PFC Daniel Joseph Courtney was born on October 23, 1917, in Janesville, Wisconsin, to Edward Courtney & Eva Butler-Courtney. As a child, with his two brothers and four sisters, he grew up at 518 South Pearl Street. He was known as “Dannie” to his family and friends. One of his sisters was married to 1st Lt. John F. A. Bushaw who would assume commander of A Company in the Philippines. When he was called to federal duty, Dannie was working for the Janesville Canning Company.
Knowing it was just a matter of time before he would be drafted into the army, Dannie joined the Wisconsin National Guard’s 32nd Tank Company which was headquartered in an armory in Janesville. On November 2, 1940, the tank company was federalized and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for one year of military service.
In January 1941, Dannie was reassigned to Headquarters Company when it was formed with members of the four-letter companies of the battalion. On April 4, 1941, Dannie married Mary Leptow at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Janesville, and the couple would have a son within a year.
The battalion next was sent to Louisiana, where they took part in the Louisiana maneuvers of 1941 from September 1 through 30. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana. None of the members of the battalion had any idea why they were there. On the side of a hill, the members learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, many men had figured out they were being sent to the Philippine Islands.
The decision for this move – which had been made during August 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Dannie returned home to say their goodbyes to friends and family. Returning to Camp Polk, the battalion was sent over different train routes to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, by 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. Men who were found with minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the company at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
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. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, 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 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. The cruiser intercepted several other ships during the remainder of the trip.
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. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He made sure they had Thanksgiving Dinner before he left them to have his own dinner.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to prevent them from rusting at sea. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
On Monday, December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern half. At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles. Meals were brought to them by food trucks.
The morning of December 8, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier. All the members of the letter companies were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, all the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes. When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese.
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 the members of HQ Company slept in a dried latrine near their bivouac. They had no idea that it was the last time they would sleep on a bed for over three and a half years.
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 in support of B and C Companies.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack on April 3. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company’s offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
It was at this time that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
Tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ’s commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks.
During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company’s trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, “Our last supper.”
On April 11, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company’s encampment. Donald was now a Prisoner of War. A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans. They remained along the sides of the road for hours.
Dannie and his company finally boarded their trucks and drove to Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and were ordered to sit. As they sat and watched, the 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 and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the soldiers. He got out of the car 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 Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, Dannie’s group of POWs was moved to a schoolyard in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours without food or water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs. The POWs could do little since they had no place to hide. Some POWs were killed by incoming American shells. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move again by the Japanese and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march, he received no water and little food. At San Fernando, he was put into small wooden boxcars. The cars could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. They were packed in so tightly, that those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the cars. From Capas, Dannie walked the last ten miles to Camp O’ Donnell.
The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the 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 medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.
To get out of the camp, Dannie volunteered to go out on the work detail to recover destroyed vehicles as scrap metal for the Japanese. The POWs would tie the vehicles together with ropes. Then, each man would drive a vehicle as they were towed to San Fernando. From there, the vehicles were taken to Manila.
On June 12, 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 Daniel J. Courtney 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 (Daniel J. Courtney) is contained in the list of prisoners of war.”
When the detail ended, Dannie and the other men were sent 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.
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. 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.
Each barracks was built to house 50 POWs, but most had 60 to 120 POWs in them. The men slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, covers, or mosquito netting which caused many to become ill.
Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. Because of the diet, the POWs suffered from malnutrition which made them more susceptible to illness.
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.
During July 1942, his parents received a second letter about from the War Department concerning Dannie. Since the entire letter had not been found, 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 Dannie J. Courtney 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 10, 1943, a list of men being held in the Philippines by the Japanese as Prisoners of War was released by the War Department. One of those listed on it was PFC Dannie Courtney.
Dannie remained in the camp until September 1943, when he was selected to go to Japan. Trucks came to the camp and took the POWs to Manila, where they boarded a Japanese transport.
The ship, the Coral Maru, was also known as the Taga Maru and left Manila on September 20. During the trip the ship stopped at Takao, Formosa, arriving there on September 23, and sailed on September 26. It arrived at Moji, Japan, on October 5, and as the POWs left the ship they were given a chip of wood with a color on it which determined which POW camp they were sent to. The POWs rode a train to Hirohata #12-B arriving there on October 6.
In the camp, the POWs were housed in two 50′ by 100′ wooden barracks that were not insulated. 240 POWs lived in each barracks and slept on straw mats placed on two rows of platforms in the barracks. The bottom platform was sixteen feet above the floor. They received their meals from a camp kitchen which was a small wooden structure. Ten POWs were assigned to the kitchen and cook the meals in thirteen cauldrons. An additional 30 POWs were assigned to maintaining the camp.
The POWs at Hirohata, which was also known as Osaka #12-B, were used as slave laborers in the Japan Iron Works which was a few miles from the camp. Regardless of the weather, the POWs marched to and from the mill. They loaded pig iron on ships and trains and unloaded ore. They loaded and unloaded coal cars at the mills, worked in the machine shops, worked at the blast furnaces, and cleaned the slag from the furnaces. Working with coal without eye protection resulted in Dannie having vision problems. If the POWs were caught stealing, they were severely punished.
During his time in the camp, POWs were beaten with belts, ropes, clubs, and fists. In addition, the POWs had water forced down the nostrils, they were submerged in cold water and afterward forced to stand nude in the cold. Men also had their heads put into a trough and when they attempted to take their heads out of the water were hit in the back of their heads with a club. One guard drilled the POWs and beat them if they missed a step even though the orders were being given in Japanese. Making the POWs kneel appears to have been a common practice in the camp. 40 POWs were made to kneel for eight hours, while on another occasion, every POW in the camp, during mustard, was made to kneel for five hours. Another sixteen POWs – who were accused of steal rice – were lined up, with their hands behind their heads, and each was slapped in the face with a large, double up, belt.
The guards also stole food assigned to the POWs and canned meat and fruit, cigarettes, and other items from the POWs’ Red Cross packages. They also stole the Red Cross clothing and shoes sent for the POWs.
The camp hospital was always filled with 50 POWs who were too ill to work. An American doctor was in charge of the hospital but was at the mercy of a Japanese corpsman, who frequently changed his diagnosis sending POWs with fevers to work. He also refused to issue medicine to the sick.
Dannie and the other POWs were liberated by American troops on September 9, 1945, and were taken to Saipan on the U.S.A.H.S. Marigold. From there, he was sent to the Marianas and flown by Air Transport to Hawaii. Finally, he was flown to the United States landing at Hamilton Airfield, north of San Francisco, and hospitalized. From there, he was sent to Galesburg, Illinois, and hospitalized.
After he was liberated, his parents received this telegram:
“Mr. & Mrs. Courtney: The secretary of war has asked me to inform you that your son, PFC Daniel J. Courtney was returned to military control Sept. 7 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”
On November 27, 1945, Dannie received a 212-day furlough and went home to Janesville. After he was discharged, Dannie returned to Mary and together they raised a family of seven children. One son, Donnie, drowned in 1962. To support his family, Dannie worked at the General Motors manufacturing plant in Janesville and retired in October 1973.
Daniel J. Courtney passed away on March 23, 1974, in Edgerton, after suffering a heart attack. He was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Janesville, Wisconsin, next to his son.