Sgt. Zenon Roland Bardowski on October 17, 1914, in Gary, Indiana, to Zenon N. Bardowski & Caroline Lena Kostur-Bardowski. He grew up at 1601 Jackson Street in Gary, Indiana, and was a 1932 graduate of Froebel High School in Gary. His family operated a grocery and meat market. Zenon liked cars so much that hand two friends were arrested and charged with auto theft in May 1935. On April 27, 1937, his father passed away.
Zenon joined the Illinois National Guard on September 23, 1940, because he knew that sooner or later the United States would become involved in World War II. The reason he ended up in the Illinois National Guard instead of the Indiana National Guard was that he was a race car driver and an automobile mechanic. His interest in automobiles resulted in his wanting to get into tanks on the ground level. Since the closest tank company to Gary was located in Maywood, Illinois, he joined the Illinois National Guard’s 33rd Tank Company. Since he had joined the National Guard, he did not need to register for the draft when the Selective Service Act took effect on October 16, 1940.
On November 25, 1940, the 33rd Tank Company was federalized. One group of 17 soldiers left Maywood on Wednesday, November 27th 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 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 which they would not stay in.
Most of the soldiers made the trip to Ft. Knox by train on Thursday, November 28th. They marched down Madison Street to Fifth Avenue in Maywood and then north to the Chicago and Northwestern train station. In B Company’s case, they rode on the same train as A Company from Janesville, Wisconsin. In Chicago, the train was switched onto the tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad which 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 they were assigned to a newly opened area of the fort and their barracks were not finished.
When they arrived at the base they lived in six men tents with stoves that provided heat. They spent the first six weeks in primary training. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; weeks 7, 8, and 9 were spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons, and the cleaning of weapons.
1st/Sgt. Richard Danca – on December 26th – was given the job of picking men to be transferred from the company 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. The men assigned to the company still lived with the B Company since their barracks were unfinished until February.
A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics 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, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics. At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. The classes lasted for 13 weeks. In Jim’s case, he attended radio school. In his case, he qualified as a tank driver.
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. About 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.
B Company also moved into its barracks in January 1941. 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, the men watched what they said.
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.
It was also at this time that all the companies had 16 operational tanks and the first men from selective service were assigned to the companies. On January 10th, these men took their first tank ride and all of them had the chance to drive the tanks. They would permanently join the companies in March 1941.
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. One group of soldiers became known as “The Chess Clique.” As the weather got warmer, the men tried to play baseball as often as possible in the evenings. Volleyball was also often played. 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.
At 7:00 A.M. on Monday, June 16th, the battalion was broken into four detachments for a three-day tactical road march. The most important part of this march was to train the soldiers in loading, unloading, and setting up the battalion’s administrative camps. It also prepared them for the Louisiana maneuvers which they were scheduled to take part in during September.
The battalion 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 were the battalion’s kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The battalion 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, before returning to Ft. Knox on Wednesday, June 18th through Lebanon, New Haven and Hodgenville, Kentucky. While at the lake, they swam, boated, and fished.
After the maneuvers, the members of the company were informed that they had been selected for duty overseas and that this duty could last from six months up to six years. The battalion was next sent to Camp Polk in Louisiana, where the older men and married men were released from federal service and replaced with men from other battalions. It was there that the battalion received new tanks that they had never been trained to use.
The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco. Arriving there, they were taken by. the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated by the battalion’s medical detachment. Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.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 2nd and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, 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 S.S. 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.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward King 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 – which was stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the 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 also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
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 on the 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” meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
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.
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 Tank Battalion 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.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the China Sea. On Monday, December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern portion of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern portion. At all times, two members of each tank and half-track remained with their vehicles. Meals were served to the tankers from food trucks.
On the morning of December 8, ten hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese bombed Clark Field. It was during this attack that Zenon is credited with being the first member of an American tank crew to shoot down an enemy plane during World War II.
According to other members of the battalion, Zenon’s half-track was at the end of the runway. A Japanese plane flew straight at it firing as it approached. Dirt flew in two tracks from the bullets. Bardowski stayed at his gun firing at the plane as it approached until he hit it. The plane fell from the sky with a smoke trail following it.
After the attack, the battalion members found the plane. The pilot was missing both his arms and legs. None of them had any feelings for the pilot. When a chaplain tried to get them to bury the pilot, one man urinated on him to show his contempt. The others simply walked away.
On December 16, Zenon sent home a telegram to his family. In it, he said, “Mother – Don’t worry. Keep your chin up and Merry Christmas.”
As the battle for the Philippine Islands continued, Zenon was first assigned as a half-track driver for T/4 Frank Goldstein. It was their job to be in constant communication with every tank of the 192nd. If a tank did not respond, Zenon had to drive Goldstein to find the tank and see what the problem was.
As the battle against the Japanese continued, Zenon rose in rank from private to sergeant and was asked by 2nd Lt. Ed Winger to organize a tank platoon. Zenon was now a tank commander with a crew of Pvt. Carl E. Garr as his tank driver and Pvt. Wallace Marston as his gunner.
The tank battalion received orders on December 21 that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going used 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.
On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
As the tank battalions fought the Japanese, they often found themselves to be the last troops to withdraw from an area. At the Agno River, the 192nd held the south bank of the river so other troops could cross. The tanks of the were so far apart that in some cases they could only communicate with each other by using their radios.
Sgt. Jim Bashleben credited Bardowski with saving his life and the life of his half-track driver, Pvt. William Oldaker. According to Bashleben, the tanks were ahead of his half-track and had crossed a river and climbed up the river’s south bank. Bashleben’s half-track got stuck and could not get up the bank.
The tanks continued to head south when Bardowski noticed the half-track was missing. He turned his tank around and found it stuck in the river. Bardowski threw cables down Bashleben and Oldaker and pulled the half-tack onto the bank
The tank battalions next covered the withdrawal of the Philippine Army at the Pampanga River. The battalion’s tanks were on both sides of the on December 31 at the Calumpit Bridge.
On January 1, conflicting orders, about who was in command, were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 and allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridge over the Pampanga River about withdrawing from the bridge with half of the defenders withdrawing. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
At 2:30 A.M., on January 6, the Japanese attacked at Remedios in force using smoke which was an attempt by the Japanese to destroy the tank battalions. That night 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.
During the night of January 7, the tank battalions were covering the withdrawal of all troops around Hermosa. Around 6:00 A.M., before the bridge had been destroyed by the engineers, the 192nd crossed the bridge.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan on 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.
The next day, a composite tank company was formed 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 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, 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.
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 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 which were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
Later on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw 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. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
Companies A & 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. The tankers were awake all night and attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance planes. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore.
On one occasion, a member of the company, who had gotten frustrated by being awakened by the planes, had his half-track pulled out onto the beach and took potshots at the plane. He missed the plane, but twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared over the location and dropped bombs that exploded in the treetops. Three members of the company were killed.
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. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over.
The company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets – from January 23 to February 17 – 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.
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. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
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.
What made this job so hard was that the Japanese dug “spider holes” among the roots of the trees. Because of this situation, the Americans could not get a good shot at the Japanese.
The tankers, from A, B, and C Companies, were able to clear the pockets. 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.
During the Battle of the Pockets, Zenon came to the aid of the tank crew of Lt. Ed Winger. Zenon’s best friend, Cpl. John Massimino was in the driver of the tank and shouted at Zenon, over the radio, that they needed his help. The tankers had knocked out a number of Japanese positions including destroying the flamethrower.
As Lt. Winger’s tank approached another Japanese position, it was fired upon by Japanese flamethrowers. The crew was blinded and their tank ended up wedged between two trees. The tank was abandoned by its crew.
Zenon had his tank pull up behind the trapped tank. He dismounted his tank and dragged the towing cables from the bow of his tank to the rear of Lt. Winger’s tank. The Japanese managed to shoot the cable away from the hook, so Zenon had to run around to the rear of his tank and set the cable to make the rescue.
Zenon’s efforts saved Winger’s crew. In the process of rescuing the tank crew, Zenon’s tank had destroyed a .57 mm Japanese gun and a flamethrower. Zenon, himself, would be wounded before Bataan was surrendered.
The company also took part in the Battle of the Points on the west coast of Bataan. The Japanese landed troops but ended up trapped. One was the Lapay-Longoskawayan points from January 23 to 29, the Quinawan-Aglaloma points from January 22 to February 8, and the Siliiam-Anyasan points from January 27 to February 13. The defenders successfully eliminated the points by driving their tanks along the Japanese defensive line and firing their machine guns. The 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts followed the tanks eliminating any resistance and driving the Japanese Marines over the edge of the cliffs where they hid in caves. The tanks fired into the caves killing or forcing them out of them into the sea.
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. 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 a scantily clad blond on them. The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations were cut in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack on April 3. 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, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company’s offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
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.
A counter-attack was launched – on April 7 – by the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts which was supported by tanks. Its objective was 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.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. 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 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.
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 was from the tank group and the white flag was bedding from A 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 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.”
The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. 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 no 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 inline with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances 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. 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.
On April 8, after receiving word that the forces on Bataan would be surrendered the next day, Zenon led his tanks to the coast of Bataan in an attempt to escape to Corregidor. When he was told that there was no room for him or his men on the barge, Zenon re-positioned his Tommy-gun to make it understood that he intended to make the trip. After abandoning his tanks, Zenon and his men made the trip to Corregidor.
On Corregidor, Zenon was assigned to the D Company of the 4th Marines. He recalled being bombed and shelled daily and was wounded while eating a meal. When the final assault on the island took place, Zenon manned a machine gun during the Japanese landing and was bayoneted, in his thigh, when the Japanese overran his position. He would later receive the Bronze Star, a Silver Star, and three Purple Hearts.
Probably the strangest experience during the attack was Zenon was having to fire on his own tank which was now being used by the Japanese. His former tank was the first tank to land on Corregidor. Not disabling the tank was a regret that Zenon had his entire life.
On May 10, 1942, Zenon became a Prisoner of War and remained on Corregidor for two weeks before being taken by barge to a point off of Luzon. The POWs swam to shore and were organized into a formation before being marched down Dewey Boulevard to Bilibid Prison.
In May his mother received a communication from the War Department.
“Dear Mrs. C. Bardowski:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Sergeant Zenon R. Bardowski, 20,600,390, 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”
As a POW, Zenon was first held at Cabanatuan #3 and left the camp to go out on a work detail. The POWs built runways and built bridges. When the detail ended, he was next sent to Cabanatuan #1. There he was reunited with other members of Company B. As a POW, Zenon worked as a woodcutter and a cook.
It is known that at Cabanatuan, he was assigned to Barracks 13 when he had an altercation with a Major Paul Schurtz. According to the story, Bardowski was showering when a Sgt. Bryan came in and announced the name of men assigned to barracks guards for the night. Bardowski was one of those whose name was called and he responded by telling Bryan that he had to change the list. Maj. Schurtz went to the back of the barracks and asked him why the men would not pull their relief. Bud responded that the men were assigned to the water guard and Capt. Garnet Francis had stated they were excused from all other details. Schurtz – who was barracks officer – responded that they would pull guard duty until he received orders that stated they were exempt from performing it. The two men began arguing and got very loud. Bud turned around and continued his shower as he did he splashed water on Schurtz. Schurtz picked up a bucket of water and made the motion to throw the water on Bud. He changed his mind and slapped Bud instead. In response, Bud slapped Schurtz and pushed him backward causing him to trip over a bench and falling.
In July 1942, his mother received another communication from the War Department. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Sergeant Zenon R. Bardowski 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.”
During a hearing on the incident, witnesses stated that Bud twice intentionally splashed water on Schurtz and was slapped the major first before knocking him down. When Schurtz attempted to defend himself, Bud knocked him down again. No verdict about the incident was given, but Bardowski remained a sergeant.
At some point, Zenon was put into the camp hospital because he was suffering from malaria and dysentery. He was discharged from the hospital on February 1, 1943. Other records kept by the hospital staff indicate Zenon was readmitted on March 22, 1943, but no illness or date of discharge was given.
It was at this time that his mother received another communique from the War Department.
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON SERGEANT ZENON R BARDOWSKI 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 of receiving the first message, they received a second message:
“Mrs. Caroline Bardowski
4650 Georgia Street
“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:
“Sgt. Zenon R. Bardowski, 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”
During his time as a POW, Zenon was punished for violating a camp rule. He was made to stand in the sun until he passed out. He was then kicked in his ribs and stomach and hit with rifle butts.
He was next sent to Bilibid Prison where he was reunited with T/4 Frank Goldstein and Sgt. James Griffin. It was there that Frank Goldstein would save Zenon’s life by giving him vitamin pills. Sometime in July, Zenon’s name appeared on a list of POWs being sent to Japan.
On July 17 at 8:00 A.M., the POWs walked to Pier 7. They were boarded onto the Nissyo Maru. The Japanese attempted to put the entire POW detachment in the forward hold but failed, so 600 of the POWs were put into the read hold. The ship remained outside the breakwater from July 18 until July 23 while the Japanese attempted to form a convoy. The POWs were fed rice and vegetables, which were cooked together, were fed to the prisoners. They also received two canteen cups of water.
The ship sailed on July 23 at 8:00 A.M. to Corregidor and dropped anchor off the island at 2:00 P.M. It remained off the island overnight and sailed at 8:00 A.M. the next day. The ship sailed north by northeast as part of a convoy. On July 26 at 3:00 in the morning, there was a large fire off the ship. It turned out that one of the ships, the Otari Yama Maru had been hit by a torpedo from the U.S.S. Flasher which was a part of a three-submarine wolf pack.
On July 28, the ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, and docked at 9:00 A.M. The ship sailed at 7:00 P.M. and continued its northward trip all day and night of July 29. The next day, July 30, the ship ran into a storm. The storm finally passed by August 2. The POWs were issued clothing on August 3 and arrived at Moji on August 4 at midnight.
At 8:00 in the morning, the POWs disembarked the ship. They were taken to a theater and were held in it all day. They were then taken to the train station. The train left at 9:00 P.M. and arrived at the camp at 2:00 A.M., they were unloaded and walked the three miles to the camp.
In Japan, he was sent to Fukuoka #23, outside of Moji, which was located outside of Hiroshima. The camp consisted of a mess hall, a hospital, six unheated barracks located on top of a hill with a ten-foot-high wooden fence around it. In the barracks, the POWs slept in 15 foot by 15-foot bays which were each shared by six POWs who slept on straw mats with a blanket and quilted coverlet. During the winter, the average temperature was 14 degrees, and there was no heat, so the POWs slept together for heat. At 6:00 A.M., 6:00 P.M., and 9:00 P.M. the Japanese took row call. For the first two weeks in the camp, the POWs learned the Japanese words for mining equipment.
The POWs received their jobs from the camp commandant who spoke adequate English. There, he again worked as a cook where he prepared meals for the other POWs. The meals, which were what was described as gumbo and rice for breakfast, a bento box of dry rice for lunch that the POWs took to the mine with them, and dry rice for supper with 10 or 15 soybeans in it. Once a week, their supper could also contain a fish head.
It is known that he also sent into the coal mine to work. The POWs working in the mine were divided into A Detachment and B Detachment and worked a day and night shift. When a group was assigned to work during the day, the workday lasted 12 hours. The POW detachment assigned to work at night worked a longer amount of time. Every ten days, the POWs received a day off and the two detachments changed shifts.
In the mine, the POWs worked in teams of 5 men. The Japanese civilians who supervised them expected the POWs to load so many cars. If they filled five mine cars, the next day the Japanese wanted them to fill six mine cars with coal. The number of mine cars kept increasing until the POWs learned to fill the cars with wood and rocks covered with the layer of coal. When these materials damaged the crushers, the Japanese negotiated with the POWs on how many carloads of coal they needed to fill each day. The one good thing about being in the mine was the temperature was 65 degrees to 70 degrees.
Other POWs in the camp worked topside, at the mine, as coal dust diggers, others POWs made briquettes, while some remained in the camp to work. It is not known what work the POWs who worked in the camp did.
One day while he was outside, he heard a roar and felt a shock wave. Unknown to him, the atomic bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki and he was experiencing the shock wave.
In 1945, things got worse in the camp because the Japanese were losing the war and the day off given to the POWs was reduced to half of a day off. On August 15 they learned the war was over but the POWs did not believe it. The next day the camp commandant, at 9:00 A.M., informed the POWs that the war was over. He also told them that they had to stay in the camp. On August 24, the Japanese gave the POWs paint and canvas and told them to paint “POW.” on the canvas and put it on the barracks roofs.
On August 28, B-29s appeared over the camp. Two of the planes circled and dropped fifty-gallon drums outside the camp for the POWs. For the first time, the POWs knew they were now in charge and the Japanese guards quickly disappeared. Zenon decided that he was going to find the Americans on his own and left the camp and made his way to Nagasaki through the rubble of the city. Outside of the city, he met up with the 1st U. S. Cavalry on September 25, 1945. If he had remained in the camp, he would have been liberated a week earlier.
His mother received a telegram from the War Department.
“Mrs. Caroline Bardowski: The secretary of war has asked me to inform you that your son, Sgt. Zenon R. Bardowski was returned to military control Sept. 25 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”
Zenon returned to the United States on the U.S.S. General R. L. Howze arriving at San Francisco on October 16, 1945. He returned home and was discharged, from the army, on April 12, 1946. On April 15, he registered with Selective Service since he had not done so before the war. His registration card indicated he had been discharged from the Army.
He married, Marilyn R. Badanish. The couple became the parents of a son. In 1946, a few months after being discharged, he attempted but failed to qualify to race in the Indianapolis 500. The photo at the top of the page was taken during the qualifying runs.
Bud would own a series of used car dealerships, he would race opened wheel cars, and become an oil distributor. He also served as a director of the Civil Defense and on the county board. In July 1977, he moved from Gary to Benton, Texas, where he worked for the Veterans Administration.
Zenon Bardowski passed away on April 19, 2000, in Benton, Texas. His ashes were interred at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia.