PFC Earl O. Burchard was the son of Orrin Burchard and Villa Johnson-Burchard and was born on October 22, 1917, in Superior, Wisconsin. With his two sisters and two brothers, he grew up at 413 South Linn Street in Janesville, Wisconsin.
In October of 1940, Earl enlisted in the 32nd Tank Company of the Wisconsin National Guard, because he wanted to fulfill his military obligation. He also knew that the unit was being called to federal service which would fulfill his military obligation, and if he had to serve in the army, he would like to serve with friends from his hometown.
Earl, with the other members of the Janesville Tank Company, arrived at Fort Knox, Kentucky, on November 28, 1940. There the company was now A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. For the following months, they would train in tank tactics. In his opinion, this training was helpful in what lay ahead of them. During his time at Ft. Knox, Earl trained as a motorcycle messenger.
A typical day for the soldiers started in 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics from 8:00 to 8:30. Afterward, the tankers went to various schools within the company. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics.
At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played.
Earl next took part in maneuvers in Louisiana during the late summer of 1941. According to members of the battalion, their tanks, as members of the Red Army, broke through the Blue Army’s defenses and were on their way to capture it’s command center when the maneuvers were suddenly canceled. The commanding general of the Blue Army was George S. Patton.
After the maneuvers, instead of returning to Ft. Knox, the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk. None of its members had any idea why this order had been issued. It was on the side of a hill that the members of the battalion received the news that they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, many had determined that PLUM stood for Philippines, Luzon, Manila.
Those men 29 years old or older were given the chance to resign from federal service. They were replaced with volunteers or men who had their names drawn, from the 753rd Tank Battalion. The 192nd also received the 753rd’s tanks.
From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes. Arriving in San Francisco, California, the soldiers were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases by the battalion’s medical staff. Those with major health issues were released from service and replaced, while those with minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 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, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.
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.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. 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 Colonel 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, but he had only learned about their arrival days earlier. After making sure they received Thanksgiving Dinner, he left to have his own dinner.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank or half-track crew members remained with each tank at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
On December 8, 1941, the same day as the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese bombed Clark Field. The 192nd was still guarding the perimeter of Clark Field. At 8:30 A.M., planes took off and the sky was filled with American planes all morning. At noon, all the planes landed and were parked in a straight line outside the mess hall. The pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers on all duty at the airfield counted 54 planes. When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese. After the attack, the 192nd remained at Ft. Stotsenburg for almost two weeks. They were then sent to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed.
As a motorcycle messenger, Earl’s job was to carry messages between A Company headquarters and battalion headquarters. He also was expected to scout enemy positions.
For the next four months, Earl and the other members of A Company fought to slow the Japanese advance in the Philippines. His battalion was the last American unit to withdrawal into the Bataan Peninsula. During the Battle of Bataan, Earl recalled that it seemed the Americans could never see the enemy, but the Japanese seemed to always be able to see them.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese. When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.
On April 9, 1942, the Filipino and American forces on Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese. That morning, Earl was trying to get some rest and was laying on the ground outside the Battalion Headquarters of the 192nd. He heard the news as it came in from General King’s headquarters. Earl was ordered to take the surrender message to Companies A and C of the 192nd.
Earl took part in the death march and did the march alone. During the march, he never saw another member of his tank company. At San Fernando, he and the other POWs were put into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. Each car could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car and closed the doors. Those men who died remained standing since the dead could not fall to the floors until the living left the cars at Capas.
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. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medics – assigned to care for 50 sick POWs – was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the 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 been laying was scraped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
In May 1942, while he was on the work detail, his family received this letter.
“According to War Department records you have been designated as the emergency addressee of PFC Earl O. Burchard 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 (Earl O. Burchard) is contained in the list of prisoners of war.”
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Pangatian.
To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. Since the POWs were underfed, many became ill and died of malnutrition.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
The barracks used by the POWs were built to hold 50 POWs, but the Japanese put from 60 to 120 POWs in each one. There no shower facilities and the POWs slept on bamboo strips. In addition, no bedding, covers, or mosquito netting was provided which resulted in many becoming ill.
The camp hospital was composed of 30 wards. The ward for the sickest POWs was known as “Zero Ward,” which got its name because it had been missed when the wards were counted. Each ward had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each. The sickest men slept on the bottom tier. Most of those who died, died from diseases their malnourished bodies could not fight.
During his time at Cabanatuan, he was a member of Barracks #9, Group 2. Each barracks was built to house 50 POWs, but most had anywhere from 60 to 120 POWs in them. POWs slept on beds made of bamboo slats without bedding or covers, which resulted in many becoming sick. He was also admitted to the camp hospital on Saturday, February 20, 1943, suffering from an undisclosed illness. When he was discharged from the hospital was not recorded.
Sometime during July 1942, the family received a second letter. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, PFC Earl O. Burchard 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.”
In July, a list of POWs who were being sent to Japan was posted in the camp. Earl’s name was on it. On July 15, trucks arrived at the camp and the POWs were boarded. The POWs arrived at Bilibid seven hours later. Their dinner was rotten sweet potatoes. Since it was night, they had to eat in the dark. They remained at Bilibid until July 17 at 8:00 A.M. and walked to Pier 7. They were boarded onto the Nissyo Maru.
The Japanese attempted to put the entire POW detachment in the forward hold but failed, so 600 of the POWs were put into the read hold.
The ship was moved and remained outside the breakwater, at Manila, from July 18 until July 23 while the Japanese attempted to form a convoy. The POWs were fed rice and vegetables. They also received two canteen cups of water.
The ship sailed on July 23rd at 8:00 A.M. to Corregidor and dropped anchor off the island at 2:00 P.M. It remained off the island overnight and sailed at 8:00 A.M. the next day. The ship sailed north by northeast. On July 26 at 3:00 in the morning, there was a large fire off the side of the ship. It turned out that one of the ships, the Otari Yama Maru had been hit by a torpedo from the U.S.S. Flasher which was a part of a three-submarine wolf pack.
On July 28, the ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, and docked at 9:00 A.M. The ship sailed at 7:00 P.M. and continued its northward trip all day and night of July 29. On July 30, the ship ran into a storm. The storm finally passed by August 2. The POWs were issued clothing on August 3 and arrived at Moji on August 4th at midnight.
At 8:00 in the morning, the POWs disembarked the ship. They were taken to a theater and were held in it all day. The POWs were divided into different groups and sent to different camps. The POW detachment Earl was in was taken to the train station. The train left at 9:00 P.M. and arrived at the town at 2:00 A.M., they were unloaded and walked the three miles to the camp.
Earl was assigned to Fukuoka Camp #23 which consisted of a mess hall, a hospital, six unheated barracks located on top of a hill with a ten-foot-high wooden fence around it. In the barracks, the POWs slept in 15 foot by 15-foot bays which were each shared by six POWs who slept on straw mats with a blanket and quilted coverlet.
During the winter, the average temperature was 14 degrees, and there was no heat, so the POWs slept together for heat. At 6:00 A.M., 6:00 P.M., and 9:00 P.M. the Japanese took row call. For the first two weeks in the camp, the POWs learned the Japanese words for mining equipment.
The POWs received their jobs from the camp commandant who spoke adequate English. The POWs were divided into two groups of miners. The “A” group mined during the day, while the “B” group mined at night. Every ten days the groups would swap shifts. “We used to work ten days on the day shift and ten days nights and the only time we got off was when we switched shifts-then we got the extra time until the alternate shift. It was a merry-go-round.” When the POWs arrived at the mine, they were turned over to civilian supervisors who in Burchard’s opinion treated the POWs worse than the guards.
Other POWs in the camp worked topside, at the mine, as coal dust diggers, others POWs made briquettes, while some remained in the camp to work. It is not known what work the POWs who worked in the camp did.
In the mine, the POWs worked in teams of 5 men and quickly learned the more they did the more these supervisors wanted from them. If they filled five mining cars, the next day the supervisor wanted six. The POWs threw rock and timbers into the cars to fill them and covered them with a layer of coal. When the cars were dumped into the grinder, the rocks and boards damaged it. After a while, the supervisor and POWs came to a reasonable agreement on how many cars they would load each day.
The one good thing about working in the mine in the winter was the temperature was about 70 degrees. Earl recalled that working in the mine was scary because of conditions in the mine. The mines the POWs worked were often mines that Japanese engineers had determined to be unsafe for Japanese miners.
During his time in the camp, the worst atrocity Earl witnessed was an American who was shot to death by a firing squad. This was done because the soldier had stolen a piece of bread. The POWs were always hungry. He said, “Rice, and more rice-only it was never enough.”
The POWs were fed boiled seaweed, sweet potato tops, and even grass. The meals, which was what was described as gumbo and rice for breakfast, a bento box of dry rice for lunch that the POWs took to the mine with them, and dry rice for supper with 10 or 15 soybeans in it. Once a week, their supper could also contain a fish head.
During 1945, things got worse for the POWs, so they knew the Japanese were losing the war. At 5:00 P.M. on August 15, they learned the war was over. The POWs did not believe it. The next day the camp commandant, at 10:00 A.M., informed the POWs that the war was over. He also told them that they had to stay in the camp. On August 24th, the Japanese gave the POWs paint and canvas and told them to paint “POW” on the canvas and put it on the barracks’ roofs.
On August 28, B-29s appeared over the camp. Two of the planes circled and dropped fifty-gallon drums to the POWs. For the first time, the POWs knew they were now in charge. Most of the guards quickly disappeared. On September 15, Americans arrived in the camp. The POWs were taken by truck to the train station. The former POWs rode the train to Nagasaki, where they were given physicals, deloused, and the seriously ill were boarded onto a hospital ship. The rest were taken by the U.S.S. Marathon to Okinawa. It was while he was on the ship that he wrote home which was mailed from Okinawa. In the letter, he said, “I am a free Yank!” He also told them, “You’re going to have to do plenty of cooking for me when I get home. There’s one thing you can practice on, graham cracker crust pie with a banana cream filling. Practice on Dad, he won’t mind a bit.” He also said, “This is my first chance to write you a letter.” Referring to the seven POW postcards they received, he said, “Those other things weren’t real.” They were then flown back to the Philippines.
It was at this time that his family received a telegram from the War Department.
“Mr. & Mrs. Burchard: The secretary of war has asked me to inform you that your son, PFC Earl O. Burchard was returned to military control Sept. 15 and is being returned to the United States within the near future. He will be given the opportunity to communicate with you upon his arrival if he has not already done so.
“E. F. Witsell
“Acting Adjutant General of the Army”
Earl was returned to the Philippine Islands and assigned to Clark Field. It was also at this time that he was promoted to sergeant. He returned to the United States on the S.S. Klipfortaine, on October 19, 1945, and was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington. From there, he was sent to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Clinton, Iowa. He was discharged from the army on May 22, 1946. The one lasting effect of his captivity is that he had a hard time being around other people.
Pfc. Earl O. Burchard returned to Janesville and married Rita McGuire on April 26, 1947, and the couple became the parents of six sons and three daughters. He went into business for himself doing bodywork on cars and next worked for a car dealer in Janesville.
In the early 1960s, Earl moved his family to California where he was employed as a body and fender repairman. One of his sons, Mark, was Killed in Action when his helicopter was shot down on November 17, 1969, in Cambodia, during the Vietnam War.
Earl O. Burchard passed away on October 5, 2002, in Carmichael, California, and was buried at Saint Patrick’s Cemetery in Placerville, California.