Pvt. Lewis M. Wallisch was born on June 7, 1922, to William Wallisch & Helen Zierath-Wallisch. He had two brothers and a sister and lived at 1302 South Center Avenue in Janesville, Wisconsin.
When Lewis was eighteen, he joined the Wisconsin National Guard’s 32nd Tank Company in Janesville. His reason for doing this was that his cousin was in the National Guard and that he liked the idea of earning a little extra money when he drilled. He was a senior in high school when the company was called to federal service, in the fall of 1940, and received his diploma while at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
When the company was federalized on November 20, 1940, and on November 28, 1940, Lewis went to Fort Knox, Kentucky to train. It was there that the company’s name was changed to A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
In January 1941, replacements entered A Company to fill vacancies when twenty of the original members, including Lewis, were transferred to the newly created Headquarters Company. This transfer would lead to Lewis reaching the rank of sergeant and tank commander.
Lewis recalled that the biggest task at Ft. Knox facing the members of the 192nd, was that each company had to get used to each other. During this process of adjustment, the members of the different companies often were involved in fistfights. As time passed, the fights ended as the members of the battalion became friends.
According to Lewis, each company was made up three platoons of thirty men. Each company had the same number of tanks assigned to it. The one exception was Headquarters Company which had three assigned tanks. One of these tanks was the tank commanded by Lewis.
A typical day started at 6:15 A.M. with reveille, but most of the soldiers were already up so they could wash, dress, and be on time for assembly. Breakfast was from 7 to 8 A.M. which was followed buy calisthenics from 8 to 8:30. After this, the remainder of the morning dealt with .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistols, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in military tactics.
At 11:30, the tankers got ready for lunch, which was from noon to 1:00 P.M., when they went back to work by attending the various schools. At 4:30, the tankers day ended and retreat was at 5:00 P.M. followed by evening meal at 5:30. The day ended at 9:00 P.M. with lights out, but they did not have to be in bed until 10:00 P.M. when taps was played.
In the late summer of 1941, the battalion was sent to Louisiana for maneuvers from September 1 through 30. The one thing that Lewis remembers about the maneuvers was the rain. Everything seemed to be underwater. At the end of the maneuvers, the battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox as expected.
It was on the side of a hill that Major Beacon Moore, commanding officer of the battalion, informed the members of the battalion that it was being sent overseas. The soldiers who were considered “too old” were allowed to resign from active duty. This included Major Moore who was too old for his rank. All others received furloughs to return home to say their goodbyes to their families.
The decision for this move – which had been made during 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 idea of going overseas excited Lewis because it would give him a chance to see the country and the world. In his opinion, none of the soldiers believed that the war would catch up with them
The battalion traveled west over different train routes and arrived at Ft. Mason in San Francisco and was ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Angel Island where they were given physicals and inoculated by the battalion’s medical detachment. Anyone who had a medical condition was replaced or held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
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. 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.
It is known that PFC Harold Fanning, Lewis and a third friend identified only as “Will” went shopping in Honolulu while they were in port. They also went to two movies and ate. After doing this on their way back to the ship, they stopped in a park, laid on the grass, and looked at the night sky.
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 Date Line. 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 the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield., but the fact was he had learned of their arrival just days before their ship docked. He made sure that they had all 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 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 battalion spent the next seventeen days preparing for maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion. During this time they cleaned their guns of cosmoline which had been applied to them so that they would not rust at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts.
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 half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern half. At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles. Meals were brought to them by food trucks.
Lewis remembered that on December 8, 1941, he had just finished eating lunch and was walking to his tank. On his way back to his tank, Lewis noticed the other tankers looking up into the sky at planes. At first, the men all seemed to believe that the planes were the reinforcements that they believed were coming to the Philippines. One reason for this confusion was that the P-35’s silhouette looked almost like the silhouette of the Japanese Zero. It was only when the bombs began exploding around them that the soldiers realized the planes were Japanese.
In an attempt to escape the bombs, Lewis ran to his tank, climbed in and closed the hatch. In the tank, Lewis could feel the concussions from the bombs. It was then that he realized that he was not alone in the tank. With him were another GI and a Filipino Scout who had followed him into the tank. After the bombing ended, both went on their way. Leaving the tank, Lewis could see that the Japanese had hit Clark Field very hard.
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.
Around December 21st, Lewis’s tank and other tanks from the 192nd were sent north to Lingayen Gulf. As they approached, they could hear the sound of Japanese guns firing on the beaches where the Japanese were landing. He remembered seeing horses, from the 26th U.S. Cavalry, of Filipino Scouts, without riders galloping past his tank. The tankers never reached the landing area because they were ordered from the area.
From this time on, until the withdrawal into the Bataan Peninsula, the tankers would find themselves sent to areas where the Japanese had broken through the Filipino and American lines. The tanks were used repeatedly as a rearguard so that the infantry could withdraw from the engagement.
Lewis recalled how his tank used a bridge to cross a river. That night, he and his crew watched as the engineers blew the bridge to prevent the Japanese from using it. This was a process he and other tankers saw over and over again as the Filipino and Americans withdrew into the peninsula.
In a separate incident, Lewis’ tank was in a Filipino village. They came upon some men whom they believed to be Filipinos cooking in a hut. He recalled that these men could have been Japanese infiltrators. It was shortly after this incident that his tank was strafed by Japanese planes.
As the American and Filipino forces withdrew into Bataan, it seemed the Japanese artillery knew where the American tanks were located. The tank’s job during the withdraw was to set a line so that the other troops could pull out. One of the things that made this possible was the food and gasoline for the tanks were transported to them by truck. The tanks of the 192nd Tank Battalion were the last American forces to enter the Bataan Peninsula.
It was at the time that Lewis’ tank was transferred to B Company. The reason for the transfer was the company had lost a number of tanks and his tank was one of the replacements. B Company was assigned to guarding the east coast of the Bataan Peninsula. From Manila Bay, the Japanese were using barges to land troops behind Filipino and American lines. During the day, the tanks of B Company were hidden under tall trees to protect them from Japanese attack. At dusk, the tanks would be driven out of the jungle onto the beaches.
One night, Lewis recalled seeing flashes out on the bay. A few moments later, shells were landing among the tanks. The tanks returned fire which resulted in a firefight. As it turned out, the Japanese were attempting to land troops on the beach. When morning came, the Japanese had failed to land one soldier on the beach.
Lewis also lived through the strafing experienced one morning by the company. According to the members of B Company, Walter Cigoi, was awoken by “Photo Joe” attempting to locate the tanks. Being aggravated and tired of this, he had his driver pull his half-track onto the beach. As the plane flew over, he took pot-shots at it with his .50 caliber machine gun and missed. 20 minutes later the company was bombed and strafed by Japanese fighters. The strafing resulted in the deaths of three members of the company.
As time went on, the meals the soldiers received were cut to two a day. One meal was in the morning, and the other was in the evening. The one thing Lewis recalled about these meals was the lack of meat in the food. According to Lewis, it was at this time that the remaining horses of the 26th U.S. Cavalry were slaughtered for meat.
The first result of the lack of adequate food was the increase in the number of cases of malaria and diphtheria. Another result was that the soldiers all began to lose weight. In spite of this situation, Lewis believed that the morale among the soldiers was still good. The reason it was good was that the soldiers still believed that help was on the way. This belief was reinforced by the motorcycle messengers, of the battalion, who told the tankers that they had seen boats off the shore of Corregidor. What the messengers did not know was that these boats had simply been moved from the other side of the island to protect them from the Japanese Navy.
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations were cut in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack on April 3. 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, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
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 at this time 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 6000 troops who sick or wounded and 40000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
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.”
Later, Lewis’ tank was reassigned to Headquarters Company. It was not too long after this that Lt. Col. Wickord and Capt. Fred Bruni informed the soldiers of Headquarters Company of the surrender. 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 thing 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.” He next told them that from this point on it was each man for himself.
On April 11, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company’s encampment. Donald was now a Prisoner of War. 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.
HQ Company finally boarded trucks and drove to just outside of Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and 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 prepared to die, a car pulled up and a Japanese officer got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. After talking to the sergeant, he 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 and taken to a schoolyard in Mariveles and ordered to sit. Behind them were Japanese artillery pieces. The guns 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. Five POWs who hid in an old brick building were killed when it took a direct hit. When the barrage ended, three if the four Japanese guns had been destroyed.
It was from this schoolyard that the POWs began the death march. The first five miles of the march was uphill. They made their way north from Mariveles to San Fernando. During the march men who fell were shot and bayoneted where they fell.
Lewis remembered seeing the bloated bodies of dead Americans along the sides of the road. One Japanese guard showed kindness to the Americans and gave them little pieces of candy. As it turned out, this candy would be the only food that Lewis and the other Prisoners Of War received for two days until they arrived at Tarlac.
One day on the march, Lewis’ thirst got the best of him, and he attempted to get water from one of the many artesian wells along the road. As he was getting his drink, he heard a guard coming up behind him. As the guard went to bayonet him, Lewis twisted his body which resulted in his being bayoneted in the hip. This wound made the march even more difficult for him to do.
It was also on the march that Lewis and other POWs sneaked into the peanut fields and dug up peanuts as they trudged passed the fields. When they heard a guard coming, they got back in line and continued the march.
Lewis remembered that even though the POWs were weak and ill, the concern they showed for their comrades was amazing. To prevent the Japanese from killing their friends, the POWs would carry those men who were ready to fall-out. All the men knew that if a prisoner fell out, it meant he would be bayoneted.
At night, the prisoners were held in bullpens. When the next day came, the Japanese would count 100 prisoners and they would continue on the march. Finally, when the POWs reached San Fernando, they received their first food and water. From there, the Japanese boarded the prisoners on trains for Camp O’Donnell. After disembarking the train at Capas, the prisoners marched the last few miles to the camp.
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 Japanese 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.
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.
Lewis did not stay long at Camp O’Donnell. Col. Wickord was put in charge of a work detail to rebuild bridges and filled the detail with as many members of his own battalion as he could. He barely had left the camp when he came down with malaria. The Japanese captain in charge of the detail had gone to school in the United States and treated the POWs fairly well. He allowed a Filipino doctor to treat the Americans who were ill which resulted in Lewis receiving quinine to treat his malaria.
With Lewis on the work detail were 1st Sgt. Dale Lawton, PFC Ken Schoeberle, Sgt. John Wood, Sgt. Phil Parish, Sgt. Forrest Teal, and Sgt. James Schultz. When they finished the bridge at Calaun, they were taken to Batangas and then Candelaria.
Lewis also came down with wet beriberi which resulted in his swelling up like a balloon. At the same time that he was suffering from beriberi, Lewis also had malaria and dysentery. Being sick, he was sent to Cabanatuan which had opened to improve the living conditions for the POWs. It is known he was in the camp hospital on June 19, 1942. The report by the camp medical staff does not give the date he was discharged.
While he was out on the work detail in late May or early June, his parents received a message from the War Department:
“According to War Department records you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Pvt. Lewis M. Wallisch who according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“We deeply regret that it is impossible for us to give you more information. 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 of other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese government has indicated its intentions of conforming to the terms of the Geneva convention with respects 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 the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is hoped that the Japanese government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At this time you will be notified by this office in the event his name (Lewis M. Wallisch) is contained in the list of prisoners of war.”
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 consisted of 30 wards that could hold 40 men each, but it was more common for them to have 100 men in them. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. The sickest POWs were put in “Zero Ward,” which was called this because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks.
The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area. 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.
During July 1942, his family received a second message from the War Department:
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Pvt. Lewis M. Wallsich 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.”
At Cabanatuan, he would perform different duties. One of the duties Lewis did was to bury the dead. The prisoners would dig the graves in the morning and bury the dead in the afternoon. Since the water table was high, the dead were held down with poles. Lewis recalled that the bodies of the dead were unrecognizable unless the POWs looked carefully at the dead.
One day on the burial detail, Lewis saw the body of M/Sgt. Osborne McDonald among the dead. For Lewis, working this detail was both physically and emotionally draining. What made it so hard was seeing the number of men dying each day but also seeing the bodies of prisoners he personally knew.
Lewis worked in the camp’s kitchen. He recalled that the guards assigned to the kitchen detail asked him and a couple of other POWs if it was their tank battalion that had been involved in the wiping out the pockets of Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind Filipino-American lines during the Battle of Bataan. Fearing retribution, the Americans did not answer the Japanese question.
As a cook, Lewis used the job as an opportunity to give his friends extra food. If he had been caught by the Japanese, he most likely would have been executed.
At some point, Lewis went out on a work detail designated as the “Air Detail” by the medical staff at Bilibid. It is known that he was sent to the prison and admitted to its hospital on May 23, 1944, with dengue fever. After three days, he was discharged on May 26 and sent back to the Air Detail.
At some point, Lewis was returned to Bilibid Prison. While there, he worked as a stevedore loading and unloading ships in the port area of Manila. He recalled that they filled 50-gallon drums with gasoline to be sent to other parts of Luzon for use by the Japanese Army.
On July 17, 1944, Lewis was boarded onto the Japanese ship the Nissyo Maru which was bound for Japan. With him on the ship was Pvt. Robert Boehm of A Company. On the journey, American submarines infiltrated the convoy and sunk a number of ships. The POWs began to panic and attempted to get out of the hold. Lewis recalled that a Fr. Riley, a Roman Catholic priest, calmed the prisoners by leading them in “The Lord’s Prayer.”
The Nissyo Maru docked at Takao, Formosa, on July 27 before sailing for Moji, Japan. The ship left the next day and arrived at Moji on July 30, 1944. On August 3, the ship arrived at Moji where the POWs were disembarked and sent to Narumi POW Camp – which was also known as Nagoya #2 – arriving at the camp on August 4, 1944. It was in Japan that Lewis began keeping a diary of his life as a POW. Why the Japanese never confiscated the diary is not known.
The camp was built on the side of a hill, with local lumber, and had an 8-foot fence around it. The POWs were housed in one barracks and the building – which was 40 feet long and 25 feet wide – was poorly built. During the winter the building was cold since it was not insulated. There were three charcoal pits in the building and two stoves in it, but the stoves were in poor condition and could not be used. The POWs slept on straw mats which were 3 feet wide and 6 feet long, and their pillows were canvas stuffed with rice husks.
At first, the POWs meals seemed to be adequate, but this changed the nearer the end of the war got. This resulted in the POWs, in the little free time that the POWs to sit around and talk about food and the meals they would have when they got home. He and the other prisoners would actually feel as if they had eaten after each of these sessions.
The POWs were used to manufacture wheels for railroad cars at the Nippon Wheel Manufacturing Company which was also known as the Daido Electric Steel Company. One of the things Alva found amazing was that both the Japanese guards and officers found the Americans interesting. The officers, in particular, were extremely interested in the United States. Since the Japanese feared punishment, they would seldom show their interest publicly. If they did show it, they would only do so when there were no other Japanese around the POWs.
To get to and return from the mill, the POWs rode an electric train – with Japanese civilians – which took a half-hour to and from the mill. The civilians would throw their cigarette butts on the floor of the train cars. The Americans who got on the trains first were able to collect the butts. At the mill, most of the POWs did common labor, but those who had machinist skills were put to work at finishing the wheels. The POWs worked from 6 to 8 hours a day. In the little free time that the POWs had, they would sit around and talk about food and the meals they would have when they got home. He and the other prisoners would actually feel as if they had eaten after each of these sessions.
In December 1944, the area was bombed by B-29s with one bomb hitting the camp and killing a guard. The roof of the barracks was damaged and the Japanese never repaired it. Overnight, the treatment of the POWs changed. The Japanese became extremely brutal with the POWs, especially those caught stealing food. The common punishment given to the POWs was to be beaten, kicked, hit with sticks, clubs, and rifle butts while standing at attention outside the guardhouse without food or water from hours to days. POWs also would be tied with a rope, in a crouching position, and left in it for as long as 24 hours. During the winter, they also had their clothing stripped from them and made to stand at attention for long periods of time in the cold and were denied food and water.
The clothing the POWs wore was the clothing they were given when they arrived at the camp. Red Cross clothing sent to the camp was misappropriated by the Japanese who were seen wearing it. This also was true for Red Cross medical supplies. The camp doctor, who was a POW, worked with a Japanese enlisted man. The Japanese soldier had control of all medicines and overruled the doctor on which POWs were too sick to work. Sick POWs were sent to work since they were needed at the mill.
As the war went on, American bombs fell around the camp. The POWs saw craters on both sides of the camp from air raids to knock out the train station. As they went to work, the POWs counted the bomb craters. One night, the bombers destroyed the factory that the POWs worked in. No prisoners were killed because the attack came at night. After the attacks, all work was stopped. Most of the POWs were put to work cleaning debris up at the mill.
The POWs witnessed a prisoner put to death for stealing. One night, the man crawled into the camp kitchen to steal food. For whatever reason, the man did not get out. Realizing he would be caught, he attempted to kill himself by hanging himself. The Japanese allowed the man to heal and then made him stand naked in front of the other POWs. As he stood there, the Japanese proceeded to starve the man to death.
In another incident, four POWs who were caught stealing food were beaten with broom handles. After one bombing, the Japanese wanted the POWs to sign a complaint against the U.S. to the International Red Cross. Most of the POWs refused so the Japanese slapped them in their faces with rubber shoes. This still did not get the POWs to sign the letter.
While he was a POW, Lewis was allowed to make a shortwave radio broadcast. In the broadcast, he said:
“A am Lewis Wallisch. Sgt. U.S.A. Will anyone hearing this message please send same to Mr. William Wallisch 1302 Center Avenue Janesville, Wisconsin.
“Dear Mother and Dad.
Received your letters and sure was glad to hear from you. I am in good health and I am feeling good. Say hello to Phyllis. I sure was glad to hear from her.
“I hope to hear from you again.
His family also received a letter from him while he was at Nagoya #2. When he wrote it, he did not know that his father had died on September 11, 1942.
‘Dear Mom and Dad
“I am in good health and feel fine. I also received your letters from you and Phyllis and Tody. I sure was glad to receive them. I am now living in Japan and like it very nice.
“I hope to hear from you soon again. Keep your chin up and don’t worry. Say hello to friends and relatives for me.
” Your Son
In August, the POWs knew something was up because the climate in the camp had changed. They were finally told that the war was over. One morning the camp’s interpreter told the prisoners, “Between your country and mine we are now friends.” The camp was turned over to the POWs and the guards vanished. The guards left behind their weapons so the POWs posted guards to protect themselves against any possible attack. The POWs also marked the camp so that it could be spotted by American planes. The B-29s began dropping fifty-gallon barrels of supplies to the former prisoners. On September 2, 1945, American planes appeared and dropped food and clothing to These missions continued until the POWs were officially liberated.
When the POWs learned of the surrender, they pulled their earnings so the could purchase a bull that the Japanese had used as a work animal. The negotiated with the Japanese, who let the former POWs have the bull for the equivalence of $5000.00. They ate the meat for six meals, which was tough, but they refused to share it with the guards.
The strangest experience for the former prisoners was the fact the Japanese now insisted on bowing to them. It also seemed a little strange to them that the Japanese brought all the food dropped by the B-29s to them without taking anything for themselves. This was strange to Lewis and the other men because they knew that the Japanese civilians did not have much more to eat than the former POWs. Even the “Little Old Man” refused to accept food from the Americans when it was offered. Lewis assumed that he, like the other Japanese, must have been told they would be killed if they were caught with American food.
On September 4, 1945, American troops liberated the former POWs. On September 12, they received orders to move south. They boarded trains and went to southern Japan. There they boarded the U.S.S. Rescue for medical treatment. It was on this ship that Lewis learned that he weighed 95 pounds. Since it was determined that Lewis was in pretty good health, he was boarded onto another American ship and taken to the Philippines.
After he was liberated, his family received another message from the War Department:
“Sgt. Lewis M. Wallisch has been liberated Sept. 4 returned to military control Sept. 4. Will be given the chance to communicate with you upon arrival in the U.S. which will be in the near future.
“E. F. Witsell
“Acting Adjutant General of the Army”
Lewis returned to the United States, on the U.S.S. Yarmouth, arriving at San Francisco on October 8, 1945. He was taken to Letterman General Hospital for more medical treatment before being allowed to visit Janesville on October 18, 1945.
Of the original ninety-nine soldiers who left Janesville in November 1940, Lewis was one of only thirty-four to return home at the end of the war. He was discharged from the army on May 13, 1946.
Lewis married Phyllis Jean Hall, on August 25, 1946, and together they raised a family of ten children. Lewis Wallisch resided the rest of his life in Janesville and worked as an electrician. He was the last surviving National Guard member of A Company called to federal duty in the fall of 1940.
Lewis Wallisch passed away on October 7, 2009, and was buried, next to his wife, at Oak Hill Cemetery in Janesville, Wisconsin.