Cpl. Elmer John Bensing Jr. was the son of Elmer J. Bensing Sr and Lenore Wilson-Bensing and was born on December 12, 1918, in Louisville, Kentucky. With his three younger brothers and two younger sisters, he resided at 1452 South Hemlock Street. He was a high school graduate and worked in payroll at Mengel Body Shop. The Selective Service Act took effect on October 16, 1940, and he registered for the draft and named his mother as his contact person. On January 22, 1941, Elmer was inducted into the army at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and assigned to D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. At some point, he married Thelma Weidner.
The Army rushed his basic training which he completed in seven weeks. 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; week 7, was 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.
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 April 9. The tankers also painted their tanks a dull green-gray with blue numbers on the running boards. Around the turrets near the bottom, they painted red and blue stripes. According to the soldiers, this made it easier to camouflage the tanks. They also took part in a 15-mile hike during the month.
Many members of the battalion went home for Easter in April. The only men left on the base were those attending schools; in particular, those assigned to radio school. The men who remained behind also had performed all the duties expected of them, such as guard duty. While doing these things, they still started their day at 4:00 A.M. They also washed the tanks in Salt River which was 14 miles from their barracks.
The battalion finally received all its tanks and the soldiers were told to, “beat the hell out of them.” 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 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16th. 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.
At the end of the month, the battalion found itself at the firing range and appeared to have spent the last week there. According to available information, they were there from 4:00 A.M. until 8:30 A.M. when they left the range. They then had to clean the guns which took them until 10:30 A.M. One of the complaints they had about the firing range was that it was so hot and humid that when they got back from it that their clothes felt like they had stood out in the rain. Right after July 4th, the battalion went on a nine-day maneuver.
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, 160 miles south of Ft. Knox. 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, later that day, the men who had driven to Louisiana were waiting for them at the train station in the trucks.
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 Kisatchie National Forest, near DeRidder, Louisana, where the soldiers dealt with mosquitoes, snakes, wood ticks, snakes, and alligators. They described the land as swamps, woods, and shacks. They also heard they were going to North Carolina on October 6th.
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.
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.
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 mobile kitchens moved right along with the rest of the battalion. In the opinion of the men, the food was not very good because the damp air made it hard to get a fire started. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili – which they called “Iron Rations” – that they carried in their backpacks and choked down. Water was scarce and men went days without shaving and many shaved their heads to keep cool. 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 was ordered to Camp Polk. On the side of a hill, the members of the battalion learned that they were not being released from federal service. Instead, they were being sent overseas as part of “Operation PLUM.” Within hours, many of the members of the battalion believed that they had figured out that PLUM stood for the Philippines, Luzon, Manila. There is no proof that this was true. Men who were married or 29 years old or older had the opportunity to resign from federal service. Replacements for the men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
There are at least two stories on the decision to send the battalion overseas, but the decision appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision for this move 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 – 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 Gen. George Patton – who had commanded the tanks of the Blue Army – 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, the battalion even fought as 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 – both had been National Guard medium tank battalions – at Ft. Meade, Maryland, the 193rd at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th 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. On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. On August 15, the 194th received its orders to go overseas. 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 for the battalions going to the Philippines. It is also known that the 193rd Tank Battalion was on its way to Hawaii – during its trip to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. When it arrived at Hawaii the battalion was held there. The 70th and 191st never received orders for the Philippines because the war with Japan had started. It is known at least one heavy tank battalion had been scheduled to be sent, but it appears one had not been selected.
Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs so that they could say goodbye to family and friends. He returned home to say his goodbyes and married Thelma A. Weidner on October 5, 1941. The battalion’s new tanks which came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division 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 southern route along the Gulf Coast through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. At Yuma, Arizona the train stopped and the Native Americans entered the train cars and sold beads to the soldiers. The soldiers knocked each other over attempting to buy the beads. After the train pulled out of the station, someone noticed that the genuine Native American beads were made in Japan. 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.
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. 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 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 U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. On 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, but two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters carrying 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. 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 the enlisted men left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When someone 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.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King Jr. who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received dinner – 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 192nd 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. D Company was scheduled to be transferred to the 194th Tank Battalion so when they arrived at the fort, it is possible that they moved into their finished barracks.
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.
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 tankers 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.
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. The 192nd arrived in the Philippines with a large amount of radio equipment to set up a radio school. Within hours of arriving, they had an operational communications tent in contact with the U.S. 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 Ernest Miller, the commanding officer of the 194th, Major Ted Wickord, the 192nd’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, the commanding officer of the tank group, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 194th were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the north end of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
All morning long, American planes filled the sky. At noon, every plane landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, as the tankers ate lunch, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers believed the planes were American until they saw what appeared to be “raindrops” fall from the planes. When bombs began exploding around them, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. The members of HQ Company could do little more than watch the attack and take cover since they had few weapons to be used against planes. During the attack, 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. (It should be noted that the attack on Pearl Harbor happened at 1:55 A.M. on December 8 in the Philippines, so the attack on Clark Field was almost 11 hours later.) 89 of the planes that had been sitting along the runway at Clark Field were destroyed, and there were approximately 236 casualties.
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. One of the results of the attack was that the transfer of D Company, to the 194th, was never completed. The company fought with the 194th but retained its designation of being part of the 192nd. That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their barracks. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a 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.
The 194th, with D Company, was moved, the night of the 12th, to an area south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge arriving there at 6:00 A.M. On December 13, the tankers were moved 80 kilometers from Clark Field to do reconnaissance and to guard beaches. On the 15, the battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. These were used to test the ground to see if it could support tanks.
The tank battalions were sent to the area around the Lingayen Gulf. The company was near a mountain, so many of the tankers climber to the top. On the mountain, they found troops, ammunition, guns but were just sitting there watching the Japanese ships in the gulf. They had received orders not to fire. The tankers walked down the mountain and waited. They received orders to drop back from the mountain and let the Japanese occupy it. They watched as the Japanese brought their equipment to the top of the mountain. The Americans finally received orders to launch a counterattack which failed.
On December 22, the companies were operating north of the Agno River and after the main bridge was bombed, on December 24/25, it made an end run to get south of the river and not be trapped by the Japanese. The tanks held the south bank of the river from west of Carmen to the Carmen-Akcaka-Bautista Road with the 192nd holding the bank east of Carmen to Tayug northeast of San Quintin. Christmas Day, the tankers spent the night in a coconut grove. As it turned out, the coconuts were all they had to eat. From Christmas to January 15, 1942, both day and night, all the tanks did was cover retreats of different infantry units. The tanks were constantly bombed, shelled, and strafed.
The Japanese liked to use snipers. The snipers would climb high into the tree. They then would tie themselves onto a large branch of the tree with a vine. On one occasion, being in an area where several soldiers had been shot, Elmer took his sub-machine gun and began shooting at a vine running up a tree. He followed the vine up the tree until he cut it with his fire. The Japanese sniper fell from the tree.
The tanks formed a new defensive held the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas- San Jose line on December 26. When they dropped back from the line, all the platoons withdrew, except one which provided cover, as the other platoons from the area. One tank went across the line receiving fire and firing on the Japanese. At Bayambang, Lt. Weeden Petree’s platoon lost a tank. It was at this time that D Company, 192nd, lost all their tanks, except one, because the bridge they were supposed to cross had been destroyed. The company commander, Capt. Jack Altman, could not bring himself to totally destroy the tanks, and the Japanese repaired them and used them on Bataan. The sergeant of the one tank, that had not been abandoned, found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge. With the muzzle of the sergeant’s forty-five against the back of his head, the driver made it across the river. The sergeant received the Silver Star.
The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. On January 1, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. Doing this would allow 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 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.
At Gumain River, on January 5, D Company and C Company, 194th, were given the job to hold the south riverbank so that the other units could withdraw. The tank companies formed a defensive line along the bank of the river. At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5/6, the Japanese attacked Remedios in force and using smoke as a cover which blew back on them. But since they were wearing white t-shirts they were east to see in the dark. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
The night of January 6/7 the 194th, covered by the 192nd, crossed the bridge over the Culis Creek and entered Bataan. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M. This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan. At this time, the food rations were cut in half. It was at this time that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks each. This was done to provide tanks to D Company, while those crews still without tanks were used as replacements.
A composite tank company was created on January 8 under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Company, 192nd, and sent to defend the Wast Coast Road north of Hermosa. Its job was to keep the north road open and prevent the Japanese from driving down the road before a new battle line had been formed, but the Japanese never attacked allowing the defensive line to be formed. The tanks withdrew after they began receiving artillery fire.
The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Aubucay-Hacienda Road. While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month. The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance. It was also at this time that the tank companies were reduced to nine tanks with three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D Company, 192nd, would have tanks.
The 194th was sent to reopen the Moron Road so that General Segunda’s forces, which were trapped behind enemy lines, could withdraw. While attempting to do this, two tanks were knocked out by landmines planted by ordnance but were recovered, and a Japanese anti-tank gun was destroyed. The mission was abandoned the next day. Gen. Segunda’s forces escaped but lost their heavy equipment. The next action the tanks saw was on the 20th when they were sent to relieve the 31st Infantry’s command post. On the 24th, the tanks were ordered to the Hacienda Road to support infantry but again could not accomplish their mission because of landmines planted by ordnance.
The 194th was holding a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road on January 26 with four self-propelled mounts. At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino came down the road and warned the battalion that a large Japanese force was coming down the road. When they appeared the tanks opened fire on them. At 10:30, the Japanese withdrew having lost 500 of 1200 men. This action prevented the new line of defense from being breached.
General Weaver also issued the following orders to the tank battalions around this time: “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.”
On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of guarding the beaches so that the Japanese couldn’t land troops. The 194th guarded the coastline against Japanese landings from Limay to Cabcaban. During the day, the tanks hid under the jungle canopy. At night they were pulled out onto the beaches. The battalion’s half-tracks had the job of patrolling the roads. At all times, the tanks were in contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols.
For most of March, the situation on Bataan was relatively quiet and the Japanese had been fought to a standstill. The newspapers in the United States reported both sides were strengthening their lines in expectation of an all-out attack. 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. Wainwright rejected the suggestion. For most of March, the situation on Bataan was relatively quiet and the Japanese had been fought to a standstill. The newspapers in the United States reported both sides were strengthening their lines in expectation of an all-out attack. The reports stated that the Japanese did not have air support because their planes had been shifted south in the assault on Java.
There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over on their way to Java. During this time, a tank had gotten stuck in the mud, and the crew was working to free it. While they were doing this, a Japanese regiment entered the area. Lt. Colonel Ernest Miller ordered his tanks to fire on the Japanese at point-blank range. He also ran from tank to tank directing the crews’ fire. The Japanese were wiped out. On March 21, the last major battle was fought by the tanks.
Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched – on April 3, 1942 – an all-out 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. 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. Company B, 192nd, D Company, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack against the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.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.”
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, 192nd, 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 ammunition dumps were destroyed. 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 was from the tank group.) 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.” 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.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company, 192nd, and spoke to the men. As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company, 192nd, and spoke to the men. According to a member of HQ Company, 194th, Gen. King spoke to the men and said, “I’m the man who surrendered you, men. It’s not your fault.” He also spoke to the members of B Company, 192nd, and told them something similar. 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 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. 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 the line of 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.
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.”
On April 10, the Japanese arrived and ordered the Prisoners of War onto the road. They quickly stripped the POWs of their watches, pens, and sunglasses. The POWs were taken to a trail and found that walking on the gravel trail was difficult. They immediately witnessed “Japanese Discipline” toward their own troops. The Japanese apparently were marching for hours, and when a man fell, he was kicked in his stomach and hit in the head with a rifle butt. If he still did not get up, the Japanese determined that the man was exhausted and left him alone.
The trial the POWs were on ended when they reached the main road. The first thing the Japanese did was to separate the officers from the enlisted men and counted them. The POWs were left in the sun for the rest of the day wondering what was going to happen. That night they were ordered north which was difficult, on the rocky road, in the dark, since they could not see where they were walking.
The POWs made their way north against the flow of Japanese horse artillery and trucks which were moving south. At times, they would slip on something wet and slippery which were the remains of a man killed by Japanese artillery the day before. When dawn came, the walking became easier but as the sun rose it became hotter and the POWs began to feel the effects of thirst. It was at this time that the POWs saw a group of Filipinos being marched by the Japanese. Looking at them, they realized that they had been hungry, but the Filipinos had been starving. When the men crossed the Lamao River, they smelled the sweet smell of death. The Japanese had heavily bombed the area causing many casualties and many of the dead lay partially in the river. The air corps POWs in front of them ran to the river and drank. Many would later die from dysentery at Camp O’Donnell.
At Limay on April 11, the officers with the rank of major or above were put into a schoolyard. The officers were told that they would be driven the rest of the march. At 4:00 AM, the officers were put into trucks for an unknown destination. It was there that they joined the main column of POWs being marched out of Bataan and they began to witness the abuse of POWs. The lower-ranking officers and enlisted men walked to Balanga and Orani. At 4:00 AM, the officers were put into trucks for an unknown destination. They were taken to Balanga, disembarked, and ordered to put their field bags in front of them for inspection. During the inspection, one officer was found to have an automatic gun in his bag. As punishment, the POWs were not fed. They set in a paddy all day and were ordered to move near sunset as punishment for the gun being in the bag. They reached Orani on April 12 at three in the morning.
At Orani, the officers were put into a bullpen where they were ordered to lay down. In the morning, the POWs realized that they had been lying in the human waste of POWs who had already used the bullpen. At noon, they received their first food. It was a meal of rice and salt. Later in the day, other enlisted POWs arrived in Orani. One group was the enlisted members of the tank group. They had walked the entire way to the barrio. At 6:30 or 7:00 that evening, they resumed the march and were marched at a faster pace. The guards also seemed to be nervous about something. This time they made the POWs make their way to Hermosa. There, the road went from gravel to concrete and the change of surface made the march easier. When the POWs were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lay down were jabbed with bayonets.
The POWs continued the march and for the first time in months it began to rain which felt great and many men attempted to get drinks. At 4:30 PM on April 13, they arrived at San Fernando. The POWs were put into a bullpen and remained there for the rest of the day. At 4:00 in the morning, the Japanese woke the POWs and marched them to the train station. They were packed into small wooden boxcars known as “forty or eights.” They were called this since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The detachments had 100 men in them, so the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and shut the doors. The heat in the cars was unbearable and many POWs died. They could not fall to the floors since there was no room for them to fall. The POWs rode the train to Capas arriving there at 9:00 AM. There, the living disembarked from the cars and the dead fell to the floors. The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942.
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 in 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 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 awaiting burial.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese with the names of POWs healthy 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. Many of these men returned to the camp from work details only to die. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The POWs on the burial detail often had dysentery and/or malaria. When they buried the dead, the next morning many were found sitting up in their graves or that the dead had been dug up by wild dogs. The Japanese finally acknowledged that they had to do something, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.
His parents received two letters from the War Department. The first arrived in May 1942.
“Dear Mrs. T. Bensing:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Corporal Elmer J. Bensing Jr., 35,100,622, 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 if 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”
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan #1 which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Panagatian.
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. In early June, four POWs escaped and were recaptured. They were brought back to the camp and tied to posts and beaten. After three days they were cut loose from the posts and made to dig their own graves. They stood in graves facing a Japanese firing squad and were shot. After they had been shot, a Japanese officer used his pistol and fired a shot into each grave.
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 and divided into groups of ten men. This 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. In the camp, Elmer was assigned to Barracks 12.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” The rice smelled and appeared to have been swept up off the floor. The other problem was that the men assigned to be cooks had no idea of how to prepare the rice since they had no experience in cooking it. During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, the POWs received corn to serve to the prisoners. From the corn, the cooks would make hominy. The prisoners were so hungry that some men would eat the corn cobs. This resulted in many men being taken to the hospital to have the cobs removed because they would not pass through the men’s bowels. Sometimes they received bread, and if they received fish it was rotten and covered with maggots. To supplement their diets, the men would search for grasshoppers, rats, and dogs to eat. The POWs assigned to handing out the food used a sardine can to assure that each man received the same amount. They were closely watched by their fellow prisoners who wanted to make sure that everyone received the same portion and that no one received extra rice.
The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens. The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. POWs worked in rice paddies. 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 to drive their faces deeper into the mud. 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.
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 26 June 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 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.
In July 1942, the family received a second letter. 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, Corporal Elmer J. Bensing Jr. 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 permitted 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.”
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 at 9 POWs dying each day into November.
A POW was recaptured on September 17 who had escaped on August 7. 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 touching 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 was later released.
On September 27, a POW who had escaped on August 7 was recaptured. 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 were executed, on September 29, 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, but it does appear that meals improved during this time.
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.
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. The Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads as they left the shed. 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. 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.
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 was milk, 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.
On January 11, the POWs watched and heard the explosions as Japanese dive bombers bombed and strafed something about 30 kilometers away. They later heard a barrio was attacked killing 102 men, women, and children and wounding 60. On the 13th, the commissary supplies ended. According to the Japanese, this was because guerrillas had burned down half of Cabanatuan which included the warehouse where the supplies were stored. The Japanese issued toilet kits to the POWs on January 14 that had to be shared by four POWs. It was about this time that Elmer contracted malaria, beriberi, and dysentery. According to medical records kept at the camp, he was admitted to the camp hospital on January 14, 1943. So far, no discharge date has been found. On January 18, the same area was bombed again by the Japanese. The Japanese issued Red Cross Boxes to the POWs on January 24 which had to be shared by two POWs. 1200 POWs left the camp on a work detail on January 27.
During this time multiple work details left the camp and returned each day. Some details were small while others had 1255 to 1450 POWs on them. The POWs received Christmas telegrams on February 7. The POWs watched a Marx Brothers movie “Room Service” on the 11th and many Japanese propaganda news clips. It was recorded on February 12 that there had not been a death in the camp in eight days. Three POWs died the next day. The Japanese also ordered that the POWs turn in all radios to them. It is not known if they received any. POWs who did not have blankets were issued a blanket by the Japanese on February 22. A program was started to stop the spread of dysentery. For every full milk can of flies the POWs turned in, they received cigarettes in return. It was noted that on March 3, 12 million flies had been turned in and 320 rats had been turned in.
On February 7, 1943, while he was in the camp. his name was on a list of men known to be Japanese Prisoners of War. The War Department had notified his wife on January 3 that he was a POW.
REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR HUSBAND CORPORAL ELMER J BENSING JR IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL.
Within days of receiving the first message, his wife received the following letter:
“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:
“Cpl. Elmer J. Bensing, 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
A large POW detachment also started work at the camp cemetery, on April 1, but what they did was not known. Two POWs, PFC Nolan Stobaugh and Pvt. Ernest O. Kelly escaped while working on the water detail outside the camp on the 6th. They had an hour’s start on the Japanese guards. The only punishment given to the other POWs was the show they expected to see was canceled. On the 11th, the workday changed for the POWs. Revelle was at 5:30 A.M. with breakfast now at 6:00 until 7:00 when they left for work and worked until 10:30 A.M. when they returned to the camp for lunch at noon. They returned to work and worked from 1:00 P.M. until 6:00 P.M. Dinner was at 6:30. Roll call was taken at 7:00 P.M. and again at 9:00 P.M. Pvt. John B. Trujillo who was one of the POWs assigned to guard against escapes attempted to escape but was caught. At 9:00 A.M. he was taken to the schoolyard in the barrio of Cabanatuan and executed.
During this time there was an incident between the Japanese and the camp band that in the camp. The band always tried to learn new songs to play for the POWs. One of the songs the band learned to play was “Paper Moon.” The only problem was that the song had not become popular until after the soldiers had become POWs. When the Japanese realized this, they knew the POWs had a radio hidden in the camp. The Japanese searched the camp vigorously to find the radio and tortured many men, but they never did find the radio.
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.
In July 1944, a list of POWs was posted at Cabanatuan. At 8:00 P.M. on July 15, 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. At 7:00 A.M. on July 17, the POWs were marched to Pier 5 in the Port Area and boarded the Nissyo Maru which appeared to be barely seaworthy to the POWs. Besides the POWs, the ship carried Japanese women and children who were being evacuated from the Philippines. The POWs went to the rear of the ship and removed their shoes and dropped their bags through a hatch into hold number three. They then went down a narrow, wooden stairway that led into the dark hold. The Japanese attempted to put the entire POW detachment in the rear hold but failed. They finally admitted that all the POWs would not fit in the hold, so they opened the number two hold which was just forward of the bridge. About 900 POWs were put into the forward hold. The POWs were moved to it in groups of 50 men and each group was allocated a part of the hold. Since they were still crowded, no one could lie down. Each man sat on the floor with his knees drawn up in front of him. Another POW would sit between his knees with his head resting on the first man’s chest.
This left about 700 men in number three hold which could comfortably hold one hundred men. There were three sets of wooden tiers that lined the hold. One was 4 feet high and 10 feet wide. The guards packed the POWs into the tiers. The tiers filled but the guards kept shoving in more men. Those who could move their arms twirled their shirts above their heads to stir the air. The heat was oppressive and the POWs still on deck could feel it as they entered the hold. The guards beat POWs who refused to go into the hold. Inside the hold, fights broke out among the POWs for space and air. Men also began to pass out from suffocation.
The ship was moved to the breakwater and remained outside the breakwater from July 18th until July 23rd while the Japanese attempted to form Convoy H168. Around 9 p.m. that evening, large wooden buckets of steamed rice were lowered into the hold. There was no organized system of distribution, so the sick POWs did not eat. Many POWs could not swallow the rice since their mouths were too dry. They did not receive their first ration of water until 30 hours after entering the hold with each man being allowed one pint of water a day. It was stated that each day they were fed rice and vegetables that had been cooked together and received two canteen cups of water. Some of the POWs dried to get water from the condensation that had formed on the walls of the holds. Still, others continue to drink urine while others cut the throats of men and drank blood.
The possessions of the POWs had been thrown below them onto coal in the lower part of the hold. In the possessions of the men who had worked on the Port Area Detail was food from their Red Cross boxes. In the evening, POWs would go down to the luggage and raid it in an attempt to find any food hidden in it. The Japanese ended the stealing when those caught reading the baggage were made to sit on the deck of the ship in the sun with their hands tied behind their backs. They were not fed for three days.
The convoy of 21 ships left Manila on July 24 at 8:00 A.M. and headed north by northeast for Formosa. The ships hugged the coast to avoid submarines, but the subs had a good idea where the convoy was located. At 2:00 A.M. July 26, the USS Flasher surfaced, made contact with the convoy, and radioed its position to the two other subs in its wolf-pack. At 3:00 in the morning, there was an explosion, flames flew over the open hatches of the holds where the POWs were, and lit the hold. The Otari Yama Maru, an oil tanker, had been hit by a torpedo from the U.S.S. Flasher. As the ship sunk, the POWs said they heard a hissing sound as its hull which was red hot went under. Other torpedos were fired at the ship, but because it was so high in the water, they passed harmlessly under the ship and hit other ships. When the POWs realized they could die they began to panic in the holds, so the guards pointed machine guns down at them and threatened to shoot unless they quieted down. Maj. John L. Curran, a Catholic chaplain, said, “Now, there’s nothing we can do about this. So let’s go ahead and start praying.“He led the POWs in prayer. According to men on the ship, the wolf pack hunted the convoy for three days.
The POWs were fed each day ¼ cup of potato, barley, greens, and an onion soup, which were cooked together. After four days, the POWs no longer received the soup. They also received one cup of water each day and attempted to catch rain in their mouths. POWs fainted and those who fell to the floor were trampled. The POWs passed the unconscious men above their heads forward to the hatch and up the stairs onto the deck. The POWs in the hold panicked and many were heard praying. Others cursed and their screams echoed off the steel walls of the hold. Those who were lucky enough to have water drank it to prevent their canteens from being stolen. Some men were so desperate that they drank their own urine.
During this time, the Japanese lowered what was called “benjo buckets” into the holds to be used as toilets. The buckets were lowered into the holds in the morning, but they soon were overflowing, and when they were removed from the holds in the evening, the feces in them fell onto the POWs below. In addition, many of the POWs had dysentery and could not even reach the buckets. The floor was soon covered in human waste as deep as the POWs’ ankles. The POWs finally organized lines to use the buckets since an aisle to reach them was available.
On July 27, the POWs held a boat drill where the POWs went to lifeboats. It was noted by them that the Japanese were jumpy after the sinking of the tanker. The next day the ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, docked at 9:00 A.M., and was loaded with food while the POWs remained in the holds with the hatch covers on them. The ship sailed at 7:00 P.M. the same day and continued its northward trip for the next two days. On July 30, the ship ran into a storm which finally passed by August 2.
The death of a second POW was recorded on August 2, clothing was issued to the POWs on August 3, and the ship arrived at Moji on August 4 at midnight. The entire voyage to Japan took seventeen days because the convoy was attempting to avoid American submarines. At 8:00 in the morning, the POWs disembarked the ship and were taken to a theater and held in it all day. That night they were put into detachments of 200 men and taken to the train station. From there, the POWs boarded different trains. The POW detachment Elmer was in took a two-day trip to Omuta, Kyushu, Japan. From there, the POWs were taken to Fukuoka #3-B which was near the Japanese town of Tobata.
The camp commander made it clear to the POWs that they were in a work camp. There were ten barracks of flimsy construction that could hold 150 POWs with each POW having a three-foot by six-foot living space, with a straw mat and three thin blankets for warmth, to sleep in. There were no stoves for heat but each had a charcoal pit for heat but no fuel was given to the POWs to use them. If they had used them, there were no flues to vent the smoke. Each building had two platforms for sleeping on both sides of the barracks running the length of the building. The lower tier was six inches off the ground and the upper tier was six feet from the ground and was reached by ladders. There were also shelves above each tier for the POWs to store their possessions. The floors were concrete and the roofs were tiled. Lighting was provided by meager light bulbs. The barracks were infested with lice, bedbugs, and fleas. The Japanese refused to give the POWs any supplies to kill the pests. At the end of the barracks were latrines with 6 wooden stalls, 1 urinal, and 4 sinks. The POWs were given one gallon of lime for use in each of the latrines.
Food for the POWs consisted of a main dish of rice, wheat, wheat flour, corn, and, Kaoliang, a millet. The POWs carried their lunches, which were millet, to work in small bento boxes. It was estimated that each POW received about 150 grams of rice and barley and 200 grams of bread each day. It was said, those working received 750 grams a day and 550 grams for non-workers. They also received a soup made from seaweed that was pretty much hot water and seaweed. To supplement their diets, the POWs in the camp would hunt rats at night for meat. There was a camp garden, but the Japanese took all the vegetables and left the POWs with the leaves and stalks. On the two occasions, the POWs had meat, the meat that was given to them was rotten shark, whale, or fish. The POWs went to the garbage dump to look for food. The unsanitary conditions in the kitchen resulted in many POWs having diarrhea. For Christmas, each POW received a tangerine, and they ate the fruit but also the peels.
The hospital had steam pipes installed, but the building was heated only part of the night during the winter, so the patients had to wear heavy overcoats during the day to keep reasonably warm. This building was always overcrowded and understaffed. A second hospital was built but the POWs were denied its use, and it remained unoccupied until Oct. 1944. The sick lay in bunks with straw mats. The original hospital could hold from 50 to 60 patients but usually, there were 120 patients. The rear of each barracks contained a washroom equipped with concrete sinks and contaminated running cold water. The men were warned against drinking this water.
When they arrived they were issued one set of “seaweed” clothes resembling heavy mosquito netting. Clothing was handed out by a Japanese supply sergeant who would hold clothing inspections on the POWs’ day off. It was during these inspections that the POWs were supposed to present their worn-out clothing to him for new clothing. Before he would issue new clothing to the POWs he would beat them with a club and hit them with his fists. The POWs went without clothing to avoid the beatings which resulted in men developing pneumonia and dying. On January 1, 1945, each POW received an overcoat. After the war, 1500 work uniforms were found in a warehouse. In addition, the POWs went barefoot in the winter instead of receiving new shoes. The CO of the camp claimed they didn’t have any shoes for the POWs. The Japanese stated that they issued 3,000 to 4,000 working suits, 700 pairs of rubber-soled footwear, 3,000 pairs of gloves, 500 pairs of socks, and 1,500 towels. It is known the POWs received towels. After the war in the camp’s warehouse was found, 100 pairs of Japanese leather shoes, 250 pounds of shoe repair leather sent by the Red Cross, 500 pairs of socks, and 1300 work uniforms.
On a few occasions, the POWs did receive Red Cross boxes. It was noted that the canned meat and other food were missing from the boxes. On several occasions, the POWs saw the Japanese guards eating stew that came from the cans. One POW stated that if 100 Red Cross boxes arrived at the camp, the POWs got 75 of them. Some of the guards were seen wearing Red Cross clothing sent to the camp for the POWs and smoking American cigarettes. One guard during one winter was seen wearing fourteen different pairs of Red Cross shoes.
Each day after work, the sick call was held. The POW doctors would diagnose cases and determine what medicine was needed to treat the POW. A Japanese doctor or orderly was always present to tell the POW doctor if the POW would be allowed to be treated. To meet quotas for workers, the sick POWs were required to work even if it meant they could possibly die from doing it. The Japanese camp doctor made the sick stand out in the cold for hours. He also beat them and allowed the guards to beat them. He also withheld the medicine that the POW doctors requested for the sick. Although medical supplies for the POWs were sent to the camp by the Red Cross, the Japanese commandant would not give the American medical staff the medicine that was in the packages. Any surgery in the camp had to be performed with hacksaw blades and crude medical tools even though the Red Cross had sent the proper surgical tools to the camp. The first Japanese doctor was replaced by a second doctor who liked to make the POWs, who were shivering from fevers, stand outside and pour water on them. The hospital was built for 50 POWs, but on an average day, there were 200 POWs in it. If POWs were allowed to stay in the camp, they had to police the grounds or work in the camp garden. It appears pneumonia was one of the major killers in the camp. One Japanese orderly was known to say when a POW died, “he was not worth a damn anyway.” It was noted by the British POWs that the Americans were already malnourished when they arrived at the camp. Records show that 65 Americans, 13 British, 49 Dutch, 25 Indian, and 6 POWs of other nationalities died in the camp.
The POWs could not understand the interpreter which resulted in them being beaten for failing to follow orders. The POWs were beaten daily with fists and sticks for violating camp rules, and the guards often required them to stand at attention, in the cold, while standing water. The camp commander was said to carry a stick that he used to hit the POWs across the top of their heads. In one incident an entire barracks was slapped in the face, by the guards, because some POWs had smoked in the barracks. During the winter, POWs who were being punished often had water thrown on them. A group of about 60 POWs was made to crawl on their hands and knees, while carrying other POWs, on their backs. As they crawled, they were hit with bamboo sticks, belts, and rifle butts. There were two brigs in the camp which had as many as 20 POWs in them at a time. All POWs who died were reported to have died in the camp hospital. Another incident involved an American soldier who traded with the Japanese. The war was almost over and Japan was about to surrender. The soldier traded for roasted beans. As it turned out, the beans had been tainted with arsenic. The soldier died the next day. After going through all he had suffered, the soldier died when freedom was almost his. If a POW attempted to escape, he dug his own grave and was shot.
One POW stated, “The men were beaten with sticks, clubs, rifle butts for no reason at all. This was a daily affair. In some cases, men were beaten for violating camp orders; such as getting caught smoking out of hours. The guard would take the men up to the guardhouse beat them up with their fists, stripped them of their clothes, and then threw them outside in a water tank. This usually happened in the wintertime. After about two or three hours of this kind of torture, they would be sent back to the barracks the men would most always be given some form of punishment; such as in being unable to get the next issue of cigarettes.”
On a few occasions, the POWs did receive Red Cross boxes. It was noted that the canned meat and other food were missing from the boxes. On several occasions, the POWs saw the Japanese guards eating stew that came from the cans. One POW stated that if 100 Red Cross boxes arrived at the camp, the POWs got 75 of them. Some of the guards were seen wearing Red Cross clothing sent to the camp for the POWs and smoking American cigarettes. One guard during one winter was seen wearing fourteen different pairs of Red Cross shoes.
The POWs worked in a steel mill that had been built by an American company before the war. They worked seven days a week and had one day off a month that was used for house cleaning and inspection. After that, these things were done they had a half-day off.
Each man was issued a towel for the purpose of wiping off the sweat while working. Their workdays started at 5 A.M. when they woke. They had breakfast and fell out for work call at 6:30. They worked from 7:00 A.M. until 6:00 P.M. and received a half-hour lunch. Other documents indicated they worked from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM with a half-hour lunch and two ten-minute breaks; one in the morning and one in the afternoon. It also stated they received three days off each month. During the winter, they never saw daylight.
To get to the mill, the POWs walked downhill through the town and rode a train to the mill which was about 18 miles from the camp. They rode in flat cars with low sides which were on hinges. Sometimes these sides would be fastened in place by only one pin, but despite the fact that prisoners were so crowded into them that they were forced to press against the sides; there was no instance in which the sides gave way. Sometimes they sat in cars with a heavy layer of soot on the floor and also in cars containing glowing clinkers. Being open, the cars offered no protection against the weather, and many times I was compelled to sit out in the rain or snow for long periods before the cars were moved.
Some of the prisoners worked in the nearby steel factories of Tabata, while the rest worked in the Seitetsu Steel Mills at Yawata. The POWs loaded and unloaded ships, worked in the pipe shops, worked in machine shops, worked at brick making, worked in the motor car repair shop, worked at tool making, and some had to chip cast iron with hammers. Much of the POW work was to shovel iron ore and rebuild the ovens and were sent into the ovens to clean out the debris while the ovens were hot because the Japanese would not let them cool off. To get out of the ovens POWs worked fast. Hand grenades and shell casings from the mill helped the Japanese war effort. If an air raid took place while the POWs were at the mill, they were put into railway cars and the train was pulled into a tunnel. They got one day off a month for house cleaning and half of the day was completely free from work. They worked from 8:00 A.M. until 4:00 P.M. and received a half-hour lunch.
There was a second interpreter at the mill who the POWs liked. He had been to the States and could speak English fluently. He was never known to have abused a POW. When he saw a POW being beaten, he would attempt to help the POWs and find out what the problem was. He made the guard stop hitting the POWs if he found that there was no reason for the abuse. The POWs believed he tried to help them as much as he could.
On August 20, 1944, the second air raid in the area took place. The first took place in July before the POWs arrived. During the air raid, the POWs kept working in the mill and were forbidden to stop working. After four or five air raids, the Japanese allowed the POWs to take cover. When an air raid took place while the POWs were at the mill, they were put into railway cars and the train was pulled into a tunnel. Those POWs further from the tunnel took cover in two air raid shelters. Those POWs too far away from the train or shelters simply had to ride out the air raid. On one occasion, the POWs were put into shelters, but when the Japanese realized it was a major air raid, they made the POWs run a mile and a half to the tunnel. Air raids began occurring as many as five times a day and they began to take place at night. It was indicated that at the camp there were adequate air raid shelters for the POWs.
One POW recalled, “During Allied air raids on the steel mill, prisoners were allowed to go to the safety of a nearby railway tunnel, while guards with fixed bayonets chased and beat us all the way.” When the air raids took place while the POWs were in the camp, he said, “During night raids at the prison compound, there was the ha;f-shelter of bamboo and dirt huts, with bamboo poles covering the top to prevent American prisoners from cheering the American bombers that flew overhead. We were warned we would be executed if we even looked up at the planes while going to nearby shelters.”
The majority of POW officers in the camp were sent to Korea in April 1945. The beatings of the POWs also seemed to increase and they were beaten for playing cards, failing to salute, or failing to follow a camp rule. Collective beatings also seemed to increase when the Japanese suffered another military defeat.
When the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the prisoners were returned to the camp early. They did not return to work for days. When they did go back to the mills, they again came back to the camp early. As it turned out Kokura – three miles from the Yawata Steel Mill – was the primary target for the second atomic bomb, but since the sky was extremely overcast, the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. It was at this time, that the POWs saw Japanese workers facing the direction of radio speakers with their heads bowed. The Americans thought that the emperor had passed away. The truth was that the second atomic bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki, and the emperor was announcing Japan’s surrender. An American ensign, who could read and speak Japanese, saw a newspaper with the announcement of the surrender. He was the first person to inform his fellow POWs that the war was over. They were then told the same news by a Japanese officer. The camp was officially turned over to the POWs on August 20, 1945. It was at that time the POWs found 350 large Red Cross boxes with four smaller boxes in each one. The camp was officially turned over to the POWs on August 20, 1945. It was at that time the POWs found 350 large Red Cross boxes with four smaller boxes in each one.
On September 20, 1945, the former POWs were rescued by American troops. Elmer was returned to the Philippines. It is not known when his family learned he had been liberated. He was returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Marine Shark and arrived in San Francisco on November 1, 1945. His journey back to the U.S. had ended where it began a little over four years earlier. Elmer was awarded several medals. Among them were the purple heart and bronze star.
Elmer was discharged on February 26, 1946. He returned to Thelma and the couple raised a son and daughter. To support his family, he worked as a payroll clerk at K.A. Barker Construction Company.
Elmer J. Bensing passed away on December 23, 1998, in Louisville, Kentucky. After a memorial service at Chapel Hill United Church of Christ, he was buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Louisville.