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 received his commission as 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.
A three-man detail was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, a few days earlier. Another detachment of 23 soldiers left the armory at 7:00 A.M. on November 27th. It is known that the roads were ice-covered so the trip was slow which resulted in one truck hitting a civilian’s car. No other information is available about the incident. The road conditions improved the further south the convoy went. The soldiers spent the night at an armory in Danville, Illinois, before heading south to Ft. Knox arriving there sometime the next afternoon.
The next day, November 28th, between 4:00 and 5:00 P.M., Write led the main detachment of soldiers as they marched from the armory to the Milwaukee Road train station in Janesville where they boarded special cars that had been added to the Marquette to Chicago train. One was a flatcar with the company’s two tanks on it. At some point, the train cars were uncoupled from the train and switched onto the Chicago & Northwestern line that went into Maywood, Illinois. There, the members of B Company boarded the train and their equipment – including their two tanks – was loaded onto the train. In Chicago, the train cars were switched onto the Illinois Central Railroad and taken to Ft. Knox arriving around 8:00 A.M. the next day. When they arrived, trucks were waiting at the station to take them to the fort. Their first housing were six men tents since their barracks were not finished. The battalion had a total of eight tanks that the soldiers were ordered not to abuse.
After arriving, they spent the first six weeks in primary training. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; weeks 7, 8, and 9 were spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons, and the cleaning of weapons.
It is known that he was one of the soldiers from Janesville who went home for Christmas. The soldiers left Ft. Knox at about 1:00 P.M. on Saturday, December 21st- by chartered bus – and arrived in Janesville at about 3:00 A.M. on Sunday, December 22nd. They remained in Janesville until the afternoon of Christmas Day when they boarded the chartered bus for the return trip to Ft. Knox.
1st Sgt. Dale Lawton – on December 26th – was given the job of picking men to be transferred from the company to the soon to be formed HQ Company. Men were picked for the company because they had special training. Many of these men received promotions and because of their rating received higher pay.
A Company moved into its barracks in December 1941. The men assigned to the HQ Company still lived with the A Company since their barracks were unfinished. 25 men lived on each floor of the barracks. The bunks were set up along the walls and alternated so that the head of one bunk was next to the foot of another bunk allowing for more bunks to be placed in the least amount of space allowing for 50 men to sleep on each floor. The first sergeant, staff sergeant, and master sergeant had their own rooms. There was also a supply room, an orderly room – where the cooks could sleep during the day – and a clubroom.
The one problem they had was that the barracks had four, two-way speakers in it. One speaker was in the main room of each floor of the barracks, one was in the first sergeant’s office, and one was in the Capt. Walter Write’s office. Since by flipping a switch the speaker became a microphone, the men watched what they said. The men assigned to HQ Company moved into their own barracks by February. The guardsmen were housed away from the regular army troops in the newly built barracks. Newspapers from the time state that the barracks were air-conditioned. Although the barracks were finished, A Company shared D Company’s mess hall until the company’s mess hall opened.
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.
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.
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. At first, A Company’s meals were served in D Company’s mess hall until heir mess hall was finished in December. 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.
Write was transferred to D Company so that he could help reorganize the company and bring it up to standard. He returned to A Company when the job was completed. It was also at this time that all the battalion had 16 operational tanks and the first men from selective service were assigned to the company.
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 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.
Write, during February, commanded a composite tank company made of men from all the companies of the battalion. The company left Ft. Knox on a problematic move at 9:00 A.M. The company consisted of three motorcycles, two scout cars, sixteen tanks, one ambulance, and supply, fuel and kitchen trucks. The route was difficult and chosen so that the men could become acquainted with their equipment. They also had to watch out for simulated enemy planes. Bridges were avoided whenever it was possible to ford the water.
At noon, the column stopped for a short rest and a lunch that did not materialize. A guide had failed to stay at one of the crossings until the kitchen truck arrived there, so instead of turning into the woods, the truck went straight. After the break, Capt. Write ordered the men back to Ft. Knox without having been fed.
In late March 1941, the entire battalion was moved to new barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks had bathing and washing facilities in them and a day room. The new kitchens had larger gas ranges, automatic gas heaters, large pantries, and mess halls. One reason for this move was the men from selective service were permanently joining the battalion.
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 beeps (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.
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. Two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters carrying scrap metal to Japan.
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 Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. The truth was that he had not learned of their arrival until just days before their ship docked. He made sure that they had what they needed and that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner – which was a stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner.
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 including going to the PX.
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.