Capt. Fred Tobias Bruni Jr. was born on January 21, 1905, in Jordan, Wisconsin, to Fred T. Bruni Sr. and Elizabeth Wild-Bruni. He was one of the couple’s 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. While living in Janesville, he worked at the General Motors automobile plant where he met Hazel Buss who also worked there. The couple married in Freeport, Illinois, on November 15, 1927, and resided at 1242 South Washington Street. They became the parents of an infant son, Ronald, who died at the age of two months. Fred also went from being an assembler at the automobile plant to a line supervisor. He was still in the National Guard and became a staff sergeant in 1935 and made the tank company’s first sergeant in 1937. He was known as “Fritz” to the other members of his unit and was known to always have a joke or story to tell. On June 14, 1938, he received a commission as a Second Lieutenant. On October 30, 1940, he was promoted to First Lieutenant.
After the German tank divisions rolled through Europe in 1939 and 1940, the Army created the U.S. Armored Forces on July 10, 1940. Included in the force were the National Guard GHQ tank battalions. The GHQ battalions were still considered infantry and created a “buffer” between the armor forces and infantry to protect the regular army tank battalions from being used by the infantry when they wanted tanks. This would allow the Armor Force to develop into a real fighting force. To do this the National Guard tank battalions were called to federal service and available to the infantry.
The members of the company, on November 25 at 7:00 AM, were inducted into the U.S. Army and given physicals, and by noon the same day, two men had failed their physicals and been released from federal service. Later that day, another two men were released from service. A 24-hour guard was placed outside the armory. The next day, the 26th, the officers, including Fred, went to Chicago where they were given physicals. Two officers failed their physicals. One was released and the other, 1st Lt. Russell Thorman, who recently had major surgery was allowed time to recover and later rejoined the company. The men lived in the armory and spent most ot their time drilling. One day they had a snowball fight.
During this time, four men were sent to Camp Williams, Wisconsin, to pick up additional equipment while two other men traveled to Camp Douglas, Wisconsin, to pick up additional clothing. At the same time, a three-man detail was sent to Danville, Illinois, where another detachment of soldiers would spend the night at an armory there. Bruni was in command of a detachment of 23 soldiers that left the armory at 7:00 A.M. on November 27 for Ft. Knox, Kentucky, in a nine-truck convoy that carried the company’s equipment. 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, but 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. It was noted the further south the convoy got, the warmer it got.
Also on 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 Richmond, Illinois, 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 soldiers left the train and rode busses to the Illinois Central Station. The train cars were switched onto the Illinois Central Railroad and men and tanks were 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. After arriving, the company was assigned two smaller unpainted barracks that could hold 25 men on each floor. The battalion had a total of eight tanks that the crews were ordered not to abuse.
Being an officer, Fred lived with the other officers in their own barracks. Each officer had his own room and an orderly. They also had their own washroom which was a cement block building with showers.
A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up by 5:45 since they wanted to wash and dress. After roll call, 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, pistols, 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. After lunch, the soldiers went back to work. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms, and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After they ate they stood in line to wash their mess kits since they had no mess hall. On January 12, 1941, their mess hall opened and they ate off real plates with forks and knives. They also no longer had to wash their own plates since that job fell on the men assigned to Kitchen Police. 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.
It is known that he was one of the soldiers who went home for Christmas. Capt. Walter Write and Fred with some enlisted men drove home in cars while most of the soldiers left Ft. Knox at about 1:00 P.M. on Saturday, December 21 – by chartered bus – and arrived in Janesville at about 3:00 A.M. on Sunday, December 22. For those who remained at Ft. Knox, the base was decorated with lighted Christmas trees along its streets, and each night Christmas carols were sung by a well-trained choir that went from barracks to barracks. The sight was said to be beautiful as the soldiers entered the camp from the ridge north of their barracks. The workload of the soldiers was also reduced for the holidays. Christmas dinner consisted of roast turkey, baked ham, candied sweet potatoes, snowflake potatoes, giblet gravy, oyster dressing, cranberry sauce, pickle relish, grapes, oranges, rolls, and fruit cake, ice cream, bread, butter, and coffee. After dinner, cigars, cigarettes, and candy were provided.
Those who went home remained in Janesville until the afternoon of Christmas Day when they boarded the chartered bus for the return trip to Ft. Knox. When the enlisted men returned to the fort on December 26, 1st Sgt. Dale Lawton was waiting having been 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. Being an officer, Fred was selected by the battalion’s commanding officer, Maj. Bacon Moore, to join the company as the battalion’s maintenance officer.
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 again. It was his job to keep the tanks, trucks, and jeeps running. It was also at this time that 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.
On June 14 and 16, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of HQ Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. Each tank company traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance.
The detachments traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated, and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox through Lebanon, New Haven, and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers.
The 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941, to take part in maneuvers from September 1 through 30, 1941. The soldiers rode trucks to the maneuvers while their tanks and other equipment were sent by trains. HQ Company’s job during the maneuvers was to keep the letter companies supplied with fuel and make tank repairs. 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. 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. 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.
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.
It was after these maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox as they had expected. On the side of a hill, the battalion learned it was being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, the tankers believed they had figured out that PLUM stood for the Philippines, Luzon, and Manila. There is no proof that this was true. Those men 29 years old, or older, were allowed to resign from federal service and were replaced by men of the 753rd Tank Battalion, and the battalion received the tanks from the 3rd Armor Division and 753rd.
There are two stories as to why the 192nd was being sent overseas. The decision to send the battalion overseas appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision for this move – which had been made on August 15, 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 Taiwan which had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck covering the buoys – 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 fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. Besides the 192nd at Ft. Knox, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st was a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 70th was a regular army tank battalion – at Ft. Meade, Maryland, and the 193rd at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time, so in all likelihood, the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines.
On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. Two days later, on August 15, the 194th received its orders to go overseas. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands, but it was not the reason for the battalions going to the Philippines. It is also known that the 193rd Tank Battalion had sailed for Hawaii – on its way to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. After it arrived in Hawaii, the battalion was held there. The 70th and 191st never received orders for the Philippines because of the war. It is known at least one heavy tank battalion had been scheduled to be sent, but the Army had no heavy tank and no heavy tank battalion existed at the time. Some military documents from the time show the name of the Provisional Tank Group in the Philippines as the First Provisional Tank Group.
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 when Capt. Ted Wickord was made the battalion’s commanding officer.
The battalion’s new tanks which came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division were loaded onto flat cars, on different trains. At 8:30 A.M. on October 20, over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar followed by a passenger car that carried some soldiers. The company took the southern route along the Gulf Coast through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. At Yuma, Arizona the train stopped and the Native Americans entered the train cars and sold beads to the soldiers. The soldiers knocked each other over attempting to buy the beads. After the train pulled out of the station, someone noticed that the genuine Native American beads were made in Japan.
When they arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men found to have minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men who failed their physicals were replaced by men sent to the island as replacements. The soldiers spent their time putting cosmoline on anything that they thought would rust.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2, and had a four-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. On Thursday, November 6, 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. Although they were not allowed off the ship, the soldiers were able to mail letters home before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., as the enlisted men left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When someone said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks. The remaining men rode a train to Fort Stotsenburg.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King Jr. 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 for most men consisted of stew thrown into their mess kits – before he left to have his own dinner. Had they been slower leaving the ship, they would have had a full turkey dinner. Since Fred was an officer, he was invited to have dinner with the officers of the 194th Tank Battalion. The 194th had arrived in the Philippines in September 1941.
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 Japanese reconnaissance planes flying over the airfield. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued were a heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
The 192nd arrived in the Philippines with a great deal of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train radiomen for the Philippine Army. The battalion also had a large number of ham radio operators and shortly after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, they set up a communications tent that was in contact with the United States within hours. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When they were informed it was the 192nd, they gave them frequencies to use. Men were able to send messages home to their families that they had arrived safely.
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 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.
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.
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. Many men wrote home and told their families about how hot the weather was, and the kind of food they were eating. They also wrote about the countryside and the Filipinos.
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.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the South China Sea. On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks.
It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd’s communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ted Wickord, the battalion’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, the CO of the 194th Tank Battalion, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank crews were ordered to the south end of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. The battalion’s half-tracks took positions next to the tanks, while HQ Company remained behind in its bivouac.
Fred called the company together and told them that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Some men laughed believing it was nothing but the start of maneuvers that they expected to take part in. He told them to listen up and that what he was telling them was a fact. All morning long on December 8, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. The planes were parked in a straight line outside the pilots’ mess hall. At 12:45, two formations, totaling 54 planes, approached the airfield from the north. As they watched, what appeared to be raindrops – because they shimmered in the sun – appeared under the planes. With the thunderous explosions of the bombs exploding on the runways, the tankers knew that the planes were Japanese. The smoke and dust from the bombs blotted out the sun and made it impossible for the tankers to see more than a few feet. One bomb hit the mess hall where the pilots were eating. The bombers were quickly followed by Japanese fighters that sounded like angry bees to the tankers as they strafed the airfield.
While the attack was going on, the Filipinos who were building the 192nd’s barracks took cover. After the attack, they went right back to work on the barracks. This happened several times during the following air raids until the barracks were destroyed by bombs during an air raid. According to the members of the battalion, it appeared the Filipino contractor really wanted to be paid; war or no war.
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. That night, since they did not have any foxholes, the men used an old latrine pit for cover since it was safer in the pit than in their bullet-ridden tents. The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes. Without knowing it, they had slept their last night on a cot or bed, and from this point on, the men slept in blankets on the ground.
The next morning the decision was made to move the battalion into a tree-covered area. Those men not assigned to a tank or half-track walked around Clark Field to look at the damage. As they walked, they saw there were hundreds of dead. Some were pilots who had been caught asleep, because they had flown night missions, in their tents during the first attack. Others were pilots who had been killed attempting to get to their planes. The battalion went through another attack on the 10th. This time the bombs fell among the tanks wounding some men.
It was 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 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 appearing 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 and fired the gun as Fred told him where to shoot. Together, they were credited with shooting down one of the bombers.
HQ Company remained at Clark Field and lived through two more air raids. The battalion was ordered north to Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese were landing troops on December 21. On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where it suffered the loss of 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, but they successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
It appears that at this time Fred was transferred to A Company to replace Write as commanding officer. 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. 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 December 30. That night, on a road east of Zaragoza, 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 on the night of December 31, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river. The tank crews shouted at each other to give the appearance they were supported by infantry. This was an attempt by the Japanese to destroy the tanks. When the Japanese attacked the position that 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.
The tanks were stationed on both sides of the Calumpit Bridge, on December 31 and January 1, keeping the bridge open for the Southern Luzon forces. The defenders were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw into Bataan. Platoons from B and C Companies saw movement in the distance and opened fire. They later learned that they had knocked out five Japanese tanks. While holding the bridge, they received orders – from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff – about whose command they were under and were told to withdraw from the bridge without Gen Johnathan Wainwright’s knowledge. Because of the order, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces and about half the defenders withdrew. When Gen. Wainwright became aware of the order, he countermanded it. 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 and the Southern Luzon forces escaped into Bataan.
At Guagua, A Company, with the units from the 11th Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese. Somehow, the tanks were mistaken by the Filipino Army as being Japanese. The 11th Division accurately used mortars on them resulting in the loss of three tanks.
From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape. 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 American and Filipino forces withdrew toward Bataan.
The tanks withdrew into Bataan during the night of January 6 with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdrawal over the bridge. Col. Wickord waited for A Company to cross the bridge but the company was nowhere in sight. He ordered the engineers – who had mined the bridge and were waiting for the order to destroy it – to wait until he returned. His driver drove him across the bridge and they found the company asleep in their tanks because they had not received an order to cross the bridge. After the company crossed the bridge the engineers blew it up at 6:00 AM. making the company the last American unit to enter Bataan.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks. It was about this time that the Philippine Scouts had been assigned Self Propelled Mounts and needed drivers for the half-tracks which resulted in a shortage of tank drivers and men in the battalion who had not been in a tank crew were assigned to a tank.
A composite tank company was formed under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Co., 192nd the next day. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks from attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. They were also to support the 31st Infantry. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road. When word came that a bridge would be blown, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, including the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
Sgt. Owen Sandmire of the A Company said that because of the jungle canopy the nights on Bataan were so dark that the tankers could not see after dark. It was at night that the Japanese liked to attack. When the attacks came, if the tankers were lucky they were able to use their tanks’ machine guns on them. They could not use the turret machine guns since the guns could not be aimed at the ground. If the tank commander had attempted to use his pistol standing in the turret, he was an easy target, so the tanks would simply withdraw from the position.
At this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver, “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”
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 monkeys, snakes, lizards, horses, and mules. 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 picture of 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.
He had the opportunity to write a letter to his wife which she received in August 1942. In it, he said, “With the help of God and the U.S.A. we’ll pull through this.”
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. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. 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. the 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 white bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed. At midnight Companies B and D, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.)
Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can. 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 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 in line with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
After this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived and King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff who had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get assurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
Unknown to Gen. King, an order attributed to Gen. Masaharu Homma – but in all likelihood from one of his subordinates – had been given. It stated, “Every troop which fought against our army on Bataan should be wiped out thoroughly, whether he surrendered or not, and any American captive who is unable to continue marching all the way to the concentration camp should be put to death in the area of 200 meters off the road.”
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 an area 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.
It was stated by men that there was a great deal of confusion in Mariveles and the Japanese had no idea where the POWs were or what they were doing. It is known that a group of men from the 192nd made their way to the docks in the barrio and found a boat that was in running order and took the boat to Corregidor. It is known that Capt. Russell Thorman and Capt. Arthur Burholt reached the island, and available information suggests that Fred was among the men who escaped to the island.
It was said that during the nights for four days after the surrender of Bataan, the men on Corregidor could still see flashes from battle as troops who refused to surrender continued to fight. During this time, the Japanese set up artillery on the beach that fired on Corregidor. Most of the Japanese artillery was knocked out by the guns on Corregidor, so the Japanese set up the rest in the jungle. Men stated that at night that they could count as many as 24 separate batteries firing on the island. Between the shelling and bombing by Japanese planes, they were slowly knocking out the guns and weakening the defenses. The men on Corregidor knew that a landing was going to be attempted, they just didn’t know when it would take place.
The Japanese began shelling Monkey point on the night of May 5 in preparation for the landing. The men on the island watched as Japanese barges began concentrating at various points off Bataan. The barges began to make their way toward Corregidor, and the island’s remaining guns began shelling them. It was said that one of the island’s mortar batteries got so hot that the crew had to stop firing to let the mortar cool down. Another gun turned blue from the continuous firing and its breach warped and would not open. When the Japanese landed, the defenders pushed them from the beach at Monkey Point three times. The Japanese actually believed the landings had failed. Anti-aircraft guns from Ft. Hughes were firing on the Japanese as they landed. The shells exploded above the barges killing many.
The first tank to land on the island was one of the tanks abandoned by B Company, 192nd. It was sometime after 6:30 in the morning that the American forces surrendered and the Japanese herded them onto a beach. For two weeks, the POWs were held on the beach without any shade and with little water. To get off the beach, POWs volunteered to bury the dead. This allowed them to hunt for food and water. The POWs were finally taken by barge to a point off the coast of Luzon and made to swim to shore. Onshore, they worked to fill craters in a pier that had been damaged by the battle for Bataan. After they finished, they formed detachments and marched to Manila.
The POWs were loaded onto barges and taken to a point off Luzon where they had to jump into the water and swim to shore. Once on shore, they were taken to a pier where they filled craters from bombs with rocks. When they were finished they formed 100 men detachments and ordered them to march. Having heard about the march out of Bataan from men who had escaped, they feared the same thing was in store for them. They were surprised when they marched at a reasonable pace and were given breaks during the march to Bilibid Prison.
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.
He remained at Bilibid until sometime between May 26 and May 28 when the POWs were marched to the train station. From there, they rode the train to Calumpit, disembarked, and marched to Cabanatuan #3. The first 2,000-man detachment left on the 26 and the last left on the 28. The men who arrived on the 26th were put in the barracks on the north side of the camp. The men who arrived on the 27th were put in the middle barracks, and the final group that arrived on the 27th were put in the barracks on the south side of the camp.
The POWs were marched to the train station and put into steel boxcars that they rode to the barrio of Cabanatuan. There, they were organized into 100 men detachments and marched to Camp 3. The guards warned them that anyone who fell to the ground and did not get up would be shot. During the march, the first time a POW fell to the ground and the guard aimed his gun at the man, the man was able to get up and rejoin the formation. This appeared to have happened several times. Finally, a POW fell, and even after the guard aimed his gun at the man he did not get up. Instead of shooting the man, the guard raised his arm and had a red flag in his hand. A truck pulled up to the man and he was put on the truck. Being that other POWs saw this, it wasn’t long until a good number of POWs fell to the ground and were unable to get up. Those still marching figured these men wanted to ride to the camp.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who were captured on Bataan and took part in the death march were held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where most of those men captured when Corregidor and at Ft. Drum surrendered were taken.
After all the POWs had arrived at Camp 3, there were approximately 6,000 POWs in the camp. When they arrived, the camp was not finished and there was no fence on the northside of the compound. Four POWs walked away from the camp on May 30. After they escaped, the men realized that they had no place to go, so they attempted to surrender themselves to the Japanese. The Japanese tied them to posts and left them to hang in the sun. They also beat the POWs with boards and showed the men water but would not give them any to drink. The next day, while the POWs were eating dinner, the Japanese marched the men to where the prisoners were eating. They had the men dig their own graves and gave each man a cigarette and water. They also offered blindfolds to the men. All the men took a blindfold except one. That man spat at the Japanese before they shot him. After they were shot, the men fell backward into the graves. When one man who had survived the execution attempted to crawl out of the grave, a Japanese officer shot him with his pistol. He next shot each man to make sure they were dead.
The first meal the POWs received was an onion soup that had no onions on it or carrots in it. After the initial meal, the daily meal for the POWs was squash, mongo beans, and greens (which were the tops of native sweet potatoes) for soup, and rice. They also received Carabao meat about once a week. Other sources state a whistle weed soup with rice in it was the main meal. It is also known the POW barracks were in
The American officers convinced the Japanese, on June 8, to allow them to hand out punishments for minor offenses. The POWs organized themselves into administration groups on June 14. Since the Army had the largest number of POWs, it was divided into Groups I and II while Group III was Naval personnel. An Army major was the adjutant for both Groups I and II and there were officers that did various jobs under him. Each group had a number of officers who dealt with the enlisted men. Thorman and Burholt were in Group II and they were two of seven officers assigned to administer the group.
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.
It is known that on July 30, 1942, the Japanese organized a detachment of 150 POWs that was sent from Cabanatuan #3 to Manila for a work detail. It is believed that this was the detachment of men sent to Palawan Island to the southwest of Luzon in the direction of Indonesia.
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. But it was most likely carried by a member of the 192nd sent to the camp.
” 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 were 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 original POW detachment to the island arrived on August 12, 1942. The POW camp was designated 10-A and the POWs occupied the old Constabulary barracks. Since the quarters had fallen apart, the POWs spent the next week attempting to make the barracks livable. Little is known about the food given to the POWs. What is known is that the food was wormy rice and a cup of soup. Those who were sick had their rations cut in half.
When work was started on the airfield, the Japanese expected the prisoners to build it with picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows. The POWs were taken to Puerto Princess where the men had been divided into two detachments of 150 men each. The POWs referred to these detachments as A Company and B Company. 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.
The work was so hard that POWs were returned to Manila and new POWs arrived on a regular basis. It is believed that Joseph was one of the replacements on the detail. The POWs worked under a scorching sun with inadequate food, water, and clothing. The POWs worked in tidal water that was alive with jellyfish. They also unloaded bags of cement from the holds of ships and were given nothing to drink although the air was full of dust from the cement. What made the situation worse was that the officers were not required to work which cause resentment between the enlisted men and them. To get out of working, POWs paid other POWs two cigarettes to break their arms.
The Japanese referred to the camp as, “The Happy Place.” The camp commander would call the POWs together and say, “You moost work harder, you moost work faster.” After saying this, he had the guards hit the POWs with two-inch-thick clubs. They also received brutal treatment at the hands of the Japanese guards, and the men were beaten with pick handles. They were kicked and slapped on a daily basis, and prisoners who attempted to escape were executed.
Ten POWs on the detail worked as mechanics at a Japanese garage repairing trucks, while the remaining POWs were divided into two detachments of 150 men each. The POWs referred to these detachments as A Company and B Company. Since they were clearing a jungle, trees had to be removed. This was done by the POWs taking turns chopping down the trees and then removing the stumps. The Japanese expected the prisoners to do the work with picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows. It took the POWs about a year to clear the area for the airfield.
The treatment was brutal and two POWs had their arms broken by the camp cook, Nishitani, for picking papaya from a tree within the compound after receiving permission to do so from a guard. If any POWs escaped, the POWs had their food rations reduced as punishment. Three POWs were beaten by him after being tied to a coconut tree in the middle of the compound with a small wire whip and a pole that was 3 inches to 4 inches in diameter until two of the three lost consciousness. They were then revived with water and beaten again. When he got tired of beating them, he turned the beating over to his subordinates. He did not like the way they were beating the POWs, so he took over and demonstrated how he wanted it done. They were beaten because they had stolen corned beef from the Japanese storehouse and had talked to a Filipino. After the beating, the men were sent to Bilibid Prison in Manila.
On another occasion, 29 POWs were bathing using water dripping from a tank alongside their barracks. Nishitani had the 29 men thrown into the brig. On their way to the brig, he stood in their path and swang at their heads with an iron bar as they went into the building. His excuse for beating the POWs was that the water they were using was dirty and not fit to bathe in.
According to Sgt. Rufus W. Smith who was in the original POW detachment sent to the island, the camp commander, and guards were changed three times while they were on the island. With each change, the treatment of the POWs got worse. The first camp commander gave the POWs one day off a week. He also gave them balls and gloves and let them play baseball and basketball. There were beatings under the first and second commanders, but they were not as frequent. The third commander forgot about days off and beatings of POWs hung by their thumbs or toes were common. Of this, he said, “I never heard of a prisoner going before the Jap MPs for any reason without being beaten. I will never know how some of the men lived through them.”
The work was so hard that POWs were returned to Manila and new POWs arrived on a regular basis. The POWs worked under a scorching sun with inadequate food, water, and clothing. The POWs worked in tidal water that was alive with jellyfish. They also unloaded bags of cement from the holds of ships and were given nothing to drink although the air was full of dust from the cement. What made the situation worse was that the officers were not required to work which cause resentment between the enlisted men and them. To get out of working, POWs paid other POWs two cigarettes to break their arms.
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 and 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.
In February 1943, four POWs escaped but were not missed until the next morning. Two of the POWs were recaptured and taken to a Kempei-tai (Japanese secret police) dungeon. It is known that one of the POWs was decapitated. On June 28, 1943, two POWs escaped and were recaptured on July 4. They were severely beaten before they were turned over to the Kempei-tai who hit the men with clubs and swords and used judo on them. The Japanese put the men on a truck that 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. This meant 100 enlisted men had 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.
On October 19, 1944, the POWs saw their first American planes in over two years. Seventeen B-24s raided the airfield. The planes strafed and sank three inter-island boats, sank three seaplanes that were anchored, and then destroyed some of the planes at the airfield. Sgt. Rufus W. Smith recalled, “After that, the Japs let us fix some air raid shelters in the compound yard. They only wanted us to fix them with only one entrance, but we kept insisting they let us leave both ends open — but only wide enough for one man at a time.”
The planes returned on October 28 and strafed and bombed the airfield again. The Japanese air force squadron that was based at the airfield was moved out at that time, and the POWs were ordered to fill in craters on the runways from the bombings. For some unknown reason, the Japanese command in Manila failed to issue orders sending the remaining POWs on the island back to Manila.
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 and, at first, had one entrance. The officers had a smaller trench. The Japanese seemed to believe that the POWs were the cause of the air raids so the treatment given to them got worse.
It was December 11, and an American convoy was spotted approaching Palawan, and the Japanese believed this was an invasion force heading to the island. According to Smith, “The Japs starting running madly through the camp going on beach defense. We picked up from some of them that an American convoy was nearby.” The fact was the convoy was heading to the Island of Mindoro just south of Luzon. The Japanese believed that Palawan would soon be invaded by the advancing American forces. It was on December 13, these orders were issued, “At the time of the enemy landing, if the prisoners of war are harboring an enemy feeling, dispose of them at the appropriate time.”
The POWs knew something was going on on December 14. After working that morning they returned to the camp at noon. During lunch, there were two air raid warnings and the POWs went into the trenches. As they entered the trenches, they noticed that extra guards had been placed around the compound. Around 2:00 P.M., another air raid warning was given. Since they had been through two false alarms that day, the POWs did not go into the trenches until forced to do so by the Japanese. Once the POWs were in the trenches, the Japanese armed their guns. Of this, Smith stated, “They brought us in from work at noon, something that had never happened before. About 12:40 p.m. am air raid and we went to our shelters.
“Presently a small group of Jap guards accompanied by two or three officers entered the compound yard. They told us to stay in our shelters and not to look out.”
One of the survivors, at the post-war trial in 1948, described what happened.
“No sooner were the last men ‘safely’ hidden from the dangers of an American air raid than two companies of Japanese soldiers armed with buckets of gasoline, torches, rifles, machine guns, fixed bayonets and hand grenades entered the compound and preceded to carry into effect the plan for the annihilation of every single POWs”
The Japanese approached the first trench, and threw lit torches into it and one or two buckets of gasoline. which set the POWs on fire. Those who ran from the shelter were shot. Those who begged to be shot in the head were shot or bayoneted in the stomach. The Japanese laughed at the POWs as they killed them. The guards also fired into the other trenches and threw hand grenades into them.
Sgt. Douglas W. Bogue who was in a trench said, “I looked out 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 (with machine guns).
Smith was able to see what was going on and stated, “I saw the Japs throw gasoline in each end of the biggest shelter and toss torches in after it. They did the same thing immediately after at two other shelters. Men screamed. Men moaned, Men broke from the shelters, their clothes, faces, and hands afire. Japs shot them down. Laughing. Japs jabbed them in their guts with bayonets.
“In our shelter, they didn’t believe me at first when I saw and quickly told what was going on. Two others looked out. We went out through our hole.”
He also said, “The ones that managed to get out of the fire and on their feet, well, they were shot, bayoneted, knocked down where they couldn’t do any damage and left there to suffer until they died.”
Forty or fifty men still managed to get out of the trenches and jumped from a fifty-foot cliff to the beach. Shore sentries and guards on barges shot at them from the cliffs and boats. The POWs who escaped were hunted down. Those who were recaptured by the Japanese were buried alive while men who attempted to swim to safety were shot in the water by the Japanese in boats. Those who hid in the crevices in the cliffs were killed when the Japanese dynamited them. Seven POWs were behind a huge rock. A passing patrol boat saw a leg sticking out from behind it and opened fire and hit the man. After he had been hit, the man came out from behind the rock and was machine-gunned to death saving the lives of the other six men. Believing they had killed the only man there, the patrol boat left the area. The POWs who did survive manage to make the swim to another island at night. On the island, they were protected by Filipinos until rescued by American forces.
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.
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 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
His wife received a second communication from the War Department which somewhat repeated what she had been told earlier. The following is an excerpt from it.
“on December 14, 1944, this group of prisoners was attacked without warning by the Japanese guards, and ten of the prisoners succeeded in escaping. These were the only survivors. It had been officially established by reports received by the war department that all the remaining prisoners, including your husband, perished as a result of this ruthless attack.”
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 122 other American soldiers, who had died on Palawan Island and were 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 remains were placed in 109 caskets which were placed in 28 burial vaults in Section 85 of the cemetery. Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant services were held and followed by full military rites with all branches of the military participating. His mother, wife, sister, and three brothers attended the reburial. When his flag was presented to his widow, Hazel, the commanding officer said to her, “This I give you. You are his next of kin.”
After the ceremony, Claude Yeast, who had been a member of D Company, 192nd, sought out Hazel. He told her that he had been with her husband the entire time he was a POW on the island until two months before the massacre when he was sent to Manila and then Japan. He told Hazel that just before he left Palawan, he witnessed Fred plead and talk to the Japanese commanding officer all night trying to save the life of one of the enlisted men. Bruni won his point but was worn out from the ordeal. Yeast was at the ceremony because his brother, Willard, who was in HQ Company, also died on Palawan.
The picture below is of Capt. Bruni’s name is 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. His wife never remarried and passed away on October 22, 1975.
Finally, the airfield that the POWs built with picks and shovels is now Puerto Princesa International Airport.