Capt. Fred Tobias Bruni Jr. was born on January 21, 1905, in Monroe, Wisconsin, to Fred T. Bruni Sr. and Elizabeth Wild-Bruni. He was one of the couples’ five children from his mother’s second marriage, and he also had three half-sisters and three half-brothers. He attended grade school and high school in Monroe, and on June 28, 1921, he joined the Wisconsin National Guard. During his time in the National Guard, he rose in rank from private to sergeant. Sometime in 1923, he moved to Janesville looking for work and transferred to the National Guard tank company there. He was made the tank company’s first sergeant in 1937 and on June 14, 1938, he received a commission as a Second Lieutenant in his Janesville unit. He was known as “Fritz” to the other members of his unit and was known to always have a joke or story to tell. While living in Janesville, he married, Hazel Buss, and the couple resided at 1242 South Washington Street. The couple became the parents of an infant son, Ronald, who died at the age of two months.
Fred was employed at the General Motors Automobile Plant in Janesville as an assembler and became a line supervisor. On October 30, 1940, he was promoted to first lieutenant when his tank company was federalized. Fred was now a member of the 192nd GHQ Light Tank Battalion which was formed from National Guard units from Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, and Kentucky.
In the fall of 1940, the 32nd Tank Company was called to federal duty as A Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion. Bruni was in command of a detachment of soldiers that left the armory at 7:00 A.M. It is known that the roads were ice-covered so the trip was slow which resulted in one truck hitting a civilian’s car. No other information is available about the incident. The road conditions improved the further south the convoy traveled. The soldiers spent the night at an armory in Danville, Illinois, before heading south to Ft. Knox arriving there sometime the next afternoon.
The next day, November 28, between 4:00 and 5:00 P.M., the main detachment of soldiers marched from the armory to the Milwaukee Road train station in Janesville where they boarded special cars that had been added to the Marquette to Chicago train. One was a flatcar with the company’s two tanks on it. At some point, the train cars were uncoupled from the train and switched onto the Chicago & Northwestern line that went into Maywood, Illinois. There, the members of B Company boarded the train and their equipment – including their two tanks – was loaded onto the train. In Chicago, the train cars were switched onto the Illinois Central Railroad and taken to Ft. Knox arriving around 8:00 A.M. When they arrived, trucks were waiting at the station to take them to the fort. Their first housing were six men tents since their barracks were not finished. The battalion had a total of eight tanks that the soldiers were told not to abuse.
After arriving, they spent the first six weeks in primary training. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; weeks 7, 8, and 9 were spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons, and the cleaning of weapons.
It is known that he was one of the soldiers from Janesville who went home for Christmas. The soldiers left Ft. Knox at about 1:00 P.M. on Saturday, December 21st – by chartered bus – and arrived in Janesville at about 3:00 A.M. on Sunday, December 22nd. They remained in Janesville until the afternoon of Christmas Day when they boarded the chartered bus for the return trip to Ft. Knox.
1st Sgt. Dale Lawton – on December 26 – was given the job of picking men to be transferred from the company to the soon to be formed Hq Company. Men were picked for the company because they had special training. Many of these men received promotions and because of their rating received higher pay. He was transferred to Hq Company on December 20 when the company was formed. The enlisted men assigned to the new company remained in their original barracks since the company’s barracks were not finished until February.
In early 1941, Fred was transferred to B Company, but it is not known how long he remained with the company. At some point, he returned to Hq Company for a second time and made the battalion’s maintenance officer. It was his job to keep the tanks, trucks, and jeeps running. It was also at this time that all the battalion had 16 operational tanks and the first men from selective service were assigned to the company.
Capt Walter Write, during February, commanded a composite tank company made of men from all the companies of the battalion. The company left Ft. Knox on a problematic move at 9:00 A.M. The company consisted of three motorcycles, two scout cars, sixteen tanks, one ambulance, and supply, fuel, and kitchen trucks. The route was difficult and chosen so that the men could become acquainted with their equipment. They also had to watch out for simulated enemy planes. Bridges were avoided whenever it was possible to ford the water. At noon, the column stopped for a short rest and a lunch that did not materialize. A guide had failed to stay at one of the crossings until the kitchen truck arrived there, so instead of turning into the woods, the truck went straight. After the break, Capt. Write ordered the men back to Ft. Knox without having been fed.
At 7:00 A.M. on Monday, June 16, 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.
In the late summer of 1941, the tank battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers from September 1 through 30. The entire battalion was loaded onto trucks and sent in a convoy to Louisiana while the tanks and wheeled vehicles were sent by train. When they arrived they lived in tents.
One of the major problems was snake bites. It appeared that every other man was bitten at some point by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snakebit 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 food was also not very good since the air was always damp which made it hard to get a fire started. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili that they choked down. 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.
The tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack and in support of infantry and held defensive positions. They usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. 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.
During their 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. At some point, the battalion also went from fighting in the Red Army to fighting for the Blue Army.
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 to pull the tank out from Camp Polk.
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.
At night 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.
After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana. On the side of a hill, the soldiers learned they were being sent overseas. Men who were married or 29 years old, or older, were allowed to resign from federal service. Most of the remaining soldiers were given leaves home to say their goodbyes. When they returned to Camp Polk, they found themselves, once again, living in tents. During their time there, it rained a great deal of the time and the men always seemed to be wet. Men went over a week without taking a shower.
The decision for this move – which had been made in 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.
Being over 29 and married, Fred was given the opportunity to resign from federal service but chose to remain with the 192nd. With the release of officers who were considered too old for their rank, Fred was promoted to captain on November 3, 1941, and given command of Hq Company when Capt. Havelock Nelson was made the battalion’s executive officer.
On October 20 from Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over different train routes arriving at Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, where the soldiers were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M Coxe, to Ft. MacDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Those men with major health issues were released from service and replaced, while others were held back and told they would rejoin the battalion at a later date.
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. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, the transport, U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country while two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters carrying scrap metal to Japan. 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 they 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, 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 tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He made sure that they had Thanksgiving Dinner – which consisted of stew thrown into their mess kits – before he left to have his own dinner.
The members of the battalion pitched the ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise from the engines as they flew over was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their on the tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. “Recreation in the motor pool,” a term borrowed from the 194th Tank Battalion, meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to do the work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th Tank Battalion and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms including going to the PX.
On December 1, the tank battalions were sent to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. The 194th was given the northern part of the airfield to defend and the 192nd had the southern half to protect. At all times, each tank or half-track had to be manned by two members of its crew. Those on duty were fed by food trucks.
On the morning of December 8, Hq Company remained behind in the battalion’s bivouac. When Bruni told his men of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor they laughed. Having been in the Philippines for eighteen days, they believed that this was the start of the extended maneuvers. He told them to listen up because what he was saying was the truth. He again told them that Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and they were given guns and told to clean them. As they did this, they still believed that they had started maneuvers. It was early afternoon when this belief was blown away.
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes. When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese.
The company members took cover since they had no weapons to use against planes. 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.
Five days later on December 13, Fred and 1st. Lt. Emmett Gibson – who had been an Illinois National Guardsman – were walking together and talking. Gibson had had a premonition of his own death. What really bothered him was that it was his daughter’s birthday. Bruni tried to get Gibson’s mind off the idea by talking about the north woods of Wisconsin and fishing there. Suddenly the two men were strafed by a plane. While they were talking, seven Japanese fighters had appeared over the airfield. Gibson jumped into a half-track that was hidden under a tree and grabbed its machine-gun and began firing. Bruni told Gibson to stay where he was and directed Gibson’s fire.
That afternoon, another attack took place on the airfield with seven Japanese bombers appeared over the airfield. Gibson again climbed onto a half-track and grabbed its .50 caliber machine-gun and began firing. Fred called out to Gibson, “Stay there, and I’ll direct your fire.” Fred walked out into the open with bombs exploding around him. He proceeded to direct Gibson’s fire at the Japanese bombers as bombs exploded around him. Gibson opened fire where Fred told him to do so. Together, they were credited with shooting down one of the bombers.
For the next four months, Fred lived through constant strafing and bombings during the retreat into the Bataan Peninsula. On one occasion, the bombing was so severe that he jumped into the nearest two-man foxhole and made it a three-man foxhole.
During the Battle of the Philippines, the members of Hq Company attempted to make sure that the letter companies received the necessary supplies and repairs to keep the tanks running. On several occasions, this meant going into a combat area to recover a disabled tank. With 17th Ordnance they often found themselves making repairs to the tanks on the frontlines. In addition, they had the job of finding the tanks and providing fuel and ammunition to them. It was at the Pilar-Bigac area on January 14, the company and 17th Ordnance had the opportunity to do long overdue tank maintenance. Six carloads of parts, ammunition, and fuel for the tanks had been sent into Bataan in November which allowed the company to replace worn-out tracks and engine parts. The tanks were sent back into action as they became available. In addition, the tanks received ammunition.
The 192nd unlike other units had arrived in the Philippines just before the start of the war, so they did not have the opportunity to stockpile food. 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. During this time the soldiers ate monkey, snake, lizard, horse, and mule. 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. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
The amount of gasoline in March was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. It was during this time that Gen Wainwright wanted to turn the tanks into pillboxes, but Gen Weaver pointed out to him that they did not have enough tanks to effectively do this, and if they did, they soon would have no tanks. Gen. Weaver suggested to Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined. It was also at this time that the Self Propelled Mounts joined the tanks on the line. By doing this, the tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle where they 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.
Sometime during this time, his wife Hazel received a letter from him. In it he said:
“With the help of God and the U.S.A. we’ll pull through this.”
For the next four months, the members of Hq Company worked to keep the tanks running, This meant they often had to recover tanks that had been disabled. The reason they did this was that they need the tanks for spare parts.
During this time he was able to write another letter that his wife received on August 10. The following is an excerpt from it.
“We have services here every Saturday afternoon and our chaplain is a man of all means. He’s got what it takes and he has made us feel that faith in God is all we need.
“When I get back, and I pray God that I do, I will have lots to tell. I’ve lost all my equipment except my overalls. Have lost 50 pounds but am still active. Our diet is getting pretty thin, I eat native, sleep native and in other words I am native.”
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 the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, 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.”
Fred 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 was 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.”
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 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 and the white flag was bedding from A Company.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received 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 and spoke to the men. He said to them, “I’m going to get us the best deal I can.” He also said, “When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you, you surrendered. I was the one who surrendered.” 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 and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
At 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. After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit inline with the Japanese advance should fly white flags. Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
The members of Hq Company remained in the camp until April 11. That morning, a Japanese officer and soldiers appeared in their bivouac and ordered them to move out to the road that ran in front of the encampment. When they reached the road, they were ordered to kneel along both sides with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers passing them took whatever they wanted from their possessions. They remained along the sides of the road for hours.
Hq Company finally boarded their trucks and drove to outside of Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and were ordered to sit. As they sat and watched, Fred and the other POWs 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 watching the Japanese soldiers, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car and stopped 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 his soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, Fred’s company was moved to a schoolyard in Mariveles. In the schoolyard, they found themselves between Japanese artillery and the guns firing from Corregidor and Ft. Drum, which had not surrendered. Shells from the American guns began landing among the POWs who had no place to hide. Some of the POWs were killed by the incoming shells.
The POWs were ordered to move by the Japanese 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 as they marched 65 miles to San Fernando. There, they were boarded onto small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane which was known as forty or eights, since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese forced 100 POWs into each car and closed the doors. Those men who died remained standing since there was no room for them to fall.
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 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, but the Japanese never had a shortage of water. 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 POWs received three meals 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 of cup of sweet potato soup. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather.
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. There was no netting to protect the men from malaria-carrying mosquitos as they slept.
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. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi 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. A second truck with medical supplies sent by the Red Cross to the camp was turned away at the gate.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – of the six medics assigned to care for 50 sick POWs in the hospital – was healthy enough to care for them. The floor was covered in human feces since many of the sick had dysentery and their clothes were covered in it. Many of the sick had been stripped naked. To clean the floor the medical staff came up with homemade cleaner. 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. In an attempt to stop the spread of disease, the dead were moved to one area, and 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 less sick from the hospital were required to dig latrines and were given a canteen of water that was expected to last three days. The sick who went out on work details came back to the camp and died. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.
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. He remained there until going out on a work detail. After completion of the detail, he was sent to Cabanatuan which had been opened to replace Camp O’Donnell.
In late May or early June 1943, his wife received this letter from the War Department.
“Mrs. H. Bruni
2111 Twelfth Avenue
According to War Department records you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Capt. Fred T. Bruni who according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
We deeply regret that it is impossible for us to give you more information. 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 of other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese government has indicated its intentions of conforming to the terms of the Geneva convention with respects 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 the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is hoped that the Japanese government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At this time you will be notified by this office in the event his name (Fred T. Bruni) is contained in the list of prisoners of war.
Cabanatuan was actually three camps. Camp One was for the POWs who surrendered on Bataan and were held at Camp O’Donnell. Camp Two was two miles from Camp One and was closed since it did not have an adequate water supply. It later was used for Naval POWs. Camp Three was for the POWs taken at Corregidor when the island surrendered.
During his time as a POW, Fred kept a notebook on the other members of his original tank company from Janesville. In the book, he wrote down where the members of A Company were being held as prisoners. If a man died, he wrote down the date, location, and cause. Much of what he wrote was based on what other POWs told him.
While he was at Cabanatuan, his wife received a second letter from the War Department. This 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, Capt. Fred T. Bruni 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.
When he realized that he was going to be transferred to another part of the Philippine Islands, Fred sent the following letter to Lt. Henry Knox. The letter was smuggled into Cabanatuan #1. How this was done is not known.
” How are you and the boys? I hope that you are making contact with the boys of the company and the Janesville boys in Headquarters Company. I would you to make a list of the dead ones and get the cause of death and date of their death so that we can have something to go by when the day comes. I hope the dying siege is over with. Things are in good shape here, and I wish they were all up to this camp. I mean the whole battalion.
“I would like to visit a few days down at your camp so that I could say hello to all the officers and men that you can see. And tell them to keep clean and healthy for the day is coming and I want to see them alive. So take good care of yourself and tell the rest goodbye. And do what I told you.
“Capt. Bruni “
The POWs left Cabanatuan on July 24, 1942, and driven by truck to the Port Area of Manila. There, the POWs loaded building supplies onto the Santos Maru which they took to Palawan Island. On August 2, 1942, Fred was selected to be the ranking American officer on a work detail to Palawan Island in the Philippines. The POWs arrived at Puerto Princess on Palawan Island the same day to build an airfield while ten POWs worked as mechanics at a Japanese garage repairing trucks. The POW camp was designated 10-A and they occupied the old Constabulary barracks. Since the quarters had fallen apart, the POWs spent the next week attempting to make the barracks livable. Food for the POWs was wormy rice and a cup of soup. Those who were sick had their rations cut in half. What made the situation worse was that the officers were not required to work which cause resentment between the enlisted men and them.
When work was started on the airfield, the Japanese expected the prisoners to build it with picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows. Since they were clearing a jungle, trees had to be removed. This was done by the POWs taking turns chopping down the trees. It took the POWs about a year to clear the area for the airfield. The work was so hard that POWs were returned to Manila and new POWs arrived on a regular basis.
Six POWs were caught stealing food in December 1942. The men were tied to trees and beaten by the Japanese guards with wire and clubs. After they were untied, they had to stand at attention and be beaten until they passed out.
Bruni was the ranking American officer and in charge of the detail. In this role, he often found himself giving orders that created resentment among the enlisted men. Many failed to see that Fred had little choice in the matter; either he gave the order or he or the men would be punished. It was while he was a POW in the camp that his wife, Hazel, heard from him for the last time.
During July 1943, two POWs escaped from the camp and were recaptured by the Japanese Secret Police which was known as the Kempei-Tai. The men were beaten with clubs and swords and had judo used on them. The Japanese put the men on a truck which made its way toward a beach. According to Filipino civilians, they heard four shots. Later, some of the POWs saw the men’s graves.
On August 11, 1943, his wife received word from the War Department that Fred was officially listed as a Prisoner of War by the Japanese government. Just two months earlier, she had received a letter from the department stating that his status was still Missing in Action.
Two weeks after being informed her husband was a POW, his wife received a POW postcard from him dated August 26, 1942.. In it he said:
“I am uninjured. I am well. Please see that my insurance and all your pay allotment receipts are kept. Everything taken care of. Keep your chin up. Hope to see you soon. Lots of love. God Bless you. Keep in good health.”
On October 3, seven POWs were punished by the Japanese. They were beaten, clubbed and hit with swords, and had judo used on them before they were suspended above the ground and beaten again.
Fred frequently was involved in situations where no matter what he did, he would anger either the enlisted men or the officers. Things really came to a head during Christmas of 1943. The Japanese promised the POWs a large Christmas dinner. There was already a great deal of resentment toward the officers since they did not have to work while the enlisted men did. When Christmas arrived, the “large dinner” turned out to be a total of six chickens. Fred found himself having to make a choice between giving all the chickens to the enlisted men or giving five chickens to the enlisted men and one chicken to the officers. He chose to give one chicken to the officers. This leftover 100 enlisted men to share five chickens. Many of the men carried hard feelings toward Fred because of this decision.
It was around this time that his wife received a POW postcard in which he said, “Don’t worry. I’ll be home soon. Regards to the boys at the plant, relatives, friends, and neighbors.” She also received two undated postcards in August 1944. In one he said:
“Dear Hazel, Mother, Dad, Sisters, Brothers, Gladys, Kids, Neighbors, and Friends – I hope everything is rolling along 100 percent back there. That everybody is in good health and happy because (censored). Hope this will be over soon. Worry not. With lots of love. Fritz.”
When the majority of work was completed on the airfield, the Japanese decided that half the POWs would be returned to Manila. The POWs were divided into two groups of 150 men. One of the groups was returned to Manila on a ship on September 22, 1944.
An American B-24 bombed Palawan on October 19, 1944. During the attack, planes at the airfield were damaged and two ships were sunk. Nine days later, American planes returned and bombed the airfield destroying 60 planes. The POWs had to hide their joy and silently cheered the air raid.
After the second air raid, the POWs were ordered to dig three air raid trenches. The trenches were five feet deep and four feet wide. Each trench could hold 50 men. The officers had a smaller trench. The Japanese believed that American forces would land on the island sometime in mid-December and a convoy was spotted heading toward the island on December 12. The POWs were unaware that the Japanese command at the airfield had received this message on the evening of December 13. “At the time of the enemy landing, if the prisoners of war are harboring an enemy feeling, dispose of them at the appropriate time.”
On December 13, two Japanese officers told the POWs that they were going to work early the next day. They went to work, but at noon they were returned to the POW compound. On December 14, an American convoy was spotted by Japanese planes. The Japanese believed that Palawan would soon be invaded by the advancing American forces. The fact was the convoy was heading to the Island of Mindoro Island just south of Luzon.
The POWs were ordered into the shelters after American planes were spotted. After a while, the POWs came out of the shelters but remained near them. At 2:00 PM, the POWs were ordered back into the shelters. The Japanese had given the order that all Prisoners of War should be executed and were planning to kill them.
According to the surviving POWs, the POWs again received orders to go into their air-raid shelters. The POWs did not move since they did not hear any planes, so the Japanese again ordered them into the shelters. After they were in them, gasoline was poured on the shelters and torches thrown into both ends. The shelters went up in flames.
Cpl. Elmo Deal said, “There were 150 soldiers, sailors, and marines at Palawan. In December the Japs got word there was a big convoy at sea.
“They thought the convoy which was going to Mindoro Island was headed their way and they became crazy with fear.
“They herded us into a string of underground shelters in a compound near the barracks. I don’t know which Jap officer gave the word but they threw gasoline in on us and ignited it. We tried to get out the other end of the dugout but they mowed us down with machine guns.”
Sgt. Douglas Bogue who also escaped the massacre said, “I looked out (of his trench) and screaming heathens were pouring gasoline into A Company’s shelter and tossing torches inside. When the Yanks in flames came scrambling out, they mowed them down.”
After the war, Fred’s family learned that he had been executed. This information was provided by another soldier, from Janesville, who liberated the island. The soldier told Fred’s family the events of his death. He told them how, as the POWs rushed from the shelters, the Japanese bayoneted and machine-gunned them. After this, dynamite was thrown into the trenches to assure that the POWs were dead.
In Bruni’s case, he and three other officers, Lt. Cmdr. Henry Knight, Lt. Carl Mango, and Warrant Officer Glen Turner had their own trench.
Once in it, the Japanese poured gasoline on it and set the trench on fire. Mango, the camp doctor, made it out of the trench, with his clothes on fire, pleading with the Japanese to show mercy to the prisoners. He was shot and his body set on fire.
Forty or fifty men still managed to get out of the trenches. Those POWs who managed to escape jumped from a fifty-foot cliff to the beach. Shore sentries and guards on barges shot at them from the cliffs and boats. Those who were recaptured by the Japanese were buried alive while those who survived the massacre successfully hid and later swam to their freedom.
One POW who was recaptured had attempted to swim to freedom. The Japanese stuck him with bayonets and poured gasoline on his feet and set him on fire. The entire time they mocked him and continued to bayonet him. They finally poured gasoline over his entire body and watched the flames devour him.
Of the POWs who had managed to escape, only eleven survived what became known as the Palawan Massacre. Capt. Fred T. Bruni was not one of these men. Early in 1945, his wife received several POW cards from her husband. She hoped that this was a sign that he would be home soon and had no idea that he had already been murdered. His murder was confirmed when his wife received the small notebook he had kept as a diary while a POW. The book had a mark on it that indicated it had come from the Island of Palawan.
Capt. Fred T. Bruni was burned to death with 138 other POWs on Palawan Island, by the Japanese, on Thursday, December 14, 1944. He and the other POWs were murdered because the Japanese did not want them to be liberated by advancing American troops. When American troops did land on Palawan, they found the mass grave for the POWs and the diary Fred had kept while a POW. In it, he recorded the deaths of the other members of A Company. The official announcement of what had been done on Palawan was not made to the known until March 3, 1945.
The communique to Mrs. Hazel Bruni told her of her husband’s death in the POW execution. It said:
Capt Fred T. Bruni was in the brutal massacre of 150 members of the U.S. army, navy, and marine corps in a gigantic gasoline bonfire on December 14, 1944, at Puerto Princess prison camp, Palawan, in the Philippine Islands.
This group of prisoners was attacked without warning by their Japanese guards who attempted to massacre the prisoners to the last man. Ten prisoners succeeded in escaping and these were the only survivors. It had now been officially established by reports received by the war department that all the remaining prisoners perished as a result of this ruthless attack.
Edward F. Witsell, acting adjutant general of the army
Bruni’s family held a memorial service for him in Janesville on Sunday, November 11, 1945, at Overton Funeral Home. In 1952, the remains of Capt. Fred T. Bruni Jr. and the other American soldiers, who had died on Palawan Island and not identified, were returned to the United States. Since the remains of the POWs were so badly burned that they could not be identified, the soldiers were buried in a common grave on February 14, 1952, at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.
The picture below is of Capt. Bruni’s name on the headstone of the Palawan Massacre victims at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri. The burial was attended by his wife, his mother, his sister, and his three brothers.
Finally, the airfield that the POWs built with picks and shovels is now Puerto Princesa International Airport.