Pvt. Edward L. DeGroot was born on January 10, 1919, in Franksville, Wisconsin, to Peter and Mary Barth-DeGroot. He was the third oldest of the couple’s seven children. In 1940, his family was living on County Line Road in Racine County, and he was working as a clerk in a grocery store when the draft act took effect.
On January 29, 1941, Ed joined the United States Army to fulfill his military obligation. He enlisted with his brother and three friends because they wanted to be assigned to communications and had been promised that they would be allowed to serve together.
Ed and his friends were sent to the recruiting center at Fort Sheridan, Illinois. After three days there, he was informed that he had been assigned to Company A of the 192nd Tank Battalion which was training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Ed was sent to Fort Knox without his brother or his three friends; so much for promises made by the Army.
Ed and the other new members of the 192nd were not put into their new companies immediately. They were trained with the 1st Armored Division in 7th Company. A great deal of this training was under the instruction of members of the 192nd. Ed recalled that Sgt. Ben Morin was one of the sergeants assigned this job.
As a member of A Company, Ed was trained as a tank driver and was assigned to the tank of Sgt. Herb Durner. Other members of the crew were Cpl. Ken Squire, who was the radio operator, and Pvt. Bob Boehm, the gunner. As Ed looked back on this training, he concluded that it was of some value, but it was totally inappropriate for combat in the jungle.
A typical day started at 6:15 A.M. with reveille, but most of the soldiers were already up so they could wash, dress, and be on time for assembly. Breakfast was from 7 to 8 A.M. which was followed buy calisthenics from 8 to 8:30. After this, the remainder of the morning dealt with .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistols, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in military tactics.
At 11:30, the tankers got ready for lunch, which was from noon to 1:00 P.M., when they went back to work by attending the various schools. At 4:30, the tankers day ended and retreat was at 5:00 P.M. followed by evening meal at 5:30. The day ended at 9:00 P.M. with lights out, but they did not have to be in bed until 10:00 P.M. when taps was played.
In late March 1941, the entire battalion was moved to new barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks had bathing and washing facilities in them and a day room. The new kitchens had larger gas ranges, automatic gas heaters, large pantries, and mess halls. One reason for this move was the men from selective service were permanently joining the battalion. It is known that he had a furlough home for Easter and arrived home on April 9th.
At 7:00 A.M. on Monday, June 16th, the battalion was broken into four detachments for a three-day tactical road march. The most important part of this march was to train the soldiers in loading, unloading, and setting up the battalion’s administrative camps. It also prepared them for the Louisiana maneuvers which they were scheduled to take part in during September.
The battalion traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which were the battalion’s kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The battalion traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox on Wednesday, June 18th through Lebanon, New Haven, and Hodgenville, Kentucky.
With the 192nd, Ed went on maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1 through 30. At one point the battalion, which was part of the red army, broke through the blue army’s defenses and was on its way of capturing its headquarters when the maneuvers were canceled. The commanding officer of the blue army was General George S. Patton. It was after the maneuvers the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox.
On the side of a hill that the members of the 192nd learned they were being sent overseas. Those men 29 years old, or older, were given the chance to resign from federal service. Many of the remaining men received leaves home to say their goodbyes.
The decision for this move – which had been made during August 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The companies of the battalion traveled by train, over different train routes, to San Francisco, California, where they were taken by the ferry, the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell, on Angel Island, and received inoculations and physicals from the battalion’s medical detachment. Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S. A. T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2, and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, 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, but two other ships intercepted by the Louisville were Japanese freighters that were hauling scrap metal to Japan.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. 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, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner – a stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
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. They were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise from the planes’ engines was unbelievable as they flew over the bivouac. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their on the tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool” meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to do the work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th Tank Battalion and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms including going to the PX.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
Just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 8, 1941, Ed and the other soldiers lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. Since their guns were useless against planes, they could do little more than watch.
That morning, about 8:30, all the American planes took off and filled the sky. In any direction the tankers looked, there were planes. At noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, and were lined up, in a straight line, outside the mess hall. The pilots went to lunch.
The tankers were eating lunch when a formation of 54 planes was spotted approaching the airfield from the north, and the tankers believed the planes were American. As they watched, raindrops fell from the planes. When bombs exploded on the runways, they 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 tankers slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed for the next three and one-half years.
The company was sent to the Barrio of Dau, on December 12, so it could protect a highway and railroad against sabotage. They remained there until ordered to rejoin the battalion.
In one incident, that took place on December 23 and 24, the company was sent north of the Agno River. While they were north of the river, the main bridge on Carmen Road was destroyed. The tank company found itself in danger of being caught behind enemy lines. This resulted in the company having to make end runs to cross the river on one of the two remaining bridges and successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River. 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 were asked to hold the position for six hours; they held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27 and 28. From there they fell back to the south bank of the BamBan River which they were supposed to hold for as long as possible. The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29 serving as a rear guard against the Japanese. It was also on this date that the company lost tank platoon commander, 2nd Lt. Charles Read on December 30.
On a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries. The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks’ machine guns. As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac. When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened fire on them. When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion. To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.
At Gumain River, the night of December 31 to the morning of January 1, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river. When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts. The Japanese were taking heavy casualties, so they attempted to use smoke to cover their advance, but the wind blew the smoke into the Japanese. When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had suffered fifty percent casualties.
On January 1, the tanks were holding the Calumpit Bridge allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to cross the bridge toward Bataan. General Wainwright was attempting to hold the main Japanese force coming down Route 5 to prevent the troops from being cut off. General MacArthur’s chief of staff gave conflicting orders involving whose command the defenders were under which caused confusion. Gen. Wainwright was not aware these orders had been given.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
The tanks often were the last units to disengage from the enemy and form a new defensive line as Americans and Filipino forces withdrew toward Bataan. On the night of January 7, the A Company was awaiting orders to cross the last bridge into Bataan over the Culis Creek. The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but the battalion’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, ordered the engineers to wait until he had looked to see if they were anywhere in sight. He found the company, asleep in their tanks because they had not received the order to withdraw across the bridge. After they had crossed, the bridge was destroyed.
While American and Filipino forces were withdrawing from the Pilar-Bigac Line, the battalion prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops. On the morning of January 27, a new battle line had been formed and all units were supposed to be beyond it. That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were supposed to have withdrawn. While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point-blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualties.
On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
It was 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.”
Ed believed that fighting the Japanese was made difficult because, in Ed’s opinion, the equipment they had received was outdated, and they had received the wrong type of ammunition to be used in the turret cannon. In his opinion, another problem was that the tanks had only received a limited number of armor-piercing shells to use against enemy tanks. Recalling this, he said, “It was really a delaying action. They (Japanese) didn’t realize we had as little as we did.”
Ed was involved in numerous engagements as Company A was assigned the duty of protecting the west coast of Bataan from a Japanese invasion. It was during this duty, that Company A would engage the enemy, who had landed troops behind the Filipino and American lines, in what was to become known as the Battle of the Pockets which lasted from. The Japanese launched an offensive that was initially successful but stopped and pushed back to the original defensive line. Two pockets of Japanese soldiers were cut off and trapped behind the line.
While supporting the infantry, Company A & B were sent to wipe-out these troops which had been cut off from the main Japanese force. Ed believed that the tanks were ineffective because of the terrain and jungle.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks so they would no smell the rotting flesh in the tracks.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
Doing this job was so stressful that each tank company was rotated out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve. A tank would enter the pocket to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until the tank, that had been relieved, exited the pocket.
The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day.
The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantily clad blond on them. The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
On March 2 or 3, during the Battle of the Points. The tanks had been sent in to wipe out two pockets of Japanese soldiers who had been landed behind the main defensive line. The Japanese were soon cut off. When the Japanese attempted to land reinforcements, they landed them at the wrong place creating another pocket. Both of the pockets were wiped out.
The company’s last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea. By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way. Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave. When asked about the Philippines, he said, “There are times when men must die.” The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
His parents received a letter from him on April 2. In it, he told them he was well. This was the first message they had from him since the start of the war.
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. 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, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day.
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 white flag was bedding from A Company.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received 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 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.
Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
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 no attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do.
After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit inline with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
During the morning of April 9, 1942, Ed and the other men of Company A learned of the surrender at their bivouac area. Ed was distressed by the news of the surrender because he believed that he and his fellow soldiers were capable of defeating the enemy. He also came through the fighting without being wounded. Of this, he said, “I guess that’s what you call the fortunes of war. So me guys were killed the first day, and some went through without a scratch.”
The next morning, A Company started what has become known as the death march at Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. Ed would do the march with his friends Sgt. Owen Sandmire and Sgt. Harvey Riedemann. The march would be Ed’s first experience of man’s inhumanity to man.
It was on the march that Ed developed the philosophy that he believed kept him alive. Ed never allowed himself to placed in a situation where he would be vulnerable. During the march, he marched in the middle of the formation. In his own words, “You had to watch out for each other, otherwise, the Japanese cleanup squadrons would get you.” Although he saw bodies of dead men and heard the sound of guns, he never witnessed anyone being shot or bayoneted by the Japanese. He said of the march, ” They didn’t run you, but you kept going. If you fell behind, the guards bayoneted you.”
Camp O’Donnell 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 to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain in 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.
There he was assigned to the burial detail. This was not an enviable job since hundreds of POWs were dying each day. While working on this detail, Ed recalled burying PFC Larry Grim and T/5 Wesley Fancher of A Company. One of his happiest days, at the camp, was when he was taken off of this detail.
On May 19, 1942, his family received this letter from the War Department:
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Private Edward L. DeGroot 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.”
Ed was next sent to Cabanatuan when it was opened to lower the death rate among the POWs. At the camp, he was assigned to Barracks 2, Group 2. In the barracks with him were Pvt. Leonard Adams and 1st Sgt. John Andrews of the 192nd. While a prisoner there, he worked in the camp farm and sent out on a work detail to build runways. Of his treatment, he said, “The Japanese would beat us up at the drop of a hat. They’d slap us or cuff us with the butt of a gun. They were brutal and inhumane in the way they beat people up.”
Ed also believed that he survived because of his attitude, he stated, “After I became incarcerated, things were so bad that I had to put all thoughts of home out of my mind. Otherwise, it would drive you crazy, wishing you could be there. And when I got out, I put all thoughts of what I’d seen and experienced behind me. I was able to black it all-out.”
Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Panagatian. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp. The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens.
Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. The POWs were forced to work in the fields from 7:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening. Most of the food they grew went to the Japanese not them. Other POWs worked in rice paddies.
The POW barracks were built to house 50 POWs, but most held between 60 and 120 men. The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, covers, or mosquito netting. The result was many became ill. To prevent escapes, the POWs were put into “blood brother” groups. If one POW escaped the other POWs in his group would be executed. He said, “No one tried to escape after that.”
Each morning, the POWs lined up for roll call. While they stood at attention, it wasn’t uncommon for them to be hit over the tops of their heads. In addition, one guard frequently kicked them in their shins with his hobnailed boots. after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
The camp hospital was composed of 30 wards. The ward for the sickest POWs was known as “Zero Ward,” which got its name because it had been missed when the wards were counted. The name soon meant the place where those who were extremely ill went to die. Each ward had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each. Each man had a two-foot-wide by six-foot-long area to lie in. The sickest men slept on the bottom tier since the platforms had holes cut in them so the sick could relieve themselves without having to leave the tier.
He believed what saved his life, and the lives of other men were the occasional Red Cross package the POWs received. “If it wasn’t for the food and vitamins, I don’t think we could have survived. Getting those packages gave us the will to live.”
While he was a POW at Cabanatuan during July 1942, his parents received a second letter from the War Department. The following is an excerpt from the letter.
Dear Mrs. M. DeGroot:
The records of the War Department show your son, Private Edward L. DeGroot, 36,201,423, Infantry, missing in action in the Philippine Islands since May 7, 1942.
All available information concerning your son has been carefully considered and under the provisions of Public Law 490, 77th Congress, as amended, an official determination has been made continuing him on the records of the War Department in a missing status. The law sited provides that pay and allowances are to be credited to the missing person’s account and payment of allotments to authorized allottees are to be continued during the absence of such persons in a missing status.
I fully appreciate your concern and deep interest. You will, without further request on your part, receive immediate notification of any change in your son’s status. I regret that the far-flung operations of the present war, the ebb and flow of the combat over the great distances in isolated areas, and the characteristics of our enemies impose on us the heavy burden of uncertainty with respect to the safety of our loved ones.
Very Truly Yours,
J. A. Ulio
The Adjutant General
His family learned he was a Prisoner of War about January 28, 1943, in a message from the War Department.
REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE EDWARD L DEGROOT IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST MARSHALL GENERAL=
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL=
A week or so after this notification, they received a letter from the War Department.
Mrs. M. DeGroot
County Line Road
The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
It is suggested that you address him as follows:
Pvt. Edward L. DeGroot, U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
Howard F. Bresee
Chief Information Bureau
As the war continued and it became apparent to the Japanese the Americans would soon be invading the Philippine Islands, Ed was sent to Manila for shipment to Japan in what would become known as a Hell Ship. The ship that Ed and the other Americans were boarded on was the Canadian Inventor II. The ship sailed on July 4, 1944, but returned to Manila with boiler problems. While repairs were made, the POWs were held in its holds for eleven days.
On the ship was Ed’s friend from A Company, Sgt. Owen Sandmire. Somehow, Sandy and Ed got made cooks. They were responsible for the prisoners’ evening meal which meant that they were allowed out of the hold to prepare the evening meal. Ed believed that being allowed out of the hold helped him survive the trip to Japan.
On July 16, the Canadian Inventor sailed a second time. While at sea, it once again experienced boiler problems and could not keep up with the other ships in the convoy. Because of this, the Canadian Inventor was left on its own to make port and arrived at Takao, Formosa, on July 23rd.
For the next twelve days, the ship remained in port. During this time salt was loaded onto the ship. When the Canadian Inventor sailed on August 4, it made its way along the west coast of Formosa to Keelung Harbor. It arrived there on August 5th and remained in port for twelve days as more repairs were made to its boiler.
On August 17 the ship sailed for Japan, but because of more boiler problems, it stopped at Naha, Okinawa. After six days, the Canadian Inventor sailed for Moji, Japan, and finally arrived there on September 1.
The POWs nicknamed the ship the “Mati Mati Maru” which in Japanese means “to wait,” and that is what they did in the hold of the ship. In the end, Ed spent sixty days in the hold of the tramp steamer as it made its long, slow journey to Japan.
In late August 1944, his parents received a POW postcard from him that he had written while a POW at Cabanatuan. They had sent several letters to him but had received none back. The following is an excerpt from it.
“Very happy to let you know that I am well and in the best of spirits. My well wishes to everyone back there. I know you are cheerful and happy. Until I see you. God Bless you.”
As a prisoner in Japan, Ed was sent to Omine Machi. There, he spent the rest of the war working in a coal mine that had been condemned as unsafe before the war. As a slave laborer, Ed operated an air hammer in the mine. He said of his time there, “I operated an air hammer in a little coal mine on the island of Honshu.” It was common for the POWs to be beaten if the Japanese believed that they were not working hard enough.
The camp guards stole items from Red Cross packages and withheld the packages from July 1, 1944, to September 2, 1945. The Japanese intentionally opened packages and mixed up contents so that the ranking Allied officer would not know how much should be in each package. They also took much of the food in the packages. When they were given to the POWs they were often contained less than what had been sent and since they received so little of the food, it had no nutritional value. In addition, when Red Cross packages arrived, they were withheld from POWs from three to seven months after arriving.
Of the food in the camp, he said, “It was rice, mostly. Sometimes a stray vegetable or piece of fish found its way in.”
The week of January 14, 1945, his parents received another postcard from him that had been written on May 6, 1944. This was followed by another postcard in May 1945 that had been written on October 11, 1944.
According to Ed, one morning the prisoners awoke to discover that the guards had disappeared from the camp. “One day – it must have been the middle of August – the day shift was to have been awakened. We discovered the guards had just taken off.” American planes appeared and dropped information about the surrender to the POWs. When the planes reappeared, on August 16, they dropped food, medicine. From the parachutes, the POWs made an American flag and flew it over the camp.
It is not known if his parents received news of his liberation about September 28, 1945.
“Mr. & Mrs. DeGroot: The secretary of war has asked me to inform you that your son, Pvt. Edward L. DeGroot was returned to military control Sept. 12 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”
After being liberated on September 12, Ed boarded the U.S. Consolation, on September 15, 1945, suffering from beriberi. The ship took the POWs to Okinawa and they were returned by planes to the Philippines where they received medication and shots. When he was deemed healthy enough to return home, Ed boarded the Dutch ship, S.S. Klipfontaine for the United States. Ed saw the United States for the first time in four years on October 27, 1945, which was exactly four years, to the day, since he had left San Francisco for the Philippine Islands in 1941. Ed was promoted to Staff Sergeant and sent to Schick General Hospital in Clinton, Iowa, for additional medical treatment. He was discharged on July 17, 1946.
Ed returned to Racine and married, Evelyn Kothe on July 1, 1948. Together they would be the parents of four daughters and two sons. Ed worked in a department store a few years before he went to work as an insurance agent in Racine. He worked in insurance until he retired. His time in the camp left him with hearing loss. The other effect was on how he slept, “I sleep very poorly. But I consider myself very fortunate overall.”
After he retired, Ed had the opportunity to return to the Philippines as part of a tour of former POWs. Ed really thought about going back, but in the end, he decided not to go. Of this, he said, “I’m not quite sure why. I think it was because I wanted to know what it would be like to be in the same area as a free man.”
Of his time as a POW, he said, “It was maybe harder on my family than it was me. At least I knew where I was.”
The picture at the bottom of the page was taken of Ed while he was a POW in Japan at Omine Machi. Edward L. DeGroot passed away on December 15, 2004, at his home in Racine, Wisconsin, and was buried at Southern Wisconsin Veterans Cemetery in Union Grove, Wisconsin.