Cpl. Robert M. Harrie was the son of Charles F. Harrie & Bessie Gordon-Harrie. He was born on November 9, 1922, in Whitestown, Wisconsin. His mother died and his father remarried. Robert’s family moved to Janesville, Wisconsin, where he attended elementary school and high school. It is known that he had two sisters, two half-brothers, and three half-sisters. He worked for the Janesville Gazette delivering papers.
While he was in high school, Robert joined the Wisconsin National Guard’s 32nd Tank Company headquartered in the armory in Janesville. When it was discovered he was sixteen, he was discharged. In 1940, he reenlisted in the National Guard because a daft act had been passed and he wanted to fulfill his military obligation.
While he was still in high school, the tank company was federalized as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. Robert left high school during November 1940 and traveled to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for one year of training.
Documents from the time show that during his time at Ft. Knox, Robert attended radio operator’s school and qualified as a radio operator. Because of specialized training, it was difficult for him to get leave to visit home.
In letters he sent home, he stated that he had become very good at driving tanks. He pointed out that when they first got to the base, they were repeatedly told not to abuse the tanks. Once the company had its full complement of tanks, they were told to do what they wanted. He also was familiar with guns and had the job of showing those men who did not know how to hold a pistol how to stand to fire it.
He commented that rumors ran wild on the base. One of the rumors that spread among the tankers was that they were going to take part in summer maneuvers at Camp Beauregard, Louisiana. As it turned out, it was just a rumor.
In July 1941, Robert was one of a detachment of soldiers sent to Ft.Wayne in Detroit, Michigan, to pick up trucks and motorcycles. He commented that by the time they got back to Ft. Knox, some of the trucks and motorcycles had been damaged.
In the late summer of 1941, Robert as a member of the 192nd took part in the Louisiana maneuvers of 1941 from September 1 through 30. After the maneuvers, he and the other members of the battalion learned that their time in the military had been extended. They were sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, arriving there on September 30. After arriving, those men 29 years old or older were allowed to resign from federal service. They were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion. On October 14, the company received M3 tanks from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
The decision for this move – which had been made on August 15, 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of 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 battalion’s new tanks came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and were loaded onto flat cars, on different trains. The soldiers also put cosmoline on anything that they thought would rust. At 8:30 A.M. on October 20, over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. A Company took the southern route through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona to Ft. Mason in San Francisco.
Because the passenger cars were at the end of the train, the train was broken in two with one train pulling just the passenger cars and the other pulling the tanks and at least one passenger car. This was the train he was on. It was at this time that Robert wrote home and stated that he rode in the caboose and became friendly with members of the ground crew. One was from Ordfordville, Wisconsin, and the other from Elgin, Illinois. He also said that they had passed through snow which would probably be the last he would see in a long time. At some point in California, the two trains were merged into one train.
When they arrived at Ft. Mason, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment and men found with minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced. Robert told his families that he received more shots then he had ever received in his life. Most of this time was spent loading the tanks and other equipment onto the ship.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27 and it sailed at 8:00 A.M. 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 soldiers attended school in the morning during the voyage with classes lasting two hours. They had the rest of the day off. 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.
During the time in Hawaii, Robert went to Waikiki Beach twice and toured the island and met up with a friend from Janesville who was a pilot on the U.S.S. Lexington. The one thing he noted was that everything cost a lot more on 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. 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.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila. None of the soldiers were allowed off the ship.
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 with 17th Ordnance.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that they all received what they needed and that they had Thanksgiving Dinner – which was 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 tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
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.
The morning of December 8, December 7 in the United States, the 192nd was told of the attack on Pearl Harbor. They returned to their positions around Clark Field. At 8:30, the American planes took off and filled the sky. They landed at noon, to be refueled, and were lined up, in a straight line, near 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. 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. Since the battalion’s bivouac was near the main road between the fort and airfield, the soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks and trucks. 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, most men 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.
After the attack, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau, on December 12, so it could guard a highway and railroad from sabotage. From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd who were on their way to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese were landing troops.
On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write. After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening and successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
From there, the company rejoined the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River. The tanks, with A Company, 194th, held the position so other units could disengage and withdraw. On December 25, the 192nd held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
The 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.
A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read on December 30. As the Japanese attempted to advance they were cut down by the tankers. The tankers created gaping holes in their ranks. To lower their losses, the Japanese tried to cover their advance with a smokescreen. Since the wind was blowing against them, the smoke blew into the Japanese line.
A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read. On a road east of Zaragoza, the evening of 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.
As the Filipino and American forces fell back toward Bataan, A Company took up a position near the south bank of the Gumain River the night of December 31 and January 1. Believing that the Filipino Army was in front of them allowed the tankers to get some sleep. It was that night that the Japanese launched an attack to cross the river.
On January 1, the tanks of the 194th 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. On January 1, the tanks of the 194th 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. It was also in January that the food rations for the soldiers were cut in half. Not long after this, malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever hit the soldiers. It was at this time that the food ration was cut in half which resulted in malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever spreading among the soldiers.
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. 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 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. 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 half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
As the Filipino and American forces entered Bataan, A Company took up a position near the south bank of the Gumain River. Knowing that the Filipino Army was in front of them allowed the tankers to get some sleep. It was that night that the Japanese launched an attack to cross the river. Robert climbed out of his tank to see what was going on and had the steel helmet he was wearing shot off his head. He got back into the tank.
The company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets – from January 23 to February 17- to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive was stopped and pushed back to the original line of defense. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that each tank company was rotated out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
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.
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.
Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
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 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. 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.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack, supported by artillery, and aircraft on April 3. 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. The tanks were sent to different areas in attempts to re-establish a defensive line.
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. 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.”
On April 9, 1942, he became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. After destroying their tanks, he and the other members of A Company made their way to Mariveles where they began the death march.
Robert and the other POWs marched for days without food or water. At San Fernando, he and the other POWs were packed into wooden boxcars used for hauling sugarcane. The cars were known as “forty or eights” since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly, that men suffocated from lack of air, but remained standing since they could not fall to the floors.
At Capas, the prisoners disembarked and the dead fell to the floors of the cars. The POWs walked the last miles to Camp O’Donnell. 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 Japanese 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 area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped 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.
During May or early June 1942, his parents received a letter from the War Department about his status.
“According to War Department records you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Cpl. Robert H. Harrie 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 (Robert M. Harrie) 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.
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. After arriving in the camp, he was assigned to Barracks #14.
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. During his time in the camp, Robert came down with dysentery and put into the camp hospital on July 16, 1942. He was discharged from the hospital on September 6.
In 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, Cpl. Robert M. Harrie 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.”
On Tuesday, September 9, 1942, he was readmitted to the camp hospital. According to medical records kept by the American doctors, Cpl. Robert M. Harrie died from dysentery on Saturday, November 21, 1942, at approximately 10:30 PM. He was 20 years old. In January 1943, his parents received notice that Robert was a Japanese POW. The letter came two months after his death. His parents did not learn of his death until August 1943.
After the war, the Remains Recovery Team identified Robert’s remains. His family asked that his remains be returned to Janesville, where he was reburied at Milton Lawn Cemetery, on July 23, 1949.