PFC Charles Chris Jensen was born on July 16, 1919, in Chicago. He was the son of Carl Jensen and Jenny Lizburg-Jensen and lived, with his two sisters, at 6830 South Justine Avenue in Chicago. He was a graduate of Harper High School and attended college for one year at Wilson Junior College. He worked as an office clerk at a Swift Premium Meat Packing Company at the Chicago Stock Yards.
The Selective Service Act went into effect on October 16, 1940, and he registered for the draft and named his mother as his contact person. Charles was drafted into the army on April 3, 1941, and joined Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion. He began basic training and had completed about three weeks of it when he was sent for training as a medic by Capt. Donald Hanes. He received hands-on training since the Army believed this was the best type of training a medic could receive. This training was done by the battalion’s medical officers. Some classes were available – which appeared to cover administrative duties – but it is not known if he attended any of the classes.
Each of the companies of the battalion received two medics. Charles and Martin Wasserman were assigned to B Company because, like the members of the company, they were from Illinois. Charles and Martin were assigned to live in one of the two barracks assigned to the company.
On June 14 and 16, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of Hq Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of Hq Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16th. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers.
Each tank company traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The detachments traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox through Lebanon, New Haven and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln.
After training at Ft. Knox, the battalion went on maneuvers in Louisiana. During the maneuvers, the medical detachment treated, injuries, snakebites, and other ailments.
After the maneuvers, the members of the battalion were informed that they were being sent overseas. Each man received a furlough home to take care of any unfinished business. The decision for this move – which had been made in 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 when one of the pilots noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a buoy, with a flag, in the water. He came upon more flagged buoys that lined up – in a straight line – for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day,
The next day – when a when planes were sent to the area – the buoys had been picked up and a fishing boat was seen making its way toward shore. Since communication between the planes and the Navy was poor, nothing was done to intercept the boat. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Traveling by train to San Francisco, California, Charles and the other members of the battalion were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. Frank M. Coxe, to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, where they received the necessary inoculations before being sent to the Philippines Islands. Men found to have minor medical conditions were held back, from the medical detachment 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. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline. It was also at this time the convoy stopped at Wake Island so the B-17 ground crews could disembark.
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 engines was unbelievable. 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.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance as they prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
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.
The first big tank engagement that Charles remembers took place at Urdaneta, and the battalion was also involved in another engagement at Cabanatuan, where the tanks were involved in an on and off the engagement that lasted three days. During the fight, five Japanese tanks were knocked out.
Charles recalled, “Our battalion began a series of delaying actions, guarding the rear as the infantry fell back to Bataan. Our first big fight was at Urdaneta, but we really did ourselves proud at the town of Cabanatuan, which then was just a spot on the map to us. Our fight at Cabanatuan went, on and off, for three days. You can see the wreckage of five Jap tanks.”
The two tank battalions, the 192nd and 194th were used as the rear guard as Filipino and American soldiers withdrew into Bataan. The tanks would hold an area until the infantry withdrew and then fall back themselves.
Sometime during the fighting against the Japanese, Charles was assigned as a medic to Company A. While serving as a medic with the company, he lived through the chaos of a night battle.
The company had bedded down for the night alongside a road. During the night, a bicycle battalion of the Japanese Army rode into their position. The members of the company grabbed their Tommy-guns and manned their tanks machine guns and opened fire.
Charles recalled that the entire scene was chaotic. There were flashes of light everywhere, and the darkness was filled with the sounds of men screaming and men dying. The entire scene was like a nightmare. When morning came, Charles witnessed the carnage of the battle. For all practical purposes, Company A had wiped out the bicycle battalion.
According to Charles, the tankers were the last American troops to enter Bataan. This was on January 6, 1942. The tanks were used to form a line across the entrance to the peninsula, but because of the density of the jungle, they were pretty useless. The tanks were reassigned to guarding the coasts of the peninsula. “We arrived in Bataan on New Years Day. We were the last. At first, we were in the line across Bataan. But the tanks weren’t very good in the jungles, so we were assigned to defend the west coast. The only other tank battalion on Bataan moved to the east coast.”
On February 15, 1942, Japanese Marines landed at Agloloma Bay in the southwestern part of Bataan. The Japanese were wiped out by tanks of the battalion. To do this, Filipinos rode on the backs of the tanks and dropped hand grenades into the foxholes of the Japanese.
“We had a field day when the Japs tried to land at Agloloma Bay on the southwest tip of Bataan, Feb. 15. They did get ashore, but with the help of infantry we slaughtered them, and in five days had the beaches cleared.”
For the next four months, Charles would administer first aid to the members of the 192nd who needed it. On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the lines on the east side of Bataan. The tanks were pulled from the west coast and traveled through Mariveles in an attempt to reinforce the eastern defenses. Charles described what happened in an interview after he was liberated.
“When the big breakthrough came on the eastern part of the front across Bataan on April 7, we hurried down the west coast past Mariveles. But the retreat was on. The road was so jammed with trucks coming our way it took us two hours to go half a kilometer. Our commander saw it was hopeless.
“We only had 19 tanks left in two battalions of the 100 with which we started the war. We were in front of the infantry when the surrender came. We blew up our tanks and turned ourselves in.”
On April 9, 1942, Charles became a Prisoner Of War when the Filipino and American forces were surrendered to the Japanese. As a prisoner, Charles would witness a number of atrocities.
Charles took part in the death march and witnessed both acts of kindness and acts of inhumanity by the Japanese. He saw guards pull Americans out of the march and into the woods to give the man a biscuit. He also saw guards pull men out of the march to beat them. Japanese guards also took from the prisoners their watches, pants, and other clothes. He remembered dying of thirst while walking through springs of water running across the road from pumps and wells. The POWs were not allowed to drink, and those who tried were killed.
On the march, Charles witnessed the Japanese throw a Filipino into a hole full of waste. When the man tried to climb out, a Japanese guard would stomp on his hands with their hob-nailed boots. Seeing this, other Japanese soldiers joined in the fun. When they were tired of this, they beat the Filipino to death with the butts of their guns.
Recalling the march, he said, “They marched us in relays. One set of guards would take us so far and then another set would take over. A lot of people couldn’t keep up. A lot of people who fell out of line were shot.”
Charles was first held as a POW at Camp O’Donnell. Here he remembered that the survivors of the march, many who had only one meal in seventeen days, were left laying on the ground and on the wooden boards of the sheds in the camp. The healthier POWs also laid on the floors of the barracks since they were exhausted and in Charles’ case, he had one meal in the last 17 days.
The camp 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. Each POW received half of a canteen each day to drink, wash with, and wash his clothes with. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes since they had so little water, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled, so the smell from the camp could be smelled for miles away. 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. Tsuneyoshi also told the doctor that the only thing he wanted to know about the Americans was their names and serial numbers when they died.
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.
Those POWs near death had maggots crawling in their mouths, ears, and on their bodies. 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 burial detail would carry the dead to the cemetery and put the corpse in the grave. Since the water table was high, so that it could be covered with dirt, one POW held the body down with a pole while dirt was thrown on the corpse. The next day when the burial detail returned to the cemetery, the dead often were dug up by wild dogs or sitting up in their graves.
Charles recalled he was walked passed a slit trench and the Japanese threw a Filipino into it. When the man attempted to get out they stepped on his hands with their hobnail boots and beat him to death with their rifle butts.
On June 1, detachments of 100 men were formed and marched out of the main gate of the camp toward Capas. Once there, each detachment was packed into steel boxcars with two guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto a track that took it to Cabanatuan. The trains arrived all day long.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 housed the POWs who had been captured on Bataan and held at Camp O’Donnell. Camp 2 was two miles from Camp 1 and was closed because it lacked an adequate water supply. It was later reopened and held Naval POWs. Camp 3 was eight miles from Camp 1 and six miles from Camp 2. It housed the POWs from Corregidor and those men who had been hospitalized when Bataan surrendered. The camp was later closed and the POWs were sent to Camp 1.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 housed the POWs who had been captured on Bataan and held at Camp O’Donnell. Camp 2 was two miles from Camp 1 and was closed because it lacked an adequate water supply. It was later reopened and held Naval POWs. Camp 3 was eight miles from Camp 1 and six miles from Camp 2. It housed the POWs from Corregidor and those men who had been hospitalized when Bataan surrendered. Camps 1 and 3 were later consolidated into one camp at the site of Camp 1.
The barracks were built for 50 men, but most had 60 to 120 men in them. Each man had a are two feet wide by six feet long to sleep in. The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, bedding, and mosquito netting. Disease soon spread quickly.
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. In September 1942, three officers were caught attempting to escape. After being beaten for a day, they were shot. In October, seven POWs were made to dig their own graves and shot. 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. 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.
The Camp 1 hospital was made up of 30 wards. One ward had been missed when the wards were being counted so it was given the name of “Zero Ward.” The ward became the place were POWs who were going to die were sent. The Japanese were so terrified by it, that they put a fence up around it and would not go near the building. Inside the buildings were two rolls of wooden platforms along the walls. The sicker POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into them. This allowed the POWs to relieve themselves without having to get off the platform.
The conditions in the camp were no better. Charles, himself, became a patient when he was admitted to the hospital on June 12, 1942, because he had cerebral malaria. It is not known when he was discharged. 7,000 men arrived in June and by July, 385 men had died. He remembered that on July 12, 48 men died. The burial detail for the camp could not bury the men fast enough.
A number of men assigned to the burial detail used it as an opportunity to escape. The Japanese counted the men going to the cemeteries and the number of men returning. If the number was smaller, the Japanese presumed that some had died at the cemetery and were buried. The other prisoners also covered the escapes by confirming the Japanese belief that some of the men on the detail had died while at the cemetery. The POWs explained to the Japanese that they had buried the men along with the other dead.
Nearly every prisoner was sick from something with the big killer being dysentery. Those who were extremely ill were put in Zero Ward. When it became full, the worst cases were put under the building on the ground. Charles being a medic recalled that even before the men had died, maggots crawled in their mouths, ears and on their bodies. Instead of providing medicine, the Japanese put up a fence around the ward to isolate the dying men and would not go near it.
Since the medical staff had no medicine, Charles recalled what happened to one man who had a gangrenous leg. The condition had gotten so bad that the bone and tendons could be seen. A Japanese guard said to the man that he was going to save him with or without medicine. He took a white sheet, filled it with a handful of maggots and wrapped the bandage around the man’s leg. The man was alive when the camp was liberated by the Rangers. Charles recalled that another POW, a sailor, had wet beriberi. The man swelled to the point that he literally split open.
Charles recalled, that the Japanese did nothing to stop the spread of disease among the prisoners. What they did do was erect a fence around the hospital. Their reason for doing this is that they believed that the fence would protect them from the diseases. He recalled that in July 385 POWs died with 48 dying on July 12.
It is known that Charles was sent to Bilibid at some point. On December 20, 1942, he was transferred back to Cabanatuan and assigned to the medical staff at the camp. He recalled that the POWs beds in the barracks were double-decked shelves. The shelves were nine feet wide and eight feet long and made of bamboo slats, with each shelf shared by eight POWs. Seven men lay side by side with an eighth lying across the bottom of the shelf. All the prisoners developed soars from the shelves, and one man’s sore on his back was so bad that it oozed constantly. Through the soar, it was possible to see the man’s spine.
Even as prisoners the men were not free from torture. Charles stated that one of the favorite tortures used by the Japanese was “the water cure.” The Japanese would force a garden hose down a man’s throat and fill him with water until it burst his eardrums and water ran out his ears. This was torture that was frequently used by the Japanese on the Filipino prisoners.
For Charles, the Japanese were hard to figure out. He remembered witnessing a Japanese guard that the POWs called “Carabao Sam” beat a POW on the farm detail until the man was out cold. The guard then picked the American up gently and put him in the shade. Carabao Sam then gave the POW water until he was conscious and then begged the man to forgive him for he had done, but the American refused to do so.
A regular day in Cabanatuan started before dawn with the buglers. After most had died or been sent to Japan, the POWs were awakened by the curses of the guards. In Charles’ own words, “Usually most of us were already awake. It gets chilly just before dawn and few of us had blankets.” The men would line up for roll call and count off in Japanese. They learned to do this quickly because those who were slow at learning to count in Japanese were beaten with a heavy rod.
Afterward, the POWs had breakfast and at dawn, they went to work. Men who worked nearby came back to the camp at about 11:30 A.M. for a tin of rice and then returned to work. A typical workday was ten hours long. He stated that those who worked on the farm grew okra, beans, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, and turnips. The only vegetables that the POWs ever got were the tops of the sweet potato vines. The POWs figured a way out of smuggling the vegetables into the camp. The POWs almost got into fights over potato peels from the Japanese garbage. This was resolved by assigning a barracks a week to receive the potato peels.
In the evening, there really wasn’t much for the POWs to do. The Red Cross had sent books, but the Japanese took them away a few days after they came. The prisoners also had an orchestra in which many of the men played by ear. In Charles’ opinion, they sounded pretty bad but listening to them passed the time.
Charles also remembered, “the angels” who tried to help the POWs at Cabanatuan. One was a Catholic priest the other was Mrs. Yu. “Nothing that anyone can ever do for her will ever repay her service to us.” Her husband was an American soldier who was captured on Bataan and died within a month of arriving at Camp O’Donnell.
Mrs. Yu gathered food and supplies for the POWs at Camp O’Donnell. In July, she was ready. At the new camp near Cabanatuan, she bribed the guards to allow her to get food and other supplies to the prisoners. On one occasion, she bribed a guard to allow a gravel truck into the camp. She had loaded the supplies on the truck and covered them with gravel. That night, the supplies were given out to the POWs. When dysentery was running wild in the camp, Mrs. Yu smuggled in eight bags of mango beans into the camp. The bean, the size of a pea, was a cure for the illness.
Charles said that in 1943 the Japanese picked up Mrs. Yu on one of her trips to Manila and accused her of helping the prisoners. When she denied it, they tortured her, but she never admitted that she had helped the POWs.
The priest worked more openly and convinced the Japanese commander he had the proper papers to enter the camp. Each time he visited, he brought money, food, and medicine.
In Charles’ opinion, the Japanese had a plan. “The plan was to keep us in a constant state of semi-starvation so we couldn’t run away. We could work, but we didn’t have the energy to make a break, run more than 50 yards away.
“They put us in what they called shooting squads of 10 men. If one man tried to escape, the other nine in his shooting squad would be killed. One day, a guy did try to escape. They found him huddled in a field 50 yards from the camp…. they kept the other nine digging their own graves. I thought they were bluffing. That they wouldn’t do it. Then they called us all-out and executed all nine of them in front of our eyes.”
Available information shows that Charles, at some point was sent to Bilibid Prison to work as a medic. He remained there until June 22, 1944, when he returned to Cabanatuan. As the American forces approached Charles recalled that the Japanese attempted to send the healthier POWs to Japan. In one case, he remembered that the Japanese had boarded POWs onto an old ship. The ship kept breaking down. After ten months, it was still in Manila Bay. When the ship was attacked by American planes, the POWs jumped into the water only to be recaptured. Many of these men were returned to Cabanatuan.
Charles remained a prisoner at Cabanatuan until it was liberated by United States Rangers on January 30, 1945. After liberating the camp, the Rangers had to get the freed POWs back to Philippine territory under the control of American forces. During this trek, Charles watched the Rangers destroy Japanese tanks with bazookas. This was the first time that he had seen one used. Seeing the bazooka used against the Japanese, reinforced his belief that he and the other soldiers who fought on Bataan were poorly equipped.
When his mother was told of his liberation by a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, her response was simply, “I can’t believe it. This is the best news I’ve had in three years. I think this is all a dream” His sister, Evelyn Larson, said, “It’s been so long.” She then started to cry.
His liberation made Charles one of the first members of the 192nd to be freed from a Japanese prison camp. Charles, like the other liberated POWs, was given the choice to return to the United States or stay in the war zone. When the majority of men chose to stay in the war zone, the army made the decision that all liberated Americans would return to the United States.
Charles returned to the United States on U.S.A.T. General A. E. Anderson on March 8, 1945, at San Francisco. He returned to Chicago and told his story of life as a Japanese POW to Chicago newspapers. On May 12, 1945, he married Emily Popelka and became the father of four children. The couple divorced in 1961. He married Mariette Mortier on March 31, 1962, and resided in Downers Grove, Illinois, until he retired. He later lived in Monticello, Indiana, and at the age of 66, he received a Bachelors Degree from Michigan State University.
Charles C. Jensen passed away on November 17, 2006, at Home Hospital in Lafayette, Indiana.