PFC Ardell Orville Schei was born in Hixton, Wisconsin, on June 27, 1918. He was the son of Johan and Cora Schei and was raised on a farm outside of Hixton with his brother and sister. He attended Curran Grade School and was a 1936 graduate of Hixton High School. In 1937, he attended the Minneapolis Business School.
On April 7, 1941, Ardell was drafted into the U. S. Army and traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to a Wisconsin National Guard Armory for his physical. He remembered walking into a room to take his physical and discovered that everyone in the room, except the doctors, was naked. Having passed his army physical, he was officially inducted into the army on April 11, 1941.
Ardell was sent to Camp Grant outside of Rockford, Illinois, and next traveled by train to Fort Knox, Kentucky. On his trip to Kentucky, he met Marvin Jaeger, who became his best friend in the army. At Ft. Knox, Ardell was assigned to the medical attachment of the 192nd Tank Battalion which was composed of eighteen men.
Basic training for Ardell lasted three weeks when he began medical training from the battalion’s doctors. This was done because the Army believed that hands-on medical training was the best training. Since he could type, he was made the clerk for the medical detachment which meant he had to establish medical records for the 600 men of the battalion. A task that took up most of his time at Ft. Knox and limited his medical training.
On June 14 and 16, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of Hq Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of Hq Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16th. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers.
Each tank company traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The detachments traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox through Lebanon, New Haven and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln.
The battalion was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers from September 1 through 30, 1941. In his opinion, the maneuvers were best described as nothing but rattlesnakes, coral snakes, tarantulas, and insects. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox as expected. It was there that the men were informed they were being sent overseas.
The destination was supposed to be a secret, but Ardell and most of the other members of the battalion assumed they were being sent to the Philippine Islands. He received a ten-day furlough home.
The reason the battalion was being sent overseas was because of an event that happened during the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island. When the squadron landed he reported what he had seen.
The next morning another squadron was sent to the area and found the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was poor, no ship was in the area to intercept the boat. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Traveling west over different train routes, the battalion arrived in Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. MacDowell on Angel Island and given physicals and inoculations. The members of the medical detachment administered the physicals to the soldiers of the tank companies. Men with minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. He remembered boarding the ship, going under the Golden Gate Bridge, and how he quickly he became seasick. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
During Ardell’s two days in Hawaii, he traveled to Maui and Oahu. 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, the transport, S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline. About this time, the convoy stopped at Wake Island were B-17 ground crews were dropped off.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country, but two other ships intercepted by the Louisville were Japanese freighters that were hauling scrap metal to Japan.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner – a stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. They were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise from the engines was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
For the next seventeen days, Ardell worked on the records of the D Company which was scheduled to be transferred to the 194th Tank Battalion. While he was doing this, the members of the battalion were cleaning of cosmoline from their weapons.
On December 1, the tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. The 194th, with D Company, was assigned northern part of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern half. Two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
The morning of December 8, 1941, just hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the company was brought up to full strength at the perimeter of Clark Field. All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. The planes were parked in a straight line outside the pilots’ mess hall.
At 12:45, two formations, totaling 54 planes, approached the airfield from the north. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew that planes were Japanese. During the attack, Ardell hid behind a footlocker. He remembered watching men running across the airfield. To him, they looked like a bunch of chickens running around a farmyard. He also watched as all his work on D Company’s records went up in flames.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, the dying, and the wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything else, 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. After the attack, he and the other medics worked to help the wounded and dying.
For the next four months, Ardell and the other members of the medical detachment worked to meet the medical needs of the battalion. To do this, the detachment was always near the tank companies.
Gen. Edward King facing the reality that only about 25% of his troops were healthy enough to fight and most likely would last one more day. It was at this time that he decided to send his staff officers to negotiate terms of surrender since he wanted to avoid the slaughter of 6,000 wounded and sick troops and 40,000 civilians. At 10:30, these orders were given: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
On April 9, 1942, Ardell and the other members of the medical detachment became Prisoners Of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. He took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando. The first thing that Ardell that stood out for him about the march was that a guard gave the POWs permission to get water. As he stood in line, another guard came up and began beating him for letting the POWs get water.
The second event that took place on the march was that one night the POWs were herded into an area to sleep. Ardell took off his shoes and went to sleep. When he woke up, he found his shoes had been taken by another American, and that he was left a pair of shoes with holes in the soles. How Ardell was able to finish the march was something he never understood. The only explanation he had was that the Lord was with him.
At San Fernando, Ardell and the other POWs boarded small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The rode the cars to Capas. There, they disembarked and walked the last few miles to Camp O’Donnell. He arrived at the camp on April 23, 1942, which was his mother’s birthday.
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 Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. At the hospital, Ardell worked in the malaria ward and surgical ward.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was known as Camp Pangatian.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
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.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” 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.
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 bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
Being a medic, Ardell did not have to work on details sent out from the camp. On June 23, 1942, he was assigned to the medical detachment at the camp. Being he had been the medical detachment’s clerk, he most likely continued in this job.
The camp hospital was known as “Zero Ward” because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The sickest POWs were sent there to die. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves, and they would not go into the building. 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. Most of those who entered the ward died.
The POWs had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of four men. Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies. Since the water table was high, the POWs held the bodies down with a pole until it was covered with dirt.
Ardell remained in Cabanatuan from June 1942 to November 1944. It was in November 1944 that the Japanese sent him to Fort McKinley. Again he worked as a medic and treated POWs. He was held there from November 1944 to January 1945, when he was sent to Bilibid Prison.
Like the other prisoners, Ardell only had rumors of the advancing American forces. The one-story he and the other prisoners heard was those men who were still at Cabanatuan had been liberated by American forces at the end of January 1945. They hoped that this would soon happen to them.
February 3 was a normal day for the POWs. They took part in the roll call that evening and notices the sound of artillery. Then, the sound of machine-gun fire grew closer and closer. Unknown to the POWs, American forces were closing in on the prison.
The Japanese commander of Bilibid Prison informed the POWs that he and his troops were withdrawing from the prison. He told the prisoners that they should stay inside the prison’s walls. The POWs posted their own guards and waited for the American soldiers.
Early the next morning of February 4th, soldiers in funny-looking uniforms appeared at Bilibid. Ardell recalled that the windows of the buildings were boarded up and that the soldiers broke into the building to see what was behind the boarded-up windows.
When the Americans broke in, they were surprised to find the POWs. At first, the POWs thought the soldiers were Germans because of their helmets and uniforms. It was only when the soldiers spoke to them in English that the POWs knew that they had been liberated. Ardell recalled the feeling of joy that filled his body.
The POWs remained in the prison. Since the possibility existed that the Japanese may attempt to retake the prison, the soldiers moved the former POWs to a brewery. Ardell recalled him and the other men drank beer at the brewery. He and the other former POWs were now members of the 12th Replacement Battalion.
It seemed to the POWs that each day another American unit would come to visit them. The soldiers were more than happy to share their cigarettes and K rations with the former POWs.
At 9 P.M. on February 5, enemy fire could be heard on three sides of the prison. The decision was made to move the former POWs to the Ang Tibay Shoe Factory which was being used as a hospital.
After receiving medical treatment at Santo Tomas, Ardell returned to the United States on March 14, 1945. He returned home to Hixton and remained there on sick leave. During this time he was promoted to sergeant. It was while he was on leave, that he heard of the Japanese surrender. Ardell was discharged from the army on November 18, 1945, and went to work for the Internal Revenue Service.
Ardell Schei remained friends with Marvin Jaeger until Marvin’s death. After he retired, Ardell Schei resided in Waupaca, Wisconsin. He passed away on June 19, 2006, at the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King, Wisconsin.