Capt. Walter Henry Write was born February 24, 1904, in Highbridge, Wisconsin, and was the son of Charles Write & Jeanette Richardson-Write. He grew up in Highbridge and attended school there. During the 1910s, his family moved to Beloit, Wisconsin. He moved to Janesville, Wisconsin, where he married Jessie Rose Damrow on January 4, 1928. They were the parents of two children, Janice and Lloyd and lived at 535 North Walnut Street in Janesville. For a living, Walter worked in a feed store and sold animal feed to farmers. After working in two other feed stores, he and a partner opened their own feed store in Janesville.
Write enlisted in the 32nd Tank Company of the Wisconsin National Guard on May 27, 1926. By March of the following year, he had been promoted to corporal. On February 21, 1928, he was promoted to sergeant. He rose to the rank of Second Lieutenant when he was commissioned an officer on June 19, 1934. On June 15, 1938, he was promoted to First Lieutenant.
In 1939, Write was selected by the tank company to attend tank training school at Fort Benning, Georgia. He temporarily assumed command of the tank company on September 21, 1940, when its commanding officer was transferred to another unit. On November 2, 1940, he was promoted to captain and appointed the commander of the tank company. Later that month, on November 25, 1940, the tank company was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for a year of federal service as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
At Ft. Knox, Capt. Write was transferred to D Company. This was done so that he could help reorganize the company and bring it up to standard. He returned to A Company when the job was completed.
After almost a year of training at Ft. Knox, the 192nd Tank Battalion was sent on maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1 through 30. The members of the battalion had no idea that they had already been selected to go overseas. Upon hearing the news that the 192nd was going overseas, the men deemed to be “too old” were given the opportunity to be released from federal duty. Officers, who were too old for their rank were reassigned. Capt. Beacon Moore, commanding officer of the battalion, was one of those men. Write had seniority, so he was offered the command of the battalion but turned the command down so that he could stay with A Company. Before they shipped out, the men were given leaves home to say goodbye to family and friends.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude – noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island that a large radio transmitter. The island was hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The battalion traveled by train to San Francisco, California, and on the ferry, the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, was taken to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they received inoculations and physicals from the battalion’s medical detachment. Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday,
November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward P. King. King welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and received their meals from a food truck.
The morning of December 8, 1941, Capt. Write heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor and informed his men. To an extent, the news of the war was no surprise to the men. With the other companies of the battalion, they guarded the southern portion of the airfield against Japanese paratroopers.
Sensing that an attack would come around noon, Capt. Write ordered his men to eat lunch early. They were with their tanks when the first Japanese planes appeared above Clark Field. The tankers were frustrated because there was very little they could do against the bombers with their weapons. After the attack, Write received orders to take his company to the barrio of Dau near a highway and railroad.
Sometime after the attack, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it would be close to a highway and railroad. From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River. There, the tanks, with A Company, 194th held the position.
On December 15, Write sent a telegram home to his wife. He told her that all the men under his command were fine, except for Lt. Bartz, who was in the hospital after being wounded. This was the first news the people of Janesville had heard about their sons since the war had begun. Write would send several more messages home.
The company was in the area of Urdaneta, on December 23 and 24. Capt. Write asked Dr. Alvin Poweleit to take care of his personal possessions. The reason he did this is that he had a feeling he was going to be killed. The battalion was withdrawing from the area and attempting to find a bridge to cross the Agno River, since the bridge they were to use had been destroyed.
Philippine Ordnance had put together some homemade landmines made of twelve sticks of dynamite wired together with a fuse to ignite it. The mines were delivered to A Company, near Urdaneta, around December 23 or 24. Sgt. Owen Sandmire and another soldier were going to place the mines. None of the soldiers had been trained in placing landmines. Capt. Write went up to the men and told them, “Sergeant, get the men back. This mine doesn’t look right and may go off.” A short time later, one of the mines went off as he was placing it. The explosion blew off his arms, one of his legs, and blinded him.
Capt. Write was driven to an aid station, on the back of a tank, where he gave orders to his company to pull out at a given time. According to Jack Reed, of HQ Company, Write said to his men, “Be careful fellows. There isn’t a damn thing out there worth giving up your life for.” Write died of his wounds soon after Jack saw him.
The medics knew there was nothing they could do for Write, so they attempted to keep him comfortable. He also asked that when he died that red roses be placed on his grave. According to other members of the 192nd, his last words were, “You fellows take care of yourselves. And watch these little bastards, because there are a lot of them.” Write died right after saying this. Since no roses could be found, Carl Nickols put a native red flower on his grave.
Capt. Walter H. Write was the first U. S. Army Tank Officer to be Killed in Action. He died on Wednesday, December 24, 1941. For the members of A Company, his death made it a Black Christmas. The morale of the company was never the same after his death.
His wife did not receive word of his death until January 17, 1942, when she received a telegram from the War Department.
“THE SECRETARY OF WAR DESIRES ME TO EXPRESS HIS DEEPEST REGRET THAT YOUR HUSBAND CAPTAIN WALTER H WRITE WAS KILLED IN ACTION IN DEFENSE OF HIS COUNTRY ON TWENTY FOUR DECEMBER IN PHILIPPINE ISLANDS. LETTER FOLLOWS
“ADAMS THE ADJUTANT GENERAL”
His wife did not remarry after the war and raised their two children alone. She spent the rest of her life in the house that he built for his family.
Since Capt. Walter H. Write’s final resting place is unknown, his name appears on The Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila. He was awarded the Silver Star posthumously.