Sgt. Ivan O. Wilmer was born in Appleton, Wisconsin, on December 5, 1901, to Clara Hubbard and Rudolph Webner. After Rudolph’s death, Clara married Forrest Dexter a newspaperman from Des Moines, Iowa, and moved there. This resulted in Ivan, his two brothers, and sister, being raised at Angel Guardian Orphanage in Chicago.
Returning to Wisconsin, Ivan married and divorced. He was the father of three sons; Arthur, Billy, and Charles, and resided at 935 Fourth Street in Beloit, Wisconsin. He worked at road maintenance with the Public Works Program.
When the 32nd Tank Company of the Wisconsin National Guard was called to federal duty in November 1940, Ivan found himself training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, as a member of A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. In January 1941, Ivan was transferred to Headquarters Company when it was formed with members of the four letter companies of the 192nd. He was assigned to one of the three tanks of the company.
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 to take part in maneuvers from September 1 through 30. HQ Company job was to maintain the tanks and to keep them running. The company itself did not actively take part in the maneuvers.
After the maneuvers, the battalion received orders to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft, Knox, as they had expected. On the side of a hill, the battalion members were informed that they were being sent overseas. They were told that this decision had been made by General George S. Patton. Those members of the battalion who were married, or 29 years old, or older, were given the opportunity to resign from federal service. Ivan was given this opportunity but chose to remain with the tank company. The men were given furloughs home to say goodbye to family and friends.
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 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. 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. During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The cruiser that was escorting the two transports revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from 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 Field, but he had only 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 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.
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.
At six in the morning on December 8, the officers of the battalion were called to the radio room at the fort. They were ordered to bring their tank platoons up to full strength at the perimeter of the airfield. All morning the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, the tankers were having lunch and watched as 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. As they watched, the saw “raindrops” falling from the planes. When bombs began exploding, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese.
The tankers could do little more than watch since their weapons, except for the tanks’ machine guns, were useless against planes. After the attack, the tankers saw the damage done to the airfield. 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.
That night the members of the company slept in a dry latrine that was near their bivouac since it was safer then their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night on a bed. The next morning, they saw the bodies of the dead lying on the ground. Pilots who had night duty lay dead in their tents.
The battalion was sent to Lingayen Gulf, on December 21, where their job was to hold a position until the Filipino and American forces had established another defensive line. They would then disengage and fall back. HQ Company’s job was to keep the tanks running and supplied.
At Gumain River, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river. When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts. It was there the tankers noted that the Japanese soldiers were high on drugs when they attacked. Among the dead Japanese, the tankers found the hypodermic needles and syringes. The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese for several weeks. In early 1942, Ivan was involved in an attempt to dislodge the Japanese Marines who had been trapped behind the main line of defense on the Bataan Peninsula known as the Battle of the Pockets.
One day during the battle, Ivan found himself in the middle of a low-level Japanese air attack near Bambang, Limay, at KM 144. To get out of the attack, he attempted to escape by running to his tank. While he was running, he was struck by shrapnel and badly wounded. He was taken to Field Hospital #2 where he died on Tuesday, February 3, 1942, and was buried the cemetery at Cabcaben. His family learned of his death on February 17, 1942.
After the war, Sgt. Ivan O. Wilmer’s remains were returned to the United States in October 1948. After a viewing, he was buried on October 16, 1948, at the Rock Island National Cemetery in Rock Island, Illinois, in Plot D, Grave 27.