Pvt. Joseph Donald Lajzer was born on October 31, 1918, in Toledo, Ohio. He was one of five sons and two daughters born to Peter and Katherine Lajzer. With his three brothers and two sisters, he lived at 3345 Maple Street in Toledo and attended St. Albert’s School and then Webster Elementary School. He attended Woodward High School for three years but left to support his family. Joe worked to construct a park with Company 3516 of the Civilian Conservation Corps at Camp SCS-40 in Attica, Ohio.
When the Selective Service Act took effect, Joe registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, and named his sister, Mary, as his contact person. He was inducted into the Army in 1941 and sent to Ft, Knox, Kentucky for basic training where he was trained as a tank driver and to do maintenance work on machine guns. He then was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where he joined the 753rd Tank Battalion which had been sent there from Ft. Benning, Georgia but was not taking part in the military maneuvers that were being held in Louisiana.
The 192nd Tank Battalion took part in the Louisiana maneuvers in September 1941. It was then ordered to Camp Polk instead of returning to Ft. Knox as expected. The members of the 192nd were informed that they were being sent overseas. There are at least two stories on the decision to send the battalion overseas, but the decision appeared to have been made in early 1941. It was at this time that men who were married with families, men with dependents, men whose enlistments would end within a year, and men who were 29 years old or older were allowed to transfer out of the battalion. The battalion’s commander, because of his age, was replaced by Major. Theodore Wickord his executive officer. It was at this time men from the 753rd – who volunteered or had their names drawn from a hat – joined the 192nd to replace these men.
According to the first story, the decision for this move 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, whose plane was flying at a lower altitude than the other planes, noticed something odd and took his plane down to take a look. He identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more flagged buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of Formosa which had a large radio transmitter used by the Japanese military. 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 but the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck covering the buoys – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and the Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. According to this story, it was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Many of the original members of the 192nd believed they were selected to be sent overseas because they had performed well on the Louisiana maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by General George S. Patton – who had commanded their tanks as part of the Blue Army under Patton’s command during the maneuvers – to go overseas. Although Patton praised the 192nd and the 191st Tank Battalion who participated in the maneuvers as the First Tank Group, there is no evidence that he had anything to do with the 192nd being sent to the Philippines.
The reality was that the 192nd was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Besides the 192nd, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a medium National Guard tank battalion, while the 70th was a Regular Army tank battalion– at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The tank group also contained the 193rd Tank Battalion at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th Tank Battalion at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time, and documents show the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines well before June 1941.
On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months, and on August 14th, the 194th received its orders to go overseas. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands, but it was not the reason for the battalions going to the Philippines. It is also known that the 193rd Tank Battalion was on its way to Hawaii – during its trip to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. When it arrived in Hawaii the battalion was held there. One of the two medium tank battalions – most likely the 191st – was on 48-hour standby orders for the Philippines but the orders were canceled on December 10th because the war with Japan had started.
The 192nd’s deployment to the Philippines was code-named “PLUM” which the men believed stood for the Philippines, Luzon, and Manila. Sending the tank battalion to the Philippines was supposed to be a secret move. One day Joe and three other members of B Company went to a local tavern. When the waitress saw him she said, ” Hey Joe! I hear you’re going to the Philippine Islands. Your code name is PLUM.” Joe thought to himself that it wasn’t much of a secret if the civilians knew where they were going. The fact is evidence shows that “PLUM” was simply the name given for the deployment of the troops and had nothing to do with any specific locations.
Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs home so that they could say goodbye to family and friends but had to be back at Camp Polk by the morning of October 14th. At the base, the men lived in tents, and it was stated that it seemed to rain every day they were there. Some men said they didn’t take showers for days because they were always wet.
The battalion was scheduled to receive new M3 tanks, but none were available for some long-forgotten reason. A large number of the battalion’s new tanks came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division. The tanks were only new to the 192nd, and in many cases, the tanks were within 5 hours of their 100-hour required maintenance. The battalion also received peeps (later known as jeeps) and half-tracks to replace their scout cars. It is believed the half-tracks were waiting for them on the dock in Manila.
HQ Company left for San Francisco a few days earlier than the rest of the battalion. At 8:30 A.M. on October 20th, over different train routes, the letter companies were sent to San Francisco, California. A Company took the southern route along the Mexican border through Needles, California, and north through Los Angeles to San Francisco. B Company went west through Denver and the Rocky Mountains, C Company went a little further north through the center of the country, and D Company went north and then west along the Canadian border.
Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar followed by a passenger car that carried some soldiers. When they arrived in San Francisco, 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 and inoculated by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men found to have minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while other men were simply replaced by men sent to the island as replacements that may have come from the 757th Tank Battalion which was at Ft. Ord, California. To maintain secrecy, the soldiers were not allowed off the island. It was also at this time that Col. James R. N. Weaver joined the 192nd as its commanding officer.
The 192nd boarded 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 and also had a hard time walking on deck until they got their “sea legs.” Once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a four-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. During this time they visited pineapple ranches, coconut groves, and Waikiki Beach which some said was nothing but stones since it was man-made. Before they left Hawaii, an attempt was made to secure two 37-millimeter guns and ammunition so that the guns could be set up on the ship’s deck and the tank crews could learn how to load them and fire them, but they were unable to acquire the guns.
On Thursday, November 6th, 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 U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9th, 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 crossed the International Dateline.
During this part of the voyage, the soldiers spent their time attending lectures, playing craps and cards, reading, writing letters, and sunning themselves on deck. Other men did the required work like turning over the tanks’ engines by hand and the clerks caught up on their paperwork. The soldiers were also given other jobs to do, such as painting the ship. Each day 500 men reported to the officers and needle-chipped paint off the lifeboats and then painted the boats. By the time they arrived in Manila, every boat had been painted. Other men not assigned to the paint detail for that day attended classes. In addition, there was always KP. On Saturday, November 15th, 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 took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country. Two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters hauling scrap metal to Japan.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables. Although they were not allowed off the ship, the soldiers were able to mail letters home 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 blackout was strictly enforced and men caught smoking on deck after dark spent time in the ship’s brig. Three days after leaving Guam the men spotted the first islands of the Philippines. The ships sailed around the south end of Luzon and then north up the west coast of Luzon toward Manila Bay.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., as the enlisted men left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When an enlisted man said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks. The rest of the battalion rode a train to Ft. Stotsenberg.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King Jr. who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that had what they needed and that they all received Thanksgiving dinner – beans or stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. If they had been slower leaving the ship, they would have had a complete turkey dinner, instead, of the leftovers of the 194th Tank Battalion. Ironically, November 20th 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 their tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents from WW I and pretty ragged. 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. Their tanks were in a field not far from the tanks. The worst part of being in the tents was that they were near the end of a runway. The B-17s when they took off flew right over the bivouac about 100 feet off the ground. At night, the men heard planes flying over the airfield. Many men believed they were Japanese, but it is known that American pilots flew night missions.
The 192nd arrived in the Philippines with a great deal of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train radiomen for the Philippine Army. The battalion also had a large number of ham radio operators and shortly after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, the battalion set up a communications tent that was in contact with ham radio operators in the United States within hours. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When they were informed it was the 192nd, they gave the 192nd frequencies to use. Men were able to send messages home to their families that they had arrived safely.
With the arrival of the 192nd, the Provisional Tank Group was activated on November 27th. Besides the 192nd, the tank group contained the 194th Tank Battalion with the 17th Ordnance Company joining the tank group on the 29th. Both units had arrived in the Philippines in September 1941. Military documents written after the war show the tank group was scheduled to be composed of three light tank battalions and two medium tank battalions. Col. Weaver left the 192nd, was appointed head of the tank group, and was promoted to brigadier general. Major Theodore Wickord permanently became the commanding officer of the 192nd.
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 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.
It is known that during this time the battalion went on at least two practice reconnaissance missions under the guidance of the 194th. It traveled to Baguio on one maneuver and to the Lingayen Gulf on the other maneuver. Gen. Weaver, the tank group commander, was able to get ammunition from the post’s ordnance department on the 30th, but the tank group could not get time at one of the firing ranges.
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 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 – which were a heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the heat – everywhere; including going to the PX.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, and 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.
When the general warning of a possible Japanese attack was sent to overseas commands on November 27th, the Philippine command did not receive it. The reason why this happened is not known and several reasons for this can be given. It is known that the tanks took part in an alert that was scheduled for November 30th. What was learned during this alert was that moving the tanks to their assigned positions at night would be a disaster. In particular, the 194th’s position was among drums of 100-octane gas, and the entire bomb reserve for the airfield and the bombs were haphazardly placed. On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks.
It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd communications tent who were the first to learn – at 2 a.m. – of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8th. Major Ted Wickord, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, 194th, and Capt. Richard Kadel, 17th Ordnance read the messages of the attack. At one point, even Gen. King came to the tent to read the messages. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The 192nd’s company commanders were called to the tent and told of the Japanese attack.
Captain Donald Haines told B Company about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and ordered all the members of the tank crews to their tanks. Some sources state the half-tracks took up positions alongside the tanks while other sources state they remained in the battalion’s bivouac.
It was lunchtime and members of the tank battalion were allowed to go to the mess hall to eat. The men assigned to the tanks and half-tracks were receiving their lunches at food trucks. At 12:45 p.m., as they stood in line to be fed they watched as 54 planes approached the airfield from the northwest. Men commented that the planes must be American Navy planes that was until someone saw Red Dots on the wings. They then saw what looked like “raindrops” falling from the planes and when bombs began exploding on the runways the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. It was stated that no sooner had one wave of planes finished bombing and were returning to Formosa than another wave came in and bombed. The second wave was followed by a third wave of bombers. One member of the 192nd, Robert Brooks, D Co., was killed during the attack.
The bombers were quickly followed by Japanese fighters that sounded like angry bees to the tankers as they strafed the airfield. The tankers watched as American pilots attempted to get their planes off the ground. As they roared down the runway, Japanese fighters strafed the planes causing them to swerve, crash, and burn. Those that did get airborne were barely off the ground when they were hit. The planes exploded and crashed to the ground tumbling down the runways. The Japanese planes were as low as 50 feet above the ground and the pilots would lean out of the cockpits so they could more accurately pick out targets to strafe. The tankers said they saw the pilots’ scarfs flapping in the wind. One tanker stated that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down.
The Coast Artillery had trained with the latest anti-aircraft guns while in the States, but the decision was made to send them to the Philippines with older guns. They also had proximity fuses for the shells and had to use an obsolete method to cut the fuses. This meant that most of their shells exploded harmlessly in the air.
The Zeros strafed the airfield and headed toward and turned around behind Mount Arayat. One tanker stated that the planes were so low that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down. It was also stated that the tankers could see the scarfs of the pilots flapping in the wind as they looked for targets to strafe. Having seen what the Japanese were doing, the half-tracks were ordered to the base’s golf course which was at the opposite end of the runways. There they waited for the Zeros to complete their flight pattern. The first six planes that came down the length of the runways were hit by fire from the half-tracks. As they flew over the golf course, flames and smoke were seen trailing behind them. When the other Japanese pilots saw what happened, they pulled up to about 3,000 feet before dropping their small incendiary bombs and leaving. The planes never strafed the airfield again.
While the attack was going on, the Filipinos who were building the 192nd’s barracks took cover. After the attack, they went right back to work on building the barracks. This happened several times during the following air raids until the barracks were destroyed by bombs during an air raid. According to the members of the battalion, it appeared the Filipino contractor really wanted to be paid; war or no war.
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, and trucks, and anything else that could carry the wounded was in use. Within an hour the hospital had filled to capacity. As the tankers watched the medics placed the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. The battalion members set up cots under mango trees for the wounded and even the dentist gave medical aid to the wounded.
After the attack, the tank crews spent much of the time loading bullets by hand from rifle cartridges into machine gun belts since they had gone through most of their ordnance during the attack. That night, since they did not have any foxholes, the men used an old latrine pit for cover since it was safer in the pit than in their tents. The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes. Without knowing it, they had slept their last night on a cot or bed, and from this point on, the men slept in blankets on the ground.
The next morning the decision was made to move the battalion into a tree-covered area. Those men not assigned to a tank or half-track walked around Clark Field to look at the damage. As they walked, they saw there were hundreds of dead. Some were pilots who had been caught asleep, because they had flown night missions, in their tents during the first attack. Others were pilots who had been killed attempting to get to their planes. The tanks were still at the southern end of the airfield when a second air raid took place on the 10th. This time the bombs fell among the tanks of the battalion at the southern end of the airfield wounding some men.
C Company was ordered to the area of Mount Arayat on December 9th. Reports had been received that the Japanese had landed paratroopers in the area. No paratroopers were found, but it was possible that the pilots of damaged Japanese planes may have jumped from them. The battalion’s tanks were still bivouacked among the trees when a second air raid took place on the 10th. This time the bombs fell among the tanks of the battalion at the southern end of the airfield wounding some men.
B Company was sent to the Barrio of Dau on December 12th so it could protect a highway bridge and railroad bridge against sabotage. From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River. It was at this time that Bill managed to send a telegram home on December 19th, which was the last time his family ever heard from him. This would be the last information his family had about him for three and one-half years.
A platoon of B Company tanks engaged Japanese tanks at Lingayen Gulf on December 22nd. One tank was lost and its crew became Prisoners of War. The other tanks withdrew, were damaged by enemy fire, repaired, and put back into use. From this time on, the tanks served as a rear guard holding roads open until all the other troops withdrew before falling back to another predetermined position to repeat the action.
A Company lost its commander, Capt. Walter Write, on December 26th. According to the story, he saw Sergeant Owen Sandmire placing landmines in the road. The mines were made by Philippine Ordnance from cigar boxes with dynamite. Write took a mine away from Sandmire and told them it looked funny. As he was placing it, it exploded in his hands. Before he died, he asked that roses be placed on his grave, but since there were no roses, the men placed a native red flower on his grave. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th when the 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line. From there they fell back to the south bank of the BanBan River which they were supposed to hold for as long as possible. The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.
The next morning, December 30th, 2nd Lt. William Read’s tank platoon was serving as a rearguard and was in a dry rice paddy when it came under enemy fire by Japanese mortars. Read was riding in a tank when one of the enemy rounds hit one of its tracks knocking it out. After escaping the tank, Read stood in front of it and attempted to free the crew. A second round hit the tank, directly below where he was standing blowing off his legs at the knees and leaving him mortally wounded. The other members of his crew carried Read from the tank and laid him under a bridge. Read would not allow himself to be evacuated since there were other wounded soldiers. He insisted that these men be taken first. He would die in the arms of Pvt. Ray Underwood as the Japanese overran the area.
On January 1st, conflicting orders, about who was in command, were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff. Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridge over the Pampanga River with half of the defenders withdrawing. 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 and the Southern Luzon Forces crossed the bridge.
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.”
From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the Southern forces could escape. At 2:30 A.M., on January 6th, the Japanese attacked Remedios in force using smoke which was an attempt by the Japanese to destroy the tank battalions. The smoke blew back into the Japanese and since they were wearing white shirts, they were lit by the moonlight. After taking heavy casualties they withdrew. That night, the tank battalions were covering the withdrawal of all troops around Hermosa. The 194th crossed the bridge covered by the 192nd and then covered the 192nd’s crossing of the bridge before it was destroyed by the engineers. The 192nd was the last unit to enter Bataan.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and the members of the 17th Ordnance Company assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
Around this time, drivers were needed for the Self-Propelled Mounts, and tank drivers were reassigned to the SPMs. The SPMs had a crew of an American driver, a Filipino Scout sergeant who commanded the SPM, and a gun crew from the Philippine Army. The drivers were replaced by other members of the battalions who could drive tanks.
A Company, on January 5th, was near the Gumain River attached to the 194th Tank Battalion. It was evening and they believed they were in a relatively safe place. Lt. Kenneth Bloomfield told his men to get some sleep. Their sleep was interrupted by the sound of a gunshot. The tankers had no idea that they were about to engage the Japanese who had launched a major offensive. There was a great deal of confusion and the battle lasted until 5:00 A.M. when the Japanese broke off the attack.
A composite tank company was formed the following day under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. When word came that a bridge was going to be blown, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of Aubucay Hacienda Road. While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month. The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance and the tank crews had two or three days of rest. It was also at this time that tank companies were reduced to ten tanks, with three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D Company would have tanks. It was on January 9th that the Japanese launched a major offensive on what was called the Aubucay Hacienda line that stretched from Aubucay on the east coast of Bataan to the China Sea on the west.
The Japanese attacked through the Aubucay Hacienda Plantation which was the location of most of the fighting took place. The defenders stated that the bodies of the dead Japanese piled up in front of them and actually made it more difficult for the next Japanese troops to advance against the line. One tanker from B Co., 192nd, said that when they walked among the Japanese dead, they found hypodermic needles on them. To him, this explained why they kept coming at the tanks even after they had been hit by machine gun fire. The defenders’ artillery was so accurate that the Japanese later stated the defenders were using artillery pieces like they were rifles. The biggest problem was that the defenders had no air cover so they were bombed and stated constantly and were constantly harassed by snipers. The tanks often had the job of protecting the artillery. None of the tank companies liked doing this job since after the guns fired a few rounds a Japanese reconnaissance plane would be sent up to locate the guns. It wasn’t long after this that the Japanese would zero in on where the guns were located. The tankers and artillery crews learned how to “shoot and scoot” very quickly.
On January 12th, Co. D, 192nd, and Co. C, 194th, were sent to Cadre Road in a forward position with little alert time. Land mines were planted on January 13th by ordnance to prevent the Japanese from reaching Cadre Road. C Co., 194th, was sent to Bagac to reopen the Moron Highway which had been cut by the Japanese on January 16th. At the junction of Trail 162 and the Moron Highway, the tanks were fired on by an anti-tank gun which was knocked out by the tanks. They cleared the roadblock with the support of infantry.
The tankers stated that because of the jungle canopy, the nights on Bataan were so dark that the tankers could not see after dark. It was at night that the Japanese liked to attack. When the attacks came, if the tankers were lucky they were able to use their tanks’ machine guns on them. They could not use the turret machine guns since the guns could not be aimed at the ground as the Japanese got close to the tanks. If the tank commander had attempted to use his pistol standing in the turret, he was an easy target, so the tanks would simply withdraw from the position.
During this time, the tanks often found themselves dealing with officers who claimed they were the ranking officers in the area and that they could change the tank company’s orders. Most wanted the tanks to kill snipers or do some other job the infantry had not succeeded at doing. This situation continued until Gen Weaver gave a written order to every tank commander that if an officer attempted to change their orders, they should hand the officer the order. When the officer looked up at the tank commander, the tank commander had his handgun aimed at the officer. Gen Weeaver had ordered the tank commanders to shoot any officer attempting to change their orders. This ended the problem.
The defenders were ordered to withdraw on the 25th to a new line known as the Pilar-Begac Line. The tanks were given the job of covering the withdrawal with the 192nd covering the withdrawing troops in the Aubucay area and the 194th covering the troops in the Hacienda area. At 6:00 PM the withdrawal started over the only two roads out of the area which quickly became blocked, and the Japanese could have wiped out the troops but did not take advantage of the situation.
Companies A and C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company – which was held in reserve – and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore. The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces.
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25th. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks that were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese. Later in the day, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdrawal was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26th, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio. On the morning of January 27th, a new battle line had been formed and all units were supposed to be beyond it but tanks were still straggling in at noon. The tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were supposed to have withdrawn.
The tank companies also were given the job of protecting the artillery. The guns were mobile and hooked onto the tanks with a special carriage which allowed them to be moved. According to the tankers, it took a lot of preparation to set them up and a lot of preparation to take them down. The tankers didn’t like doing this job because minutes after the guns began firing, the Japanese sent up reconnaissance planes to find the guns. When they did, Zeros would appear and strafe the area. The gun crews quickly learned to “shoot and scoot.” After firing a few rounds the guns were quickly broken down and moved out of the area.
On January 28th, the tank battalions were given beach duty with the 194th assigned the coast from Limay to Cacaben. The half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese attempted several landings on Bataan. One night while on this duty, the B Company, engaged the Japanese in a firefight as they attempted to land troops on the beach. When morning came, not one Japanese soldier had successfully landed on the beach. The Japanese later told the tankers that their presence on the beach stopped them from attempting landings.
The tank battalions were given the job of guarding of protecting the two beaches on the eastern side of Bataan where the Japanese could attempt landings. The 194th assigned the coast from Limay to Cacaben and the 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay. The half-tracks of both battalions were used to patrol the roads. One night while on this duty, the B Co., 192nd, engaged the Japanese in a firefight as they attempted to land troops on the beach. When morning came, not one Japanese soldier had successfully landed on the beach. The Japanese later told the tankers that their presence on the beach stopped them from attempting landings. While doing this job, the tankers noticed that each morning when the PT boats were off the coast they were attacked by Japanese Zeros. B Company made arrangements with the PT boats to be off the beach one morning and wait for the Zeros to arrive and attack. This time when the Japanes Zeros attacked, they were met by machine gun fire from the PT boats but also from the machine guns of the tanks and half-tracks. When the Zeros broke off the attack, they had lost nine of twelve planes.
The company had been up all night on beach duty. Every morning “Recon Joe” flew over attempting to locate the tanks under the jungle canopy. On the morning of February 3rd, the tankers were attempting to get some sleep. Sgt. Walter Cigoi aggravated about the plane waking him up, pulled his half-track onto the beach and took a “pot shot” at the plane but missed. Twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared and bombed the position. When the bombs hit the treetops, they exploded. Most of the soldiers took cover in or under the tanks. When the attack was over, the tankers found Pvt. Richard Graff and Pvt. Clemath Peppers were dead. Pvt. Francis McGuire was wounded and Pvt. Charles Heuel was severely wounded with his leg partially blown off. The tankers attempted to put him in a jeep, but his leg kept flopping and got in the way. To get him into the jeep, his leg was cut off by T/4 Frank Goldstein. Heuel died from his wounds. What made things worse was that Goldstein had told Heuel’s sister that he would keep him safe.
The company also noticed that each morning when the PT boats were anchored offshore they would be strafed by Japanese planes. The tankers made arrangements with the boats to be off the beach the company was guarding one morning. When the Japanese Zeros appeared and attacked the PT boats, they were greeted by the machine gun fire of the PT boats but from also by the machine gun fire from the tanks and half-tracks. When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had lost nine of twelve planes.
At the same time, B Company was on beach duty, the battalion took part in the Battle of the Points on the west coast of Bataan where the Japanese landed troops that ended up trapped on points sticking out from Bataan. When they attempted to land reinforcements, they landed in the wrong place. One was the Lapay-Longoskawayan points from January 23rd to 29th, the Quinauan-Aglaloma points from January 22nd to February 8th, and the Sililam-Anyasan points from January 27th to February 13th. The Japanese had been stopped, but the decision was made by Brigadier General Clinton A. Pierce that tanks were needed to support the 45th Infantry Philippine Scouts. He also requested the tanks from the Provisional Tank Group.
On February 2nd, a platoon of C Company tanks was ordered to Quinauan Point where the Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived at about 5:15 P.M. He did a quick reconnaissance of the area, and after meeting with the commanding infantry officer, made the decision to drive tanks into the edge of the Japanese position and spray the area with machine-gun fire. The progress was slow but steady until a Japanese 37 milometer gun was spotted in front of the lead tank, and the tanks withdrew. It turned out that the gun had been disabled by mortar fire, but the tanks did not know this at the time.
The decision was made to resume the attack the next morning, so the 45th Infantry dug in for the night. The next day, the tank platoon did reconnaissance before pulling into the front line. They repeated the maneuver and sprayed the area with machine gunfire. As they moved forward, members of the 45th Infantry followed the tanks. The troops made progress all day long along the left side of the line. The major problem the tanks had to deal with was tree stumps which they had to avoid so they would not get hung up on them. The stumps also made it hard for the tanks to maneuver. Coordinating the attack with the infantry was difficult, so the decision was made to bring in a radio car so that the tanks and infantry could talk with each other.
Only 3 of 23 tanks were being used and without the support of infantry and the trick during the attack through the jungle was to avoid large trees and clear a way for the infantry to attack. This they did by thrusting into the jungle. They only became aware of enemy positions when they were fired on. The tanks were supposed to have support from mortars but the ammunition was believed to be defective. It was found that the mortars were manned by inexperienced air corpsmen converted to infantry who had no idea that the arming pins on the mortar shells had to be pulled before firing them so the shells landed and did not explode.
On February 4th, at 8:30 A.M. five tanks and the radio car arrived. The tanks were assigned the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, so each tank commander knew which tank was receiving an order. Each tank also received a walkie-talkie, as well as the radio car and infantry commanders. This was done so that the crews could coordinate the attack with the infantry and so that the tanks could be ordered to where they were needed. The Japanese were pushed back almost to the cliffs when the attack was halted for the night. The attack resumed the next morning and the Japanese were pushed to the cliff line where they hid below the edge of the cliff out of view. It was at that time that the tanks were released to return to the 192nd.
The tank companies also took part in the Battle of the Pockets in February 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 going around in a circle and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks so they wouldn’t 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.
What made this job of eliminating the Japanese so hard was that they had dug “spider holes” among the roots of the trees. Because of this situation, the Americans could not get a good shot at the Japanese. 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.
In the pockets, C Company lost one tank that had gone beyond the area controlled by the defenders. The tank was disabled by a thermite mine. It appeared that some of the crew were killed by a hand grenade thrown into the tank as they attempted to evacuate it. When the tank was recovered, it was put on its side and it was found at least one member of the crew was still alive when the Japanese filled the tank with dirt from the foxhole they dug under it.
In another incident, a tank from B Company became wedged between two trees after its driver was blinded by a flame thrower. The crew was ordered out of the tank and told to run. As they ran, the Japanese machine-gunned them. The tank commander was killed instantly, while the other three men made it into a sugarcane field. Only one of the three men was found the next day and was sent to the hospital where he recovered from his wounds. Another man was taken prisoner, while the last man was never heard from again and died from his wounds or was killed. It appears that this tank was also recovered.
The tankers, from A, B, and C Companies, were able to clear the pockets by February 18th, but before this was done, one C Company tank that had gone beyond the American perimeter and was disabled with the crew inside. The tankers stated the tank just sat there, and when the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there. During the night, its crew had attempted to escape the tank and was buried inside the tank, by the Japanese who had dug a machine gun nest under it. When the tank was recovered, it was turned on its side to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the crew. It was said that one man looked like he was still alive as the tank was filled with dirt. The crew was buried and the tank was put back into use. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Presidential Unit Citations
The 192nd unlike other units had arrived in the Philippines just before the start of the war, so they did not have the opportunity to stockpile food. 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. During this time the soldiers ate monkeys, snakes, lizards, horses, and mules. 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 the picture of a scantily clad blond on them. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been a hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal. The one good thing about the leaflets was they were printed on tissue paper which the men used as toilet paper.
The amount of gasoline in March was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. It was during this time that Gen Wainwright wanted to turn the tanks into pillboxes. Gen Weaver pointed out to Wainwright that they did not have enough tanks to effectively do this, and if they did, they soon would have no tanks. Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined.
The reality was that the same illnesses that were taking their toll on the Bataan defenders were also taking their toll on the Japanese. American newspapers wrote about the lull in the fighting and the building of defenses against the expected assault that most likely would take place. The soldiers on Bataan also knew that an assault was coming, they just didn’t know when it would take place. Having brought in combat-harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3rd supported by artillery and aircraft. The artillery barrage started at 10 AM and lasted until noon and each shell seemed to be followed by another that exploded on top of the previous shell. At the same time, wave after wave of Japanese bombers hit the same area dropping incendiary bombs that set the jungle on fire. The defenders had to choose between staying in their foxholes and being burned to death or seeking safety somewhere else. As the fire approached their foxholes those men who chose to attempt to flee were torn to pieces by shrapnel. It was said that arms, legs, and other body parts hung from tree branches. A large section of the defensive line at Mount Samat was wiped out. The next day a large force of Japanese troops came over Mt. 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.
It was the evening of April 8th that Gen. 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 were 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. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack on the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. 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.”
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 the order “crash.” Capt. Robert Sorenson, the company commander, ordered the crews to destroy their tanks. They cut the gas lines and threw torches into the tanks. Within minutes, the ammunition inside the tanks began exploding. After this was done, Sorenson and Major John Morley got into his jeep and made their way to Bayakaguin Point which was the command post for the tank group. Behind them in half-tracks were the tank crews of B Company. After arriving there, it was reported the half-tracks were driven off cliffs and a number of men attempted to reach Corregidor.
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. Phil Parish, a truck driver for A Company, realized that he had white bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed. At midnight Companies B and D, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. on April 9th, 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 driver was from the tank group.) 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 the order “crash.”
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and the 17th Ordnance Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can. When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you; you surrendered. I was the one who 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. Another jeep followed them – 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 managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
At about 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed Gen. King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from the Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. 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 in the line of the Japanese advance should fly white flags. After this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived and King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff who had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get assurances 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.
Unknown to Gen. King, an order attributed to Gen. Masaharu Homma – but in all likelihood from one of his subordinates – had been given. It stated, “Every troop which fought against our army on Bataan should be wiped out thoroughly, whether he surrendered or not, and any American captive who is unable to continue marching all the way to the concentration camp should be put to death in the area of 200 meters off the road.”
Joe was next posted on a machine-gun detail with two other members of the 192nd who each worked a two-hour shift. The machine gun covered an area that the Japanese could attack through. One night Joe was doing his shift when a Sgt. Chuck Kimberly told him of the surrender, so he finished the shift and left the other two men to sleep. The next morning they destroyed the machine gun and not that long afterward, Japanese soldiers came through the clearing that their machine gun had covered. The Japanese soldiers searched Joe and the others. The first soldier took his watch, the next Japanese soldier took his lighter and gave him matches, and a third soldier took the matches.
He rejoined the company and it made its way to Mariveles and stayed there for a day. They were fed a spoonful of rice and a square piece of bacon. Joe and two other men pulled their food so that they would each get a larger portion. At some point, they were ordered to form detachments of 100 men and then ordered to move. They had no idea that they had started what they called, “the march.”
The first five miles were extremely hard because they were uphill. The beatings and killings started almost at the same time as the march started. One guard would beat a POW while five minutes later another guard would give the POW a cigarette. The guards were assigned to march a certain distance so they often made the POWs march at a faster pace. Those men who were sick had a hard time keeping up and if they fell out were bayoneted or shot. When the distance was covered, the column was stopped and allowed to rest and the guards were replaced with new guards who also wanted to complete their part of the march as fast as possible.
Joe recalled that the POWs had no food, no water, and no rest. On the march, he tried to help the weaker POWs march. One of these was Maj. Havelock Nelson. The worst part of the march was the lack of water and the heat. At the end of each day, the POWs were placed in a bullpen for the night. The next day the prisoners were led out of the pen four at a time. When 100 men had been counted, their march would start anew. Only those prisoners who marched were fed and those who stayed in the bullpens were not fed or given anything to drink.
On the fourth day of the march, Joe and the other Prisoners Of War heard a rumor that the injured would be driven to the POW camp. Joe began to act like he was lame. He slowly began to fall behind his group. To his left was a guard, the guard looked at Joe and chased him with his bayonet pointed at Joe. He recalled that the prisoners marched well into the night, and as they marched, were unaware that they were marching on the bodies of the dead who had been run over by Japanese trucks.
Joe also recalled, “Some of the Filipinos would try to hand you food. They had to sneak it to you or the Japanese would shoot them. There were artesian wells along the way, but the Japanese didn’t want us to drink.”
“I was thirsty, so I sneaked over to one to fill my mess kit cup. I saw a dead American soldier laying there, so I went downstream from him. There were a couple more lying there. I knelt down to fill my cup, and I heard a bullet whistle by my head.”
At San Fernando, the POWs were put in another bullpen. In one corner was a slit trench that was the washroom for the POWs. The surface of it moved from the maggots. It is not known how long he was held in the bullpen and if he was fed while there. The POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men. They were taken to the train station and packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as “forty or eights” since they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese put 100 POWs into each boxcar because the detachments had 100 men in them. Those who died remained standing since there was no room for them to fall to the floors of the cars. At Capas, the POWs disembarked and the dead fell to the floors of the cars. When the prisoners got off the train, there were Japanese offering them money to buy food. Joe did not take it but knew others who did. The POWs walked the last miles to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino 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 also searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Joe counted 38 men who were separated from the rest of the POWs. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting. Joe was thankful that he had not taken the money at Capas, and he was even more thankful that the Japanese soldier had taken the matches from him.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line for 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, but the Japanese never had a shortage of water. 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 in the POW kitchens and in the food.
The POWs received three meals a day. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was a half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half cup of sweet potato soup. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather. There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men but those who did sleep in one slept in a barracks it was with as many as 80 to 120 men.
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. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi 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. A second truck with medical supplies sent by the Red Cross to the camp was turned away at the gate.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – of the six medics assigned to care for 50 sick POWs in the hospital – was healthy enough to care for them. The floor was covered in human feces since many of the sick had dysentery and their clothes were covered in it. Many of the sick had been stripped naked. To clean the floor the medical staff came up with homemade cleaner. 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. In an attempt to stop the spread of disease, the dead were moved to one area, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The less sick from the hospital were required to dig latrines and were given a canteen of water that was expected to last three days. The sick who went out on work details came back to the camp and died. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledged that they had to do something, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.
It was in May when his family received a message from the War Department.
“Dear Miss M. Lajzer :
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private Joseph D. Lajzer, 35,017,526, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter. 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 other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect 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 surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war. In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired. At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.
“Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months; to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held; to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress. The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age, and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records. Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.
“Very Truly yours
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General”
To get out of Camp O’Donnell, Joe volunteered to go out on a work detail to rebuild the bridges they had destroyed during the withdrawal into Bataan. 250 POWs arrived at Calauan on May 10, from there, the POWs were divided up into detachments and sent to different barrios. In Joe’s case, he was sent to a sawmill near Lipa Batangas. Joe recalled that he and the other POWs slept on the ground. He also said that each POW had to pick up a log and carry it to the mill.
On the detail, Joe and his fellow POWs had one of the few moments that could be described as humorous. The POWs had been working in the hot sun and wanted a break. Joe being the brave one went up to the Japanese officer in charge of the detail and in his poor Japanese, asked the officer for a break for the POWs. The officer did not respond. Joe returned to his fellow POWs cursing in English and Polish about the officer.
When the officer did not respond a second time, Joe began to curse in Polish and English. The officer looked at him and said in perfect English that Joe was right and that the men deserved a break. Joe felt pretty silly. When the officer was done talking, Joe asked him where he had learned to speak English. As it turned out, the officer had been educated at a university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He told Joe he returned to Japan to visit his mother and father and that the Japanese government would not let him out of the country.
Later in the day, an American sergeant escaped. During the escape, a Japanese soldier had been killed. The Japanese had forty Filipinos and seven GIs lined up. A Japanese lieutenant had a hat with 22 pieces of paper in it. He came up to Joe and the POWs he was with and told each man to pull out a sheet of paper. Three sheets of paper had “Xs” on them. He told them that the men who pulled out the sheets with the “Xs” would be killed. Another lieutenant, who went to the school in the U. S. came by and asked what was going on, when he found out, he said to the first Japanese officer that Joe and the other POWs had been with him and would not be executed.
He remained on the detail until September 8th when the POWs were sent to Cabanatuan which had opened to replace Camp O’Donnell. Cabanatuan was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where most of the men who captured on Bataan and took part in the march were held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed, but it later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where most of those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken and it was later consolidated into Camp 1 on October 30th.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. 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 barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on double-deck bamboo shelves nine feet wide and eight feet long, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many developed sores and became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together and went out on work details together since the Japanese had instituted the “Blood Brothers” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp. He was assigned to Barracks 5, Group 2. It was said that the Japanese guards would attempt to get the POWs assigned to guard the inside of the fence to come outside the perimeter of the fence. If the man did, he was shot and the guards told their commanding officer that the POWs were “trying to escape.”
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” The rice smelled and appeared to have been swept up off the floor. The other problem was that the men assigned to be cooks had no idea of how to prepare the rice since they had no experience in cooking it. During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, the POWs received corn to serve to the prisoners. From the corn, the cooks would make hominy. The prisoners were so hungry that some men would eat the corn cobs. This resulted in many men being taken to the hospital to have the cobs removed because they would not pass through the men’s bowels. Sometimes they received bread, and if they received fish it was rotten and covered with maggots.
To supplement their diets, the men would search for grasshoppers, rats, and dogs to eat. The POWs assigned to handing out the food used a sardine can to ensure that each man received the same amount. They were closely watched by their fellow prisoners who wanted to make sure that everyone received the same portion and that no one received extra rice.
In the camp, the prisoners continued to die, but at a slower rate. The camp hospital consisted of 30 wards that could hold 40 men each, but it was more common for them to have 100 men in them. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. The sickest POWs were put in “Zero Ward,” which was called this because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. The platform was covered in feces which was made worse by the excrement from the higher platform dripping down onto it. Most of those who entered the ward died. When a POW died, the POWs stripped him of his clothing, and the man was buried naked. The dead man’s clothing was washed in boiling water and given to a prisoner in need of clothing. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area.
After arriving in the camp, Joe began to suffer from hemorrhoids and was put into Zero Ward on Tuesday, September 9, 1942. He recalled that he was surrounded by dying men. To get out of the ward, Joe would take a walk. It would take him four hours to walk a block and four more to walk back. He was finally discharged on Friday, October 16th.
While he was in the hospital from September to December, the Japanese issued numbers to the POWs. The first POWs to receive them sailed for Manchuria on October 8th on the Tottori Maru. It was at this time that Joe became POW 1-07007
On October 12, 1942, the Japanese announced a work detail was leaving the camp. Joe went out on a work detail to Ft. McKinley as a member of a 270-man POW detachment. There, the POWs did cleanup work clearing the grounds of junk from the battle. The POWs lived in the two-story barracks of the 45th Infantry Division, Philippine Scouts. The entire POW compound covered an area of 300 feet by 150 feet that the POWs were allowed to walk around. The POWs lived in the upper and lower squad rooms and the rest spread throughout the rest of the building. Since there was limited room, the men slept shoulder to shoulder on sawale floor mats and in ten men mosquito nets issued by the Japanese. Blankets were also issued, but there were several POWs without them. No furniture was provided, but they were able to get chairs and tables from nearby buildings. The POWs washed their clothes in buckets that they found or made. When the detail started, the POWs were issued coconut fiber hats and shoes. Both these items did not last long.
The latrines in the camp had three stalls, a four-foot urinal, a tray sink with five spigots, and a shower room with four showerheads. Because of the demand for the facilities in the morning and evening about one-fourth of these were out of service at any time. Because of the lack of proper materials, the POWs were unable to keep all the showers functioning in spite of their best efforts.
The POW kitchen was in a stone building that was fifty feet from the POW barracks. Meals for the men were prepared in four halved oil drums that served as stoves that had no grates or chimneys to vent smoke. Cooking utensils consisted of four rice pots, two knives, an icebox, and an old well perforated Army-issued stove. The POWs also managed to get a meat grinder, several more knives, and a wooden chopping block. A pool table became the main food preparation table in the kitchen. Water spigots were added and the water drained into the floor and out of the building through holes the POWs chiseled through the wood. Waste from the kitchen was hauled away by Filipinos and burnt.
The POWs ate their meals on the second floor of a barracks that served as a mess hall with the Japanese quarters on the first floor. There were enough tables and benches for every POW, and the meals were carried to them in five-gallon drums. About 80% of the POWs had mess kits with the other 20% using pottery plates, tin pans, and tin cans. They were able also to clean their mess gear.
The camp medical facilities were two small rooms that served as a hospital but there was no medical equipment or supplies until December 1942. A table that was found in a nearby building was used for examinations under a 40-watt light bulb. Water – when needed – came from a latrine twenty feet away from the infirmary. POWs who were ill were not required to work. Requests for medical supplies to the Japanese commanding officer were ignored. Most of the POWs treated at the hospital were cases of malaria and diarrhea. There were also illnesses caused by the poor diet, Medicine was issued at the camp, but there was never enough to really help the POWs.
The POWs on the detail worked at constructing a northeast-to-southwest runway. The workday for the POWs was from 8:00 A.M. until Noon and 1:00 P.M. until 5:00 P.M. When they arrived at the airfield they were divided into two groups which alternated between working for an hour and the other and resting for an hour. The dirt and rock were removed with picks and shovels and put into mining cars which were pushed by POWs to the area where they were going to be dumped to create a base for the runway.
In May 1943, the work was sped up. The POWs weren’t sure if this was because they were behind schedule or if the airfield was needed because of the military situation. The runway was built through rice paddies which made the work harder since they still had water in them.
When the work was finished, they were moved to Nielson Field and Camp Murphy #2. Some sources state the move took place on January 20, 1943, while others state it happened on January 29, 1943. For the first six weeks, the POWs marched 8 kilometers to the airfield each morning and marched 8 kilometers back to their barracks in the evening. Later, they rode trucks to the airfield. Some sources also state the compound was 500 feet by 200 feet and surrounded by barbed wire while others state it was approximately 300 feet by 200 feet. These may simply be the dimensions for each of the POW compounds.
The POWs were soon moved to Camp Nielsen where they lived in four Nipa barracks that were 150 feet long by 20 feet wide which had been built for them. Each barrack had a six-foot-wide aisle down the center with sleeping platforms along the walls. One-quarter of the space was used for sleeping quarters for the officers which meant the enlisted POWs slept shoulder to shoulder again. The center aisle was lit by a 40-watt light bulb located above the center aisle. One barracks contained the camp’s medical facility which occupied a quarter of the building. There were two 7-foot long shelves on each wall that served as beds for the sick. There were no medical supplies or equipment, and again a 40-watt bulb was the only lighting even though the POW doctor requested more light be provided. He was assured it would be dealt with, but nothing was ever done.
Most of the POWs suffered from illnesses caused by a poor diet and there were many cases of malaria and diarrhea but injuries to the POWs’ feet and legs also became a factor. The doctor simply washed them with soap and water and applied iodine which was all he had. Since the POWs were working with dirt, the wounds should have been covered, but there was not enough available, and medical tape also was unavailable. The camp doctor received surgical equipment on November 19, 1943, and in January 1944, he was able to sterilize them by making sterile distilled water with a hot plate and copper tubing from a car. It was noted that the Japanese soldier in charge of the supplies attempted to keep the hospital stocked with supplies.
The POWs cleaned the area around the barracks daily and the ill POWs swept up the area around the tables where they ate. On the POWs’ “day off,” the barracks were emptied of furniture and everything was put in the sun. The barracks were then swept and mopped. This ended in February 1944 when the POWs began working 6½ days a week.
Behind each barrack was a small building, with a concrete floor, that was its latrine with seven individual latrine boxes in separate stalls. The latrines were concrete pits with individual latrine boxes sitting over them. Nothing had been done to prevent the flies from breeding in the pits so maggots soon crawled up the sides of the pits and filled the latrines. The native ants proved to be an ally to the POWs and wiped out the maggots. Flimsy covers were made that usually solved the problem, but once in a while, there still was a problem with flies. The POWs on sick call cleaned the latrines daily and with a creosote solution once a week.
The latrines also had shower rooms with seven showers. There were also spigots attached to the showers that allowed the POWs to fill buckets, canteens, and other utensils. The water was also used to prepare their meals. It was quickly found that when all the showers were turned on that there was not enough water pressure for them to work, so most of the bathing was done by using the spigots. All the water came from a 1½ inch pipe that was soon tapped to supply water to other buildings. Several times when the POWs tried to wash all they got from the line was a trickle of water. Since the building and showers were flimsy, it was not long before most were not working.
The kitchen used to prepare meals was on the Japanese side of the compound. It appears the kitchen had a concrete floor, brick and clay ovens, and two storage rooms. The floors were relatively clean because the POWs used wood ashes to cover them. Flies were always a problem in the kitchen and at Nielson, it was worse because the native workers threw their garbage from their meals anywhere and also relieved themselves anywhere. Tables for meals were in the center aisle of each barracks. Waste from the kitchen was hauled away by Filipinos and burnt.
It is not known when and if his family learned he was a Prisoner of War. It is possible that they never learned he was alive until he was liberated.
At the end of the detail, Joe was sent to Bilibid, stayed in the prison for about a month, and was boarded onto the Hokusen Maru on October 1, 1944. The ship sailed but dropped anchor at the harbor’s breakwater. It remained there for three days and the temperatures in the hold rose to over 100 degrees causing some men to go crazy. The Japanese threatened to kill the POWs if they didn’t quiet the men. To do this, the sane POWs strangled those out of their minds or hit them with canteens.
It was said by men on the ship that there were 750 prisoners crowded into a hold just a few feet larger than a master bedroom. They also said that their food was a little rice and very little water, that there was no ventilation or sanitary facilities, that many died of suffocation, and that most of the POWs suffered from dysentery and malaria. In the hold, there was no place to lie down, so the POWs rested on top of a pile of coal. The POWs stood and squatted with their knees under their chins, in shifts, all of the 38 days they were in the hold. The only time the men were permitted on the deck was to go to the latrine, and when this was done, only one man was permitted on the deck at a time and only for a few minutes.
As part of a ten-ship convoy, it sailed again on October 4th and stopped at Cabcaban. The next day, it was at San Fernando La Union, where the ships were joined by four more ships and five escorts. The ships stayed close to the shoreline to prevent submarine attacks which failed since, on October 6th, two of the ships were sunk.
The ships were informed, on October 9th, that American carriers were seen near Formosa and American planes were in the area. The decision was made that the ships would sail to Hong Kong. During this part of the trip, the ships ran into American submarines which sank two more ships. The Hokusen Maru arrived in Hong Kong on October 11th. While it was in port, American planes bombed the harbor on October 16th. On October 2st1, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving on October 24th.
Many of the POWs disembarked the ship, on November 8th, and were held at Inrin Temporary Camp on Formosa. The POWs did light work and gardened. The healthier POWs worked at a sugar mill. The Japanese told the POWs that if the Americans invaded Formosa they would all be killed. When the Japanese decided to send the Hokusen Maru POWs to Japan, they determined Joe was too ill to go. Joe was reassigned to OKA Camp where the POWs constructed runways. Joe also was held at Heito and Taihoku #6 and was one of eleven Americans held in his camp. Joe also worked on a sanitation detail at one of the camps. He recalled two men would carry a bucket and dump it into a concrete pool.
The prisoners had no idea how the war was going. The first hint that something was happening was when they saw B-29s and P-38s over the island. The P-38s were involved in dogfights with Japanese planes. Around September 1, 1945, food was dropped for the POWs from planes. The Japanese then gave each POW five cigarettes and a handful of peanuts. The POWs were told that they did not have to work that day.
On September 6, 1945, the U.S. Navy came to the island, and the POWs were liberated. It was at that time that his parents received another message from the War Department.
“Mr. Katherine Lajzer: The secretary of war has asked me to inform you that your son, Pvt. Joseph D. Lajzer was returned to military control Sept. 6 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”
In September 1945, Joseph was returned to the Philippine Islands for medical treatment. He was boarded onto the U.S.S. Yarmouth and arrived in San Francisco on October 8, 1945.
Joseph Lajzer married, Adelina Lopez, and became a father of two children. He re-enlisted, but this time in the U.S. Air Force. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War, and after Vietnam, he was an airplane mechanic at Kelly Air Force Base. When he retired from the Air Force, he resided in San Antonio, Texas.
Joseph Lazjer passed away on March 16, 2013, in San Antonio, Texas. He was buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas. The photograph at the top of this page was taken immediately after Joe was liberated from the POW camp on Formosa.