Sgt. Owen Leonard Sandmire was born on October 24, 1918, to Leonard Sandmire and Bessie Kellogg-Sandmire in Viola, Wisconsin, and was the fourth child of eight children. “Sandy” as he was called by his friends, grew up first in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, where he graduated from Reedsburg Elementary School. His family then moved to Lime Ridge, Wisconsin, where he graduated from Lime Ridge High School in 1938. Sandy went out on his own at fifteen since it would make it easier for his family. His father was a barber and could not make enough to support his large family. To support himself, Sandy moved to Janesville, Wisconsin, looking for work.
On September 16, 1940, Sandy enlisted into the Wisconsin National Guard’s 32nd Tank Company from Janesville. Sandy decided to do this after drinking a few beers with some National Guardsmen. His reason for doing this was the draft act had recently been passed and he did not want to be drafted into the army. It also had already been announced that the tank company was going to be called to federal duty. The company was federalized on November 25, as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, and the soldiers received physicals the same day. Some men who were federalized in the morning were civilians by the afternoon. The company was also ordered to report to Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Sandy and his friend, Bob Stewart, were also not having very good luck finding steady jobs, so being in the army with regular pay sounded good to both of them. Two months later, Sandy would be called to federal duty when the 32nd Tank Company was federalized as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, on November 25, 1940.
A three-man detail was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, a few days earlier. Another detachment of 23 soldiers left the armory at 7:00 A.M. on November 27. It is known that the roads were ice-covered so the trip was slow which resulted in one truck hitting a civilian’s car. No other information is available about the incident. The road conditions improved the further south the convoy went. The soldiers spent the night at an armory in Danville, Illinois, before heading south to Ft. Knox arriving there sometime the next afternoon.
The next day, November 28, between 4:00 and 5:00 P.M., the main detachment of soldiers that marched from the armory to the Milwaukee Road train station in Janesville where they boarded special cars that had been added to the Marquette to Chicago train. One was a flatcar with the company’s two tanks on it. At some point, the train cars were uncoupled from the train and switched onto the Chicago & Northwestern line that went into Maywood, Illinois. There, the members of B Company boarded the train and their equipment – including their two tanks – was loaded onto the train. In Chicago, the train cars were switched onto the Illinois Central Railroad and taken to Ft. Knox arriving around 8:00 A.M. When they arrived, trucks were waiting at the station to take them to the fort. Their first housing were six men tents since their barracks were not finished. The battalion had a total of eight tanks.
After arriving, they spent the first six weeks in primary training. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; weeks 7, 8, and 9 were spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons, and the cleaning of weapons.
It is known that the soldiers from Janesville went home for Christmas. The soldiers left Ft. Knox at about 1:00 P.M. on Saturday, December 21 – by chartered bus. Since his name did not appear on the list of men who went home, it is presumed he remained at Ft. Knox.
1st Sgt. Dale Lawton – on December 26 – was given the job of picking men to be transferred from the company to the soon to be formed Hq Company. Men were picked for the company because they had special training. Many of these men received promotions and because of their rating received higher pay.
A Company moved into its barracks in December 1941. The men assigned to the Hq Company still lived with the A Company since their barracks were unfinished. 25 men lived on each floor of the barracks. The bunks were set up along the walls and alternated so that the head of one bunk was next to the foot of another bunk allowing for more bunks to be placed in the least amount of space allowing for 50 men to sleep on each floor. The first sergeant, staff sergeant, and master sergeant had their own rooms. There was also a supply room, an orderly room – where the cooks could sleep during the day – and a clubroom.
The one problem they had was that the barracks had four, two-way speakers in it. One speaker was in the main room of each floor of the barracks, one was in the first sergeant’s office, and one was in the Capt. Walter Write’s office. Since by flipping a switch the speaker became a microphone, the men watched what they said. The men assigned to Hq Company moved into their own barracks by February. The guardsmen were housed away from the regular army troops in the newly built barracks. Newspapers from the time state that the barracks were air-conditioned. Although the barracks were finished, A Company shared D Company’s mess hall until the company’s mess hall opened. The area outside the barracks was described as muddy and dusty most of the time. An attempt was made to improve the situation with the building of walkways and roads around the barracks.
A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics from 8:00 to 8:30. Afterward, the tankers went to various schools within the company. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics. At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. The classes lasted for 13 weeks. It was at this time that he became good friends with Ed DeGroot and Harvey Riedeman.
At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After they ate they stood in line to wash their mess kits since they had no mess hall. At first, A Company’s meals were served in D Company’s mess hall until heir mess hall was finished in December. After dinner, they were off duty, and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played.
Sandy trained as a tank driver. This would be the position he would hold throughout his tour of duty with the 192nd. Since the members of the battalion were trained to do more than one job, he was also trained on a motorcycle as a reconnaissance sergeant.
It was also at this time that all the battalion had 16 operational tanks and the first men from selective service were assigned to the company. On January 10, these men took their first tank ride and all of them had the chance to drive the tanks. They would permanently join the company in March 1941.
During their free time during the week, the men could go to one of the three movie theaters on the outpost. They also sat around and talked. As the weather got warmer, the men tried to play baseball as often as possible in the evenings. At 9:00 P.M., when lights went out, most went to sleep. On weekends, men with passes frequently went to Louisville which was 35 miles north of the fort, while others went to Elizabethtown sixteen miles south of the fort. Those men still on the base used the dayroom to read since it was open until 11:00 P.M.
Capt Walter Write, during February, commanded a composite tank company made of men from all the companies of the battalion. The company left Ft. Knox on a problematic move at 9:00 A.M. The company consisted of three motorcycles, two scout cars, sixteen tanks, one ambulance, and supply, fuel, and kitchen trucks. The route was difficult and chosen so that the men could become acquainted with their equipment. They also had to watch out for simulated enemy planes. Bridges were avoided whenever it was possible to ford the water. At noon, the column stopped for a short rest and a lunch that did not materialize. A guide had failed to stay at one of the crossings until the kitchen truck arrived there, so instead of turning into the woods, the truck went straight. After the break, Capt. Write ordered the men back to Ft. Knox without having been fed.
In late March 1941, the entire battalion was moved to new barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks had bathing and washing facilities in them and a day room. The new kitchens had larger gas ranges, automatic gas heaters, large pantries, and mess halls. One reason for this move was the men from selective service were permanently joining the battalion.
At 7:00 A.M. on Monday, June 16, the battalion was broken into four detachments for a three-day tactical road march. The most important part of this march was to train the soldiers in loading, unloading, and setting up the battalion’s administrative camps. The battalion traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 beeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which were the battalion’s kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The battalion traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated, and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox on Wednesday, June 18 through Lebanon, New Haven, and Hodgenville, Kentucky.
After almost nine months of training at Fort Knox, the 192nd was sent to Louisiana to take part in the maneuvers of 1941 from September 1 through 30. On route to the maneuvers, on his motorcycle, Sandy served as traffic director of the convoy.
In the late summer of 1941, the tank battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers from September 1 through 30. The entire battalion was loaded onto trucks and sent in a convoy to Louisiana while the tanks and wheeled vehicles were sent by train. When they arrived they lived in tents.
According to him, the worst thing about the maneuvers was the snakes. It appeared that every other man was bitten at some point by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snakebit kit that was used to create a vacuum to suck the poison out of the bite. The bites were the result of the nights cooling down and snakes crawling under the soldiers’ bedrolls for warmth while the soldiers were sleeping on them.
There was one multicolored snake – about eight inches long – that was beautiful to look at, but if it bit a man he was dead. The good thing was that these snakes would not just strike at the man but only struck if the man forced himself on it. When the soldiers woke up in the morning they would carefully pick up their bedrolls to see if there were any snakes under them. To avoid being bitten, men slept on the two and a half-ton trucks or on or in the tanks. Another trick the soldiers learned was to dig a small trench around their tents and lay rope in the trench. The burs on the rope kept the snakes from entering the tents. The snakes were not a problem if the night was warm.
They also had a problem with the wild hogs in the area. In the middle of the night while the men were sleeping in their tents they would suddenly hear hogs squealing. The hogs would run into the tents pushing on them until they took them down and dragged them away.
The food was also not very good since the air was always damp which made it hard to get a fire started. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili that they choked down. Washing clothes was done when the men had a chance. They did this by finding a creek, looking for alligators, and if there were none, taking a bar of soap and scrubbing whatever they were washing. Clothes were usually washed once a week or once every two weeks.
The tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack and in support of infantry and held defensive positions. They usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. Some men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.”
The maneuvers were described by other men as being awakened at 4:30 A.M. and sent to an area to engage an imaginary enemy. After engaging the enemy, the tanks withdrew to another area. The crews had no idea what they were doing most of the time because they were never told anything by the higher-ups. A number of men felt that they just rode around in their tanks a lot.
During their training at Ft. Knox, the tankers were taught that they should never attack an anti-tank gun head-on. One day during the maneuvers, their commanding general threw away the entire battalion doing just that. After sitting out a period of time, the battalion resumed the maneuvers. At some point, the battalion also went from fighting in the Red Army to fighting for the Blue Army.
The major problem for the tanks was the sandy soil. On several occasions, tanks were parked and the crews walked away from them. When they returned, the tanks had sunk into the sandy soil up to their hauls. To get them out, other tanks were brought in and attempted to pull them out. If that didn’t work, the tankers brought a tank wrecker to pull the tank out from Camp Polk.
The one good thing that came out of the maneuvers was that the tank crews learned how to move at night. At Ft. Knox this was never done. Without knowing it, the night movements were preparing them for what they would do in the Philippines since most of the battalion’s movements there were made at night. The drivers learned how to drive at night and to take instructions from their tank commanders who had a better view from the turret.
At night a number of motorcycle riders from other tank units were killed because they were riding their bikes without headlights on which meant they could not see obstacles in front of their bikes. When they hit something they fell to the ground and the tanks following them went over them. This happened several times before the motorcycle riders were ordered to turn on their headlights.
After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana. On the side of a hill, the soldiers learned they were being sent overseas. Men who were married or 29 years old, or older, were allowed to resign from federal service. Most of the remaining soldiers were given leaves home to say their goodbyes. When they returned to Camp Polk, they found themselves, once again, living in tents. During their time there, it rained a great deal of the time and the men always seemed to be wet. Men went over a week without taking a shower.
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, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The company went west by train. One train carried the tankers while a second train following the first carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the train were a freight car and a passenger car that some of the tankers rode. When they arrived at San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they received inoculations and physicals. Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a two-day layover. 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 U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country. Two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters carrying 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. 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 the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward P. King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He made sure that they had dinner – which consisted of stew thrown into their mess kits – before he left to have his own dinner.
Of their dinner, he recalled, “Contrary to what you might have heard, we did NOT have turkey. We had slumgullion (a stew) slung onto our mess kits without benefit of tables or plates or whatever. We were confined to temporary quarters in nothing more than tents — eight men tents — paramedical tents and that was our quarters until the war broke out. Of course, they were building facilities, but we never got to occupy them.”
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. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
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 – as they flew over – 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.
The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their on the tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool” meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to do the work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms including going to the PX.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark 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. The morning of December 8, 1941, Capt. Walter Write informed his company that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese. The tanks were put on alert at their positions around the airfield. At 8:30 A.M., American planes took off to intercept any Japanese planes. Sometime before noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, and were lined up near the pilots’ mess hall. The pilots went to lunch.
Sandy recalled that around 12:45 P.M., he and the other tankers looked up at the formations of planes over their heads. The tankers commented on how beautiful they looked and had enough time to count 54 planes. When the first bombs exploded, he and the other men ran to take cover. The planes that had landed were destroyed in the attack and the mess hall took a direct hit.
Sandy avoided being hit by enemy fire by playing “leap-frog” over a wall. If the Japanese planes came from the side of the wall he was on, he would jump to the other side and use the wall to shield himself from enemy bullets. During the attack, a Filipino woman was hit by enemy fire in the hip. Sandy attempted to help her, but she would not allow him to help her.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
On December 12, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it could guard a highway and railroad from sabotage. From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River.
On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write. While withdrawing from the area, A Company had been given cigar boxes that Philippine Ordnance had made into land mines. Sandy and another soldier supposed to place them along the sides of the road since the Japanese, like the Americans, marched alongside the roads in the ditches.
Since the soldiers never had been trained in the use of landmines, Capt. Walter Write told Sandy, “Sergeant, get the men back. This mine doesn’t look right and may go off.” As he released the mine, it went off in his hands blowing off his arms, one leg and blinding him. He died of his wounds a short time later. Before he died, he asked that they place red roses on his grave. Since there no roses, the men placed a red native flower on the grave. In Sandy’s opinion, the morale of the company dropped after Write’s death.
After Write was buried, the battalion’s tanks made an end run to get south of Agno River after the main bridge had been destroyed. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening but successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province. On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
Of that time, Sandy recalled that the tankers had Christmas dinner. He said, “I remember it was Christmastime and its the first decent meal we had, and would you believe — we had turkey — on Christmas Day. This was a blessing because we hadn’t had a shower — hadn’t even had my clothes off for eighteen straight days. I slept on my tank or in my tank or on the run, or wherever we could get a minutes rest.”
It was in the jungle that the tankers found out how inappropriate the M3 tanks were for use in the Philippines. Off the road, they had to travel with their turrets backward. If the tankers did not do this, the guns would get stuck in the jungle growth. The tanks were also restricted to the roads since they would get stuck in the mud of the rice fields. The high silhouettes and straight sides of the M3 also made the tanks easy targets for the Japanese.
On a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries. The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks’ machine guns. As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac. When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened fire on them. When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion. To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.
At Gumain River, the night of December 31 to the morning of January 1st, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river. When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts. The Japanese were taking heavy casualties, so they attempted to use smoke to cover their advance, but the wind blew the smoke into the Japanese. When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had suffered fifty percent casualties.
At Guagua, A Company, with units from the 11th Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese. Somehow, the tanks were mistaken, by the Filipinos to be Japanese. The 11th Division accurately used mortars on them. The result was the loss of three tanks.
On January 1, the tanks of the 194th were holding the Calumpit Bridge allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to cross the bridge toward Bataan. General Wainwright was attempting to hold the main Japanese force coming down Route 5 to prevent the troops from being cut off. General MacArthur’s chief of staff gave conflicting orders involving whose command the defenders were under which caused confusion. Gen. Wainwright was not aware these orders had been given.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
It was while the tanks were dropping back from San Fernando that they found themselves facing Japanese infantry.
“On our retreat back from San Fernando back toward Bataan, when we were going to establish this defensive line all the way across the Philippines, we set up a defensive line one night with our tanks that were left.
“In the jungles over there you can imagine how dark it is when there’s no moon. When the moon is out it is pretty decent, but when there is no moon it’s absolutely black. Well, doggone if those Japanese infantry troops didn’t literally attack those tanks by hand. They didn’t have machine guns, fortunately. They just swarmed around us with handguns and rifles and whatnot. Well, what were we to do? We couldn’t lower our guns down far enough to shoot them. If you stuck your head out of the tank to shoot them with your pistol, man, you were a dead man. So all we could do is gradually retreat out of the mess. Well, in the meantime one of the tanks in our company, about in the middle of the retreat, doggone if one of these Japs didn’t come up and lay a magnetic type mine, armor-piercing, on top of the front, you might say, about where the bow gunner would sit. When that thing went off, zing, right through! Fortunately, it only took from the calf on down — that part of the leg. His name was Emil Schmidt.”
While American and Filipino forces were withdrawing from the Pilar-Bigac Line, the battalion prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops. On the morning of January 27, a new battle line had been formed and all units were supposed to be beyond it. That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were supposed to have withdraw
The company took part in the Battle of the Points on the west coast of Bataan. The Japanese landed troops but ended up trapped. One was the Lapay-Longoskawayan points from January 23 to 29, the Quinawan-Aglaloma points from January 22 to February 8, and the Sililam-Anyasan points from January 27 to February 13. What made this job of eliminating the Japanese so hard was that they were 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. The defenders successfully eliminated the points by driving their tanks along the Japanese defensive line and firing their machine guns. The 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts followed the tanks eliminating any resistance and driving the Japanese Marines over the edge of the cliffs where they hid in caves. The tanks fired into the caves killing or forcing them out of them into the sea.
On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver: “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”
The company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets – from January 23 to February 17 – to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive was stopped and pushed back to the original line of defense. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that each tank company was rotated out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded. The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
The tanks of A, B, and C Company were able to clear the pockets. But before this was done, one C Company tank which had gone beyond the American perimeter was disabled and the tank just sat there. When the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there. During the night, its crew was buried alive, inside the tank, by the Japanese. When the Japanese had been wiped out, the tank was turned upside down to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the crew. The tank was put back into use.
The tanks were also used to clear the Japanese in what was called “The Battle of the Points.” The Japanese had attempted to land troops behind the main defensive line and ended up with troops trapped on two different points on the peninsula. During this engagement, Sandy recalled that there were cliffs that had caves in them. The Japanese Marines used the caves for protection and would climb to the cliffs to enter them or leave them. The tankers fired into the caves repeatedly until the Japanese were dead or came out of the caves.
Sandy and Sgt. John Hopple, B Company, and two other men of the 192nd risked their lives to rescue another member of their battalion who had been wounded. The four went into an area under fire and put the man on a stretcher and carried him out. The other three men with Sandy were wounded. Sandy could not recall if the man that was rescued survived or if he died of his wounds but the other three men, who had been wounded rescuing him, died of their wounds. For this action under enemy fire, Sandy was nominated for the Silver Star which he received years after the war.
Remembering the event, he said, “This is where the Silver Star action comes in. The Japanese landed and made a beachhead on the ocean-side. They didn’t come by land. They came by barge or whatever. They established the beachhead. These (Japanese Marines) are the ones who would dig these “spider holes” alongside these monstrous trees. The roots weren’t round like we are familiar with here. The roots were flat and ran up and down. Some of the roots were a foot thick. and two or three feet high, and made a perfect defense against bullets and even small cannon that we had wouldn’t penetrate it. Armor-piercing would but explosive would, yeah, but explosive would not.
“One of the tanks in our company (actually C Company) got stalled out there trying to drive the Japanese back, and during the night when these Japanese were digging these spider holes, they may have shot the men or threw a grenade in there or probably just buried them alive but somehow they put the dirt from the spider holes into the tank so there was no sign of digging. No sign of any dirt. At night they would come out of these spider holes and, man, they would just raise hell. It was a terrifying experience never knowing what was going on.
“The following day one of our men in our company – I believe his name was Corporal Bruce — had gone in doing some reconnoitering and got shot. Well, here he is literally out in the middle of no man’s land and he couldn’t get back. So myself and a fellow named Hopplen (Hopple) from B Company and two others, so help me, whose names I can’t remember, we scrounged our way out there with a stretcher, got him on the stretcher and started bringing him back when two of the guys, I believe it was two, got shot carrying out. I didn’t get a scratch carrying this guy out and I presume the fourth guy didn’t either. Anyway, the two who that were shot were pretty bad and so was Corporal Bruce. We took them in an ambulance — of course, there was no ambulance drivers around, so I was a ‘handcuff volunteer’ to take them to the hospital.
“So down I went, down this Bataan highway, whatever they called it. Had to go all the way down to Mariveles and back up the other side, the bayside of the peninsula to get to the hospital. Well, hell, the rocks were just — aww — they were just great big cobblestones — not fit for truck driving. Fine for tanks, but for vehicles and trucks it was almost impossible. Anyway, when I got them all over there they were all dead. I guess this one guy lived a day or so but all died with the exception of myself and this other guy who helped bring them out. This was where I was recommended for, but not awarded the Silver Star.”
It was also during this time that Sandy and Pvt. Albert DuBois accidentally gave a tank crew from B Company a good scare. The two soldiers were on guard duty and found the duty boring. To keep themselves entertained, the two men began tossing a “dummy” hand grenade to see who could throw it the farthest.
During one of his tosses, Sandy’s throw went through the open hatch of a tank. Believing the grenade was live, the crew began digging through the junk on the floor in an attempt to get the grenade out of the tank. When it did not explode, the tank crew members looked out of the turret and found Sandy walking alongside the tank. Sandy looked up at the crew and asked, “Did anyone see a practice grenade land around here?” In Sandy’s opinion, if the crew could have, they would have shot him on the spot.
Sandy’s tank was near kilometer 208 a little ahead of the remainder of A Company. “Photo Charlie” flew over and stayed around for a while. His tank crew believed their tank was pretty well camouflaged but had dug small trenches to take cover in if they were attacked. Not too long after Photo Charlie had left, a Japanese glider bomber came in and laid a bomb beside their tank. They were on the other side of the tank, so they did not get hit by shrapnel. They quickly moved the tank into the denser jungle.
During the Battle of Bataan, Sandy came down with dysentery. While he was ill, his tank was destroyed. This resulted in Sandy assuming the role of reconnaissance sergeant for the 192nd. To do this duty, he was assigned an Indian Motorcycle. Having trained at Fort Knox on Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Sandy found it hard to adjust to the controls of the motorcycle which were just the opposite of a Harley.
The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day. The Japanese were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantily clad blond on them. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger since the men were so hungry.
It was at this time that Sandy wrote a letter to his parents which was dated March 15. The ship that was carrying the letter was sunk by a Japanese submarine and the sack it was in was fished from the water from an American sub. His parents received the letter on August 12 and it showed signs of having been in the water.
Of this, he said, “During the course of all these battles which all take gas and ammunition, which we were sorely sort short of, and running out of food, ammunition, gasoline, and our vehicles were going to pot, we were down to the point where we couldn’t do a thing except for a major crisis where the Japanese had broken through and we would try to seal up the hole to make sure they didn’t breakthrough.”
The Japanese launched an all-out attack, on April 3, supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese. The Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan on April 7. C Company was pulled out of its position along the west side of the line and ordered to reinforce the eastern part of the line. Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces. The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company’s offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack against the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. that tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
Having eaten everything that moved in the jungle, out of food, ammunition, and medical supplies, on April 8, 1942, the word came down to Sandy and the other tankers that Bataan was going to be surrendered. Sandy was ordered to destroy the remaining tanks and make them unusable to the Japanese. Of this, he said, “I happened to be at kilometer 208 and Mariveles, which is the southern tip of Bataan peninsula — about 125 kilometers from San Fernando which was our starting point. Our unit was pretty much thinly spread out over the west coast of Bataan. We must have been in this particular location for two weeks before we got the word that there had been a surrender. Of course, we were just about dead on our feet anyway because we couldn’t do anything.
“We were out of gasoline. We still had some ammunition bu the food was down to practically nothing. We were killing everything we could find in the jungle — birds, lizards, snakes — the mules, the horses, and water buffalo had long since been gone. The rice was practically gone. Very little, if any vegetables or wild fruits of the jungle that we could live on. Well, the word came down that we could destroy all of our ordnance equipment which was tanks, machine guns, cannons, and so forth, but the quartermaster equipment, which was trucks, were to be turned over to the Japanese.
“I unluckily got the job of destroying all the tanks we had left. So, I took them back into the boonies as far as I could drive them before we just stopped and tried to get them in a semi-circle with the engines facing me. Then, with my own tank, I fired rounds of armor-piercing ammunition into the back end of each one of these tanks which ruptured the gasoline tank, ruined the mortars and whatnot, and then fired high explosive shells into each one these individual tanks, setting them on fire. By the time I got through with them, they were practically useless except for scrap metal. I understand that during the course of the war they salvaged all of those tanks out of the jungle and sent all that scrap metal back to Japan.”
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 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. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group and the white flag was bedding from A Company.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “I’m going to get us the best deal I can.” He also said, “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. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit inline with the Japanese advance should fly white flags. Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
Sandy was now a Prisoner of War. His company was ordered to go to Mariveles at Bataan’s southern tip. Remembering this, he said, “At the time of surrender the Japanese had absolutely no organization, no way of knowing how many troops there may be, what they were going to do with us — nothing! We were on our own to get to kilometer post 208, which was at least two miles down into the jungle, out to the main highway. I guess they called it the west Bataan highway for want for a better description and we were to get to Mariveles which was to be our assembly point for all the troops — Filipino, American, or whatever. It took us two days to get down there. You either walked, or hitched a ride, or however, you get down there. We were halfway in good spirits because we thought the war was over for us. We wouldn’t have to worry about getting killed and the enemy would feed us and clothe us.
“All night long, I had a little duffel bag with my personal articles like a toothbrush, toothpaste, and maybe a razor. My watch I had, but they found that. My Elgin watch that I had bought back in the states. Everybody has literally stripped — just nothing. Of course, there was no organization. They had raw rice so we filled our pockets with raw rice and started on this march from Mariveles. — started the so-called Death March. For how many days it took us to get to San Fernando, we ate raw rice — all the way up there– trying to wash it down with whatever little water I could find. I never had any meat of any kind, no vegetables — just raw rice and cooked rice that the Japanese had given us, not along the way, but at night when we settled down. We would have to sit on the ground with our feet and knees drawn up to our chest as tight as we could and the next guy with his knees right against your back and that’s the way you sat all night, just like this. Huddled, just like that, all night. And this went on for the first three nights. You can imagine how we felt without much food, no rest, no sleep, and worrying about the guards because if you moved they’d beat the hell outa of you or use their bayonets, or shoot you, or behead you or whatever — whatever their mood was. And this type of treatment went on all the way up that death march — all the way up to San Fernando.”
Later in the day at Mariveles, the POWs were ordered to move and taken to a schoolyard in Mariveles and ordered to sit. They remained there in the sun without shade for hours. This became known as “the sun treatment.”
When they were ordered to move, they made their way north. At one point, they ran in front of Japanese artillery pieces that were firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum. When the two American strongholds began returning fire, the prisoners found themselves in the line of fire, and shells began landing around them. As A Company passed the guns, a shell from Corregidor hit a Japanese gun. When the smoke cleared, there was nothing left of the five men manning it or the gun.
On the march, Sandy stayed with the members of A Company. For the marchers, the worst thing was the heat and lack of water. Those men who fell out were killed. Prisoners became so desperate that they often risked their lives to get a drink of water. The Filipino civilians along the route risked their lives, and often gave their lives, to give the soldiers a drink of water. The soldiers often drank water in the ditches alongside the road. This water was filled with bacteria. Often, the bodies soldiers who were killed by the Japanese were floating in the water. Those who drank this water came down with dysentery.
The POWs were herded into a field and thoroughly searched. They remained there during the night. At one point, two gunshots rang out, but no one knew what had happened.
When they reached Lamao, there was evidence of heavy fighting before the surrender. The marchers saw the dead everywhere and were happy to leave the area after being held there for two days. At night as they made their way north, they could not see them, but they smelled bodies burning.
The longer they on the march the thirstier they became. The POWs were allowed to refill their canteens form ditches – some with dead bodies in them – but not from the artesian wells that flowed onto the roads. Many men would later die from dysentery at Camp O’Donnell from drinking the water. Between Lamao and San Fernando, it began to rain which helped the POWs. When the POWs stopped at a barrio to change guards, the Filipinos were allowed to bring water to the marchers. It took many members of the company eleven days to reach San Fernando.
At San Fernando, the POWs boarded a train and were crammed into small wooden boxcars. With the Filipino sun beating down on the roofs of the boxcars, the journey by train was unbearable. The prisoners were packed in so tightly that when a man died, he could not fall down. There were no provisions for water or toilets, so the floors of the boxcars became a sea of diarrhea, vomit, and urine. The prisoners disembarked from the train at Capas and marched the final few miles to Camp O’Donnell.
The camp was an unfinished Filipino training base that was pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. 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.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.
Sandy did not stay at Camp O’Donnell for long because he went out on a work detail to Manila. The detail was under the command of Japanese engineers whose job it was to rebuild the bridges, roads, and airfields that had been destroyed by the Filipino and American troops as they retreated into Bataan. While working on this detail, the POWs lived in a bowling alley in Manila. With him on this detail were Sgt. Forrest Knox, Pvt. Lloyd Richter, Sgt. Alva Chapman of A Company.
While on this detail, Sandy came down with diphtheria. A Japanese doctor took one look at him and said, “No good, no good,” and gave Sandy two aspirin. This was the only help that Sandy ever received as a POW. He laid in his own filth unable to eat or swallow. He lost his eyesight, and his weight dropped to 89 pounds. To this day, Sandy has no idea how he survived this illness.
Sandy also suffered from scurvy on the detail. His skin became raw and hurt. The POWs somehow got a hold of alcohol. He put a little on his skin. It felt better so Sandy splashed himself with the alcohol. It began to burn so badly that he took a shower for almost an hour.
Sandy also recalled that a Filipino had been accused of stealing a truck by the Japanese. Each night, the POWs heard the man’s screams as he was tortured. The Japanese put lit cigarettes in the man’s nostrils and ears. They also beat the man. Sandy stated that he found out later that the man had not stolen the truck.
It was at this time that his family received a message from the War Department.
Dear Mrs. B. Sandmire:
According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Sergeant Owen L. Sandmire, 20,645,273, 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
In July 1942, the family received a second letter. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Private Daniel J. Boni had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
Medical records kept at the camp indicate that Sandy was in the camp hospital on July 20, 1942. The records do not indicate what his illness was or the date he was discharged. In June 1943, when the detail ended, Sandy was sent to Cabanatuan and remained there for sixteen months.
During his time in the camp, Sandy worked in the rice fields planting rice. Sandy recalled that guards played a game of hitting the slowest moving POWs across the head with a pole as if they were playing golf. The guards’ goal was to see how far they could get the man’s hat to roll.
One day while he was working at the camp farm planting potatoes a guard who had the nickname of Air Raid beat him. Sandy said, “Air Raid was the name we gave this Japanese guard. He got this name for the simple reason that if things didn’t go just right he’d just blow up. He had a short fuse. The first thing he’d do is just start beating on people – just to relieve his frustration.”
“It was Air Raid who nailed me with that pick handle. Boy, that really decked me! We were getting ready to prepare potatoes for planting. You had to have one or two eyes per section. I’d done this for about a week but Air Raid didn’t happen to be there. So I was sitting there biding my time. ‘Oooooo- ooooo,’ he said. I looked up and he said words to the effect, ‘Do you understand how to do this?’ I said, ‘Yes’ and he said, ‘Oh, a smart ass, huh!’ and he came and belted me one in the head with that pick handle. I guess he thought that I was saying I knew more about planting potatoes than he did. He was satisfied. He knocked me down! He knocked me out! I had a concussion but what can I do about it? I was in camp but was in the hospital for about ten days or so. Hospital in Cabanatuan means that you lay on the floor and were on half rations until you die or recover enough to leave.”
Sandy was sent out on a work detail to build runways at an airfield the Japanese were the extending runways. The POWs did the work with picks and shovels and worked a week at the airfield and spent the next week at a farm.
Of the treatment of the POWs, he said, “What they did to us is take a ball bat and put it right between your knees and make you kneel down with the ball bat. A little of that and you couldn’t walk. The other was that they’d give you a 50-pound sack of cement and make you hold it like this, (Arms outstretched fully front — chest high) and I mean you held it like this. And if you started dropping down, they’d belt you across the back, and you’d pick it and held the fool thing until you either passed out, or they gave up, or you held it long enough to satisfy them.”
Body lice were one of the worst things that the POWs suffered from in the camp. To get rid of them, the POWs rubbed a concoction of paste that he believed was made from rotten eggs. Whatever it was, it helped relieve the POWs from the lice.
At some point in 1943, his parents were officially informed he was a POW. They received a message from the War Department. While he was a POW, they moved to Camp Douglas, Wisconsin.
The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
It is suggested that you address him as follows:
Sgt. Owen L. Sandmire, U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
Howard F. Bresee
Chief Information Bureau
He was next sent to the Port Area of Manila during July 1944. Before he was sent to Japan, an American doctor recommended that he have his tonsils out since he had, had diphtheria. While performing the tonsil surgery, the doctor was allowed only one 60 watt bulb for light. The light was allowed to be on only a short time at night. The doctor removed Sandy’s tonsils with only a local anesthetic that he was running out of about the time the bulb was turned off.
At some point, Sandy was admitted to Zero Ward suffering from diphtheria. Of this, he said, “Would you believe I survived diphtheria with one aspirin. Lost absolute control of all my bodily functions and laid in my own urine and excrement for six weeks. Lost my eyesight and went down to 85 pounds laying there in Zero Ward. Nobody ever comes out of Zero Ward alive, but I did. How I survived I just don’t know.”
While he was at the camp. he worked on the farm, Sandy was at the planting potatoes. He had been on the detail for about a week and had learned how to plant the potatoes. One guard was known as “Air Raid” because when things did not go right he had a short temper and went off on the POWs. Air Raid came up to Sandy and asked, “Do you understand how to do this?” to Sandy, who was sitting on the ground, said, “Yes.” Air Raid did not know that Sandy had been planting potatoes for a week and believed Sandy was telling him that Sandy knew more about planting potatoes than he did. He came over to Sandy and said, “Oh, a smart ass, huh!” and hit him in the head with a pick handle. Sandy figured Air Raid thought he was saying that he knew more about planting sweet potatoes then he did. The result was that Sandy was in the camp hospital for ten days.
It was also at this time that Sandy lost his vision. He believed it was a result of diphtheria. How long it took to get his vision back he did not recall.
Sandy was boarded onto the Canadian Inventor for shipment to Japan. The prisoners were packed into the hold of the ship so tightly that they had to sleep in shifts.
The bathroom for the prisoners was a rack that hung over the side of the ship. To get to it, the POWs had to climb up ladders from the hold. This situation meant that there was always a line of men on the ladders attempting to get to the rack. Since many of the men were suffering from dysentery, vomiting, or had diphtheria, they did not always make it out of the hold before they relieved themselves. This was due to the fact that they were so sick and weak that they could not control their bodily functions. The trip to Japan aboard the ship took two months.
It was in the hold of the ship that Sandy was reunited with Ed DeGroot of A Company. The two men somehow got the job of preparing the evening meal for the other POWs which allowed the two men to get out of the hold of the ship.
According to Sandy, after stopping at Formosa and unloading salt, the ship sailed for Japan empty except for the POWs. During this part of the trip, it ran into rough waters and, for ten days, bounced in the water like a cork. The stern of the ship would come out of the water and the ship would shake as the propeller spun in the air. When the stern reentered the water, the ship took off.
The ship arrived at Moji and the POWs were unloaded and were taken by ferry to the island of Honshu. They next took a train to Fukuoka. In Japan, Sandy was assigned to Omine Machi POW Camp. There, the POWs were used as slave labor in a coal mine that had been condemned before the war. If the Japanese believed POWs were not working hard enough they would beat them.
Somehow Sandy ended up running the pneumatic drill and cut holes into the cool vain. He did this for about a year. When he had finished drilling the Japanese would put dynamite charges into the holes and light the fuses. As they waited for the Japanese to blast out the coal, the POWs got their only break. The coal that was loosened by the blast was cleaned up by the next shift of POWs. The next day, they started all over again.
One day, while the POWs were walking into the mine to their workplaces, Sandy was the last man in line. A big Korean, who was in servitude to the Japanese, was standing in the shadows. Since Sandy was extremely tired and had his head down, he did not see the Korean and salute him. The Korean, whose battery was attached to his helmet light by a wire, swung the battery and hit Sandy in the back of his head. Knocked unconscious, Sandy fell to the ground breaking his left wrist and was left for dead in a ditch. This made mining extremely painful, and his wrist would bother him for the rest of his life.
Of this, he said, “The damage to my arm, wrist, and hand was from protecting my head from beatings. The wrist I broke when I was being beaten down in the mone and fell into a drainage creek. The guard took the battery from his light – Are you familiar with the miner’s hat with the light? – Well, he had a nasty habit of taking this battery off and turning the light off as you couldn’t see where he was and then he’d start swinging this heavy battery on the end of the wire as hard as he could wherever he happened to be. Fortunately, I only got it this one time because he hit me hard and knocked me clear over into this ditch and when I fell I stuck this hand out somewhere and broke my wrist. He figured I was done for so he just left me lay there. Well, he didn’t knock me out, so when he left I managed to take off and followed the crew down in the face of the tunnel where we were dynamiting.”
In his estimate, during his time as a POW, Sandy suffered from dysentery, diphtheria, pellagra, scabies, malaria, a skin rash, scurvy, dengue fever, and beriberi. He would suffer from the skin rash for the rest of his life.
The camp guards stole items from Red Cross packages and withheld the packages from July 1, 1944, to September 2, 1945. The Japanese intentionally opened packages and mixed up contents so that the ranking Allied officer would not know how much should be in each package. When they were given to the POWs they were often contained less than what had been sent. In addition, when Red Cross packages arrived, they were withheld from POWs from three to seven months after arriving.
Sandy was able to adapt to any situation and learned to mend his own shoes. When other POWs learned of this, he found himself the proprietor of the prison camp’s shoe repair shop. He also believed that his attitude kept him alive. “I saw so many of my friends just lay down and die. I just hung in there and did anything to keep alive.”
The camp was close enough to Hiroshima to feel the ground shake when the A-Bomb exploded over Nagasaki. Sandy recalled, “I only felt a slight shock when the bomb exploded. I didn’t pay much attention to it.” One day the prisoners did not have a roll call and the guards were gone. This was the first sign that the prisoners had that the war was over.
On August 16, the POWs noticed all the guards were gone and only the camp commander who told them to paint the letters “POW” on the roofs of all the buildings so any planes flying over would know they were there. They were told the war was over on August 20 by the camp commandant in his broken English.
“Peace, peace comes to the world again. It is a great pleasure to me, to say nothing to you, to announce it for all of you now. The Japanese Empire acknowledges the terms of the suspension of hostilities given by the American Government even these two Nations do not still reach the best agreement of a truce. As a true friend from now, I am going to do my best in the future for the convenience of your life in this camp because of having been able to get friendly relations between them, and also the Japanese Government has decided her own Nations policy for your Nation.
“Therefore I hope you will keep as comfortable a daily life by the orders of your own officers from today, while you are here. All of you will surely get much gladness in returning to your lovely country. At the same one of my wishes for you is this: Your health and happiness calls upon you and your life henceforth and they will grow up happier and better than before by the honor of your country.
“In order to guard your life I have been endeavoring my ability, therefore you will please cooperate with me in any way more than usual, I hope.
“I close this statement in letting you know again how peace, the peace has already come.”
It should be noted that nowhere in his speech did the camp commander say that Japan had surrendered.
An American Naval plane flew over the camp on August 27. The pilot dropped a note to the POWs and told them to paint one stripe on the roof of a barrack if they needed medicine, two stripes if they needed food, and three stripes if they needed clothing. The POWs painted one stripe on one barrack, two stripes on another barrack, and three stripes on a third barrack.
When the plane returned. he dropped another note saying that there was no way for him to drop everything, so B -29s would have to drop the supplies. The POWs had no idea what the pilot was talking about. When the B-29s appeared over the camp, the POWs had never seen anything so large in the sky. The POWs received so much food and clothing that they shared it with the Japanese civilians who had been kind to them
On August 28, 29, and September 1, food was dropped near the camp by American planes. The Japanese civilians helped the POWs carry it into the camps. A great number of the former POWs gorged themselves on the food and became sick, but no one became seriously ill. The only thing the civilians were interested in was the silk from the parachutes so that they could make clothing.
Sandy recalled that the camp commandant was still in the camp and paid the price for being there. Many of the POWs held him directly responsible for the deaths of many POWs. Some of the POWs pulled him from his quarters and tore him to pieces. They believed he was receiving the same treatment he had ordered that they receive.
A jeep with American Military Police arrived on September 2, 1945. The MPs patrolled the camp and kept the former POWs from leaving until arrangements were made to move the men. The prisoners were finally boarded onto a train for the East Coast of Japan on September 13. They were deloused and the clothing, that had dropped to them, burned. After receiving new clothing, the former prisoners were boarded onto the U.S.S. Consolation on September 14 and given medical examinations. The ship sailed on September 15, 1945, from Yokohama, Japan, to Okinawa. There, the POWs were transferred to the U.S.S. Haskell and taken to Manila arriving there on September 25. Sandy was malnourished and returned to the Philippines to be “fattened up.” He next was flown, on a DC3, back to the United States.
After he had been liberated, his parents received this message from the War Department.
“Mr. & Mrs. Sandmire: The secretary of war has asked me to inform you that your son, Sgt. Owen L. Sandmire was returned to military control Sept. 15 and is being returned to the United States within the near future. He will be given the opportunity to communicate with you upon his arrival if he has not already done so.
E. F. Witsell
Acting Adjutant General of the Army
On October 1, 1945, Sandy wrote this letter home.
Dearest Mom and All:
I received your most welcomed cable-gram on Sept. 29 but I was in Manila so I didn’t read it until 2:00 p.m. today. This is the first word I had from you since before the war. In fact, I have had only two letters since being taken a prisoner of war. I got them both early in ’43 when I was in Cabanatuan prison camp.
Went to Manila yesterday to see a Filipino family that was very kind to me while I was working in Manila in ’42. Was sure glad to see them but sorry to hear the father was killed by Filipino guerrillas in February 1944. He was the one who gave us the food and money that helped us so much. Nevertheless, the family was glad to see me.
Gee, Mom, I’m so anxious to get home and see the family that I can’t concentrate on what I’m writing. I suppose I should give you a brief outline of what has happened since the war ended for us in ’42.
First of all, we left the area assigned to us on the west coast of Bataan on April 11 and started to San Fernando on that famous Death March. We arrived at Camp O’Donnell on April 21. On May 5, we started to Manila to build bridges but nine others and I were left for truck drivers. We started work on mothers day and stayed there until February 1943. From there, we went to Bilibid for four days and then to Cabanatuan until June 27, 1944, when we started to Japan. We boarded the ship on July 2 and to Moji, Japan, Sept. 2. What a trip! There we worked in coal mines under terrible conditions until the surrender on Aug. 14.
We left this camp Sept. 13 and got on the hospital ship, U.S.S. Consolation, on Sept. 15 at Wakayama, Japan. From there we went to Okinawa and then to Manila on a naval transport, U.S.S. Haskell.
We are now in a camp for recovered personnel about 30 kilometers south of Manila. We were told to stay in our company area after 12 midnight tonight because there is a shipment of men going out tomorrow. Maybe I’ll e one of them. I hope! I requested to go by plane. If so, I’ll be in Frisco in three or four days. I do want to be home for my birthday (Oct. 24) but I don’t know yet.
Gee, Mom, there is so much to talk about that I couldn’t get it on a thousand pages. It’s going to be so good to be home with you and Pop and the kids. I am in excellent health – weigh about 175, but I’m pretty soft. No work or exercise for a month and a half, with all the food I wanted. I started playing basketball yesterday to work a little fat off. Certainly is hot running around in this tropical sun.
When I was on the hospital ship, I made the acquaintance of a nurse who was a close friend of an officer in our company. She showed me a clipping from the Janesville Gazette telling about Sgt. Dale Lawton.
Gee, Mom, I have got to quit writing or they won’t be able to carry this on two B-29s. I can tell you all about it when I get home and then we can forget the whole thing. Okeh?
Hope to see you next month.
The medals Sandy earned were the Silver Star, which he did not receive until 1988, the Purple Heart, the POW Medal, the Bronze Star, the Asiatic/Pacific Campaign, the American Defense Medal, World War II Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the Philippine Defense Medal, and the Combat Infantry Badge. The 192nd Tank Battalion received the Presidential Unit Citation with Two Oak Leaf Clusters. He was discharged, from the army, on May 11, 1946, at Ft. Sheridan, Illinois, with John Spencer of A Company.
On September 25, 1946, Sandy married Mary Jane Craig in Richland Center, Wisconsin. They resided in Madison, Wisconsin, where he worked for the Oscar Meyer Company – in the company’s power plant – and started their family.
In December 1947, Sandy and his brother, Gene, joined the Wisconsin National Guard in Madison. It is not known how long he remained in the Guard. The family later relocated to Sherman, Texas, when he was transferred as the power plant supervisor for the Oscar Meyer plant. He retired after 33 years, in 1981 and moved to Sarasota, Florida.
Sandy had a recurring nightmare of being chased by a Japanese guard. When the guard caught him, he couldn’t move his arms and the guard beat him mercilessly.
The picture of Sandy, at the bottom of this page, was taken while he was a prisoner at Omine Machi in Japan. The shirt he was wearing was actually given to him for the photo and his POW number pinned on it. After the photo was taken, his number was removed, he took off the shirt, and it was given the next POW to wear in his photo.
Owen Sandmire passed away on March 10, 2004, from injuries he received in a motorcycle accident. After his death, and following his request, he was cremated.