Capt. Robert S. Sorensen was the son of John Sorensen & Nora Streeter-Sorensen. He was born on April 5, 1903, and grew up at 215 West Second Street in Port Clinton, Ohio, with his three sisters. He was called “Bob” by his family and friends.
Robert attended Port Clinton Schools and was a 1920 graduate of Port Clinton High School. While he was still in high school, Robert joined the newly organized tank company of the Ohio National Guard on April 20, 1920, as a private. After graduation from high school, he worked in his father’s grocery store and enrolled at Ohio State University. While he was a student, he became a member of the Theta Chi Fraternity. On July 16, 1923, he was promoted to corporal and held the rank until July 15, 1924, when it appears he left the National Guard. He graduated in 1925, from Ohio State, and married Marjorie Behrman.
On November 17, 1925, Robert rejoined the National Guard as a private and held the rank for two days when he resigned as an enlisted man. He received his commission as a Second Lieutenant on December 2, 1925. In 1932 he completed the National Guard Officers Course and was promoted to First Lieutenant on May 2, 1934. Sometime between 1936 and 1940, he was promoted to Captain.
In 1940, the tank company was called to federal service. It was now known as C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. At this time, Robert held the rank of first lieutenant. With the other members of C Company, Robert trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky. When the commanding officer of C Company failed to pass his physical. Robert assumed command of the company.
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.
1st Sgt. Andrew Migala – on December 26th – was given the job of picking men to be transferred from the company to the soon to be formed HQ Company. Only three men were picked since a large number of married men had been released from service before the company left Port Clinton. Many of the men picked to be transferred to the company – from all the battalion’s companies – received promotions and because of their ratings received higher pay.
C Company moved into its barracks in January 1941. The men assigned to the HQ Company still lived with the C 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 Sorensen’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. He was also promoted to captain on February 13, 1941.
Sorenson, 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. They received their rations from a food truck.
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.
During this time at Ft. Knox, Robert received a week’s furlough home on June 5, 1941. During that time, the couple visited friends and family in Port Clinton.
On June 14th and 16th, 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 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 trucks also carried bedding rolls, special field equipment, and extra drums of gasoline. Rations were sent to the convoy each day from Ft. Knox.
The battalion traveled through Elizabethtown, 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 18th through Lebanon, New Haven and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, a two hour stop was planned so that the men could visit Lincoln’s birthplace.
From September 1 through 30, the 192nd took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. It was at the end of these maneuvers that the battalion learned they were being sent overseas. Those men who were 29 years old or older, or married, were allowed to resign from federal service. On October 12, his parents left Port Clinton and visited him at Camp Polk before he went overseas. During the visit, they had no idea that this was the last time they would see their son.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots, 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 that a large radio transmitter. The island was hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, another squadron was sent to the area and found that 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, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
After the companies were brought up to strength with replacements, the battalion was equipped with new tanks and half-tracks with came from the 753rd Tank Battalion. The battalion traveled over different train routes to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, where they were taken by the ferry, the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Angel Island. At Ft. McDowell, on the island, they received physicals and inoculations. Men found with minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd 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. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila 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 Gen. Edward P. King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner – which was “slumgullion” a stew which was slung into their mess kits – before he went to have his own. Some men didn’t even get this. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
They spent the next seventeen days preparing their equipment for use in the maneuvers they expected to take part in with the 194th Tank Battalion. They removed cosmoline from their guns, which had been greased to prevent them from rusting at sea, and loaded ammunition belts.
On Monday, December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard it against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion was assigned the northern half of the airfield while the 192nd protected the southern half. At all times, two crew members had to remain with their tank or half-track and received their meals from food trucks. HQ Company made sure that the companies had what they needed.
On December 21, he was relieved of his command of C Company. According to Capt. Alvin Poweleit, the battalion’s surgeon, he had suffered a breakdown. Sometime during the fight for the Philippines, Robert was hospitalized because he had received a shrapnel wound to his abdomen. When he was released, he was reassigned to Headquarters Company. He would later assume command of B Company when the company commander, Capt. Donald Hanes was relieved of command. According to members of the company, he was an excellent commander. He was in command of the company when the order to surrender came on April 9, 1942.
On April 8, a plan was put in place to have B Company, D Company, and A Company of the 194th Tank Battalion launch a suicide attack against the Japanese to stop their advance. As the tankers were preparing to attack, at midnight, the order was revoked.
The next morning, the order “crash” came, Robert was with his tanks and ordered the crews to destroy them. The tank crews cut the gas lines and threw torches into the tanks. Within minutes, the ammunition inside the tanks began exploding. After this was done, Robert and Major John Morley made their way, in Bob’s jeep, to Bayacaguin Point which was the command post for the tank group. Behind them in half-tracks were the tank crews of B Company.
On April 10, the Japanese arrived and ordered the HQ personnel onto the road. In a letter home, Robert witnessed “Japanese Discipline.” If a prisoner fell, he was kicked in his stomach and hit in the head with a rifle butt. If he still did not get up, the Japanese guard determined that the man was exhausted.
Once on the trail, the soldiers reached the main road, the first thing the Japanese did was to separate the officers from the enlisted men. They now were Prisoners of War. The first thing the Japanese did was to leave them sitting in the sun for the rest of the day. That night they were ordered north. The march was difficult in the dark since they could not see where they were walking. Whenever they slipped, they knew they had stepped on the remains of a dead soldier.
The POWs made their way north against the flow of Japanese troops who were moving south. At Limay on April 11th, they were put into a schoolyard and told that the officers would be driven to the POW camp.
At 4:00 AM, the officers were put into trucks for an unknown destination. They were taken to Balanga, disembarked, and ordered to put their field bags in front of them for inspection. During the inspection, one officer was found to have an automatic gun in his bag. As punishment, the POWs were not fed. They set in a paddy all day and were ordered to move near sunset. They were made to march as punishment for the gun being in the bag. They reached Orani on April 12 at three in the morning.
At Orani, Robert and the others were put into a bin. They were ordered to lay down. In the morning, Robert and the other men realized that they had been lying in the human waste of POWs who had already used the bin. At noon, he received his first food. It was a meal of rice and salt. Later in the day, other POWs arrived in Orani. One group was the enlisted members of the tank group. They had walked the entire way to the barrio.
At 6:30 that evening, Robert resumed the march. This part of the march was different since the POWs were marched at a faster pace. The guards also seemed to be nervous about something. This time they made the POWs made their way to Hermosa. There, the road went from gravel to concrete. When the POWs were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lay down were jabbed with bayonets.
The POWs continued the march. For the first time in months, it began to rain. For the exhausted POWs, the rain felt great. At 4:30 PM on April 13, he arrived at San Fernando. The POWs were once again put into a bin.
At 4:00 in the morning, the Japanese woke the POWs and marched them to the train station. They were packed into small wooden boxcars and rode the train to Capas. There, they disembarked from the cars and walked the last miles to Camp O’Donnell 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. 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 transfer of POWs was completed on June 4.
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.
The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens. The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. The POWs on the farm detail would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads.
The detail was under the command of “Big Speedo” who spoke very little English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs “speedo.” Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was “Little Speedo” who was smaller and also used “speedo” when he wanted the POWs to work faster. The POWs also felt he was pretty fair in his treatment of them.
“Smiley” was another guard who always had a smile on his face but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason. He liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
Other POWs worked in rice paddies. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in awhile, they received bread.
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.
In the Fall of 1942, Robert was sent to Bilibid Prison. He was then sent to the Port Area of Manila for shipment to Japan. On November 7, 1942, he was boarded onto the Nagato Maru for a seventeen-day trip to Japan. After a stop at Formosa, the ship arrived at Moji, Japan, where the POWs were split into three groups.
In Japan, Robert was held at Umeda Camp, outside Osaka. The POWs in the camp worked as stevedores on the docks of Osaka. While he was there, he once again became ill and was sent Itchioka Hospital Camp which was the original POW camp and had opened in June 1942.
The sick, in the hospital, were underfed and did not receive the proper medical treatment. According to post-war trial documents, the sick at the hospital were subjected to beatings, repeated kicking, being hit with belts, and hit with wooden shoes. In addition, Red Cross food, medical supplies, and medicines were appropriated by the Japanese for their own use.
It was at Itchioka Hospital that Capt. Robert S. Sorensen died on Monday, June 22, 1943, of dysentery. He was 40 years old. In early August 1943, Robert’s wife, Marjorie, received word of his death.
After his death, the body of Capt. Robert S. Sorensen was cremated and his ashes were placed in a box and given to the camp commandant. After the war, his family requested that his remains be returned to Port Clinton, but sometime later, his family appears to have changed their mind. Capt. Robert S. Sorensen was finally buried at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila in Plot E, Grave 4, Row 44.
The Sorensen Family also had Robert’s name put on his parents’ headstone in Lakeview Cemetery in Port Clinton, Ohio, after the war.