Sgt. Robert W. Bartz was the son of Albert E. Bartz & Ida C. Hawkinson-Bartz. He was born on March 31, 1920, in Edgerton, Wisconsin, and was one of eight children born to the couple. With his four brothers and three sisters, he grew up at 220 North Palm Street in Janesville. He worked as a farmhand.
Robert joined the Wisconsin National Guard on September 30, 1940. He was a member of the same tank company as his brother, Albert . On November 25, 1940, Bob was called to federal duty when his Wisconsin National Guard company was federalized as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. He trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, for nearly a year and then took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. It was after these maneuvers that he and the other members of his company that his battalion was being sent overseas.
The reason for this move was because of an event that happened during the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, on a routine patrol, when one of the pilots noticed something odd in the water. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water. and saw another flagged buoy in the distance. The squadron flew toward it and came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line, for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundred of miles away. The squadron continued its designated patrol and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. By the time the planes landed and reported what had been seen, it was too late to do anything that evening.
The next morning, another squadron was sent to the area but the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore. Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted. It was on August 15th that the decision was made to send the battalion to the Philippines.
The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco, California, and was taken by ferry to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the ferry the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe. At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated for overseas duty 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, while other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd 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 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.
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. Most took buses to a train station and rode a train to Ft. Stotsenburg.
At the fort, they were greeted by General Edward P. King, who apologized to the men that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that they had what they needed and that they received Thanksgiving Dinner, which a 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 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.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
The morning of December 8, December 7 in the United States, the 192nd were told of the attack on Pearl Harbor and sent to their tanks around Clark Field. A week earlier, they had been given assigned positions around the airfield to guard against enemy paratroopers. At 8:30, the American planes took off and filled the sky. They landed at noon, to be refueled, and lined up, in a straight line, near the pilots’ mess hall.
The tankers were eating lunch when a formation of 54 planes was spotted approaching the airfield from the north. The tankers believed the planes were American. As they watched, raindrops fell from the planes. When bombs exploded on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. Since the battalion’s bivouac was near the main road between the fort and airfield, the soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks and trucks. Anything 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, since they did not have any foxholes, the men used the old latrine pit for cover. Being that it was safer in the trench than in their tents, the men slept in the pit. The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes. Without knowing it, they had slept their last night on a cot or bed for the next three and a half years. From this point on, the men slept in blankets on the ground.
The company received orders on December 12 and went to the Barrio of Dau so it could protect a highway and railroad from sabotage. From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River. There, the tanks, with A Company, 194th held the position.
On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta. It was there, that the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write. After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed at 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.
The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27 and 28. From there they fell back to the south bank of the BanBan River which they were supposed to hold for as long as possible. The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29 serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.
A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read. On a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries. The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks’ machine guns. As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac. When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened up on them. When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion. To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.
At the Gumain River, the night of December 31 to the morning of January 1, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river. When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts. The Japanese were taking heavy casualties, so they attempted to use smoke to cover their advance, but the wind blew the smoke into the Japanese. When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had suffered fifty percent casualties.
At Guagua, A Company, with units from the 11th Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese. Somehow, the tanks were mistaken, by the Filipinos to be Japanese. The 11th Division accurately used mortars on them. The result was the loss of three tanks.
On January 1, the tanks of the 194th were holding the Calumpit Bridge allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to cross the bridge toward Bataan. General Wainwright was attempting to hold the main Japanese force coming down Route 5 to prevent the troops from being cut off. General MacArthur’s chief of staff gave conflicting orders involving whose command the defenders were under which caused confusion. Gen. Wainwright was not aware these orders had been given.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape. It was also in January 1942, that the food ration was cut in half. It was not too long after this was done that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers. The company returned to the command of the 192nd.
The tanks often were the last units to disengage from the enemy and form a new defensive line as Americans and Filipino forces withdrew toward Bataan. The night of January 7, the A Company was awaiting orders to cross the last bridge into Bataan. The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but the battalion’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, ordered the engineers to wait until he had looked to see if they were anywhere in sight. He found the company, asleep in their tanks because they had not received the order to withdraw across the bridge. After they had crossed, the bridge was destroyed.
While American and Filipino forces were withdrawing from the Pilar-Bigac Line, the battalion prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops. The morning of January 27, a new battle line had been formed and all units were supposed to be beyond it. That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were supposed to have withdrawn. While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point-blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualties.
On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
A Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets – from January 23 to February 17 – to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that the tank companies were pulled 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 to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank spinning around 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.
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.
The company’s last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea. By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way. Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave. When asked about the Philippines, he said, “There are times when men must die.” The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack, on April 3, 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.
On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan. C Company was pulled out of its position along the west side of the line. They were ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line. Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.
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.
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. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
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.”
After fighting the Japanese for four months, Robert became a Prisoner of War when the Filipino and American troops were surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942. It was from Mariveles, at the southern tip of Bataan, that he began the death march. The POWs made their way north to San Fernando. There, they were placed in a bullpen covered in human waste. When ordered by the Japanese, they formed a detachment of 100 POWs and marched to the train station.
At the station, they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as “forty and eights.” Each car could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing until the living disembarked at Capas. From there, they walked the last miles 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. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the 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, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese 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 ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.
To get out of the camp, Robert volunteered to go out on a work detail to collect scrap metal. He was part of a group of ten POWs who would tie the disabled American vehicles together, with ropes, and drive them to San Fernando. Four months later Robert was sent to the Pampanga Provincial Hospital after he came down with malaria. After recovering from malaria, on October 10, 1942, he was sent to Bilibid Prison where he was admitted to Ward 8. Medical records indicate he remained at Bilibid until February 10, 1943, when he was discharged and sent to Cabanatuan.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. 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. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
The Camp 1 hospital was made up of 30 wards. Zero ward had been missed when the wards were being counted so it was given the name of “Zero Ward.” The ward became the place were POWs who were going to die were sent. The Japanese were so terrified by it, that they put a fence up around it and would not go near the building.
In July 1944, a list of POWs was posted at Cabanatuan. At 8:00 P.M. on July 15th, trucks arrived at the camp. The POWs were boarded onto the trucks and taken to Bilibid Prison. The POWs arrived at Bilibid seven hours later. Their dinner was rotten sweet potatoes. Since it was night, they had to eat in the dark. Since he was ill he was put into the hospital ward. “They treated us pretty good during the time at Bilibid-and I don’t think it was just because I was in the hospital. The hospital orderlies and doctors were Americans, mostly naval personnel. Their medical supplies were scant but they had quite a bit of equipment needed in performing surgery.”
They remained at Bilibid until July 17 at 8:00 A.M. and walked to Pier 7 and 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 was moved and remained outside the breakwater, at Manila, from July 18th until July 23rd while the Japanese attempted to form a convoy. The POWs were fed rice and vegetables, twice a day, which were cooked together. They also received two canteen cups of water each day.
The ship sailed on July 23rd 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. On July 26th at 3:00 in the morning, there was a large fire off the ship. It turned out that the 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. On July 30, the ship ran into a storm which kept submarines away. The storm finally passed by August 2, and the next day the POWs were issued clothing. It arrived at Moji, Japan, the night of August 3rd, at about midnight.
At 8:00 in the morning the next day, the POWs disembarked the ship. They were taken to a theater and were held in it all day. They were organized into detachments of 200 men and 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. Robert and the other POWs were sent to Fukuoka #23 with him was Pfc. Earl Burchard of A Company. The camp commandant gave each POW his job after talking to the man.
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.
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 with Japanese civilians who supervised them and 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 as the temperature was 65 degrees to 70 degrees.
Of this, he said, “We use to work ten days on the day shift and ten days night and the only time we got off was when we switched shifts-then we get the extra time until the alternate shift. It was a merry-go-round.” The POWs rotated shifts in the mine. For ten days, they would work days and then rotated and worked ten nights. A workday for the prisoners lasted 12 to 14 hours. Recalling his time as a POW, he said, “One day was the same as another, as far as we were concerned over there. We use to work ten days on the day shift and ten nights and the only time off was when we switched shifts – then we’d get the extra time until the alternate shift.”
Other POWs in the camp worked topside, at the mine, as coal dust diggers, others POWs made brickets, while some remained in the camp to work. It is not known what work the POWs who worked in the camp did.
Meals were 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. Robert said, “Rice and more rice – only it was never enough.” But, they also ate seaweed and potato tops. There were times that the POWs ate grass. Since the diet was so bad, Robert developed pellagra and beriberi.
The day that the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Robert recalled the camp shook since it was 80 miles from the city. The POWs heard the war was over on August 15, but officially learned it was over the next day, at 9:00 A.M., from the camp commandant, who 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 to the POWs. For the first time, the POWs knew they were now in charge. Most of the guards quickly disappeared. On September 15, Americans arrived in the camp. When he was liberated, John weighed less than 80 pounds. The POWs were taken by truck to the train station. They road the train to Nagasaki. Once there, they were given physicals, deloused, and the seriously ill were boarded onto a hospital ship. The rest were taken by the U.S.S. Marathon to Okinawa. They were then flown back to the Philippines before returning to the United States on the Dutch ship, the S.S. Klipfontein arriving there in October 1945.
Robert returned to Janesville after the war and learned his father had died, in 1943, while he was a POW. He was discharged from the army on May 26, 1947. Robert married Eleanor Goehler and would move to Richmond, Illinois, where he was superintendent of the public works department until he retired in 1975.
Robert Bartz moved to Harrington, Texas, and in November 1977, he suffered a massive heart attack. He appeared to be recovering when he suddenly passed away on March 6, 1978, and was buried at Mont Meta Memorial Park, San Benito, Texas.