Vertuno, Cpl. Russell H.

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Cpl. Russell Hugo Vertuno was born on November 6, 1917, in Oak Park, Illinois, to William F. Vertuno and Leonore Urban-Vertuno. With his two sisters, he grew up in Melrose Park and later lived at 907 South 10th Avenue in Maywood, Illinois. He graduated from Lincoln Grade School and Proviso Township High School as a member of the Class of 1935. While attending Proviso, Russell earned a major letter as a member of the baseball team. His family would later move to Melrose Park.

After high school, Russell worked at the Richardson Company which made molded products. The Selective Service Act took effect on October 16, 1940, and he registered for the draft and named his mother as his contact person. Knowing that he was going to be drafted, he joined the Illinois National Guard’s 33rd Tank Company in Maywood on September 23, 1940. His reason for doing this was that the draft law had just been passed requiring all young men to serve one year in the military. Like the other men who joined at the time, he knew that the tank company was being called to federal duty during November 1940.

On November 25, 1940, the company officially became B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion and was ordered to Fort Knox, Kentucky. One group of soldiers left Maywood on Wednesday, November 27th at 7:00 A.M. in a convoy of one command car (or jeep), two trucks carrying supplies, and three private cars owned by members of the company. The trip was not easy since for 120 miles the road was covered in ice which cleared up near Indianapolis. They had dinner and spent the night at Ft. Benjamin Harris in Indianapolis. After showering and getting cleaned up, they continued the trip. As they got closer to Ft. Knox, the weather got warmer and the snow disappeared. During the trip one of the main topics was were they going live in tents or barracks. They reached the base late in the day on Thursday and found they were housed in barracks for the night. The next day they were moved to tents.

Most of the soldiers made the trip to Ft. Knox by train on Thursday, November 28th. They marched west on Madison Street to Fifth Avenue, in Maywood, and then north to the Chicago & Northwestern train station. In B Company’s case, they rode on the same train as A Company from Janesville, Wisconsin. The train entered Chicago and transferred onto the tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad which took them to Ft. Knox. Once at the fort they were met by Army trucks at the station which took them to the fort where they reunited with the men who drove.  The soldiers lived in six-man tents which had stoves for heat since they were assigned to a newly opened area of the fort and their barracks were not finished.

When they arrived at the base 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. Richard Danca – on December 26th – was given the job of picking men to be transferred from the company to the soon to be formed HQ Company. 35 men were picked because they had special training. Many of these men received promotions and because of their rating received higher pay. Russ was one of those assigned to HQ Company and in his case, he was promoted to Private First Class. HQ Company was divided into a staff platoon, a reconnaissance platoon, a maintenance platoon, a motor platoon, and the usual cooks and clerks which every company had. Men were assigned various jobs which included scouts, radio operators, mechanics, truck drivers, and other duties. It is known that he trained in ordnance.

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 is not known what training Fred received.

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. About January 12, 1941, their mess hall opened and they ate off real plates with forks and knives. They also no longer had to wash their own plates since that job fell on the men assigned to Kitchen Police. 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.

B Company moved into its barracks in January 1941. The men assigned to the HQ Company still lived with the B Company since their barracks were unfinished. Most of the members of B Company were assigned to Barracks 53. 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. 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 sergeant’s office, and one was in the 1st  Lt. Donald Hanes’ 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 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.

It was also at this time that all the companies had 16 operational tanks and the first men from selective service were assigned to the companies. On January 10th, these men took their first tank ride and all of them had the chance to drive the tanks. They would permanently join their companies 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 and volleyball 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.

At 7:00 A.M. on Monday, June 16th, 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. It also prepared them for the Louisiana maneuvers which they were scheduled to take part in during September.

The battalion 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 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 18th through Lebanon, New Haven and Hodgenville, Kentucky.

While doing this job in ordnance Russell was injured when his legs were crushed between two trucks. He was hospitalized but returned to the battalion on September 13, 1941. The battalion had been sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where it was taking part in the maneuvers from September 1 through 30.

After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to report to Camp Polk. It was on a side of a hill that the battalion members learned that it had been assigned to duty overseas. It was at this time that Russell returned to the battalion. Most of the members of the battalion were allowed to return home to say their goodbyes, while others remained at Camp Polk, to ready the tanks and half-tracks and tanks they had received from the 753rd Tank Battalion.

The battalion traveled west by train to Ft, Mason in San Francisco, California and ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated. Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back 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 from San Francisco on Monday, October 27, as part of a three-ship convoy. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2. Since the ships had a two-day layover, the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.

“Dear Folks,

“Early this morning we sighted Hawaii. At first, all we could see was a smudge on the horizon which slowly grew into a beautiful looking island. The tops of the hills were hidden by the clouds but gradually came into view as noontime approached. The hills are cover with a bush-like growth which is very green.

“We steamed into the harbor so slowly that it seemed as though we were coasting. The water is very blue and very calm and one can see quite far down into it. As we were about a half-mile offshore, a dummy was thrown overboard and members of the crew were lowered into a lifeboat to pick it up.

“A pilot came aboard at this point and steered us into the harbor and up to the dock. There a British destroyer was moored at a wharf and also two more British ships. The men were dressed in their knee-length pants and ankle sox. I hope ours will be something like theirs.

“As we moved slowly to our dock, young Hawaiian boys swam alongside the ship shouting in their native language. Somebody started it off by throwing a coin into the water. The boys would swim a few strokes toward the coin and then dive after it. Usually, they only had to dive a few feet after them, as the money would slow down when it hit the water and they would catch the coins in their hands, putting them into their mouths after they reached the surface and continued swimming around the ship.

“We passed the beach at Waikiki, but were so far from shore that we weren’t able to distinguish the buildings very clearly. I will go ashore tomorrow, with the men from the S-4. Capt. Schwass recommended that we go on the tour, so we will be occupied with that until 2 o’clock in the afternoon. After the tour, we will stroll around a bit and probably have a bite to eat and take in a movie and get a few drinks.

“I guess I’ll be celebrating my birthday about a day after we pull out of Honolulu.

“Our address will be the same as it has been until we have been out of  Frisco for a period of forty-five days; then we will be able to give the address of our new station in the Islands. It will be some time until you receive the letter that will follow this one.

“Enjoy the winter weather you will be having, for I’ll be enjoying the tropical climate of the Philippines.



The soldiers had a short stay in Hawaii. During this time, Russell wrote this letter home:

“Dear Folks,

Well, today I am twenty-four years old, but I still feel the same. We are still anchored in the harbor at Honolulu, so my birthday is spent in Hawaii. although I would much rather spend it in Maywood.

On Tuesday we toured the island and had an enjoyable time. We started at about nine in the morning on what was a complete circle of the island. The first point of interest was the ‘upside-down waterfall.’ This is a very steep hill, and when it is raining hard and when it is raining hard and the wind is blowing hard, the water seems to be flowing uphill. Of course, we got there when the sun was shining, so we only saw the hill.

Continuing along the road we came to a precipice which is right at the side of the road. A cement

guardrail at the edge of the road is the only barrier that keeps cars from going over a drop of 3105 feet. There

is a recess in the side of the mountain on the other side of the road in which is erected a plaque which commemorates the ‘Battle of Nuuanu’ fought in the valley in 1795 when Kamehameha I and his cohorts hurled his enemies over the precipice.

Next on the itinerary, although we didn’t stop there, was Pearl Harbor. This is the United States’ biggest naval base. Approximately half the Pacific fleet was in; also there were three aircraft carriers and two hospital ships.

We drove to Schofield Barracks which was the largest army post previous to the Selective Service Act. Schofield is very nice: there are beautiful buildings and the very green lawns and pretty flowers set all over the post. At the present, several buildings are being erected which will make Schofield even larger.

Along the road, we saw pineapple plantations and sugar cane plantations. There are narrow gauge railroads all over the island to carry the pineapples and sugar cane to the canneries and refineries. We saw old men and old women working in the fields. There were also palm trees and coconut trees and flowers all over the island.

At Haleiwa Beach, we saw five and six-foot waves breaking and forming a very white surf. Surfboard riders stood up on their boards and waited for the waves to catch them and carry them to shore. We ate a bite at the Sea View Inn around noon. I had sliced papaya. This is a fruit on order of a pear, that is, it is shaped like a pear but the meat itself is the color of a cantaloupe. A slice of lemon is served with the papaya and the juice gives the fruit a distinctive flavor; if one doesn’t use the lemon, and thinks of fruit such as a banana or orange, then the papaya tastes like a banana or orange.

When had just passed the Boy’s Industrial School when something went wrong with the bus, so the driver pulled in to Kahuku and phoned for another bus to pick us up. We had a wait of 90 minutes so we strolled around the town. I bought a pipe and some tobacco and then returned to the bus and read a magazine. The pickup bus finally came and rode to our next stop which was the Mormon Temple.

The temple was a very large white stone building surrounded by spacious green lawns which were very well kept. There were high hedges clipped so that they were almost geometrically perfect, around the temple.

Three or four cement pools led from the entrance up to the temple. Each one was a bit high then the proceeding one. On each side of the pools was a single line of trees, straight as an arrow. In the distance were some green hills, and on the ground, there were varied colored flowers which made the grounds picturesque.

Our next stop was quite a number of miles down the coast at a place called the ‘Blow-hole.’ The surf rolls up the sand into a cavern and up over the rocks back into the sea. This happens when the surf is high, but it was our luck to visit it on a day when the waves weren’t comprised of two taps. The two end taps dispense juice and the middle tap dispenses water. Small paper cups are available, so I got one and proceeded to down about seven cups of juice. I would have had more but my stomach was getting quite cold, so I desisted.

Marty, Fred and I then hopped a bus for Waikiki. We arrived there about 5 o’clock and sat down on a bench and watched the swimmers and surf-riders. A little later we got hungry so we pooled our resources, which amounted to forty-six cents. Marty and I went across the street to the Piggly Wiggly and supper.

We then rounded Diamond Head which is a large rock, and I was disappointed for I was looking for more than what I saw. We then came to Waikiki Beach where some of the fellows got off. Our S-4 gang stayed off the bus and went into town.

By this time we were getting quite hungry so we stopped at a restaurant and had a steak dinner with lemon cream pie dessert. The pie was so good it almost tasted like homemade pie. After supper, we walked around until ten-thirty and then went back to the ship.

Tuesday morning Fred Lovering and I started out to walk to Waikiki., but we only got half-way. It was quite warm, so we sat down in a park and rested for two hours and then started back for down. We walked up one street and down another until we covered the whole business district.

Wednesday afternoon we got off the ship again. Marty Camfferman, Les Watson and I went to the Dole plant, but we were too late to be able to go through the factory. However, we did get some pineapple juice. In the main office, there is a niche in the wall that holds a fountain. We bought a loaf of bread for 9 cents, a sliced veal loaf for 25 cents, and a box of vanilla cookies for 10 cents.

The sunset was very pretty. After the moon and stars had been out for a while we got on the bus for town. With some hours walking behind us, we decided to head for the boat.

I am typing this in our S-4 office this morning. We still don’t know when we are to pull out, but I guess it will be within twenty-four hours.



On Wednesday, November 5, the ships sailed from Hawaii for Guam but took a southerly route away from the shipping lanes. At one point smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The U.S.S. Louisville – which was the heavy cruiser escorting the two transports – engine wound up, its bow came out of the water, and the ship shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the ship was from a friendly country.wo other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters carrying scrap metal to Japan.

When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, water, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila. It was while the ships were at Guam that the last letter his parents received from him was mailed. After the ships left Guam, they passed an island at night in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they would soon be at war.

The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th. They docked at Pier 7 later that day, and the soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.

At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward King apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. The fact was that he learned of their arrival days earlier. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner 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. 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 Tank Battalion and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms everywhere; including going to the PX.

Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the China Sea. On Monday, December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern portion of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern portion. At all times, two members of each tank and half-track remained with their vehicles. Meals were served to the tankers from food trucks.

On the morning of December 8, 1941, just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the tankers were ordered the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. All morning long as they sat on their tanks, they watched as American planes filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed.

As the tankers were having lunch, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. Since they had few weapons that could be used against the Japanese, all they could do is watch.

Russell, being assigned to ordnance, drove a truck. His job was to make sure that the tanks received the ammunition and fuel they needed to keep fighting. He did this for the next four months as the Battle of Bataan continued.

On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack 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. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left.

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.

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 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 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.”

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.

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 no 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.

The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ’s commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks. During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only things they were told not to destroy were the company’s trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, “Our last supper.”

On April 11, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company’s encampment. A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans. They remained along the sides of the road for hours.

The company finally boarded their trucks and drove to just outside of Mariveles, where they were ordered by the Japanese out of their trucks. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and were ordered to sit. As they sat and watched, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.

As they sat watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the soldiers. He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. The sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.

Later in the day, the POWs were ordered to move to a schoolyard in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours. The Japanese did not feed them or give them water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces that were firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs who could do little to protect themselves since they had no place to hide. Some POWs were killed by incoming American shells. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.

It was from this schoolyard that they began the death march and made their way to San Fernando. During the march, he saw men who had fallen shot and bayoneted where they fell. At San Fernando, the POWs were put in a bullpen and ordered to sit. When they were ordered to move again, they formed 100 men detachments and were marched to the train station. At the station, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars which could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. Those POWs who died in the cars did not fall to the floors until the living left the cars at Capas and marched the last miles to Camp O’Donnell, which 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 medics – assigned to care for 50 sick POWs in the hospital – 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 been laying 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. When the POWs were transferred to the camp, Russell remained at Camp O’Donnell since he was too ill to be moved.

According to medical records kept at the camp, Cpl. Russell H. Vertuno died of dysentery on June 17, 1942, at the age of 24. He was buried in the camp cemetery in Section N, Row 10, Grave 2.

It was in May or June 1942 that his family received this message from the War Department.

“Dear Mrs. L. Vertuno :

        “According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Corporal Russell H. Vertuno, 20,600,468, 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 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) 
                                                                                                                                                                       Major General
                                                                                                                                                                   The Adjutant General”

Not long after receiving the first message, they 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, Corporal Russell Vertuno 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.”

The family would not hear from the War Department again until sometime around June 1943. It was then they received another letter.

“Dear Mrs. Vertuno:

    “The records of the War Department show your son, Private Abel F. Ortega, 20,600,468, Infantry, missing in action in the Philippine Islands since May 7, 1942.

    “All available information concerning your son has been carefully considered and under the provisions of Public Law 490, 77th Congress, as amended, an official determination has been made continuing him on the records of the War Department in a missing status.  The law sited provides that pay and allowances are to be credited to the missing person’s account and payment of allotments to authorized allottees are to be continued during the absence of such persons in a missing status.

    “I fully appreciate your concern and deep interest.  You will, without further request on your part, receive immediate notification of any change in your son’s status.  I regret that the far-flung operations of the present war, the ebb and flow of the combat over the great distances in isolated areas, and the characteristics of our enemies impose on us the heavy burden of uncertainty with respect to the safety of our loved ones.

                                                                                                                                 “Very Truly Yours, 

                                                                                                                                      “J. A. Ulio 

                                                                                                                                  The Adjutant General 

After receiving this message no other word was received about Russell. It was only after the war had ended that they learned he had died while a POW in June 1942.  On November 18, 1945, at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Melrose Park they held a memorial service for him.

After the war, Russell was reburied in Plot N, Row 2, Grave 83, at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila. He was posthumously awarded the American Defense Medal, the Bronze Star and the Victory Medal of World War II.

One side note that should be mentioned is that Russell’s two sisters, Rose and Virginia, were both engaged to other members of Company B. Both of their fiancés died while Japanese POWs.