Pvt. Donald Roy Berger was born on August 9, 1923, in Janesville, Wisconsin, to Roy C. Berger and Linda Emily Maahs-Berger. With his two sisters and brother, he lived at 506 Linn Street in Janesville. When he was twelve, his mother passed away. He left school after his sophomore year and worked for an architecture firm. It was at this time that he joined the Wisconsin National Guard, but his father had to sign the papers since he was not eighteen years old.
In September 1940, the National Guard company was federalized and designated as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. On November 25th, the company readied itself for training at Fort Knox, Kentucky and company boarded the train for Ft. Knox on November 28th. Donald was seventeen years old when the company was federalized.
When the tankers arrived at Ft. Knox, they learned that their barracks were not finished. The area of the fort that they were assigned to was brand new, so they found themselves living in tents with stoves in them. They remained in the tents several months until their barracks were finished. When they did move into their barracks, the roads in front of them were mud since the winter was extremely wet.
Donald, like all the other members of the battalion, learned to operate all the equipment of the battalion. It is not known what the specific training he received at Ft. Knox. A typical day for the soldiers started in 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics from 8:00 to 8:30. Afterward, the tankers went to various schools within the company. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics.
At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat. Afterward, retreat was at 5:50. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played.
In late August 1941, the battalion was informed it would take part in maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1 through 30. During the maneuvers, the battalion performed exceptionally well. After the maneuvers, instead of returning to Ft. Knox, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana. None of the members had any idea why they were being kept there.
On the side of a hill, the battalion members were informed that they were being sent overseas. Those members of the battalion who were married, or 29 years old, or older, were given the opportunity to resign from federal service and replaced by men from the 753rd Tank Battalion. The 192nd also received the tanks of the battalion.
The reason for this move was because of an event that happened during the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, on a routine patrol, when one of the pilots, whose plane was at a lower altitude, noticed something odd in the water. He took his plane lower and identified a flagged buoy in the water. and saw another flagged buoy in the distance. The squadron flew toward it and came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line, for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island, hundreds of miles away, with a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its designated patrol and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. By the time the planes landed that evening and reported what had been seen, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next morning, another squadron was sent to the area but the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore. Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted. It was on August 15th that the decision was made to send the battalion to the Philippines.
The battalion traveled by train routes to San Francisco, California, and was taken to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island by the ferry the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe. On the island, they received inoculations and physicals, and those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island. They were scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while others were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S 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 the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island since the ship had a two-day layover.
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 the ship was joined by the U.S.S. Louisville and, the transport, S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. The night of Sunday, November 9, the ships crossed the International Dateline and the next morning when the soldiers awoke it was Tuesday, November 11. During this part of the voyage, 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 took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country.
Arriving at Guam, on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, vegetables, and coconuts before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night. While they passed the island, they did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20, at 8:00 A.M., and docked at Pier 7 later in the day. At 3:00 P.M., the soldiers disembarked and were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Other battalion members boarded their trucks and drove them to fort north of Manila. The maintenance section of the battalion remained behind and unloaded the battalion’s tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. The fact was he had only learned of their arrival a few days earlier. He made sure that the soldiers all received Thanksgiving Dinner – a stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons. The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.
On Monday, December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard it against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion was assigned the northern half of the airfield while the 192nd protected the southern half. At all times, two crew members had to stay with their tanks and received their meals from food trucks.
On the morning of December 8, 1941, the members of B Company were informed of the Japanese attack on Clark Field. His tank and the others were sent to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. About 12:45 in the afternoon as the tankers were eating lunch, planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, the soldiers thought the planes were American. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
The 192nd remained at Clark Field and lived through bombings that took place on an almost daily basis. On December 21, the 192nd was ordered to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf to relieve the 26th Cavalry Philippine Scouts. HQ Company was to support B and C Companies. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going used to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of the river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th, holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
The 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, Gen. Mac Arthur’s chief of staff issued conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 so the Southern Luzon Forces could withdraw toward Bataan. These orders told them to withdraw from their positions. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff.
Because of the orders, some of the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges withdrew 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.
During the withdrawal into the peninsula, the company crossed over the last bridge which was mined and about to be blown up. The 192nd held its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leapfrog past it and then cover the 192nd’s withdraw. A Company was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
For the next three months, Lester worked to keep the tanks operating and armed. The company made sure that gasoline was delivered to the tanks.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack on April 3. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company’s offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
It was at this time that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6000 troops who sick or wounded and 40000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
Tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ’s commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks.
During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company’s trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, “Our last supper.”
On April 11, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company’s encampment. Donald was now a Prisoner of War. A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans. They remained along the sides of the road for hours.
HQ Company finally boarded trucks and drove to just outside of Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and ordered to sit. As they say, John and the other Prisoners of War noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
As they sat there watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in front of the soldiers. He got out and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. As he drove away, the sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, the POWs were moved to a school yard in Mariveles. In the schoolyard, they found themselves between Japanese artillery and guns firing from Corregidor and Ft. Drum. Shells began landing among the POWs who had no place to hide. Some of the POWs were killed from incoming shells since they had no place to hide. The American guns did knock out three of the Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march, they received no water and little food. At San Fernando, they were put in a bullpen, ordered to sit, and left sitting in the sun.
Later, they were ordered to form detachments of 100 men and marched to the train station where they were put into small wooden boxcars known as “Forty and Eights” because they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each boxcar so tightly that those men who died could not fall to the floors of the cars.
The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base which the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
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 Pangatian.
Cabanatuan was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the POWs who fought on Bataan and took part in the march were held. Camp 2 was two miles from Camp 1 and was closed because it lacked an adequate water supply. It was later reopened and used for Naval POWs. Camp 3 was six miles from Camp 2 and held the POWs captured on Corregidor and who were hospitalized when Bataan surrendered. It was later closed and the POWs there were sent to Camp 1.
To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
The hospital was comprised of 30 wards, with one additional ward known as “Zero Ward.” It was given the name because it had been missed when the wards were being counted. The name soon meant the place the truly sick POWs were sent to, to die. The Japanese were so afraid of the hospital that they put a fence up around it and would not enter the area.
Donald became ill and was put in the camp hospital on June 18, 1942, and the medical staff could do little for him since they had very little medicine to treat the sick POWs. According to the records kept by the medical staff, Pvt. Donald R. Berger, who was 18 years old, died on Wednesday, July 1, 1942, at approximately 9:00 P.M., from malaria, dysentery, and inanition, and was buried in the camp cemetery.
After the war, the remains of Pvt. Donald R. Burger were disinterred but could not be identified. The reason for this was the records for Cabanatuan showed what grave a man was buried in but not where in the grave his body had been placed. He was reburied at the new American Military Cemetery as an unknown.
Since his remains were never identified, Pvt. Donald R. Burger’s name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.