Pvt. Elmer Florian Blonien was born on April 12, 1916, to John K. Blonien and Katherine Muellenbach-Blonien. In 1930, his family moved to Wood County, Wisconsin, where his family resided in the town of Rudolph. It is known he had one brother and three sisters, and that he worked in his father’s feed store until he was drafted into the Army. His mother also ran the local post office.
On April 7, 1941, Elmer was inducted into the U. S. Army. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training. During the trip down to Ft. Knox, Elmer became friends with Albert Dubois, who he had met while playing cards on the train. When DuBois ran out of money, Elmer gave him three dollars so that he could keep playing.
At Ft. Knox, Elmer was assigned to A Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion. The reason this was done was the army was attempting to fill out the rosters of the letter companies with men from the home states of each company, and the company had originally been a Wisconsin National Guard tank company.
Basic training for the selectees was rushed and finished 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. All the training was done with the 69th Tank Regiment of the First Armored Division.
The men received their training from a composite group of officers and enlisted men from the 192nd. After seven weeks of training, they joined A Company permanently. During this time, he rose in rank to Private First Class and trained as a tank driver. It should be noted that newspaper articles from the 1940s state he was a medic, but 192nd rosters have him as a member of A Company instead of the medical detachment. The exact date he joined A Company is not known.
A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics from 8:00 to 8:30. Afterward, the tankers went to various schools within the company. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics.
At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat which was followed by dinner at 5:30. 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.
At 7:00 A.M. on Monday, June 16th, the battalion was broken into four detachments for a three-day tactical road march. The most important part of this march was to train the soldiers in loading, unloading, and setting up the battalion’s administrative camps. It also prepared them for the Louisiana maneuvers which they were scheduled to take part in during September.
The battalion traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which were the battalion’s kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The battalion traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox on Wednesday, June 18th through Lebanon, New Haven and Hodgenville, Kentucky.
During mid-July 1941, he had leave home to visit his family. It is believed that it was at this time he became engaged to Joyce Etteldorf. Next, Elmer took part in maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1 through 30. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk instead of returning to Ft. Knox as expected. It was on the side of a hill, that the battalion members learned they were being sent overseas.
The decision for this move – which had been made during August 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds of miles away. The island 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.
The battalion traveled by over different train routes to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, and were ferried, on the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they received inoculations and physicals from the battalion medical detachment, and those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. 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, the transport, S. S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline. It was also at this time the convoy stopped at Wake Island so the B-17 ground crews could disembark.
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. Allen stated that the Louisville intercepted two Japanese freighters that were hauling scrap metal.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. He recalled a Marine was checking off their names as they left the ship. 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, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in WWI tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He made sure that they had Thanksgiving Dinner – leftover beans from the 194th Tank Battalion – before he left to have his own dinner. If they had been a bit slower getting off the ship, they would have had a turkey dinner.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents from WW I and pretty ragged. They were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents. The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise from the engines as they flew over was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance and prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. At all times, two members of each tank or half-track crew remained with their vehicles and were fed from food trucks.
The morning of December 8, 1941, Capt. Walter Write informed his company that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese. At first, the tankers thought that this was the start of the expected maneuvers. The tankers were put on full alert and took their positions around the airfield. At 8:30 A.M., American planes took off to intercept any Japanese planes and filled the sky all morning. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled and were lined up near the mess hall, so that pilots could have lunch.
The tankers were eating lunch when white planes were seen approaching the airfield from the north at about 12:45. Many of the tankers counted 54 planes as the planes approached the airfield and watched what was described as “raindrops” falling from the planes. When the raindrops exploded on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. Since the battalion’s bivouac was near the main road between the fort and airfield, the soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks and trucks. Anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
That night, since they did not have any foxholes, the men used the old latrine pit for cover. Being that it was safer in the trench than in their tents, the other men slept in the pit. The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes. The next morning the decision was made to move the company into a tree-covered area. Without knowing it, Elmer had slept his last night on a cot or bed, and from this point on, the men slept in blankets on the ground.
The company was sent to the Barrio of Dau, on December 12, so it could protect the highway and railroad from sabotage. From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River. There, the tanks, with A Company, 194th held the position so other units could withdraw.
It was at this time that Elmer sent a cablegram, on December 19, home to his parents.
MANILA VIA MRT 1143PM DEC 19TH
IM FINE GIVE GREETINGS TO FRIENDS WEATHER IS FINE EXCEPT FOR HAIL MERRY CHRISTMAS PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR
On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write. After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River after the main bridge had been destroyed. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30, in the morning, on December 27.
The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27 and 28. From there they fell back to the south bank of the BanBan River which they were supposed to hold for as long as possible. The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29 serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.
A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read. On a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries. The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks’ machine guns. As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac. When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened fire on them. When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion. To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.
At the Gumain River, the night of December 31 to the morning of January 1, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river. When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts. The Japanese were taking heavy casualties, so they attempted to use smoke to cover their advance, but the wind blew the smoke into the Japanese. When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had suffered fifty percent casualties.
At Guagua, A Company, with units from the 11th Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese. Somehow, the tanks were mistaken, by the Filipinos to be Japanese. The 11th Division accurately used mortars on them. The result was the loss of three tanks.
On January 1, the tanks of the 194th were holding the Calumpit Bridge allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to cross the bridge toward Bataan. General Wainwright was attempting to hold the main Japanese force coming down Route 5 to prevent the troops from being cut off. General MacArthur’s chief of staff gave conflicting orders involving whose command the defenders were under which caused confusion. Gen. Wainwright was not aware these orders had been given. Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and
American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River. Due to the efforts of the Self-Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape. It was also in January 1942, that the food ration was cut in half. It was not too long after this was done that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers. The company returned to the command of the 192nd.
The tanks often were the last units to disengage from the enemy and form a new defensive line as Americans and Filipino forces withdrew toward Bataan. On the night of January 7, the A Company was awaiting orders to cross the last bridge into Bataan. The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but the battalion’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, ordered the engineers to wait until he had looked to see if they were anywhere in sight. He found the company, asleep in their tanks because they had not received the order to withdraw across the bridge. After they had crossed, the bridge was destroyed.
On January 10, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Abucay to Lamao along Bataan’s east coast. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
A Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese Marines who had been trapped behind the main defensive line. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank, that had been relieved, left the pocket.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
While American and Filipino forces were withdrawing from the Pilar-Bigac Line, the battalion prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops. On the morning of January 27, a new battle line had been formed and all units were supposed to be beyond it. That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were supposed to have withdrawn. While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point-blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualties.
On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
A Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets – from January 23 to February 17 – to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive was stopped and pushed back to the original line of defense. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that the tank companies were pulled out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day.
The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantily clad blond on them. The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
On March 2 or 3, during the Battle of the Points. The tanks had been sent in to wipe out two pockets of Japanese soldiers who had been landed behind the main defensive line. The Japanese were soon cut off. When the Japanese attempted to land reinforcements, they landed them at the wrong place creating another pocket. Both of the pockets were wiped out.
The company’s last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea. By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way. Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave. When asked about the Philippines, he said, “There are times when men must die.” The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack on April 3. 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 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
Tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
On April 9, 1942, Elmer became a Prisoner of War and made his way to Mariveles where he started what became known as the death march. The POWs walked out of the barrio heading north toward San Fernando. The first few miles it was all uphill and many of the prisoners quickly had a hard time keeping up with their group.
At one point, the POWs had to run across a field where the Japanese had artillery that was firing on Corregidor. At San Fernando, Elmer and the other men were packed into small wooden boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane. Each car could hold eight horses or 40 men. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. Those who died could not fall to the floors since there was no room to fall.
Albert DuBois stated that the march was harder on Elmer because he was a big man. In his opinion, Elmer’s health began to fail as a result of the march. At Capas, the POWs who were still living climbed out of the cars. The bodies of the dead fell to the car floors as the living left the cars.
The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When the POWs arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that they 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 Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to 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 cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped 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.
At the end of May or beginning of June, his parents received this letter from the War Department.
Dear Mrs. K. Blonien:
According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Private Elmer F. Blonien, 36,206,285, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter. In the last days before the surrender of Bataan, there were casualties which were not reported to the War Department. Conceivably the same is true of the surrender of Corregidor and possibly other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect to the interchange of information regarding prisoners of war. At some future date, this Government will receive through Geneva a list of persons who have been taken prisoners of war. Until that time the War Department cannot give you positive information.
The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war. In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired. At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.
Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months; to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held; to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress. The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records. Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.
Very Truly yours
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General
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, Pvt. Elmer F. Blonien had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received. “Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.
On 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 which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Pangatian. The entire transfer of the POWs was completed by June 5.
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 camp hospital was composed of 30 wards. The ward for the sickest POWs was known as “Zero Ward,” which got its name because it had been missed when the wards were counted. Each ward had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each. The sickest men slept on the bottom tier.
Sometime during Elmer’s imprisonment at Cabanatuan, he became ill with malaria, which resulted in his developing a spleen infection. Elmer was put in the camp hospital on October 5, 1942. Abie Abraham, who was Elmer’s friend, was also in the hospital. In a letter to Elmer’s family, he told how Elmer talked about his family and how much he loved them.
According to Albert DuBois of A Company, he saw Elmer twelve hours before Elmer died. Elmer no longer had the smile on his face that he always seemed to have. His face was filled with pain. DuBois spoke to the doctor treating Elmer. The doctor looked at him and said: “I don’t know if he can live without a spleen, but he can’t live with the one he has.” The doctor removed Elmer’s spleen without anesthesia, anesthetic, or the proper medical equipment.
Both Dubois and Forest Knox, also of A Company, stated that Elmer was in terrible pain. According to Knox, Elmer lay on a stretcher all night after the surgery and held onto the handles of the stretcher twisting his hands in pain. The result was that the flesh was gone from the palms of his hands. During this time, Elmer never made a sound.
Pvt. Elmer H. Blonien died after surgery on Tuesday, October 20, 1942, at approximately 3:45 PM., and was buried in the camp cemetery at Cabanatuan. It should be noted that other records, kept by the medical staff show, that Elmer died on November 15, 1942.
On January 21, 1943, his parents received official notification that he was a POW.
MRS. JOHN K BLONIEN
YOUR SON PRIVATE ELMER F. BLONIEN REPORTED PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS.
ULIO, THE ADJUTANT GENERAL
The following letter came shortly after the telegram.
The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
It is suggested that you address him as follows:
Pvt. Elmer F. Blonien, 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 second confirmation came in March 1943. They had no idea when they received these messages that he had died several months earlier. They did not learn of his death until July 16, 1943, when they were notified by the War Department.
=I AM DEEPLY DISTRESSED TO INFORM YOU REPORT JUST RECEIVED STATES THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE ELMER F BLONIEN WHO PREVIOUSLY HAD BEEN REPORTED MISSING IN ACTION DIED AS A JAPANESE PRISONER OF WAR PERIOD THE SECRETARY OF WAR ASKS THAT I EXPRESS HIS DEEP SYMPATHY IN YOUR LOSS AND HIS REGRET THAT THE UNAVOIDABLE CIRCUMSTANCES MADE NECESSARY THE UNUSUAL LAPSE OF TIME IN REPORTING YOUR SONS DEATH TO CONFIRMING LETTER FOLLOWS=
ULIO THE ADJUTANT
On Thursday, July 22, 1943, the family of Pvt. Elmer F. Blonien held a memorial service for him at St. Philip Catholic Church in Rudolph, Wisconsin.
After the war, on December 15, 1947, Pvt. Elmer F. Blonien’s remains were disinterred from Grave 721, Row 0, Plot 10 at the Cabanatuan Camp Cemetery. They were given the identification number of X-4048. and were reburied on March 22, 1948.
When the new American Cemetery was opened, the remains were disinterred again and buried at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila as an “unknown.” Since Elmer’ Blonien was buried as an unknown, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila.
The American Legion Post, in Rudolph, changed its name to the Elmer F. Blonien Post and still retains the name today.
At this time, Elmer Blonien’s case is considered active, and the Department of Defense is attempting to contact family members in an attempt to get DNA to use to identify his remains.