprise attack on the Red Army. By 5:30 that morning – after traveling 40 miles in 2½ hours from their original bivouac in the dark – they had established a new bivouac and set up their equipment. They camouflaged their tanks and trucks and set up sentries to look for paratroopers or enemy troops. At 11:30, they received orders and 80 tanks and armored vehicles moved out into enemy territory. They engaged the enemy at 2:38 in the afternoon and an umpire with a white flag determined who was awarded points or penalized. At 7:30 P.M., the battle was over and the tanks limped back to the bivouac where they were fueled and oiled for the next day.
The one good thing that came out of the maneuvers was that the tank crews learned how to move at night. At Ft. Knox this was never done. Without knowing it, the night movements were preparing them for what they would do in the Philippines since most of the battalion’s movements there were made at night. The drivers learned how to drive at night and to take instructions from their tank commanders who had a better view from the turret. A number of motorcycle riders from other tank units were killed because they were riding their bikes without headlights on which meant they could not see obstacles in front of their bikes. When they hit something they fell to the ground and the tanks following them went over them. This happened several times before the motorcycle riders were ordered to turn on their headlights.
Snake bites were also a problem and at some point, it seemed that every other man was bitten by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snake bite kit that was used to create a vacuum to suck the poison out of the bite. The bites were the result of the nights cooling down and snakes crawling under the soldiers’ bedrolls for warmth while the soldiers were sleeping on them.
There was one multicolored snake – about eight inches long – that was beautiful to look at, but if it bit a man he was dead. The good thing was that these snakes would not just strike at the man but only struck if the man forced himself on it. When the soldiers woke up in the morning they would carefully pick up their bedrolls to see if there were any snakes under them. To avoid being bitten, men slept on the two and a half-ton trucks or on or in the tanks. Another trick the soldiers learned was to dig a small trench around their tents and lay rope in the trench. The burs on the rope kept the snakes from entering the tents. The snakes were not a problem if the night was warm.
They also had a problem with the wild hogs in the area. In the middle of the night while the men were sleeping in their tents they would suddenly hear hogs squealing. The hogs would run into the tents pushing on them until they took them down and dragged them away.
The food was also not very good since the air was always damp which made it hard to get a fire started. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili that they choked down. Washing clothes was done when the men had a chance. They did this by finding a creek, looking for alligators, and if there were none, taking a bar of soap and scrubbing whatever they were washing. Clothes were usually washed once a week or once every two weeks.
After the maneuvers, the battalion members expected to return to Ft. Knox but received orders to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana. It was on the side of a hill the battalion learned that they had been selected to go overseas. Those men who were married or 29 years old or older were allowed to resign from federal service. They were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion. Both new and old members of the battalion were given leaves home to say their goodbyes. They returned to Camp Polk and prepared for duty overseas while once again living in tents. They were given M3A1 tanks – from the 753rd and the 3rd Armor Division – to replace their M2A2 tanks and half-tracks to replace their reconnaissance cars.
The decision to send the battalion overseas appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision for this move – which had been made on August 15, 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 Taiwan which 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 covering the buoys – 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.
Many of the men believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by General George S. Patton – who had commanded their tanks during the maneuvers – to go overseas. There is no evidence that this was true.
The fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. During the maneuvers, they even fought as part of the First Tank Group. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. Besides the 192nd, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 70th was a Regular Army medium tank battalion – at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The 193rd was at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th was at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time, so in all likelihood, the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands but it was not the reason the tank battalions were sent there. It is known that the 193rd was on its way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the battalion was held in Hawaii after arriving there. The 70th and 191st never received orders for the Philippines because the war with Japan had started.
The battalion’s new tanks came from the 753rd and the 3rd Armor Division and were loaded onto flat cars, on different trains. At 8:30 A.M. on October 20, over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar followed by a passenger car that carried some soldiers. The company took the central route along through Northern Texas, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada.
When they arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. When they got near Alcatraz, a soldier on the boat said to them, “I’d rather be here than going where you all are going.” On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men found to have minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced by men sent to the island as replacements. The soldiers spent their time putting cosmoline on anything that they thought would rust.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2, and had a four-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Thursday, November 6, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country, while two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters hauling scrap metal to Japan.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables. Although they were not allowed off the ship, the soldiers were able to mail letters home before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.”At 3:00 P.M., as they left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When an enlisted man said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.”Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks with 17th Ordnance. Unlike when other ships arrived, there was no band or welcoming committee to meet them on the dock. The remaining men rode a train to the fort.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King Jr. who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that had what they needed and that they all received Thanksgiving dinner – stew thrown into their mess kits – 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 ragged World War I 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. The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise from the engines as they flew over was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued were heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
The 192nd arrived in the Philippines with a great deal of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train radiomen for the Philippine Army. The battalion also had a large number of ham radio operators and shortly after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, they set up a communications tent that was in contact with the United States within hours. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When they were informed it was the 192nd, they gave them frequencies to use. Men were able to send messages home to their families that they had arrived safely.
The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool,” that they borrowed from the 194th Tank Battalion – meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to do the work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms everywhere; including going to the PX.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the South China Sea. On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks.
It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd’s communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ted Wickord, the battalion’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, the CO of the 194th Tank Battalion, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor while Maj. Miller went and told his officers of the attack. The 192nd’s officers went to their companies and informed the enlisted men that they were at war. Many of the men laughed because they believed it was the start of the maneuvers they were scheduled to take part in. Those men who were assigned to tanks joined the other members of their crews at the airfield. The battalion’s half-tracks were sent to the south end of the airfield and took positions next to the tanks.
All morning long on December 8, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. The planes were parked in a straight line outside the pilots’ mess hall to make refueling easier. The men were having lunch when at 12:45, two formations of planes totaling 54 planes, approached the airfield from the north. Many of the tankers wondered if the planes were American or Japanese. As they watched, what appeared to be raindrops – because they shimmered in the sun – appeared under the planes. With the thunderous explosions of the bombs exploding on the runways, the tankers knew that the planes were Japanese. The smoke and dust from the bombs blotted out the sun and made it impossible for the tankers to see more than a few feet. One bomb hit the mess hall where the pilots were eating. The bombers were quickly followed by Japanese fighters that sounded like angry bees to the tankers as they strafed the airfield.
During the attack, the tankers watched as American pilots attempted to get their planes off the ground. As they roared down the runway, Japanese fighters strafed the planes causing them to swerve, crash, and burn. Those that did get airborne were barely off the ground when they were hit. The planes exploded and crashed to the ground tumbling down the runways.
While the attack was going on, the Filipinos who were building the 192nd’s barracks took cover. After the attack, they went right back to work on the barracks. This happened several times during the following air raids until the barracks were destroyed by bombs during an air raid. According to the members of the battalion, it appeared the Filipino contractor really wanted to be paid; war or no war.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, the dying, and the wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything else, that could carry the wounded, was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents which had bullet holes in them. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in any type of bed.
The next day, those men not assigned to a tank or half-track walked around Clark Field to look at the damage. As they walked, they saw there were hundreds of dead. Some were pilots who had been caught asleep, because they had flown night missions, in their tents during the first attack. Others were pilots who had been killed attempting to get to their planes. They lived through two more air raids on December 10 and 13.
The 192nd remained at Clark Field until December 14, when they then moved to a dry stream bed. The tank battalion received orders on December 20 that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf to relieve the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough gas for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry. Lt. Ben Morin’s platoon approached Agoo when it ran head-on into a Japanese motorized unit. The Japanese light tanks had no turrets and sloped armor. The shells of the Americans glanced off the tanks. Morin’s tank was knocked out and his crew was captured. During this engagement, a member of a tank crew, Pvt. Henry J. Deckert, was killed by enemy fire and was later buried in a churchyard.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of the river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province. One tank platoon went through the town of Gapan. After they were through the town, they were informed it had been held by the Japanese. They could never figure out why the Japanese had not fired on them. The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29.
It was at this time that a platoon of B Company tanks found itself on a road holding up the Japanese advance. without knowing it, five tanks took a narrow road that led to the Japanese lines. The drivers of the tanks stayed close enough so that they could see the tank in front of their tank when a shell exploded behind one of the tanks. The tanks were trapped since there was no room for them to turn around. At Ft. Knox, they were taught that if you are lost, or trapped, to double your speed. The tanks hurdled down the road running through gun nests and running down Japanese soldiers. The tanks turned around, ran through the Japanese positions again, and escaped.
The tanks were stationed on both sides of the Calumpit Bridge, on December 31 and January 1. keeping the bridge open for the Southern Luzon forces. The defenders were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw into Bataan. Platoons from B and C Company saw movement in the distance and opened fire. They later learned that they had knocked out five Japanese tanks. While holding the bridge, they received orders – from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff – about whose command they were under and were told to withdraw from the bridge without Gen Johnathan Wainwright’s knowledge. Because of the order, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces and about half the defenders withdrew. When Gen. Wainwright became aware of the order, he countermanded it. 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 and the Southern Luzon forces escaped.
From January 2 to 4, the 192nd was again holding a road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape. At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5, the Japanese attacked Remedios in force and used smoke as cover, but because the wind was blowing in the wrong direction they were easy targets. In addition, many of the Japanese were wearing white shirts that made them stand out in the moonlight. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties. On the night of January 6, the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdrawal over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
A composite tank company was formed, the next day, under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks from attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road. When word came that a bridge was going to be blown up, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
Around this time, drivers were needed for the Self Propelled Mounts, and tank drivers were reassigned to the SPMs. The SPMs had a crew of an American driver, a Filipino Scout sergeant who commanded the SPM, and a gun crew from the Philippine Army. The drivers were replaced by other members of the battalions who could drive tanks.
The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon. The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines were long past their 400-hour overhauls.
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.”
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks that were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese. Later that day, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdrawal was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26/27, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast, while the battalion’s half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. B Company was defending a beach, along the east coast of Bataan, where the Japanese could land troops. One night while on this duty, the company engaged the Japanese in a firefight as they attempted to land troops on the beach. When morning came, not one Japanese soldier had successfully landed on the beach. The Japanese later told the tankers that their presence on the beach stopped them from attempting landings.
While doing this job, the tankers noticed that each morning when the PT boats were off the coast they were attacked by Japanese Zeros. The tank crews made arrangements with the PT boats to be at a certain place at a certain time and waited for the Zeros to arrive and attack. This time they were met by fire not only from the boats but also from the machine guns of the tanks and half-tracks. When the Zeros broke off the attack, they had lost nine of twelve planes.
After being up all night on the morning of February 3rd, the tankers attempted to get some sleep. Every morning “Recon Joe” flew over attempting to locate the tanks. The jungle canopy hid the tanks from the plane. Sgt. Walter Cigoi aggravated about being woken up, pulled his half-track onto the beach, took a “pot shot” at the plane, and missed. Twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared and bombed the position. Most of the soldiers took cover under the tanks. When the attack was over, the tankers found Pvt. Richard Graff and Pvt. Clemath Peppers dead. Pvt. Francis McGuire was wounded and Pvt. Charles Heuel was severely wounded with his leg partially blown off. The tankers attempted to put him in a jeep, but his leg kept flopping and got in the way. To get him into the jeep, his leg was cut off by T/4 Frank Goldstein but Heuel died from his wounds.
While this was going on, the battalion also took part in the Battle of the Points on the west coast of Bataan. The Japanese landed troops but ended up trapped. When they attempted to land reinforcements, they landed in the wrong place. One was the Lapay-Longoskawayan points from January 23 to 29, the Quinauan-Aglaloma points from January 22 to February 8, and the Sililam-Anyasan points from January 27 to February 13. The Japanese had been stopped, but the decision was made by Brigadier General Clinton A. Pierce that tanks were needed to support the 45th Infantry Philippine Scouts. He requested the tanks from the Provisional Tank Group.
On February 2, a platoon of C Company tanks was ordered to Quinauan Point where the Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived at about 5:15 P.M. He did a quick reconnaissance of the area, and after meeting with the commanding infantry officer, made the decision to drive tanks into the edge of the Japanese position and spray the area with machine-gun fire. The progress was slow but steady until a Japanese .37 milometer gun was spotted in front of the lead tank, and the tanks withdrew. It turned out that the gun had been disabled by mortar fire, but the tanks did not know this at the time.
The decision was made to resume the attack the next morning, so the 45th Infantry dug in for the night. The next day, the tank platoon did reconnaissance before pulling into the front line. They repeated the maneuver and sprayed the area with machine gunfire. As they moved forward, members of the 45th Infantry followed the tanks. The troops made progress all day long along the left side of the line. The major problem the tanks had to deal with was tree stumps which they had to avoid so they would not get hung up on them. The stumps also made it hard for the tanks to maneuver. Coordinating the attack with the infantry was difficult, so the decision was made to bring in a radio car so that the tanks and infantry could talk with each other.
Only 3 of 23 tanks were being used and without the support of infantry and the trick during the attack through the jungle was to avoid large trees and clear a way for the infantry to attack. This they did by thrusting into the jungle. They only became aware of enemy positions when they were fired on. The tanks were supposed to have support from mortars but the ammunition was believed to be defective. It was found that the mortars were manned by inexperienced air corpsmen converted to infantry who had no idea that the arming pins on the mortar shells had to be pulled before firing them so the shells landed and did not explode.
On February 4, at 8:30 A.M. five tanks and the radio car arrived. The tanks were assigned the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, so each tank commander knew which tank was receiving an order. Each tank also received a walkie-talkie, as well as the radio car and infantry commanders. This was done so that the crews could coordinate the attack with the infantry and so that the tanks could be ordered to where they were needed. The Japanese were pushed back almost to the cliffs when the attack was halted for the night. The attack resumed the next morning and the Japanese were pushed to the cliff line where they hid below the edge of the cliff out of view. It was at that time that the tanks were released to return to the 192nd.
Companies A and C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company – which was held in reserve – and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore. The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces.
The tank companies also took part in the Battle of the Pockets in February to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive was stopped and pushed back to the original line of defense. 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 exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that each tank company was rotated out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
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 used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank going around in a circle and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks so they wouldn’t smell the rotting flesh in the tracks.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank.
What made this job of eliminating the Japanese so hard was that they had dug “spider holes” among the roots of the trees. Because of this situation, the Americans could not get a good shot at the Japanese. Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
In the pockets, C Company lost one tank that had gone beyond the area controlled by the defenders. The tank was disabled by a thermite mine. It appeared that some of the crew were killed by a hand grenade thrown into the tank as they attempted to evacuate it. When the tank was recovered, it was put on its side and it was found at least one member of the crew was still alive when the Japanese filled the tank with dirt from the foxhole they dug under it.
In another incident, a tank from B Company became wedged between two trees after its driver was blinded by a flame thrower. The crew was ordered out of the tank and told to run. As they ran, the Japanese machine-gunned them. The tank commander was killed instantly, while the other three men made it into a sugarcane field. Only one of the three men was found the next day and was sent to the hospital where he recovered from his wounds. Another man was taken prisoner, while the last man was never heard from again and died from his wounds or was killed. It appears that this tank was also recovered.
The tankers, from A, B, and C Companies, were able to clear the pockets by February 18. But before this was done, one C Company tank which had gone beyond the American perimeter was disabled and the tank just sat there. When the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there. During the night, its crew was buried alive, inside the tank, by the Japanese. When the Japanese had been wiped out, the tank was turned upside down to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the crew. The tank was put back into use. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Presidential Unit Citations
The 192nd unlike other units had arrived in the Philippines just before the start of the war, so they did not have the opportunity to stockpile food. The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U.S. Cavalry. During this time the soldiers ate monkeys, snakes, lizards, horses, and mules. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day. The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with the picture of a scantily clad blond on them. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been a hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
The amount of gasoline in March was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. It was during this time that Gen Wainwright wanted to turn the tanks into pillboxes. Gen Weaver pointed out to Wainwright that they did not have enough tanks to effectively do this, and if they did, they soon would have no tanks. Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined.
On April 3, 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. By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left. The tanks repeatedly were sent into areas to stop Japanese advances but often could not reach them because the roads were clogged with retreating troops and civilians.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack on the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. the 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.”
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. Phil Parish, a truck driver for A Company realized that he had bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the soldiers heard a thud and the ammunition dumps went up in flames. At midnight Companies B and D, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. The driver, Cpl. Bill Burns, was a former member of B Company. Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” Capt. Robert Sorenson, the company commander, ordered the crews to destroy their tanks. They cut the gas lines and threw torches into the tanks. Within minutes, the ammunition inside the tanks began exploding. After this was done, Sorenson and Major John Morley got into his jeep and made their way to Bayakaguin Point which was the command post for the tank group. Behind them in half-tracks were the tank crews of B Company. After arriving there, a number of men attempted to reach Corregidor.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can.” He also said, “When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you, you surrendered. I was the one who surrendered.”
Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col Collier and Maj Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit in line with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
After this was done, a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived, and King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff who had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get assurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point, King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan, but he was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
Unknown to Gen. King, an order attributed to Gen. Masaharu Homma – but in all likelihood from one of his subordinates – had been given. It stated, “Every troop which fought against our army on Bataan should be wiped out thoroughly, whether he surrendered or not, and any American captive who is unable to continue marching all the way to the concentration camp should be put to death in the area of 200 meters off the road.”
The company remained in its bivouac until the Japanese arrived and ordered them to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan, where they were searched and stripped of anything the Japanese could use. He was placed into a detachment of 100 POWs that was guarded by six to eight guards and ordered to march. With him, in the detachment was Cpl.Bob Martin. The first five miles were extremely hard because they were uphill. The beatings and killings started almost at the same time as the march started. One guard would beat a POW while five minutes later another guard would give the POW a cigarette. The guards were assigned to march a certain distance so they often made the POWs march at a faster pace so they could finish their assigned section. Those men who were sick had a hard time keeping up and if they fell out were bayoneted or shot. When the distance was covered, the column was stopped and allowed to rest and the guards were replaced.
As the POWs made their way north, the Filipinos filled containers with water and placed them along the road. The POWs could not stop but many were able to scoop water into their canteens. By doing this the Filipinos saved a great many lives. The POWs also could see them flashing the “V” for victory sign under their folder arms. The further north they marched the more bloated dead bodies they saw. The ditches along the road were filled with water, but many also had dead bodies in them. The POWs’ thirst got so bad they drank the water. Many men would later die from dysentery. The column of POWs was often stopped and pushed off the road and made to sit in the sun for hours. While they at there, the guards would shake down the POWs and take any possession they had that they liked. When they were ordered to move again, it was not unusual for the Japanese riding past them in trucks to entertain themselves by swinging at the POWs with their guns or with bamboo poles.
When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. They received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet. After the break, they marched through Layac and Lubao. It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water. The guards allowed the POWs to lie on the road. The rain revived many of the POWs and gave them the strength to complete the march.
The men were marched until they reached San Fernando. Once there, they were herded into a bullpen, surrounded by barbed wire, and put into groups of 200 men. One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine and received a ball of rice and four or five dried onions. Water was given out with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share. How long they remained in the bullpen is not known.
The POWs were organized into detachments of 100 men. From the compound, they were marched to the train station, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as “forty or eights.” Each boxcar could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car – because there were 100 men in the detachment – and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly that the dead could not fall to the floor. At Capas, as the living left the cars and those who had died fell to the floors of the cars. As they left the cars, the Filipino civilians threw bananas, mangos, rice cakes, and sugarcane to the POWs. They also gave the POWs water. The guards did not stop them. The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. They estimated the camp could hold 15,000 to 20,000 men.
Once in the camp, they were taken into a large field where they were counted and searched and all extra clothing that they had was taken from them and not returned. Blankets, knives, and matches were taken from them. If a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Finally, the camp commandant came out, stood on a box, and told them that they were enemies of Japan and would always be Japan’s enemies. He also told them that they were captives and not prisoners of war and would be treated accordingly. After the speech, the prisoners were allowed to go to their barracks. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp as the POWs who had Japanese items on them were executed for looting.
There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men and those who did sleep in one slept in one with as many 80 to 120 men. Most of the POWs slept on the ground under the barracks. There was no netting to protect the men from malaria-carrying mosquitos as they slept, so many men soon became ill with malaria. The ranking American officer was slapped after asking for building materials to repair the buildings.
The POWs received three meals, mainly rice, a day. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was a half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half cup of sweet potato soup. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather. By May 1, the food had improved a little with the issuing of a little wheat flour, some native beans, and a small issue of coconut oil. About once every ten days, 3 or 4 small calves were brought into the camp. When meat was given out, there was only enough for one-fourth of the POWs to receive a piece that was an inch square. A native potato, the camote, was given to the POWs, but most were rotten and thrown out. The POWs had to post guards to prevent other POWs from eating them. The camp had a Black Market and POWs who had money could buy a small can of fish from the guards for $5.00.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line for 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 by the POWs who came up with the pipe, dug the trench, and ran the waterline. Just like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the water when they wanted water to bathe, but unlike the first water line, the POWs had the ability to turn on the water again without the Japanese knowing it. There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies. He was told never to write another letter. The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, but the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. When a second truck was sent to the camp by the Red Cross, it was turned away. The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – out of the six medics 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 lieutenant.
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 bodies were moved to one side, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, 80 bodies lay under the hospital.
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.
Les, like other POWs, wanted to get out of the camp because of the number of POWs dying each day. The detail, rebuilt bridges that had been destroyed during the withdrawal into Bataan and was simply called “the Bridge Building Detail” by the POWs. The American ranking officer in command was Lt. Col. Ted Wickord the commanding officer of the 192nd Tank Battalion who attempted to fill the detail with men from the tank group. The detail left Camp O’Donnell on May 1, 1942.
Once out of the camp, the POWs were broken into four detachments of 250 men each. Les’ detachment was sent to Calauan. There, the POWs were amazed by the concern shown to them by the Filipino people. The townspeople arranged for their doctor and nurses to care for the POWs and give them medication. They also arranged for the POWs to attend a meal in their honor.
What is known about the detail is that the POWs were assigned different jobs. Crews of six men operated pile drivers. It appears that the POWs worked in teams of two. Each man operated a handle on the winch that lifted a heavyweight 18 to 20 feet above the pile. The weight was released and it fell hitting the piling and driving it into the riverbank. The POWs rotated so they had a rest, but because they were on such poor diets they tired quickly.
Filipino civilians were also pressed into use to rebuild the bridges. The Japanese treated them just like they treated the POWs. One reason was that at night something always seemed to happen that slowed down the work on the bridge. Equipment that worked perfectly well the day before would malfunction for no reason or completely break down. The pile drivers were sabotaged so once the weight was in position, it could not be released.
When the bridge was finished, the detail was next sent to Batangas to rebuild another bridge. Again, the Filipino people did all they could to see that the Americans got the food and care they needed. Somehow the Filipinos convinced the Japanese to allow them to attend a meal to celebrate the completion of the new bridge.
Once again, the people of the town did whatever they could to help the Americans. An order of Roman Catholic sisters, who had been recently freed from custody, invited Lt. Col. Wickord and twelve POWs for a dinner. Wickord picked the twelve sickest-looking POWs.
The last bridge the POWs rebuilt was at Candelaria. At this barrio, the POWs slept in at a coconut mill with a fence around it. When the POWs finished the bridge, they were sent to Cabanatuan which was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and took part in the death march were held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
While he was out on the Bridge Detail, his family received this message from the War Department.
“Dear Mr. G. Tenenberg:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private Lester I. Tenenberg, 20,600,429, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter. In the last days before the surrender of Bataan, there were casualties which were not reported to the War Department. Conceivably the same is true of the surrender of Corregidor and possibly other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect to the interchange of information regarding prisoners of war. At some future date, this Government will receive through Geneva a list of persons who have been taken prisoners of war. Until that time the War Department cannot give you positive information.
“The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war. In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired. At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.
“Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months; to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held; to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress. The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age, and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records. Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.
“Very Truly yours
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General”
This was followed by another letter in July 1942. The following is an excerpt from the letter.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Private Lester I. Tenenberg had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
When the bridge detail ended, he was sent to Cabanatuan which had been opened to replace Camp O’Donnell.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens.
One major detail, the airfield detail, lasted for years. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. The POWs on the farm detail would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads. The POWs also were used to plant rice.
The camp hospital consisted of 30 wards that could hold 40 men each, but it was more common for them to have 100 men in them. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. The sickest POWs were put in “Zero Ward” which was called this because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died.
During June, the first cases of diphtheria appeared in the camp, and by July, it had spread throughout the camp. The Japanese finally gave the American medical staff anti-biotics to treat the POWs, but before it took effect, 130 POWs had died from the disease by August. On June 26, 1942, six POWs were executed by the Japanese after they had left the camp to buy food and were caught returning to camp. The POWs were tied to posts in a manner that they could not stand up or sit down. No one was allowed to give them food or water and they were not permitted to give them hats to protect them from the sun. The men were left tied to the posts for 48 hours when their ropes were cut. Four of the POWs were executed on the duty side of the camp and the other two were executed on the hospital side of the camp.
The camp hospital was known as “Zero Ward” because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The sickest POWs were sent there to die. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves, and they would not go into the building. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died.
The POWs had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of four men. Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies. Since the water table was high, a POW held the body down in the grave with a pole until it was covered with dirt. The death rate remained 9 POWs a day into November.
In July, his parents received a second message from the War Department.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Private Lester I. Tenenberg had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
On August 7, one POW escaped from the camp and was recaptured on September 17. He was placed in solitary confinement and during his time there, he was beaten over the head with an iron bar by a Japanese sergeant. The camp commandant, Col. Mori, would parade him around the camp and use the man as an example as he lectured the POWs. The man wore a sign that read, “Example of an Escaped Prisoner.”
Three POWs escaped from the camp on September 12, 1942, and were recaptured on September 21 and brought back to the camp. Their feet were tied together and their hands were crossed behind their backs and tied with ropes. A long rope was tied around their wrists and they were suspended from a rafter with their toes barely touched the ground causing their arms to bear all the weight of their bodies. They were subjected to severe beatings by the Japanese guards while hanging from the rafter. The punishment lasted three days. They were cut from the rafter and they were tied hand and foot and placed in the cooler for 30 days on a diet was rice and water. One of the three POWs was severely beaten by a Japanese lieutenant but later released.
On September 29, the three POWs were executed by the Japanese after being stopped by American security guards while attempting to escape. The American guards were there to prevent escapes so that the other POWs in their ten men group would not be executed. During the event, the noise made the Japanese aware of the situation and they came to the area and beat the three men who had tried to escape. One so badly that his jaw was broken. After two and a half hours, the three were tied to posts by the main gate and their clothes were torn off them. They also were beaten on and off for the next 48 hours. Anyone passing them was expected to urinate on them. After three days they were cut down and thrown into a truck and taken to a clearing in sight of the camp and shot.
The Japanese announced to the POWs in the camp that on October 14, 1942, the daily food ration for each POW would be 550 grams of rice, 100 grams of meat, 330 grams of vegetables, 20 grams of fat, 20 grams of sugar, 15 grams of salt, and 1 gram of tea. At some point, 50 grams of mongo beans replaced some of the rice. In addition, sick POWs also received an additional 50 grams of meat. In reality, the POWs noted that the meals were wet rice and rice coffee for breakfast, Pechi green soup and rice for lunch, and Mongo bean soup, Carabao meat, and rice for dinner.
Fr. Bruttenbruck, a German Catholic priest, came to the camp – assisted by Mrs. Escoda – with packages from friends and relatives in Manila on November 12. There was also medicine and books for the POWs. The POWs started a major clean-up of the camp on November 14 and deep latrines, sump holes for water only, and began to bury the camp’s garbage. Pvt. Peeter Lankianuskas was shot attempting to escape on November 16. Two other POWs were put on trial by the Japanese for aiding him. One man received 20 days in solitary confinement while the other man received 30 days in solitary confinement. Pvt. Donald K. Russell, on November 20, was caught trying to reenter the camp at 12:30 A.M. He had left the camp at 8:30 P.M. and secured a bag of canned food by claiming is he was a guerrilla. He was executed in the camp cemetery at 12;30 P.M. on November 21. The Japanese gave out a large amount of old clothing – that came from Manila – to the POWs on November 22. On November 23, the Japanese wanted to start a farm and needed 750 POWs to do the initial work on it. It was noted that there were only 603 POWs healthy enough to work. Another POW, Cpl. Donald K. Russell was shot and beheaded on November 21, 1942, after being recaptured after escaping.
The Japanese wanted the farm detail started which became one of the largest details in the camp. On November 23, they wanted 750 POWs to start work on the farm. The problem was there were only 603 POWs in the camp who were healthy enough to work. It was also one of the most brutal details. At some point, almost every POW in the camp worked the detail. The POWs would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads. The detail was under the command of “Big Speedo” who spoke very little English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs “speedo.” Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was “Little Speedo” who was smaller and also used “speedo” when he wanted the POWs to work faster. He punished the POWs by making them kneel on stones. “Smiley” was a Korean guard who always had a smile on his face but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason. He liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads. This was considered the most abusive of the work details with the POWs receiving the worst beatings.
Fr. Bruttenbruck returned on December 10 without proper authorization from the authorities in Manila so he was turned away. He had brought a truckload of medicine and food for the POWs. It was estimated by the POWs that he spent $300.00 for fuel to make the trip. He returned on December 24 with two truckloads of presents for the men and a gift bag for each. This time he was allowed into the camp. The next day, Christmas, the POWs received 2½ Red Cross boxes. In each box milk in some form, corn beef, fish, stew beef, sugar, meat and vegetable, tea, and chocolate. The POWs also received bulk corn beef, sugar, meat and vegetables, stew, raisins, dried fruit, and cocoa which they believed would last them three months. The POWs also were given four days off from work.
The POWs heard explosions on January 11, 1943, as Japanese dive bombers attacked a target about 30 kilometers from the camp. Several of the explosions were extremely loud. The POWs later heard scuttlebutt that 102 Filipino men, women, and children had been killed during the attack. Two days later, they heard another rumor that half of the barrio of Cabanatuan where the warehouses were located had been burned by the guerrillas.
The Japanese installed a radio so the POWs in the hospital could hear their version of the war. During February they heard that the Russians were driving the Germans from Russia but Japan would continue to fight on its own. They also heard the Allies were winning the European War and that there had been a battle in the Marshall Islands. It also during this time that the fly problem decreased because of the change from slit trenches to box toilets. This slowed the spread of dysentery.
His family received word he was a Prisoner of War in May 1943.
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE LESTER I TENENBERG IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST MARSHALL GENERAL=
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL=”
Within days, his family received a letter from the War Department.
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“Pvt. Lester I. Tenenberg, U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
“Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
“Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
“Howard F. Bresee
“Chief Information Bureau”
Another POW, Conley, escaped from the garden detail on July 11, 1943, and was captured in a barrio. At about 11:00 PM, there was a lot of noise in the camp. The next morning, at the camp morgue, POWs described what they saw. Conley’s jaw had been crushed as was the top of his skull, his teeth had all been knocked out with a rifle butt, his left leg had been crushed, and he had been bayoneted in the eyes and scrotum.
Also during July, the names of 500 POWs were posted on a roster of POWs being sent to Japan. The POWs were issued new shoes, a suit of “Philippine Blues” and were 2 cans of corn beef, and 3 cans of milk. They were informed they would be taking a 21-day trip. The detachment left the camp that night. As it turned out, when they arrived in Manila, they were used in the Japanese propaganda film The Dawn of Freedom to show how cruel the Americans were to the Filipinos. From there, they were taken to the Port Area of Manila and boarded onto the Clyde Maru.
The ship sailed from Manila on July 23, 1943, for Santa Cruz, Zambales, Philippines, and arrived there on the same day. The ship was loaded with a manganese ore and remained in port for three days until it sailed again on July 26 for Takao, Formosa. During the voyage, 100 POWs were allowed on deck from six in the morning until four in the afternoon. The ship arrived at Takao on July 28. It remained in port until August 5 when it sailed at 8:00 A.M. as part of a nine-ship convoy. During the trip to Moji, Japan, the convoy was attacked by an American submarine. Several of the ships were sunk, while the remaining ships arrived at Moji on August 7. The POWs were disembarked on August 8 and divided into 100 men detachments.
The POW detachments marched to the train station and boarded a train. The train left at 9:00 A.M. and the POWs rode the train for two days. When the POWs left the train, they walked eighteen miles to Fukuoka #17. Those too ill to walk were driven by truck to the camp.
The camp was 200 yards square when it opened on August 7, 1943, but was expanded to 200 yards wide and 1,000 yards long. The camp was surrounded by a 12-foot wooden fence that had three heavy gauge electrified wires attached to it. The first wire was attached at six feet with the others higher up. The buildings had been used by miners before the mine had been closed as being unsafe. Life at Fukuoka #17 was hard and there were prisoners who would steal from other prisoners. It was said that the Americans had the worse discipline. To prevent this from happening, the POWs would “buddy up” with each other. While one man was working in the mine, the POW who was not working would watch the possessions of the other man. The camp was considered the worse camp in Japan to be held as a POW in and was called so by the POW Recovery Team after the war.
The POWs lived in 33 one-story barracks 120 feet long and 16 feet wide and divided into ten rooms. Officers slept four men in a room while enlisted men slept from four to six men in a room. Each room was lit by a 15-watt bulb, and at the end of each building was a latrine with three stools and a urinal. The POWs slept on beds that were 5′ 8″ long by 2½’ wide. Each POW received three heavy blankets made of tissue paper, scrap rags, and scrap cotton and a comforter made of tissue paper and cotton batting covered with a cotton pad. At the end of each of the barracks were three stools raised about 1½’ on a hollow brick pedestal that was covered with removable wood seats made by the POWs to reduce the fly problem. There was also a urinal. Concrete tanks were under each stool which were cleaned by Japanese laborers twice a week. The POWs dug air raid shelters that we 6 feet deep and 8 feet wide, and 120 feet long. They were covered with timbers covered with 3 feet of slag.
The meals served to the POWs were cooked in the camp kitchen which was manned by 15 POWs. Seven of the POWs were professional cooks. The kitchen had 11 cauldrons, 2 electric baking ovens, 2 kitchen ranges, 4 storerooms, and an icebox. As they entered the mess hall, they would say their POW number to a POW standing by a wooden board. He would take a nail and place it in the hole in front of the man’s number. After all the POWs had been fed, the board was cleared for the next meal. A meal consisted of rice and vegetable soup three times a day. Those POWs working in the mine received 700 grams a day, while camp workers received 450 grams a day. Officers, since they were not required to work, received 300 grams a day. Those working in the mine received three buns every second day since they did not return to camp for lunch. To supplement their diets, the prisoners also ate dog meat, radishes, potato greens, and seaweed. As they entered the mess hall, they would say their POW number to a POW standing by a wooden board. He would take a nail and place it in the hole in front of the man’s number. After all the POWs had been fed, the board was cleared for the next meal. POWs traded their food rations for cigarettes and were referred to as “future corpses.” The situation got so bad that the Japanese finally stepped in and stopped it.
The kitchen was under the command of Lieutenant Commander Edward N. Little, U.S.N., whom the other POWs viewed as a collaborator. While Lester was in the camp, one POW, Cpl. William N. Knight, who was known for stealing and wore an insignia on his clothing to show he was a thief, was turned over to the Japanese by Little and was beaten with a pole two and a half feet long and six inches around until he passed out. He was revived with water and the beating continued. It stated this went on for several days. He was thrown into the stockade and was starved until he died on May 5, 1945. His crime was he had stolen six buns. Previously, before Robert arrived in the camp, another POW, Pvt. James G. Pavlokos had died because he was turned over to the Japanese by Little. After the war, Little was put on trial for a court-martial by the Navy but was acquitted.
There were also bathing rooms in the camp with two bathing tanks that were 30 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 4 feet deep. The tubs were heated with very hot water. The POWs working in the mine bathed during the winter after cleaning themselves before entering the tubs. They did not bathe during the summer months to prevent skin diseases. After bathing, the men would dress and go to bed for the night. Many filled their canteens with hot water and placed it under their covers. There were also outside wash racks at each barracks. Each had 16 cold water faucets and 16 wooden tubs with drainboards. The POWs used these to wash their clothes, but there was always a shortage of soap.
The camp hospital was a building of ten rooms that could each hold 30 men. There was an isolation ward for 15 POWs usually men suffering from tuberculosis. The POW doctors had little to no medicines or medical supplies to treat the ill. Dental treatment consisted of removing teeth without anesthesia. It is known that 76 POWs died in the camp hospital. In addition, the sick were forced to work. The Japanese camp doctor allowed the sick, who could walk, to be sent into the mine. He also took the Red Cross medical supplies meant for the POWs for his own use and failed to provide adequate medical treatment. Surgery in the camp was performed with scissors and a razor. The POWs who died in the camp died because of the cold and malnutrition. It was said that most of those who died, died because they were starved to death.
The Red Cross boxes sent to the camp were misappropriated by the Japanese. When they arrived, they were locked in a storeroom. They were later issued 3 to 7 months after they arrived. The Japanese intentionally mixed up the contents so the POWs had no idea what had been taken from the boxes. The food in boxes was given out in small quantities so that it had no nutritional value. The POWs who worked in the mine received larger quantities in their boxes instead of the sick who really needed it. The Japanese misappropriated and ate the food and made the POWs watch them eat it.
The first mail in the camp was received in March 1944. After that mail was given out every two months. The POWs were allowed to mail home a postcard every six to eight weeks.
Corporal punishment was an everyday occurrence at the camp. The guards beat the POWs with fists, clubs, and sandals for the slightest reason and continued until the POW was unconscious. If they didn’t like the way a POW looked at them, the guards beat him. The man was then taken to the guardhouse and put in solitary confinement without food or water for a long period of time. POWs with red hair received worse treatment than other POWs. POWs who failed to bow or salute had to stand in front of the guardhouse for hours. During the winter, the POWs were made to stand at attention and had water thrown on them as they stood in the cold, or they were forced to kneel on bamboo poles. It is known that the POWs were also made to stand in water and shocked with electrical current. At some point in 1945, two POWs were tied to a post and left to die. This was done they had violated a camp rule.
The Japanese interpreter in the camp refused to perform his duties resulting in the POWs receiving beatings because they could not explain the situation. He also would inform the guards of any alleged violations of camp rules which resulted in the POWs being severely beaten. This happened frequently at the mine with the interpreter usually the person responsible. He also, for no reason, slapped and beat the POWs. He was known to hit POWs with a rubber belt. The POWs at the mine were frequently beaten by the civilian workers because of the actions of the interpreter. He also forced POWs who had been injured and assigned to light work at the mine to lift heavy material with their injured arms.
On one occasion in November 1944, shirts had been stolen from a bundle in a building. The Japanese ordered all the POWs to assemble and told them that they would not be fed until the shirts were returned. The men returned the shirts anonymously, and the POWs received their meal at 10:00 P.M. Another POW, Walter Johnson, between mid-November 1944 and March 1945 was repeatedly beaten with a club the size of a small baseball bat. This was alternated by placing a wire across his back and shoulders and running electricity through it while he stood in water. This was done because Johnson had been caught talking to a Korean while working. POWs who asked to be given lighter work were examined by the interpreter and punched in the face with fists.
It was at Camp #17 that his friend, Bob Martin, would save Les’ life. Bob had been injured and assigned to work in the camp kitchen. Bob would sneak food to the prisoners being held in the camp’s internal guardhouse knowing that if he was caught he would most likely be killed. Bob repeatedly stole food from the kitchen and gave it to Lester and other POWs in the stockade.
The Japanese used the camp to shoot scenes for a propaganda movie about the treatment the POWs were receiving. The POWs thought it funny to watch Japanese running around wearing zoot suits and bell-bottom trousers. For a scene in the movie, the Japanese had the POWs move in a large circle. To “aid” the POWs to move in a circle, clubs were used to keep them moving. For another scene, they took a POW to the camp hospital and had him lay in a bed with sheets. The sick actually lay on the building’s floor. They also brought in fresh flowers and fruit and opened Red Cross packages that the POWs never received before the filming. They also had a Japanese nurse sit by the bed and hold the POWs’ hand. As soon as the director yelled cut, the POW was thrown out of the bed, and the bed, flowers, fruit, and Red Cross boxes were removed from the building.
The coal mine where the POWs worked was a condemned mine that had experienced an earthquake in 1923, and the deep shafts were closed because they were considered unsafe. The unsafe shafts were reopened in 1943 because the POWs were viewed as expendable and replaceable by the mine’s owner Baron Takanaya Mitsui. (He was tried after the war for war crimes but not convicted.) He supposedly said that the POWs could be replaced if they were killed. The POWs worked three different 12-hour shifts each workday and were expected to load three cars of coal each day. They had one day off every ten days. They worked with the constant threat of rocks falling on them. They worked with 90-pound jackhammers which weighed as much or more than them. They drilled holes and packed them with dynamite then went to a safe area and waited. After the blast, they returned to remove the coal. Those POWs who the Japanese believed were not working hard enough were beaten. The civilian employees viewed the POWs as “white slaves” and liked to hit them with lead pipes. Sometimes they used a knotted rope and several POWs lost eyes because the rope hit them around their heads and then was jerked. Working in the mine actually became one of the few places where the POWs were warm and they often worked only in G-strings. To get out of working in the mine, prisoners paid other POWs to break their arms.
As the war went on, American planes began flying over the camp. The POWs hoped that it would be just before the war would end. The worse the war went for Japan, the worse the treatment they received. Another POW, Cpl. William N. Knight, who was known for stealing and wore an insignia on his clothing to show he was a thief, was turned over to the Japanese by CLCDR Little and was beaten with a pole two and a half feet long and six inches around until he passed out. He was revived with water and the beating continued. It stated this went on for several days. He was thrown into the cooler. He was starved and died five days later on May 5, 1945. His crime was he had stolen six buns.
The POWs who were in the camp on the morning of August 9 told the POWs who had been in the mine that they had seen the greatest explosion they had ever seen in their lives. They concluded that the explosion was caused by a Japanese ammunition dump exploding during a bombing. In reality, they had seen the atomic bomb that had been dropped on Nagasaki. Those who saw it described that it was a sunny day and the explosion still lit up the sky. The pillar of smoke that rose from the bomb was described as having all the colors of the rainbow. Afterward, the POWs saw what they described that a fog blanketed Nagasaki and that the city had vanished. Over the next several days when the POWs went to work and talked to the Japanese civilians, they spoke about how those, who had survived the blast, would touch their heads and pull out their hair. They stated these people died within days. The civilians also told the POWs of how they heard about a detachment of Japanese soldiers sent into Nagasaki to recover victims and that its members suffered the same fate.
On August 15, another POW Pvt. Paul J. Shaughnessy was caught stealing a pair of pants. Little told Shaughnessy that he was going to turn him over to the Japanese and they would shoot him. Little was about to turn Shaughnessy over when he was stopped by the American Commanding Officer in the camp ordered Little to think over what he was about to do for 12 hours before he did anything. The American CO knew that Shaughnessy would be shot if he was turned over to the Japanese since he had been caught stealing three times. While Little was thinking it over, the war ended, but the POWs were not told it was over. For the next five days, Shaughnessy waited for his punishment. After the war, Little was put on trial for a court-martial by the Navy but was acquitted.
That same day, the POWs who had been working in the mine came out and found that the next group of POWs was not waiting outside to start their shift. That night, the POWs were made to stand at attention for two hours. They all had their blankets because they believed they were going to be moved to another camp. Instead, they were returned to their barracks. The next day, when it was time to go to work, the POWs were told it was a holiday, and they had the day off. They knew something was up because they had never had a holiday off before this. The Japanese also became more tolerant, which caused the prisoners to hope that liberation was near.
According to some POWs, a Red Cross car pulled up to the camp and the occupants told the POWs the war was over. Finally, the POWs were gathered in the camp on August 30, 1945. The Japanese camp commanders received an order- from Gen. Douglas MacArthur – that the following statement had to be read by them, or a translator, in English in the camps.
“Pending arrival of Allied representatives, the command of this camp and its equipment, stores, records, arms, and ammunition are to be turned over to the senior prisoner of war or a designated civilian internee who will thenceforth give instructions to the camp commander for the maintenance of supply and administrative services and for amelioration of local conditions.
“The camp commander will be responsible to the senior prisoner or designated internee for maintaining his command intact.”
They were also told to stay in the camp. After this, the Japanese guards soon disappeared from the camp. The POWs found a warehouse with Red Cross packages and distributed the packages to the entire camp. One day, George Weller, a reporter for the Chicago Daily News entered the camp. He told the POWs that there were American troops on Honshu. Les was in the group of POWs left the camp and made contact with them while the rest of the men remained in the camp. He and the other men were taken to the Dejima Docks at Nagasaki. There, they were stripped of their clothing which was burned, deloused, showered, and issued new clothes before they boarded a hospital ship and received medical examinations that determined who would remain on the ship, who would be flown to the States, and who would be returned to Manila for more medical treatment.
His family received this message from the War Department.
“Mr. Gus Tenenberg: The secretary of war has asked me to inform you that your son, Pvt. Lester I. Tenenberg was returned to military control Aug. 13 and is being returned to the United States within the near future. He will be given the opportunity to communicate with you upon his arrival if he has not already done so.
“E. F. Witsell
Acting Adjutant General of the Army”
Les was returned to the Philippine Islands and received medical treatment. He was returned to the United States, at San Francisco, on the U.S.S. Admiral Hugh Rodman arriving on October 8, 1945. He was then taken to Letterman General Hospital for additional treatment. From there he was sent to a hospital closer to home.
Les was discharged from the Army in early July 1946, but since he was in the National Guard and did not register with Selective Service, he registered on July 9, 1946. His registration card indicated that he had just been discharged. In 1947, Les would change his last name to Tenney which was what many of the other POWs had called him in the camps. Les would go to college and become a professor of finance and insurance at Arizona State University.
After he retired, he wrote the controversial book My Hitch in Hell about his time as a POW. Many of the members of B Company stated it was fiction. Lester Tenney passed away in Carlsbad, California, on February 24, 2017. He was the last surviving National Guard member of B Company and possibly the last surviving member of the company.