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Wepsiec, Pvt. Mike S.

wepsiec

Pvt. Mike Stanley Wepsiec was born to Casimir and Catherine Wepsiec on August 7, 1915. His parents were Polish immigrants. With his four sisters and two brothers, was raised at 2347 South Homan Avenue in Chicago, and worked for the Illinois Northern Railroad.

After the German tank divisions rolled through Europe in 1939 and 1940, the Army created the U.S. Armored Forces on July 10, 1940. Included in the force were the National Guard General Headquarters tank battalions. The GHQ tank battalions which were still considered infantry were notified they were being called up, on September 1, 1940, to create a “buffer” between the armored forces and infantry. This was done to protect the regular army tank battalions from requests from the infantry for tanks and allow them to develop into real fighting forces. If the infantry wanted tanks, the National Guard tank battalions were available to the infantry.

When the Selective Service Act took effect on October 16, 1940, he registered for the draft and named his mother as his contact person. Since he knew he was going to be drafted, Mike and friends Steve Gados and Ed Plodzien decided that they would enlist in the Illinois National Guard at Maywood, Illinois. Their reasoning for doing this was twofold. They believed that enlisting in the National Guard would allow them to quickly complete their one year of military service, and they also believed that if they had to be in the army it was better to ride in a tank than march on foot.

The tank company was inducted into the U. S. Army on November 25, 1940, at 7:00 A.M. and designated B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. During this time, the soldiers were given physicals, and men who were inducted into the army that morning were released from federal service that afternoon after failing their physicals. The remaining men spent the next several days living in the armory. He was one of 131 men who traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for what was supposed to be a year of training.

One group of 17 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 whether they were going to live in tents or barracks at the fort.

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 & North Western train station. In B Company’s case, they rode on the same train as A Company from Janesville, Wisconsin. In Chicago, the soldiers rode buses to the Illinois Central train station and boarded another train. The flatcars with their tanks were transferred onto the tracks of the Illinois Central and added to the train that took the men and tanks 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 were assigned to smaller temporary barracks because their barracks weren’t finished.

Their first impression of the base was that it was a mud hole because it had rained continuously for days, and it continued to rain after they arrived. Someone at the base told them that at the fort, “You either wade to your ankles in dust or mud to your knees.” When the entire battalion arrived at the base, it had a total of eight tanks. The biggest task at Ft. Knox facing the members of the 192nd, was that each company had to get used to the other. During this process of adjustment, the members of the different companies often were involved in fistfights. As time passed, the fights ended and the members of the battalion became friends.

Joining A and B Companies were C Company from Port Clinton, Ohio, and D Company from Harrodsburg, Kentucky. After all the companies had arrived the 192nd Tank Battalion was activated. Capt. Bacon Moore, D Co. – because of his seniority – became the battalion’s commanding officer. With the command, he was promoted to the rank of Major. Lt. Arch Rue took command of D Company. Capt. Ted Wickord, B Co., became the battalion’s executive officer, and Lt. Fred Bruni, A Co., became the battalion’s maintenance officer. One of the four letter companies was scheduled to become the battalion’s Headquarters Company but none of the companies wanted to give up their tanks. The decision was made to create a separate HQ Company creating a battalion with five companies.

Unpainted temporary barracks were their first housing since their barracks were not finished. Each man had a steel cot to sleep on. 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 25 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. Twenty-five men lived on each floor of the barracks. When men were assigned to the company from selective service, they lived in tents next to the company’s two barracks. The tents were on concrete slabs and had screened wooden walls and doors with canvas roofs. Each tent had a stove in the center for heat and electricity for lighting. The officers had their own barracks with private rooms for each officer. In addition, each officer had an orderly to clean his room.

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 captain’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.

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.

For Christmas, members of the company received 4½ day furloughs home while other men remained at Ft. Knox. The base was decorated with lighted Christmas trees along its streets and each night Christmas carols were sung by a well-trained choir that went from barracks to barracks. The sight was said to be beautiful as the soldiers entered the camp from the ridge north of their barracks. The workload of the soldiers was also reduced for the holidays. Christmas dinner consisted of roast turkey, baked ham, candied sweet potatoes, snowflake potatoes, giblet gravy, oyster dressing, cranberry sauce, pickle relish, grapes, oranges, rolls, fruit cake, ice cream, bread, butter, and coffee. After dinner, cigars, cigarettes, and candy were provided.

The men who went home for Christmas arrived on the base just before breakfast, at 6:00 A.M., on December 26th. 1st/Sgt. Richard Danca informed men they were being transferred to the soon-to-be-formed HQ Company. Thirty-five men were picked because they had special training and many of these men received promotions. The men assigned to the battalion’s tank maintenance section were the first sent to the schools since they had the job of repairing the 16 tanks assigned to the battalion that came from the fort’s junkyard. Also, because of their ratings, they received higher pay. 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 such as scouts, radio operators, mechanics, truck drivers, and other duties.

Winter finally arrived on January 4th, when the high for the day was 24 degrees, and it snowed for the first time. Those on guard duty at night were happy they had been issued long-Johns but wished they had on two pairs. It was on January 7th that the companies had their first target practice, and each company spent one week at the firing range learning to use their thirty-caliber and fifty-caliber machine guns as well as forty-five-caliber pistols. This took place at the 1st Cavalry Test range where the tanks could be maneuvered and the guns fired at the same time. All those holding the rank of Private First Class were sent to motorcycle class at the Armored Force where they were taught the functions and duties of a motorcyclist in a garrison and in combat. Ten members of the company were sent to radio school from 8:00 to 11:30 A.M. They also received their government-issued toiletries. Each man received two face towels and one bath towel, a razor, tooth and shaving brushes, and another pair of pants which completed their complement of clothing.

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 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. One hundred and forty-nine men from the Selective Service were assigned to the battalion on January 10th and lived in tents located next to the barracks of each company. The tents were on concrete slabs and had electricity. The walls were wood and screened with canvas starting about halfway up the wall. In the center was a stove for heat. On 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.

A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up by 5:45 since they wanted to wash and dress. After roll call, 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, pistols, 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. After lunch, the soldiers went back to work. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms, and at five held retreat followed by dinner at 5:30. After they ate they stood in line to wash their mess kits since they had no mess hall.

On January 12th, 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. The game that many of the men began to play was chess and one group became known as “The Chess Clique.”

Most of the men were attending the various schools they were assigned to on January 13th taking classes lasting three months. The tankers went through intensive training in the various classes at the Armored Force School which taught classes in gunnery, radio communications, tank maintenance, vehicle maintenance, tank driving, as well as other classes. 

The entire battalion on January 28th, took part in a one-day “problem” that had to do with the deployment of large units of tanks and to put into practice what they had learned in the classroom. They were up at 5:00 A.M. and reported to the tank parks of the 1st and 13th Armor Regiments. It was a long tough day for all the soldiers, but they all believed they had learned more in that one day than they had learned in an entire week of school. The problems – which took place frequently – could last from one hour to twenty-four hours. They were also taking the tanks out on the trails and obstacle driving which resulted in the companies developing many good tank crews. It was also at this time that each company had a maintenance tent set up so they could make minor repairs to their tanks. It was noted that the men from every company seemed to enjoy working on their own tanks.

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.

The lack of equipment was a major problem for the battalion. Many of the tanks were castoff tanks from the regular army or junks pulled from the junkyard at Ft. Knox that were rebuilt by the tank companies. The tanks were also restricted in where they could be driven and very little training was done with the infantry. It is known that on December 2nd, each company had received four additional tanks, but according to information from the time, each company was scheduled to receive 17 tanks, three half-tracks, four motorcycles, two motorcycles with passenger cars, four two-and-a-half-ton trucks, and a half-ton pickup truck. The men received training under the direction of the 69th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division. This was true for the tank crews and reconnaissance units who trained with the regiment’s tanks and reconnaissance units and later trained with their own companies.

During February, four composite tank detachments made of men from all the companies of the battalion left Ft. Knox – on different dates – on problematic moves at 9:00 A.M. The detachments 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. They received their rations from a food truck.

On March 20th, the entire battalion was moved to new larger barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks were painted white, had bathing and washing facilities in them, and a day room and kitchen. The barracks kitchens had a stove and two large iceboxes. 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 each company of the battalion on March 21st after completing six weeks of basic training. Their basic training had been under S/Sgt. Henry Crowe, Sgts. Norman Goodman, Ben Morin, Roger Heilig, Stanley Laskowski, Hugh Mackle, and Pvt. Clyde Ehrhardt from B Company, and Sgts Harry K. Johnson and Cpl. Fred Jannisch of HQ Company. Both had been members of B Company. Men who were released from service when their National Guard enlistments ended were replaced by other Illinois men from Selective Service.

Each company was made up of three platoons of thirty men and each company had six tanks assigned to it. Four of each company’s tanks had been pulled out of the junkyard. The one exception was Headquarters Company which had three assigned tanks. The tankers also painted their tanks a dull green-gray with blue numbers on the running boards. Around the turrets near the bottom, they painted red and blue stripes. According to the soldiers, this made it easier to camouflage the tanks. The company also received additional tanks, trucks, light trucks, and what they called “peeps.” These would later be known as jeeps. They also took part in a 15-mile hike during the month.

The men played on volleyball teams and as the weather improved they had a chance the members of all the companies played baseball as often as they could and organized teams to play each other and the companies of other units. Many men went into Louisville on weekends. While those who remained on base used their free time to play baseball. It was said that on Sunday the most baseball games were played. Although it was stated the local hotels did not like allowing soldiers to book rooms. To get around this, one man in civilian clothes went into the hotel and paid for the room. When this was done, the rest of the soldiers came into the hotel.

Many members of the battalion went home for Easter in April. The only men left on the base were those attending schools; in particular, those assigned to radio school. The men who remained behind also had performed all the duties expected of them, such as guard duty. While doing these things, they still started their day at 4:00 A.M. They also washed the tanks in Salt River which was 14 miles from their barracks.

On June 14th and 16th, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of HQ Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16th. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. Each tank company 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 included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance.

The detachments 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 through Lebanon, New Haven, and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers. 

At the end of the month, the battalion found itself at the firing range and appeared to have spent the last week there. According to available information, they were there from 4:00 a.m. until 8:30 a,m. when they left the range. They then had to clean the guns which took them until 10:30 a.m. One of the complaints they had was that it was so hot and humid that when they got back from the range, their clothes were so wet that they felt like they had stood out in the rain. Right after July 4th, the battalion went on a nine-day maneuver. Twelve of the battalion’s tanks were sent to Rock Island, Illinois, in July to be rebuilt and returned to the battalion before it went on maneuvers. The battalion finally received all its tanks and the soldiers were told to, “beat the hell out of them.”

On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. From a letter written by a member of the 192nd in August 1941, the battalion was scheduled to go overseas. The 192nd heard that the battalion’s orders to the Philippines had been canceled and that the 194th Tank Battalion stationed at Ft. Lewis, Washington, was being sent to the Philippines. Many of the soldiers had attended classes with members of the 194th, but they still expressed relief that they were not being sent overseas.

Major Ernest Miller, CO, 194th, on August 14th, was ordered to Ft. Knox to receive his battalion’s orders. The next day, August 15th, he received the orders to go overseas and was told it was a secret move. A detachment of 192nd men had the job of requisitioning tanks from other tank units at Ft. Knox. In some cases, the tanks had just arrived at the fort and were still on railroad cars when the detachment, under 2nd Lt. William Gentry, walked up to the soldiers who were about to unload the tanks and handed the officer in charge the War Department orders that the detachment was taking the tanks from them. The tanks the detachment requisitioned were sent to San Francisco, California, for the 194th.

The 192nd was also involved in the making of the short movie, “The Tanks are Coming” for Metro Golden Meyer starring George Tobias at this time. It was stated that they were filmed loading and unloading their tanks, but it was not indicated if it was on and off trains or trucks. Some men stated they also took part in other scenes during the movie. The members of the company also learned they were being sent to Camp Robinson, Arkansas, to take part in maneuvers.

Two members of each letter company and HQ Company remained behind at Ft. Knox to watch over the possessions of the members of their respective companies. Who these men were is not known. In addition, men who had not completed the schools they were attending remained on base. The final men from the Selective Service also permanently joined the battalion just before it left the base. Before the battalion left for the maneuvers, rumors were already flying that it would not be returning to Ft. Knox. One rumor printed in the companies’ hometown newspapers said the battalion was going to be sent to Ft. Benning, Georgia, after taking part in the three-month maneuvers.

About half of the battalion left Ft. Knox on September 1st in trucks and other wheeled vehicles and spent the night in Clarksville, Tennessee with the battalion’s reconnaissance men on their motorcycles serving as traffic directors. By 7:00 A.M. the next morning, the detachment was on the move. On the second day, the soldiers saw their first cotton fields which they found fascinating. They spent the night in Brownsville, Tennessee, and were again on the move the following morning at 7:00 A.M. At noon, the convoy crossed the Mississippi River which they found amazing, and spent the night in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At noon the next day, the convoy crossed the lower part of Arkansas and arrived at Tallulah, Louisiana, where, they washed, relaxed, and played baseball against the locals. It also gave them a break from sitting on wooden benches in the trucks. During the trip, the convoy was involved in several accidents that appeared to involve the battalion’s motorcycles but no details are known. 

The other half of the battalion left Ft. Knox for the maneuvers by train on September 4th. It is known that the tanks had been loaded onto train cars and that the train had a kitchen for them to have meals. The time of departure for the train was 6:30 PM. and the arrival time in Tremont, Louisiana, was scheduled for around midnight the night of September 5th, but the train did not arrive until 3:00 AM on the 6th. When they arrived at Tremont, the men who had driven to Louisiana were waiting for them at the train station. The tanks were unloaded in the dark while the men were eaten alive by mosquitos. That night they were allowed to go to Monroe, Louisiana, and it was said there were more soldiers in the town than civilians.

When they arrived, the battalion was assigned to the Red Army, attached to the Fourth Cavalry, and stationed at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. The battalion’s bivouac was in the Kisatchi Forest. What made the bivouac worse was that the rainy season started and the men found themselves living in it. On one occasion the battalion was bivouac near a canal and the next morning the men found themselves in water over their shoes trying to dig ditches for drainage. The members of B Company captured a medium-sized alligator in their bivouac and pulled it around at the end of a leash made from a rope. Two days later the battalion made a two-day move, as a neutral unit, to Ragley, Louisiana, and was assigned to the Blue Army and fought with the 191st Tank Battalion as the First Tank Group. 

The mobile kitchens moved right along with the rest of the battalion. In the opinion of the men, the food was not very good because the damp air made it hard to start a fire. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili  – which they called Iron Rations – that they carried in their backpacks and choked down. Drinking water was scarce; men went days without shaving, and many shaved their heads to keep cool. Washing clothes was done when the men had a chance since fresh water was at a premium. They did this by finding a creek, looking for alligators, and if there were none, taking a bar of soap and scrubbing whatever they were washing. Clothes were usually washed once a week or once every two weeks. Men also had stumble from beards since shaving was difficult because of the lack of water. Men also shaved their heads because of the heat. Many men wonder who thought it was a good idea to purchase Louisiana from the French.

The tankers stated that they had never seen so many mosquitoes, ticks, and snakes before. Water moccasins were the most common snake, but there were also rattlesnakes. Snake bites were also a problem and at some point, it seemed that every other man was bitten by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snake bite kit that was used to create a vacuum to suck the poison out of the bite. The bites were the result of the night cooling down and snakes crawling under the soldiers’ bedrolls for warmth while the soldiers were sleeping on them. When the soldiers woke up in the morning they would carefully pick up their bedrolls to see if there were any snakes under them.

To avoid being bitten, men slept on the two-and-a-half-ton trucks or on or in the tanks. Another trick the soldiers learned was to dig a small trench around their tents and lay rope in the trench. The burs on the rope kept the snakes from entering the tents. The snakes were not a problem if the night was warm. There was one multicolored snake – about eight inches long –  that was beautiful to look at, but if it bit a man he was dead. The good thing was that these snakes would not just strike at the man but only strike if the man forced himself on the snake. It is known one member of A Company, John Spencer, was bitten by a snake but had no serious effects.

They also had a problem with the wild hogs in the area. In the middle of the night while the men were sleeping in their tents they would suddenly hear hogs squealing. The hogs would run into the tents pushing on them until they took them down and dragged them away. 

During the maneuvers, tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack, in support of infantry, and held defensive positions. Some men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.”  The maneuvers were described by other men as being awakened at 4:30 A.M. and sent to an area to engage an imaginary enemy. After engaging the enemy, the tanks withdrew to another area. The crews had no idea what they were doing most of the time because they were never told anything by the higher-ups. A number of men felt that they just rode around in their tanks a lot. 

While training at Ft. Knox, the tankers were taught that they should never attack an anti-tank gun head-on. One day during the maneuvers, their commanding general threw away the entire battalion doing just that. After sitting out for a period of time, the battalion resumed the maneuvers. The major problem for the tanks was the sandy soil. On several occasions, tanks were parked and the crews walked away from them. When they returned, the tanks had sunk into the sandy soil up to their hauls. It was said that the clay at Ft. Knox was not as bad as the sandy soil in Louisiana. To get them out, other tanks were brought in and attempted to pull them out. If that didn’t work, the tankers brought a tank wrecker to pull the tank out from Camp Polk.

It was not uncommon for the tankers to receive orders to move at night. On October 1st at 2:30 A.M., they were awakened by the sound of a whistle which meant they had to get the tanks ready to move. Those assigned to other duties loaded trucks with equipment. Once they had assembled into formations, they received the order to move, without headlights, to make a surprise attack on the Red Army. By 5:30 that morning –  after traveling 40 miles in 2½ hours from their original bivouac in the dark – they had established a new bivouac and set up their equipment.  They camouflaged their tanks and trucks and set up sentries to look for paratroopers or enemy troops. At 11:30, they received orders, and 80 tanks and armored vehicles moved out into enemy territory. They engaged the enemy at 2:38 in the afternoon and an umpire with a white flag determined who was awarded points or penalized. At 7:30 P.M., the battle was over and the tanks limped back to the bivouac where they were fueled and oiled for the next day.

The one good thing that came out of the maneuvers was that the tank crews learned how to move at night which at Ft. Knox was never done. Without knowing it, the night movements were preparing them for what they would do in the Philippines since most of the battalion’s movements there were made at night. The drivers learned how to drive at night and to take instructions from their tank commanders who had a better view from the turret. Several motorcycle riders from other tank units were killed because they were riding their bikes without headlights on which meant they could not see obstacles in front of their bikes. When they hit something they fell to the ground and the tanks following them went over them. This happened several times before the motorcycle riders were ordered to turn on their headlights.

Water was rationed, so the soldiers washed in streams after making sure there were no alligators or snakes nearby. If they took a bath, they did it in cold water. Men went days without washing their faces. The popular conversation during the maneuvers was where the battalion being was being sent next. Rumors flew that after the maneuvers they were going to Ft. Ord, California, Ft. Lewis, Washington, Ft. Benning, Georgia, or Ft. Mead, Maryland. 

Captain Donald Haines told B Company about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and ordered all the members of the tank crews to their tanks. Some sources state the half-tracks took up positions alongside the tanks while other sources state they remained in the battalion’s bivouac.

It was just after noon and the men were listening to Tokyo Rose who announced that Clark Field had been bombed. They got a good laugh out of it since they hadn’t seen an enemy plane all morning, but before the broadcast ended that had changed. At 12:45 p.m., 54 planes approached the airfield from the northwest. Men commented that the planes must be American Navy planes until someone saw Red Dots on the wings. They then saw what looked like “raindrops” falling from the planes and when bombs began exploding on the runways the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. It was stated that no sooner had one wave of planes finished bombing and were returning to Formosa than another wave came in and bombed. The second wave was followed by a third wave of bombers. One member of the 192nd, Robert Brooks, D Co., was killed during the attack.

The bombers were quickly followed by Japanese fighters that sounded like angry bees to the tankers as they strafed the airfield. The tankers watched as American pilots attempted to get their planes off the ground. As they roared down the runway, Japanese fighters strafed the planes causing them to swerve, crash, and burn. Those that did get airborne were barely off the ground when they were hit. The planes exploded and crashed to the ground tumbling down the runways. The Japanese planes were as low as 50 feet above the ground and the pilots would lean out of the cockpits so they could more accurately pick out targets to strafe. The tankers said they saw the pilots’ scarfs flapping in the wind. One tanker stated that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down.

The Coast Artillery had trained with the latest anti-aircraft guns while in the States, but the decision was made to send them to the Philippines with older guns. They also had proximity fuses for the shells and had to use an obsolete method to cut the fuses. This meant that most of their shells exploded harmlessly in the air.

The Zeros doing a figure eight strafed the airfield and headed toward and turned around behind Mount Arayat. One tanker stated that the planes were so low that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down. It was also stated that the tankers could see the scarfs of the pilots flapping in the wind as they looked for targets to strafe. Having seen what the Japanese were doing, the half-tracks were ordered to the base’s golf course which was at the opposite end of the runways. There they waited for the Zeros to complete their flight pattern. The first six planes that came down the length of the runways were hit by fire from the half-tracks. As they flew over the golf course, flames and smoke were seen trailing behind them. When the other Japanese pilots saw what happened, they pulled up to about 3,000 feet before dropping their small incendiary bombs and leaving. The planes never strafed the airfield again.

While the attack was going on, the Filipinos who were building the 192nd’s barracks took cover. After the attack, they went right back to work on building the barracks. This happened several times during the following air raids until the barracks were destroyed by bombs during an air raid. According to the members of the battalion, it appeared the Filipino contractor wanted to be paid; war or no war.

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, and trucks, and anything else that could carry the wounded was in use. Within an hour the hospital had reached its capacity. As the tankers watched the medics placed the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. When the hospital ran out of room, the battalion members set up cots under mango trees for the wounded and even the dentist gave medical aid to the wounded.

Sgt. Robert Bronge, B Co., had his crew take their half-track to the non-com club. During the 17 days that the 192nd had been in the Philippines, Bronge had spent three months of pay, on credit, at the non-com club. When they got to the club they found one side was collapsed from an explosion of a bomb nearby. Bronge entered the club and found the Aircorpsmen – assigned to the club – were putting out fires or trying to get the few planes that were left into the air. He found the book with the names of those who owed the club money and destroyed it. His crew loaded the half-track with cases of beer and hard liquor. When they returned to their assigned area at the airfield, they radioed the tanks they had salvaged needed supplies from the club.

After the attack, the tank crews spent much of the time loading bullets by hand from rifle cartridges into machine gun belts since they had gone through most of their ordnance during the attack. That night, since they did not have any foxholes, the men used an old latrine pit for cover since it was safer in the pit than in their tents. The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes. Without knowing it, they had slept their last night on a cot or bed, and from this point on, the men slept in blankets on the ground. One result of the attack was that D Company was never transferred to the 194th.

The tankers recovered the 50 caliber machine guns from the planes that had been destroyed on the ground and got most of them to work. They propped up the wings of the damaged planes so they looked like the planes were operational hoping this would fool the Japanese to come over to destroy them. The next day when the Japanese fighters returned, the tankers shot two planes down. After this, the planes never returned. It was at this time every man was issued Springfield and Infield rifles. Some worked some didn’t so they cannibalized the rifles to get one good rifle from two bad ones.

The next morning the decision was made to move the battalion into a tree-covered area. Those men not assigned to a tank or half-track walked around Clark Field to view the damage. As they walked, they saw there were hundreds of dead. Some of the dead were pilots who had been caught asleep, because they had flown night missions, in their tents during the first attack. Others were pilots who had been killed attempting to get to their planes. The tanks were still at the southern end of the airfield when a second air raid took place on the 10th. This time the bombs fell among the tanks of the battalion at the southern end of the airfield wounding some men.

C Company was ordered to the area of Mount Arayat on December 9th. Reports had been received that the Japanese had landed paratroopers in the area. No paratroopers were found, but it was possible that the pilots of damaged Japanese planes may have jumped from them. That night, they heard bombers fly at 3:00 a.m. on their way to bomb Nichols Field. The battalion’s tanks were still bivouacked among the trees when a second air raid took place on the 10th. This time the bombs fell among the tanks of the battalion at the southern end of the airfield wounding some men.

On the 10th, the half-tracks were in the battalion’s area watching the airfield. A formation of Japanese bombers bombed the area. As the crews sat in the half-tracks a 500 bomb exploded about 500 feet from them. The bombs fell in a straight line toward the half-tracks. One bomb fell 25 feet from the half-tracks and then eighteen feet in front of the half-tracks. The final bomb fell about 250 feet behind the half-tracks. The shriek of the bombs falling scared the hell out of the men. T/4 Frank Goldstein radioed HQ and told them about the unexploded bombs. A bomb disposal squad was sent to the area. Later, a jeep pulled up and an officer and enlisted man marked where the sixteen unexploded bombs were located. The crew could see the smoke rising from the fuses of the unexploded bombs. Another jeep and a bulldozer arrived and dirt was pushed over the bombs. The half-track’s crew radioed HQ and told them they were moving to the old tank park away from the bombs.

On December 12th, B Company was sent to the Barrio of Dau to guard a highway and railroad against sabotage. The other companies of the 192nd remained at Clark Field until December 14th, when they moved to a dry stream bed. Around December 15th, after the Provisional Tank Group Headquarters was moved to Manila, Major Maynard Snell, a 192nd staff officer, stopped at Ft. Stotsenburg where anything that could be used by the Japanese was being destroyed. He stopped the destruction long enough to get five-gallon cans loaded with high-octane gasoline and small arms ammunition put onto trucks to be used by the tanks and infantry.

The tank battalion received orders on December 21st to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf to relieve the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. During the move north, B Company rejoined the battalion. B and C Companies were sent north but because of logistics problems, they soon ran low on fuel. When they reached Rosario on the 22nd, Cpl. Russell Vertuno was waiting for them, but there was only enough fuel for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.

Lt. Ben Morin’s platoon approached Agoo when it ran head-on into a Japanese motorized unit. The Japanese light tanks had no turrets and sloped armor. The shells of the American tanks glanced off the tanks. Morin’s tank was knocked out and his crew was captured. During this engagement, a member of another tank crew, Pvt. Henry J. Deckert, was killed by enemy fire when a shell hit the ball joint of the machine gun port and the concussion decapitated him. He was later buried in a churchyard. Sgt. Willard VOn Bergen bent down to talk to his driver and an armor-piercing shell went through the turret where he had been standing. The remaining tanks withdrew and reported destroyed, but all were later put back into use. This was the first tank action in World War II involving American tanks. From this time on, the tanks served as a rear guard, holding roads open until all the other troops withdrew before falling back to another predetermined position to repeat the action. The Provisional Tank Group Headquarters remained in Manila until December 23rd when it moved with the 194th north out of Manila.

On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of the river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province. One tank platoon went through the town of Gapan. After they were through the town, they were informed it had been held by the Japanese. They could never figure out why the Japanese had not fired on them. 

A Company lost its commander, Capt. Walter Write, on December 26th. According to the story, he saw Sergeant Owen Sandmire placing landmines in the road. The mines were made by Philippine Ordnance from cigar boxes with dynamite. Write took a mine away from Sandmire and told them it looked funny. As he was placing it, it exploded in his hands. Before he died, he asked that roses be placed on his grave, but since there were no roses, the men placed a native red flower on his grave. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th when the 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line. From there they fell back to the south bank of the BanBan River which they were supposed to hold for as long as possible. The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.

The tanks were near Santo Tomas on the 28th and were spread out from east to west and were being bombed and shelled. A few minor injuries were reported. They were ordered to fall back to San Isidro which was located south of Cabanatuan where they were shelled again resulting in one tank being flipped onto its side when a shell landed near it. The crew was taken to a field hospital with minor injuries. The tank was put in an upright position and manned by another crew. It was noted that the tank crews were physically in poor condition from lack of sleep, lack of food, and constantly being on alert.

While engaged in battle with the Japanese on the 29th, a B Co. tank was disabled when it hit a landmine and lost one of its tracks. Unable to move, the tank was cut off from its support troops during the battle. Sgt. Ray Mason, Sgt. Walter Mahr, Pvt. Quincey Humphries and Pvt. LD Marrs were ordered out of their tank by the Japanese. When they got out of the tank, they expected to be taken, prisoners. Instead, they were ordered to run by the Japanese. As they ran, all four men were machine-gunned. Mason was killed, Humphries was never seen again, and Marrs was taken prisoner. Only Mahr managed to reach American lines.

The night of the 29th, A Company’s 2nd and 3rd platoons were at Zaeagosa and bivouacked for the night on both sides of a road. A noise was heard and the sentries woke up the tank crews. The tankers watched a Japanese bicycle battalion of 100 to 300 men come riding down the road and into their bivouac. The tankers opened up with everything they had. When they ceased fire, they had wiped out the entire battalion. When they were ordered to withdraw, the tanks went over the bodies.

It was at this time that a platoon of B Company tanks found itself on a road holding up the Japanese advance. without knowing it, five tanks took a narrow road that led to the Japanese lines. The drivers of the tanks stayed close enough so that they could see the tank in front of their tank when a shell exploded behind one of the tanks. The tanks were trapped since there was no room for them to turn around. At Ft. Knox, they were taught that if you are lost, or trapped, to double your speed. The tanks hurdled down the road running through gun nests. a roadblock, and running down Japanese soldiers. The tanks turned around, ran through the Japanese positions again, and escaped.

The next morning, December 30th, 2nd Lt. William Read’s, A Co., 192nd, tank platoon was serving as a rearguard and was in a dry rice paddy when it came under enemy fire by Japanese mortars. Read was riding in a tank when one of the enemy rounds hit one of its tracks knocking it out. After escaping the tank, Read stood in front of it and attempted to free the crew. A second round hit the tank, directly below where he was standing blowing off his legs at the knees and leaving him mortally wounded. The other members of his crew carried Read from the tank and laid him under a bridge. Read would not allow himself to be evacuated since there were other wounded soldiers. He insisted that these men be taken first. He would die in the arms of Pvt. Ray Underwood as the Japanese overran the area.

The Japanese had broken through two Philippine Divisions holding Route 5 and C Company was ordered to Baluiag to stop the advance so that the remaining forces could withdraw. On the morning of December 31st, 1st Lt. William Gentry, commanding officer of a platoon of C Company tanks, sent out reconnaissance patrols north of the town of Baluiag. The patrols ran into Japanese patrols, which told the Americans that the Japanese were on their way. Knowing that the railroad bridge was the only way to cross the river into the town, Gentry set up his defenses in view of the bridge and the rice patty it crossed. One platoon of tanks under the command of 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady was to the southeast of the bridge, while Gentry’s tanks were to the south of the bridge hidden in huts in the barrio. The third platoon commanded by Capt Harold Collins was to the south on the road leading out of Baluiag, and 2nd Lt. Everett Preston had been sent south to find a bridge to cross to attack the Japanese from behind.

Early on the morning of the 31st, the Japanese began moving troops across the bridge. The engineers came next and put down planking for tanks. A little before noon Japanese tanks began crossing the bridge. Later that day, the Japanese assembled a large number of troops in the rice field on the northern edge of the town.

Major John Morley, of the Provisional Tank Group, came riding in his jeep into Baluiag. He stopped in front of a hut and was spotted by the Japanese who had lookouts on the town’s church steeple. The guard became very excited so Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks’ positions, got into his jeep and drove off. Gentry had told Morley that his tanks would hold their fire until he was safely out of the village. When Gentry felt the Morley was out of danger, he ordered his tanks to open up on the Japanese tanks at the end of the bridge. The tanks then came smashing through the huts’ walls and drove the Japanese in the direction of Lt. Marshall Kennady’s tanks. Kennady had been radioed and was waiting. Kennady held his fire until the Japanese were in view of his platoon and then joined in the hunt. The Americans chased the tanks up and down the streets of the village, through buildings and under them. By the time C Company was ordered to disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks.

C Company withdrew to Calumpit Bridge after receiving orders from Provisional Tank Group. When they reached the bridge, they discovered it had been blown. Finding a crossing the tankers made it to the south side of the river. Knowing that the Japanese were close behind, the Americans took their positions in a harvested rice field and aimed their guns to fire a tracer shell through the harvested rice. This would cause the rice to ignite which would light the enemy troops. The tanks were about 100 yards apart. The Japanese crossing the river knew that the Americans were there because the tankers shouted at each other to make the Japanese believe troops were in front of them. The Japanese were within a few yards of the tanks when the tanks opened fire which caused the rice stacks to catch fire. The fighting was such a rout that the tankers were using a 37 mm shell to kill one Japanese soldier.

The tank company was next sent to the Barrio of Porac to aid the Philippine Army which was having trouble with Japanese artillery fire. From a Filipino lieutenant, they learned where the guns were located and attacked destroying three of the guns and chasing the Japanese destroying trucks, and killing the infantry. The tanks were ordered to fall back to San Fernando and were refueled and received ammunition. 

The tanks were stationed on both sides of the Calumpit Bridge, on December 31st and January 1st. keeping the bridge open for the Southern Luzon forces. The defenders were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw into Bataan. Platoons from B and C Company saw movement in the distance and opened fire. They later learned that they had knocked out five Japanese tanks. It was while doing this job that the defenders received orders to withdraw. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff. Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridge over the Pampanga River with half of the defenders withdrawing. Due to the efforts of the Self-Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a fierce attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted and the Southern Luzon Forces crossed the bridge.

From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd was again holding a road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape. A Company, on January 5th, was near the Gumain River attached to the 194th Tank Battalion. It was evening and they believed they were in a relatively safe place. Lt. Kenneth Bloomfield told his men to get some sleep. Their sleep was interrupted by the sound of a gunshot. The tankers had no idea that they were about to engage the Japanese who had launched a major offensive. There was a great deal of confusion and the battle lasted until 5:00 A.M. when the Japanese broke off the attack having suffered 50 percent casualties.

It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver: “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”

The Japanese attacked on January 6th at Layac Junction. The defenders included the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts, the 31st Infantry Regiment, the 26th Cavalry, artillery, self-propelled mounts, and the tank group. This was the first major battle in the defense of Bataan and the defenders halted the advance. That night the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdrawal over the bridge. The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, 192nd, noticed A Co. 192nd, was missing and ordered the engineers to wait until he had looked to see if they were anywhere in sight. He found the company, asleep in their tanks, because they had not received the order to withdraw across the bridge. After they had crossed, the bridge was destroyed which made the 192nd the last American unit to enter Bataan. Each tank platoon lost one tank at this time. This was done to provide tanks to D Company, while those crews still without tanks were used as replacements. It was on the 7th, that the food ration was cut in half, and not too long after this was done malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers.

The next day, the battalions were between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of the 17th Ordnance Company assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. The battalion’s tanks had shore duty from Abucay to Lamao on the east side of Bataan. The area took most of the Japanese artillery fire, bombings, and strafing. Self-propelled mounts were assigned to the tank group and each needed a driver so tank drivers were reassigned to the SPMs. The SPMs had a crew of an American driver, a Filipino Scout sergeant who commanded the SPM, and a gun crew from the Philippine Army. The tank drivers were replaced by other members of the battalion who could drive tanks. The tank battalions also received 15 Bren-gun carriers each which were driven by members of the Army Air Corps who reassigned themselves to the tank battalions. Other self-attached Army-Air Corps personnel repaired engines, welded, and served in tank crews. The battalion’s medics were scattered among the companies providing aid. The battalion dropped back to Kilometer 142 on the 12th and did not stay long. When kitchen trucks arrived, the little food they had was divided up among the men.

It is not known when, but during this time, Capt. Fred Bruni who was the commanding officer of HQ Company was made A Company’s CO to replace Capt. Walter Write. Bruni had been one of the original members of the company. At the same time Capt. Robert Sorensen replaced Capt. Donald Hanes as commanding officer of B Company. Hanes was made commanding officer of HQ Company.

Fighting the Japanese for the tankers was made more difficult by the fact that when the tank battalions arrived in the Philippines the only shells that they had been issued for their tanks’ main guns were armor-piercing shells. As it turned out, the Philippine ordnance department had an abundance of anti-personnel shells from World War I. The 17th Ordnance Company converted over 1,000 rounds for use by the tank crews against the Japanese.

A composite tank company was formed the following day under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road. When word came that a bridge was going to be blown, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation. The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest. At this time, the tanks had maintenance work done on them by the 17th Ordnance Company. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines had long past their 400-hour overhauls. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon.

The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of Aubucay Hacienda Road. While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month. The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance and the tank crews had two or three days of rest. It was also at this time that tank companies were reduced to ten tanks, with three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D Company would have tanks. It was on January 9th that the Japanese launched a major offensive on what was called the Aubucay Hacienda line that stretched from Aubucay on the east coast of Bataan to the China Sea on the west.

The Japanese attacked through the Aubucay Hacienda Plantation which was the location of most of the fighting took place. The defenders stated that the bodies of the dead Japanese piled up in front of them and made it more difficult for the next Japanese troops to advance against the line. One tanker from B Co., 192nd, said that when they walked among the Japanese dead, they found hypodermic needles on them. To him, this explained why they kept coming at the tanks even after they had been hit by machine gun fire. The defenders’ artillery was so accurate that the Japanese later stated the defenders were using artillery pieces like they were rifles. The biggest problem was that the defenders had no air cover so they were bombed and stated constantly and were constantly harassed by snipers. The tanks often had the job of protecting the artillery. None of the tank companies liked doing this job since after the guns fired a few rounds a Japanese reconnaissance plane would be sent up to locate the guns. It wasn’t long after this that the Japanese would zero in on where the guns were located. The tankers and artillery crews learned how to “shoot and scoot” very quickly.

It is not known when, but during this time, Capt. Fred Bruni who was the commanding officer of HQ Company was made A Company’s CO to replace Capt. Walter Write. Bruni had been one of the National Guardsmen from Janesville. At the same time Capt. Robert Sorensen , a National Guardsman from Port Clinton, Ohio, replaced Capt. Donald Hanes as commanding officer of B Company. Hanes was made commanding officer of HQ Company.

The defenders were ordered to withdraw on the 25th to a new line known as the Pilar-Begac Line. The tanks were given the job of covering the withdrawal with the 192nd covering the withdrawing troops in the Aubucay area and the 194th covering the troops in the Hacienda area. At 6:00 PM the withdrawal started over the only two roads out of the area which quickly became blocked, and the Japanese could have wiped out the troops but did not take advantage of the situation.

The tankers stated that because of the jungle canopy, the nights on Bataan were so dark that the tankers could not see after dark. It was at night that the Japanese liked to attack. When the attacks came, if the tankers were lucky they were able to use their tanks’ machine guns on them. They could not use the turret machine guns since they could not be aimed at the ground as the Japanese got close to the tanks. If the tank commander had attempted to use his pistol standing in the turret, he was an easy target, so the tanks would simply withdraw from the position. The tanks were at Orion on the 19th and at Kilometer 147 on the 20th. That night the Japanese attempted to land troops on a beach, but the tanks opened fire on them stopping the landing. The tankers and 17th Ordnance worked all day on the 23rd replacing tracks on the tanks.

As to prove how dark it was under the jungle canopy, the B and C Companies had bivouacked for the night, when, at 3:00 a.m., according to Pvt. Herbert Kirchhoff, all hell broke loose. “We thought we were being shelled (by the Japanese) It sounded like the end of the world.” As it turned out, the shells that were landing around them were from American artillery. A Japanese convoy had bivouacked for the night about 100 yards from the tank companies.

During this time, the tanks often found themselves dealing with officers who claimed they were the ranking officers in the area and that they could change the tank company’s orders. Most wanted the tanks to kill snipers or do some other job the infantry had not succeeded at doing. This situation continued until Gen Weaver gave a written order to every tank commander that if an officer attempted to change their orders, they should hand the officer the order. When the officer looked up at the tank commander, the tank commander had his handgun aimed at the officer. Gen Weaver had ordered the tank commanders to shoot any officer attempting to change their orders. This ended the problem.

Companies A and C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan, B Company was held in reserve, and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan.  During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore. The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. During the day, the Japanese would bomb and strafe the airfields, and at night the engineers would repair the airfields. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces. 

The tank battalions, on January 28th, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast, while the battalion’s half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. B Company was defending a beach, along the east coast of Bataan, where the Japanese could land troops. One night while on this duty, the company engaged the Japanese in a firefight as they attempted to land troops on the beach. When morning came, not one Japanese soldier had successfully landed on the beach. The Japanese later told the tankers that their presence on the beaches stopped them from attempting landings.

The tank battalions guarded the two beaches on the eastern side of Bataan where the Japanese could attempt landings. The 194th assigned the coast from Limay to Cacaben and the 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay. The half-tracks of both battalions were used to patrol the roads. One night while on this duty, the B Co., 192nd, engaged the Japanese in a firefight as they attempted to land troops on the beach. When morning came, not one Japanese soldier had successfully landed on the beach. The Japanese later told the tankers that their presence on the beach stopped them from attempting landings.

While doing this job, the tankers noticed that each morning when the PT boats were off the coast they were attacked by Japanese Zeros. B Company made arrangements with the PT boats to be off the beach one morning and wait for the Zeros to arrive and attack. This time when the Japanese Zeros attacked, they were met by machine gun fire from the PT boats but also from the machine guns of the tanks and half-tracks. When the Zeros broke off the attack, they had lost nine of twelve planes. 

B Company had been up all night on beach duty. Every morning “Recon Joe” flew over attempting to locate the tanks under the jungle canopy. On the morning of February 3rd, the tankers were attempting to get some sleep. Sgt. Walter Cigoi aggravated about the plane waking him up, pulled his half-track onto the beach and took a “pot shot” at the plane but missed. Twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared and bombed the position. When the bombs hit the treetops, they exploded. Most of the soldiers took cover in or under the tanks. When the attack was over, the tankers found Pvt. Richard Graff and Pvt. Clemath Peppers were dead. Pvt. Francis McGuire and an unknown member of the company were wounded. The unknown man had his leg partially blown off. The tankers attempted to put him in a jeep, but his leg kept flopping and got in the way. To get him into the jeep, his leg was cut off by T/4 Frank Goldstein.

At the same time, B Company was on beach duty, the battalion took part in the Battle of the Points on the west coast of Bataan where the Japanese landed troops that ended up trapped on points sticking out from Bataan. When they attempted to land reinforcements, they landed in the wrong place. One was the Lapay-Longoskawayan points from January 23rd to 29th, the Quinauan-Aglaloma points from January 22nd to February 8th, and the Sililam-Anyasan points from January 27th to February 13th. The Japanese had been stopped, but the decision was made by Brigadier General Clinton A. Pierce that tanks were needed to support the 45th Infantry Philippine Scouts. He also requested the tanks from the Provisional Tank Group.

On February 2nd, a platoon of C Company tanks was ordered to Quinauan Point where the Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived at about 5:15 P.M. He did a quick reconnaissance of the area, and after meeting with the commanding infantry officer, made the decision to drive tanks into the edge of the Japanese position and spray the area with machine-gun fire. The progress was slow but steady until a Japanese 37 milometer gun was spotted in front of the lead tank, and the tanks withdrew. It turned out that the gun had been disabled by mortar fire, but the tanks did not know this at the time.

The decision was made to resume the attack the next morning, so the 45th Infantry dug in for the night. The next day, the tank platoon did reconnaissance before pulling into the front line. They repeated the maneuver and sprayed the area with machine gunfire. As they moved forward, members of the 45th Infantry followed the tanks. The troops made progress all day long along the left side of the line. The major problem the tanks had to deal with was tree stumps which they had to avoid so they would not get hung up on them. The stumps also made it hard for the tanks to maneuver. Coordinating the attack with the infantry was difficult, so the decision was made to bring in a radio car so that the tanks and infantry could talk with each other.

Only 3 of 23 tanks were being used and without the support of infantry and the trick during the attack through the jungle was to avoid large trees and clear a way for the infantry to attack. This they did by thrusting into the jungle. They only became aware of enemy positions when they were fired on. The tanks were supposed to have support from mortars but the ammunition was believed to be defective. It was found that the mortars were manned by inexperienced air corpsmen converted to infantry who had no idea that the arming pins on the mortar shells had to be pulled before firing them so the shells landed and did not explode.

On February 4th, at 8:30 A.M. five tanks and the radio car arrived. The tanks were assigned the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, so each tank commander knew which tank was receiving an order. Each tank also received a walkie-talkie, as well as the radio car and infantry commanders. This was done so that the crews could coordinate the attack with the infantry and so that the tanks could be ordered to where they were needed. The Japanese were pushed back almost to the cliffs when the attack was halted for the night. The attack resumed the next morning and the Japanese were pushed to the cliff line where they hid below the edge of the cliff out of view. It was at that time that the tanks were released to return to the 192nd.

The tank group command reported that the tanks’ suspension systems were failing. It was determined that the volute springs were freezing up because of their exposure to salt water. This information was sent to Washington D.C. which ordered that every vehicle using the volute spring suspension system be given new suspension systems.

The tank companies also took part in the Battle of the Pockets in February to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive was stopped and pushed back to the original line of defense. The Little Pocket was on top of a hill a quarter mile behind the main line of defense. The Big Pocket was a half mile south of Trails 5 and 7. Fighting in the Big Pocket the tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that each tank company was rotated out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.

To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded. The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank going around in a circle and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks so they wouldn’t smell the rotting flesh in the tracks.

While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. 

In the Big Pocket, C Company lost one tank, on February 2nd, that had gone beyond the area controlled by the defenders. The tank was disabled by a thermite mine. It appeared that the crew – Sgt. Elmer Smith, Pvt. Vernor Deck, Pvt. Sidney Rattner, and Pvt. Robert Young – were killed by hand grenades thrown into the tank as they attempted to evacuate it. When the tank was recovered, the battalion’s maintenance section removed the bodies which was a gruesome job. The bodies were so badly mangled that the only way to identify them was by matching personal possessions and clothing to the bodies. One man appeared to have been alive when the Japanese began to fill the tank with dirt from the foxhole they dug under it since a handgun with a spent bullet casing was found in the tank. The tank was put back into service.

During the Battle of Toul Pocket, Cpl. Jack Bruce, A Co., was hit by enemy fire and an attempt was made to rescue him. On February 12th. during this recovery attempt, Sgt. John Hopple, HQ Co, was wounded by a sniper as he, Sgt. Owen Sandmire, A Co., and two other members of the battalion attempted to rescue Bruce. The four men crawled out to Bruce, while under fire, put him on the litter, and returned him to American lines. Three of the four rescuers were wounded. Sandmire drove Hopple and the others who had been wounded to the field hospital. To do this he drove down the west coast of Bataan, through Mariveles, and back up the east coast to the field hospital. Because of the tropical climate, infections set in quickly. Hopple succumbed to his wounds later in the day on February 18th at Hospital #1, Little Baguio, on Bataan.

What made this job of eliminating the Japanese so hard was that they had dug “spider holes” among the roots of the trees. Because of this situation, the Americans could not get a good shot at the Japanese. Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved. 

In another incident, a tank from B Company became wedged between two trees after its driver was blinded by a flame thrower. The crew was ordered out of the tank and told to run. As they ran, the Japanese machine-gunned them. The tank commander was killed instantly, while the other three men made it into a sugarcane field. Only one of the three men was found the next day and was sent to the hospital where he recovered from his wounds. Another man was taken prisoner, while the last man was never heard from again. He may have died from his wounds or was killed by the Japanese. It appears that this tank was also recovered.

The tankers, from A, B, and C Companies, were able to clear the pockets by February 18th, but before this was done, one C Company tank that had gone beyond the American perimeter and was disabled with the crew inside. The tankers stated the tank just sat there, and when the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there. During the night, its crew had attempted to escape the tank and was buried inside the tank, by the Japanese who had dug a machine gun nest under it. When the tank was recovered, it was turned on its side to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the crew. It was said that one man looked like he was still alive as the tank was filled with dirt. The crew was buried and the tank was put back into use. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Presidential Unit Citations

The 192nd unlike other units had arrived in the Philippines just before the start of the war, so they did not have the opportunity to stockpile food. The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U.S. Cavalry. During this time the soldiers ate monkeys, snakes, lizards, horses, and mules. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day. The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with the picture of a scantily clad blond on them. The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been a hamburger since the men were so hungry they more likely would have surrendered for a good meal. The one good thing about the leaflets was they were printed on tissue paper which the men used as toilet paper.

The amount of gasoline in March was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. It was during this time that Gen Wainwright wanted to turn the tanks into pillboxes. Gen Weaver pointed out to Wainwright that they did not have enough tanks to effectively do this, and if they did, they soon would have no tanks. Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined. 

The reality was that the same illnesses that were taking their toll on the Bataan defenders were also taking their toll on the Japanese. American newspapers wrote about the lull in the fighting and the building of defenses against the expected assault that most likely would take place. The soldiers on Bataan also knew that an assault was coming, they just didn’t know when it would take place. The newspapers in the U.S. wrote about the lull in Bataan and the preparations for the expected offensive.

Having brought in combat-harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3rd supported by artillery and aircraft. The artillery barrage started at 10 AM and lasted until noon and each shell seemed to be followed by another that exploded on top of the previous shell. At the same time, wave after wave of Japanese bombers hit the same area dropping incendiary bombs that set the jungle on fire. The defenders had to choose between staying in their foxholes and being burned to death or seeking safety somewhere else. As the fire approached their foxholes those men who chose to attempt to flee were torn to pieces by shrapnel. It was said that arms, legs, and other body parts hung from tree branches. A large section of the defensive line at Mount Samat was wiped out. The next day a large force of Japanese troops came over Mt. Samat and descended 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.

A Co. was attached to the 194th Tank Battalion and was on beach duty with A Co., 194th. When the breakthrough came, the two tank companies were directly in the path of the advance. When the Japanese attempted to land troops, their smoke screen blew into their troops causing them to withdraw.

On April 7th, 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 Japanese attacked the line held by American troops on April 8th. It was said that the Japanese made what the Americans called “A Bridge of Death” where the Japanese threw themselves on the barbed wire until there were enough bodies on it so the following troops could walk over it. The defenders were not only defending against a frontal attack, but they also were defending against attacks on their flanks and rear.

It was the evening of April 8th that Gen. 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 were 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. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack on the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. 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.” 

Capt. Robert Sorenson, the company commander, ordered the crews to destroy their tanks. They cut the gas lines and threw torches into the tanks. Within minutes, the ammunition inside the tanks began exploding. After this was done, Sorenson and Major John Morley got into his jeep and made their way to Bayakaguin Point which was the command post for the tank group. Behind them in half-tracks were the tank crews of B Company. After arriving there, it was reported the half-tracks were driven off cliffs and a number of men attempted to reach Corregidor.

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 the order “crash.” As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and the 17th Ordnance Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can. When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you; you surrendered. I was the one who 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. Another jeep followed them – 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 managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.

At about 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed Gen. King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from the Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. 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 in the line of the Japanese advance should fly white flags. After this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived and King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff who had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get assurances 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.

Unknown to Gen. King, an order attributed to Gen. Masaharu Homma – but in all likelihood from one of his subordinates – had been given. It stated, “Every troop which fought against our army on Bataan should be wiped out thoroughly, whether he surrendered or not, and any American captive who is unable to continue marching all the way to the concentration camp should be put to death in the area of 200 meters off the road.”

Mike and the other members of his company destroyed their vehicles except for two trucks. They planned to ride in these two trucks to the destination that the Japanese selected. Instead, the Japanese took the trucks and Mike found himself walking to Mariveles, where he would begin what became known as the death march.

On the march, Mike recalled that the Japanese killed prisoners for the smallest things. If a POW fell and another attempted to help him, they both were killed. Despite this, Mike believed that he did not see as much brutality as other men witnessed.  Of this, he said, “My strongest memory is seeing a comrade fall and not being able to help him. You’d get shot. It would be your kife and his. It’s hard to live with that.”

According to Mike, taking a break while on the march was stopping and standing in position. Meals were “middling” which was very bitter and hard to eat. He also believed that escaping was the same as suicide because the POW would need a large amount of quinine to survive in the jungle.

The men were marched until they reached San Fernando. Once there, they were herded into a bullpen, surrounded by barbed wire, and put into groups of 200 men. One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine and got food for the group. Each man received a ball of rice and four or five dried onions. Water was given out with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share.

The POWs were organized into detachments of 100 men. From the compound, they were marched to the train station, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as “forty or eights.” Each boxcar could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly that the dead could not fall to the floor. At Capas, as the living left the cars and those who had died – during the trip – fell to the floors of the cars. As they left the cars, the Filipino civilians threw bananas, mangos, rice cakes, and sugarcane at the POWs. They also gave the POWs water. The guards did not stop them.

At San Fernando, the POWs were put in another bullpen. In one corner was a slit trench that was the washroom for the POWs. The surface of it moved from the maggots. It is not known how long he was held in the bullpen and if he was fed while there. The POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men. They were taken to the train station and packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as “forty or eights” since they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese put 100 POWs into each boxcar because the detachments had 100 men in them. Those who died remained standing since there was no room for them to fall to the floors of the cars. At Capas, the POWs disembarked and the dead fell to the floors of the cars. When the prisoners got off the train, there were Japanese offering them money to buy food.

At Camp O’Donnell, the POWs were taken into a large field where they were counted and searched and all extra clothing that they had was taken from them and not returned. Blankets, knives, and matches were taken from them. If a man was found to have Japanese money or other items on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Finally, the camp commandant came out, stood on the back of a flatbed truck, and told them that they were enemies of Japan and would always be Japan’s enemies. He also told them that they were captives and not prisoners of war and would be treated accordingly. After the speech, the prisoners were allowed to go to their barracks. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp as the POWs who had Japanese items on them were executed for looting.

Each unit was assigned its own barracks with the 192nd, 194th, and 17th Ordnance in the same area. There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men and those who did sleep in one slept in one with as many 80 to 120 men. Most of the POWs slept on the ground under the barracks. There was no netting to protect the men from malaria-carrying mosquitos as they slept, so many men soon became ill with malaria. The ranking American officer was slapped after asking for building materials to repair the buildings.

The POWs received three meals, mainly rice, a day. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half cup of sweet potato soup. Some men said it was slop and made men violently ill. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather. Men stated that other men would push the food away and not eat and were gradually starving themselves. When they realized that they were dying they tried to eat but had completely lost their appetites for any food. By May 1st, the food had improved a little with the issuing of a little wheat flour, some native beans, and a small issue of coconut oil. About once every ten days, 3 or 4 small calves were brought into the camp. When the meat was given out, there was only enough for one-fourth of the POWs to receive a piece that was an inch square. A native potato, the camote, was given to the POWs, but most were rotten and thrown out. The POWs had to post guards to prevent other POWs from eating them. The camp had a Black Market and POWs who had money could buy a small can of fish from the guards for $5.00.

One of the biggest problems with the food was the cooks – regardless of unit – pilfered extra food for themselves. It was reported that some of the cooks looked healthier than the average POW. The cooks even sold the food to other POWs. When the cooks were replaced in an attempt to deal with the problem, the new cooks soon were doing the same thing.

There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line for 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 by the POWs who came up with the pipe, dug the trench, and ran the waterline. Just like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the water when they wanted water to bathe, but unlike the first water line, the POWs had the ability to turn on the water again without the Japanese knowing it.

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. The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, but the Japanese commandant 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 use. When a second truck was sent to the camp by the Red Cross, it was turned away.

The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – out of the six medics 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.

The Manila Society – which was a branch of the Philippine Red Cross – collected a great quantity of clothing, medicines, powdered milk, marmalade, and oatmeal and delivered it to the Red Cross which was under Japanese control. They were told they could help make juices and packages of sweet coconut for the POWs and did so. When they were finished, the Japanese stated that it was too good for the Americans and that the packages would be given to their soldiers.

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 bodies were moved to one side, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, 80 bodies lay under the hospital awaiting burial.

The dead were carried to the cemetery in litters and placed in a grave with four other POWs. It was not unusual for a POW working this detail to die and be put into the grave with the other dead. Before they were buried, the dead were stripped of their clothing, which was boiled in hot water and then given to another POW who needed clothing.

When the POWs returned to the cemetery in the morning to dig graves for the men who had died during the night, they found the arms and legs of the dead sticking out of the ground and wild dogs pulling on them. The men would chase off the dogs, knock the arms and legs down, and rebury them.

A Japanese clerk, Mr. Nishimura, was in charge of giving work details assignments to the POWs. It was stated he was the camp interpreter and a member of the diplomatic corps. 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. When these men returned to the camp many died. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. 

Documents from after the war state that some of the Japanese assigned to the camp had drug problems which may have contributed to the abusive treatment of the POWs. POWs stated that they noticed that at times the guards had glassy eyes and seemed that their speech was slurred. It also was stated that the Japanese government ordered those soldiers caught abusing drugs be executed. The document also stated that the Japanese government went to great lengths to cover the problem up.

Seeing the POWs dying around him, he knew he had to get out of the camp, so he volunteered to go out on a work detail. On May 12th, he was sent out on a work detail of 100 POWs to scavenge destroyed American equipment as scrap metal known as the Calacoon Detail. The men, on this work detail, were selected because they were in good physical condition and the Japanese knew the tank battalion members could drive cars. The POWs were sent to Camp Olivas where they lived. They also received treatment that was much better than that given to other prisoners. But, according to T/Sgt. Harold S. Kirk, there was a Japanese Warrant Officer who would beat up the POWs when he got drunk two or three times a week. According to Kirk, all the POWs were victims of one of the beatings at least on one occasion.

In May, his family received messages from the War Department.

Dear Mr. C. Wepsiec:

        According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private Mike S. Wepsiec, 20,600,470, 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 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
 

The men drove trucks down to Bataan to bring back vehicles that had been abandoned and disabled by the retreating Filipino and American forces. Each truck had a driver and three men assigned to it. The men would tie three vehicles together behind a truck and tow the damaged vehicles to San Fernando or Calacoon. Each man would sit in a disabled vehicle and steer it. Once the vehicles were at either barrio, other POWs attempted to get them running. If they did, the vehicles then were sent to the Bachrach Garage in Manila where other POWs made additional repairs. If they could not get the vehicles running, the vehicles were stripped for spare parts. From San Fernando, they were taken to Manila where the vehicles were flattened and loaded onto ships bound for Japan. The POWs then were driven to San Fernando where they lived in a Catholic school for girls. The next day they repeated the process.

While doing this job the POWs learned that if they applied the breaks, the stress from doing this weakened the rope and it would snap. The POWs learned to do this as they entered a barrio so that the rope snapped near the center of the town. The column came to a stop and while the rope was being tied together, the Filipinos gave food to the POWs. The guards did not stop the Filipinos.

A different version of this story was printed in a Chicago paper and came from a letter. In the letter, it was stated that the POWs would pass through the barrio of Guiginto on their way to and from collecting disabled vehicles on Bataan and taking them to San Fernando or Calacoon. The Filipinos could not believe how sickly the POWs looked. It was stated that the POWs would say to them, “Father, mother, brother, sister, I am hungry,” so the Filipinos began giving them food. The Japanese captain in charge did not stop them and it became a routine that each day for 30 minutes he allowed the POWs to stop and receive food from the Filipinos.

While on the detail, the POWs hunted water buffaloes with the Japanese. The POWs put out large blocks of salt and the water buffaloes came down from the mountains at night to eat it. They would turn on lights on two eighteen-ton wreckers and the Japanese shot them and allowed the POWs to eat the hindquarters. 

During the spring of 1943, gasoline was being stolen that was used for operating vehicles used by the POWs. Eleven Filipinos were caught stealing gasoline by the Japanese. They were strung up by their thumbs with their toes barely touching the ground. The POWs were made to sit in front of the Filipinos on steps and the Japanese sat at tables. One Filipino was released and was beaten kicked, and cut. The more the Japanese drank, the worse it got. The POWs were forced to watch as pieces of wood were pushed into the men’s rectums. When he screamed the Japanese laughed. The Japanese did this to each of the Filipinos while the Americans were forced to watch. By morning, only three Filipinos were alive. Two of the Filipinos were beheaded and the remaining man was told to run. As he ran, they used him for rifle practice.

The scrap metal portion of the detail ended in early 1943 and most of the POWs were sent to Cabanatuan. It appears that a small detachment of POWs may have continued working well into 1943, but this has not been verified.

Cabanatuan which was three camps opened to replace Camp O’Donnell. Cabanatuan 1 was where most of the men who captured on Bataan and took part in the march were held. Cabantuan 2 was two miles from Cabanatuan 1 and was where Bataan Hospital #2 patients were sent from Bilibid. It had an inadequate water supply and was closed, but it later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Cabanatuan 3 was three miles from Cabanatuan 2 and was where most of those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken. It was consolidated into Cabanatuan 1 on October 30th.

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 double-deck bamboo shelves nine feet wide and eight feet long, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many developed sores and became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together and went out on work details together since the Japanese had instituted the “Blood Brothers” 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. It was said that the Japanese guards would attempt to get the POWs assigned to guard the inside of the fence to come outside the perimeter of the fence. If the man did, he was shot and the guards told their commanding officer that the POW was “trying to escape.”

In the camp, the prisoners continued to die, but at a slower rate. 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. 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. The platform was covered in feces which was made worse by the excrement from the higher platform dripping down onto it. Most of those who entered the ward died. When a POW died, the POWs stripped him of his clothing, and the man was buried naked. The dead man’s clothing was washed in boiling water and given to a prisoner in need of clothing. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area.

During June, the first cases of diphtheria appeared in the camp, and by July, it had spread throughout the camp. The Japanese finally gave the American medical staff antibiotics to treat the POWs, but before it took effect, 130 POWs had died from the disease by August. For those POWs with tuberculosis who were in the hospital, their rations were reduced to 240 grams of rice, camote (made from camote peelings), and powdered dried fish. In addition, the POW doctors were given four twelve-ounce cans of milk for every 39 patients with malaria.

The medicine given to the POWs had to be divided between Cabanatuan and Bilibid. Cabanatuan received 50 percent of the medicine and Bilibid 50 percent. But when the large POW detachment was sent to Davao, Bilibid received only 30 percent and Davao 20 percent. By doing this division, medicine that would do the POWs good was divided into small quantities resulting in them having no real medical value.

The POWs had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of four men that carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies. The water table was high so when the bodies were put into the graves, POWs held them down with poles until they were covered with dirt. The next day when the burials continued, the dead were often found sitting up in their graves or dug up by wild dogs.

The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each morning, as the POWs stood at attention and roll call was taken, the Japanese guards hit them across their heads. 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. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. 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.

On June 26th, six POWs were executed by the Japanese after they had left the camp to buy food and were caught returning to camp. The POWs were tied to posts in a manner that they could not stand up or sit down. No one was allowed to give them food or water and they were not permitted to give them hats to protect them from the sun. The men were left tied to the posts for 48 hours when their ropes were cut. Four of the POWs were executed on the duty side of the camp and the other two were executed on the hospital side of the camp.

On September 17th a POW who escaped on August 7th was recaptured. He was placed in solitary confinement and during his time there, he was beaten over the head with an iron bar by a Japanese sergeant. The camp commandant, Col. Mori, would parade him around the camp and use the man as an example as he lectured the POWs. The man wore a sign that read, “Example of an Escaped Prisoner.”

Three POWs were recaptured on Sept. 21st who had escaped on Sept.12th were brought back to the camp. Their feet were tied together and their hands were crossed behind their backs and tied with ropes. A long rope was tied around their wrists and they were suspended from a rafter with their toes barely touching the ground causing their arms to bear all the weight of their bodies. They were subjected to severe beatings by the Japanese guards while hanging from the rafter. The punishment lasted three days. They were cut from the rafter and they were tied hand and foot and placed in the cooler for 30 days on a diet was rice and water.  One of the three POWs was severely beaten by a Japanese lieutenant but was later released.

On September 29th, the Japanese executed three POWs after they were stopped by American security guards while attempting to escape. The American guards were there to prevent escapes so that the other POWs in their ten-man group would not be executed. During the event, the noise made the Japanese aware of the situation and they came to the area and beat the three men who had tried to escape. One so badly that his jaw was broken. After two and a half hours, the three were tied to posts by the main gate, and their clothes were torn off them. They also were beaten on and off for the next 48 hours. Anyone passing them was expected to urinate on them. After three days they were cut down, thrown into a truck, driven to a clearing in sight of the camp, and shot.

The Japanese announced to the POWs in the camp that on October 14th the daily food ration for each POW would be 550 grams of rice, 100 grams of meat, 330 grams of vegetables, 20 grams of fat, 20 grams of sugar, 15 grams of salt, and 1 gram of tea. In reality, the POWs noted that the meals were wet rice and rice coffee for breakfast, Pechi green soup and rice for lunch, and Mongo bean soup, Carabao meat, and rice for dinner.

The work day started an hour before dawn when the POWs were awakened. They then lined up and bongo (roll call) was taken. The POWs quickly learned to count off quickly in Japanese because the POWs who were slow to respond were hit with a heavy rod. A half-hour before dawn was breakfast, and at dawn, they went to work. Those working on details near the camp returned to the camp for lunch, a tin of rice, at 11:30 AM and then returned to work. The typical workday lasted 10 hours.  

The POWs were organized in groups on November 11th. Group I was made up of all the enlisted men who had been captured on Bataan. Group II was the POWs who had come from Camp 3, and Group III was composed of all Naval and Marine personnel from both Camps 1 and 3 and any civilians in the camp. It was also at this time that an attempt was made to stop the spread of disease. The POWs dug deep drainage ditches, and sump holes for only water, and the garbage began to be buried, and the grass in the camp was cut. Fr. Antonio Bruddenbruck, a German Catholic priest, came to the camp – assisted by Mrs. Escoda – with packages from friends and relatives in Manila on November 12th. There was also medicine and books for the POWs. One hundred POWs worked on Sunday, November 15th digging latrines and sump holes. Since Sunday was a day off, Lt. Col. Curtis Beecher, USMC, made sure each man received 5 cigarettes. On November 16th, a Pvt. Peter Laniauskas was shot trying to escape. Two other POWs were tried by the Japanese for being involved in the escape attempt. One man received 20 days in solitary confinement and the other 30 days. Pvt. Donald K. Russell, on November 20th, was caught trying to reenter the camp at 12:30 A.M. He had left the camp at 8:30 P.M. and secured a bag of canned food by claiming he was a guerrilla. He was executed in the camp cemetery at 12;30 P.M. on November 21st. The Japanese gave out a large amount of old clothing – that came from Manila – to the POWs on November 22nd. On November 23rd, the Japanese wanted to start a farm and needed 750 POWs to do the initial work on it. It was noted that there were only 603 POWs healthy enough to work.

Fr. Bruddenbruck returned on December 10th without proper authorization from the authorities in Manila so he was turned away.  He had brought a truckload of medicine and food for the POWs. It was estimated by the POWs that he spent $300.00 for fuel to make the trip. A POW Pvt. Art Self was beaten so badly on December 12th, that he died. Fr. Bruddenbruck returned on December 24th with two truckloads of presents for the men and a gift bag for each. This time he was allowed into the camp. The next day, Christmas, the POWs received 2½ Red Cross boxes. In each box was milk in some form, corn beef, fish, stew beef, sugar, meat and vegetable, tea, and chocolate. The POWs also received bulk corn beef, sugar, meat and vegetables, stew, raisins, dried fruit, and cocoa which they believed would last them three months. The POWs also were given four days off from work. It should be mentioned that Fr. Buddenbroucke was executed after he was caught snuggling messages to the POWs and from them.

Limited information is known about the Lipa Batangas detail. The original POWs left the camp on September 7, 1942, but when the Japanese decided to increase the size of the detail another detachment of 150 POWs was sent there on January 3, 1943, a detachment of 150 men left Cabanatuan. The next day at 3 a.m. each man received a rice ball to carry with him for his lunch. They left the camp and walked slightly over 6 miles to the Barrio of Cabanatuan where they boarded two box cars for an eight-hour ride to Lipa. Since they had to change trains, they were allowed to stretch before getting on the second train which arrived in Lipa well after dark.

The POWs lived in the barracks of the 45th Infantry Division, Philippine Scouts. Since there was limited room, the men slept shoulder to shoulder on floor mats and in ten men mosquito nets issued by the Japanese. The POWs washed their clothes in buckets.

The meals for the POWs were cooked in four halves of 50-gallon oil barrows. Compared to many details, they were fed relatively well. They received sugar daily, meat once a day, and lots of rice. The POWs were also beaten for smuggling food, or because the guard did not like the look the POW gave him.

The detachment arrived to find two hundred POWs already in the camp. The entire detail totaled 500 POWs, These POWs told them that they were building an airfield on a plateau 1200 feet above sea level in what had been a coconut grove. The POWs were divided into two groups at the airfield which alternated between working for an hour and the other group resting for an hour. They worked constructing a northeast to the southwest runway in what had been a coconut grove. To do this, the POWs had to cut down the trees which were over thirty feet tall with trunks that were two to three feet wide. The trees were about 20 feet apart and planted in rows. After the trees were cut down, the trees dragged away by other POWs. They then dug out the roots with picks and shovels so that the ground could be leveled. The POWs built the runway with picks and shovels and drove trucks, steamrollers, and bulldozers. When they started constructing the runway, the POWs were expected to place rebar before the concrete for the runway was poured. Instead of laying the rebar across the strip, the POWs lay the rebar length-wise in the same direction that the runway ran. 

The new POWs were told that the work was hard but they were fed better than in the POW camps. The meals were described as plenty of rice and meat once each day. They also were told they would receive sugar. The meals turned out to be rice and soup. If meat was issued, it was usually bad and put into the soup. On one occasion, an American working in the kitchen wrote on the lids of the soup containers, “Bad meat in soup.” When the Japanese figured out what he had done, he was beaten on his back with a spoon. Any fish, sugar, or vegetables they got were also put into the soup without being cleaned. The cook was Japanese and put sugar in everything. The POWs believed it was because the Japanese were not used to having a lot of it.

The chaplain in the camp was a Catholic priest who did his best to raise the spirits of the men. On Sunday, he held two Catholic masses and a Protestant service. He also held a Jewish service on Saturdays.

Recalling the detail Mike believed that what really drove the Japanese crazy was that after working all day the POWs would return to the camp singing songs like “God Bless America.” At this time, Mike developed wet beriberi, and his body bloated up to his waist. He was sent to Bilibid Prison where he was given vitamin B pills. He was told to take all the pills, which he did, and they saved his life. After taking them, his body returned to its normal size in a matter of days. When he recovered, he was sent to Cabanatuan.

Food in the prison camps was scarce. Mike remembered a dog that an American major was feeding. He and the other POWs believed that the dog was eating food that should have gone to them, so they slaughtered the dog and ate it.

Mike remained at the camp until he was selected to go out on the Las Pinas Work Detail in July 1943. It was there that he built runways for the Japanese Navy at Nichols Field. The POWs were housed in the Pasay School in eighteen rooms. Thirty men were assigned to each room and slept on the floor. Each morning they got up and did exercises. When they finished, they were fed breakfast, which was fish and rice, and marched about a mile to the airfield. As they marched, the Filipino civilians expressed their sympathy for the POWs whose clothing had deteriorated to rags.

The plans for this expansion came from the American Army which had drawn them up before the war. The Japanese wanted a runway 500 yards wide and a mile long going through hills and a swamp. Unlike the Americans, the Japanese had no plans to use construction equipment. Instead, they intended the POWs to do the work with picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows. The POWs were divided into two detachments. The first detachment drained rice paddies and laid the groundwork for the runway, while the second detachment built the runway. The weather did not change the work schedule for the POWs working at the airfield, but those too ill to work had to remain inside their rooms when it rained.

    After arriving at the airfield, the POWs were counted again. They went to a tool shed and received their tools; once again they were counted. At the end of the workday, the POWs were counted again. When they arrived back at the school, they were counted one final time. Then, they would rush to the showers, since there were only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs. They were fed dinner, another meal of fish and rice, and then counted one final time before the lights were turned out at 9:00 P.M.

    The work was easy until the extension reached the hills some of which were 80 feet high. The POWs flattened the hills by hand. The Japanese replaced the wheelbarrows with mining cars that two POWs pushed to the swamp and dumped as land-fill. As the work became harder and the POWs weaker, less work got done. At the end of the workday, the POWs were counted again, and when they arrived back at the school the Japanese counted them again. Then, they would rush to the showers, since there were only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs. They were fed dinner, they were counted one final time. Lights were turned off at 9:00 P.M.

    The brutality shown to the POWs was severe. The first Japanese commander of the camp, Lt. Moto, was called the “White Angel” because he wore a spotless naval uniform. He was the commander of the camp for slightly over thirteen months. One day a POW collapsed while working on the runway. Moto was told about the man and came out and ordered him to get up. When he couldn’t four other Americans were made to carry the man back to the Pasay School.

    At the school, the Japanese guards showered the man and straightened his clothes as much as possible. The other Americans were ordered to the school. As they stood there, the White Angel ordered an American captain to follow him behind the school. The POW was marched behind the school and the other Americans heard two shots. The American officer told the men that the POW had said, “Tell them I went down smiling.” There, the White Angel shot the POW as the man smiled at him. As the man lay on the ground, he shot him a second time. The American captain told the other Americans what had happened. The White Angel told them that this was going to happen to anyone who would not work for the Japanese Empire.

      On another occasion, a POW collapsed on the runway. The Wolf had the man taken back to the barracks. When the Wolf came to the barracks that evening and the man was still unconscious, he banged the man’s head into the concrete floor and kicked him in the head. He then took the man to the shower and drowned him in the basin. A third POW who had tried to walk away from the detail told the guards to shoot him. The guards took him back to the Pasay School, strung him up by his thumbs outside the doorway, and placed a bottle of beer and sandwich in front of him. He was dead by evening.

      POWs watched as a POW was beaten by Miseroson, Pick Handle Pete, Okiduson, and five other guards. The man had been too weak to work that morning and they tied him to a post and beat him to the ground. The beating lasted about a half hour. They filled his stomach with water until it was full and left there to die. It was also reported that ten POWs were executed because one POW had broken a rule.

      The beatings also took place at the school. It was stated that one POW stole 50 pounds of sugar that had come from the Red Cross for the POWs. The Japanese found it in their room at the school and beat all 28 POWs who shared the room. The POWs reported they were beaten with blackjacks, fists, and kicked. They also received what they called “the rail treatment” and were denied their dinner that evening.

        The POW doctor was only allowed to keep 20 POWs from working each day. If the doctor put more men on the “quarters list” he was beaten by the Japanese. The remains of the POWs who had died on the detail were brought to Bilibid Prison in sealed wooden boxes. The Japanese dictated the causes of death to the American doctor and sent the death certificates, with the causes of death, signed by the doctor sent with the boxes. The Americans from the detail, who accompanied the boxes, would not tell the POWs at Bilibid what had happened. It was only when the sick, from the detail, began to arrive at Bilibid that they learned what the detail was like. The POWs who arrived from the detail were described as skeletons. They also told about the brutality and how other POWs on the detail were killed by the Japanese. These men had been sent to Bilibid to die since it would look better when it was reported to the International Red Cross.

        The medical treatment of the POWs was poor. The Japanese issued little of the Red Cross medical supplies that came into the camp. The POW doctors said there was not enough medicine to cure an ailment but just enough to prolong the ailment. Many of the POWs had malaria but there was a lack of quinine and carborine, and there was no emetine to cure amoebic dysentery. The doctors’ requests for medicines were repeatedly turned down by the Japanese commanding officer. If they performed surgery, the operations were performed without anesthetics or proper medical equipment. The Japanese determined which men were sick enough not to work.

        It was stated that the large number of POWs dying on the detail was so high that the Japanese falsified death certificates for the POWs and forced the American doctors to sign them. Those POWs who brought the dead to Bilibid Prison refused to talk to the POWs at the prison, under fear of death, about the brutality shown them. It was only when POWs who were extremely ill – and that the Japanese believed would die – were sent to the prison that the brutality of the detail was revealed. These men were sent to Bilibid to die so that the death rate at Las Pinas would be lower.

        On September 21, 1944, while the POWs were working, they saw American dive bombers. This was the first time they had seen American planes since the surrender of Bataan. Watching the planes attack the Japanese caused the POWs to cheer. The planes bombed the runways at the airfield and sunk ships in Manila Bay. It was after this attack, that the Japanese decided to send the prisoners to other parts of the Japanese Empire. The next day the detail was ended and the POWs were sent to Bilibid Prison.

        The main meal was 240 grams of boiled rice which was from sweepings of a warehouse floor and had nails, worms, dust, glass, and bottle caps were found in the rice. This was later cut to 120 grams of rice. The POWs picked through the rice to eat it. The POWs grew squash, gourds, green beans, eggplant, and sweet potatoes but these were taken by the Japanese. What they received was scraps from the Japanese mess which did not meet their nutritional needs. If they received fish, it was a fish that was bony and used as fertilizer by the Japanese. Each week they received 250 pounds of potatoes – which the Japanese allowed to rot before issuing it to the POWs – for 500 men. They also were issued 80 pounds of flour a week and 20 pounds of meat a week for 800 POWs. Although fruit grew at the airfield, the POWs were not allowed to eat it and were beaten if they did. When Red Cross packages were given to POWs the Japanese cut the food rations by one-fourth for 15 days.

        The cooks woke up at 4:30 a.m. and began breakfast. At 6:00 the POWs were up and cleaned the rooms until 6:30 the POWs formed 100 detachments and muster or bongo was taken followed by ten minutes of exercise. Breakfast was at 7:00 which was a fish soup with rice. After breakfast at 7:30, there was a second count of all POWs, which included both healthy and sick, before the POWs marched about four miles to the airfield. After arriving at the airfield, the POWs were counted again. They went to a tool shed and received their tools; once again they were counted and worked started at 8. The POWs worked until, had lunch which was followed by a rest period, and went back to work at 1:30 p.m. The work day ended at 4:30 and the men who had worked at the school took showers and washed their clothes. The other POWs at the airfield did the same when they returned to the school. Dinner was served at 6 followed by evening muster at 7 p.m. At 8:00 p.m., the POWs returned to their rooms and all washing stopped. All the POWs had to be in bed at 9:00. Any man who needed to use the latrine at night had to get permission. The POWs were allowed to smoke at 7:00 a.m. until they formed ranks, during their lunch break, and after they returned to the school until 7:00 p.m. No games or music was allowed at the school unless permission was given by the Japanese command.

        The POWs also spent endless hours talking about food and how they would prepare it if they could while on work details. These conversations inspired Mike to write a cookbook. To do this, Mike took the bags from the cement that was being used to build the runways and wrote down the recipes. Somehow, Mike managed to keep the cookbook which is pictured at the bottom of this page.

        In September 1944, Mike and the other POWs were sent to Manila. Before they left for Manila, Mike experienced his first act of kindness from a Japanese soldier. The sergeant in charge of their detail knew they were being sent to Manila, so he purchased a bottle of saki and made sure each prisoner had a drink. This was the sergeant’s going away present to them.

        Shortly after arriving at the prison Mile was selected to be sent to Japan. The POWs were given a rudimentary medical examination and those who failed it were replaced. 

        A list of POWs being sent to Japan was posted at the prison on September 21st and on October 1st the POWs were taken to Pier 7 in Manila, where the detachment of POWs boarded the Hokusen Maru – the ship was a captured French freighter – but the ship did not sail until October 3rd. The ship moved and dropped anchor at the harbor’s breakwater and remained there for three days. The POWs called the ship the Benjo Maru (toilet in Japanese) because of the conditions in the hold. The temperature in the hold rose to over 100 degrees causing some men to go crazy. The Japanese threatened to kill the POWs if they didn’t quiet the men. To do this, the sane POWs strangled those out of their minds or hit them with canteens. 

        It was said by men on the ship that there were 750 prisoners crowded into a hold just a few feet larger than a master bedroom. They also said that their food was a little rice and very little water, that there was no ventilation or sanitary facilities, that many died of suffocation, and that most of the POWs suffered from dysentery and malaria. In the hold, there was no place to lie down, so the POWs rested on top of a pile of coal. The POWs stood and squatted with their knees under their chins, in shifts, all of the 38 days they were in the hold. The only time the men were permitted on the deck was to go to the latrine, and when this was done, only one man was permitted on the deck at a time and only for a few minutes.

        At first, the POWs were allowed on deck to relieve themselves. But this was changed to buckets tied to ropes that were used to haul the excrement from the hold. As they were pulled up, the buckets hit the hold’s walls spilling the waste onto the POWs. At 5:00 P.M., steamed rice was sent down in buckets, but most of the POWs were too sick to eat. Those who could eat ate as much as they could. Water was also sent down in pockets, and it appears that there was simply not enough for all the POWs. 

        As part of a ten-ship convoy, – some sources say thirteen ships were in the convoy – it sailed again on October 4th and stopped at Cabcaban. The next day, it was at San Fernando La Union, where the ships were joined by four more ships and five escorts. The ships stayed close to the shoreline to prevent submarine attacks which failed since, on October 6th, two of the ships were sunk. The attacks continued for the next several days and the POWs lived in fear of the ship being sunk. The ships were informed, on October 9th, that American carriers were seen near Formosa and sailed for Hong Kong when it was informed that American planes were in the area. The ships changed course during this part of the trip and attempted to reach Hong Kong. The ships ran into American submarines which sank two more ships. It was said that only three of the ships reached the island.

        Cpl. Wade Chio, C Co.,192nd, said, “There were a thousand of us in a hold, 40-by-40. There wasn’t room to lie down or stand up. You had to sit, and you defalcated and urinated right where you sat. Finally, towards the end of the trip, the Japanese decided to fill our canteens with salt water. Some of the guys drank it and it killed them.”

        The Hokusen Maru arrived in Hong Kong on October 11th and 50 PWs at a time were allowed on deck and allowed to wash with seawater. While it was in port on October 16th, 27 B-29s bombed the harbor followed by 8 P-51s. The ship nearest to the Hokusen Maru took several hits and was a wreck. The ship left the dock on October 18th and moved around the harbor. A bomb from a sole plane hit close to the ship while it was maneuvering in the harbor. Two days later, the POWs heard explosions as several ships were hit by torpedoes from American submarines. It was said by Capt. Alvin Poweleit, Tank Group, that the ships were sinking before the debris from the explosions hit the water. The ships were close enough to Formosa for the Japanese to send out planes that dropped depth charges. On October 21st, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving on October 24th. According to some sources, only three of the ten ships in the convoy reached the island. Four survivors of the Arisan Maru were put on the ship on the 29th. One of the men was dying but the other three were in good health. When they were allowed to talk to the other POWs, they told them about the ship’s sinking and how the POWs were left to die.

        The POWs remained in the ship’s hold until November 8th. The Japanese had decided they were too ill to be sent to Japan. The POWs were brought up on deck for physicals by Japanese doctors. Some were so weak that they had to be pulled from the holds with ropes. It was at this time that it was estimated that 200 POWs had died during the trip. The POWs were marched down the gang blank, taken ashore that same day, and washed down with saltwater. The POWs formed detachments of 100 men and marched through Takao. The Chinese threw stones at them. The POWs boarded a train and most of the POWs, but not all of them, were sent to Inrin Temporary which was specifically opened for them.

        Mike spent 38 days on the ship before reaching Formosa. For Mike, this was probably one of the worst experiences he had as a prisoner. It seemed to him that the youngest prisoners died first. Mike watched as those who were nineteen years old died, next, he watched as the twenty-year-old died, he then watched as the twenty-one-year-old POWs died, and so on. As soldiers continued to die and as their ages got closer to his, Mike wondered when his turn to die would come.

        The ship arrived at Takao on October 24th, and four survivors of the Arisan Maru were put on the ship on the 29th. One of the men was dying but the other three were in good health. When they were allowed to talk to the other POWs, they told them about the ship’s sinking and how the POWs were left to die. The Japanese decided to disembark the POWs, on November 8th and send them to a POW camp on the island. On Formosa, Mike worked at Inrin Temporary Camp where the POWs did light work. The healthier POWs worked in a sugar mill.

        It was on Formosa that Mike experienced the second act of kindness shown to him by a Japanese soldier. The commanding officer of the camp knew it was Christmas. He had a water buffalo brought into the camp for the prisoners to slaughter. The POWs had steak for Christmas.

        On January 24, 1945, 563 POWs took a train to Shirakawa where they boarded the Enoshima Maru the next day. The ship sailed and took five days to reach Moji, Japan because the ship made several stops along the Chinese coast. The convoy was also attacked by a submarine, one torpedo passed by the bow of the ship, and a second torpedo went past the stern and hit a tanker. After arriving at Moji, the POWs left the ship and were taken to a schoolhouse. Before they could enter they had to strip bare because they were infested with lice.

        The POWs boarded a train that went through Tokyo on its way north to Sendai. At the Uguisusawa Station, the POWs disembarked and went to a smaller platform where they boarded a narrow-gauge train for an eight-hour trip to the mine. When they left the train, they found themselves in the bitter cold in tropical clothing. From the station, they made their way to Sendai #3 in knee-high snow. When they arrived at the camp on January 28th, the Japanese camp commander lectured the POWs telling them that they were his enemies. It was at this time that they were issued one work uniform that they wore the entire time they were in the camp. They were never issued any shoes during the war, but they were also issued two blankets. The ranking officer in the camp was an American doctor, so he commanded all the POWs in the camp regardless of nationality. After they arrived they were given a few days off to recover before being put to work.

        The camp was shaped like an upside-down L with the POW barracks to the top right. The 250 American POWs – being the first POWs in the camp – occupied the three barracks in the camp that appeared to have been standard Japanese POW camp barracks with two tiers of platforms that ran along the length that served as beds for the POWs. Each man was issued a mattress to sleep on and had a space approximately three feet wide and six feet long that served as his bed. There was an iron stove in the center of the barracks and tables. It is not known if the stove was functional. Each barracks had electric lights. British POWs arrived a few weeks later and shared the barracks with the Americans. Behind the barracks were two latrines. There was also a building that served as the camp office and barracks for the Japanese. Lice were one of the big problems facing the POWs. The POWs would take the carbide lamps they used in the mines and run them along the seams of their clothes. As they did the heat popped the lice. The POWs’ kitchen was located next to the Japanese kitchen, and on the south side of the POWs’ kitchen was a bathhouse for the POWs. There were also three buildings that served as warehouses in the camp and a building that served as the camp hospital.

        Food was mainly rice and soybeans and there was never enough. The hardest thing the POWs had to eat was dog meat. The POWs went through the Japanese town and noted that the Japanese women would receive their rations of food twice a week. It was noted that the longer they were in the camp that the Japanese food ration was cut to once a week, and the women were often seen arguing with each other. As time went on, the Japanese civilians were given a food ration once every three weeks.

        Red Cross medical supplies were available, but the Japanese sergeant, who was also the medical officer, in charge of them, refused to issue the medicine or supplies to the POW doctor. Refusing to issue the supplies resulted in one man having his foot amputated without anesthetics. The man later died from pneumonia since the sergeant refused to allow him to be sent to the nearby company hospital that had the medicine to treat him. The sergeant’s actions also resulted in the death of another POW and the suffering of many other POWs. The Japanese misappropriated the Red Cross packages and it was a common occurrence to see the guards smoking American cigarettes. Many of the POWs had no shoes even though the Red Cross had sent shoes to the camp and worked barefoot in the winter. The excuse that the Japanese used for not issuing the POWs shoes was that they did not want to upset the civilians by giving the POWs shoes. Plenty of food was available in the camp, and POWs carried Red Cross boxes of it into the camp. The Japanese simply refused to give food to the POWs.

        Beatings were common in the camp, and it was said that the commandant enjoyed watching the POWs beaten. The guards were allowed to beat the POWs whenever they wanted and with whatever they wanted to beat them with. The Japanese sergeant major in the camp never abused the POWs and was known to give them extra food if he could. One guard, Yasushi Takasago, who had never served in the Army repeatedly beat various POWs from March 1, 1945, until August 15, 1945. The same was true of Japanese Lance Corporal Zenkichi Koiwa, Sergeant Koichi Ota, and Lieutenant Katsuo Ishizawa who beat various POWs during this time.

        It was in this camp that Mike was beaten for whistling in the mine. While exhaling, he whistled. The mine worker with him beat him on the head for doing this. The reason was that the Japanese believed that whistling made the “mine gods” happy and would cause them to stop holding up the ceilings, and the mine, in turn, would cave in on the workers.

        The POWs worked in a lead and zinc mine from 6:00 A.M. until 4:00 or 5:00 P.M. As they walked to the mine, they were beaten. The POWs worked as “Drillers” and drilled the holes for dynamite. After a new section of the mine was blasted out, the POWs who were “Miners” had to load mine cars with the rock and ore that had been loosened. The POWs had a set number of mining cars they had to fill before they were allowed to go back to the camp. The “Car Men” pushed the mining cars to the assigned location so they could be emptied. The “Timberers” removed the support beams when a shaft was mined out. The Japanese attempted to get the POWs to work harder by giving rice balls to the POWs who were identified as good workers.

        The POWs could tell the war was not going well for the Japanese by the way they acted and spoke to them. The POWs also knew how the war was going because of the American planes flying overhead. The planes were an indication that the United States was winning the war, and it got to the point that they began to bet on the date that the war would end. On one occasion, the POWs got to the mine, but before they could bow to the mine god, four American planes came over and began to dive to straf the area. The POWs ran past the mine god into the mine and discovered it was filled with Japanese civilians. It appears that no one stopped to bow to the mine god that day.

        On August 15, 1945, they were again told they did not have to work. Many of the POWs concluded that the war was over. The next day the Japanese painted PW on the roof of a building and on August 20 three American fighters flew low over the camp repeatedly. Each time they flew over the pilots dipped their wings. A message was dropped to the POWs telling them the war was over and that B-29s would be dropping supplies the next day at a certain time. When the planes came over they were so low that some of the parachutes on the 55-gallon drums did not open resulting in two British POWs and one American being killed. One of the immediate results was that the POW doctor was able to treat the sick with medicine dropped in a drum. The next day the planes returned dropping clothing to the POWs and more food. The Japanese also brought the POWs two large Red Cross boxes that were 2½’ by 2½’ by 3′ that contained plasma, multiple vitamins, and various medicines. They also issued the POWs’ shoes which had been sitting in a warehouse.

        An American major and three enlisted men arrived at the camp on September 12th. The POWs were officially liberated. One of the things the Recovery Team did was to make movies and photos of the camp. One of the team members made the Japanese commandant carry around all the equipment for his movie camera.

        His family received this message from the War Department.

        Mr. and Mrs. C. Wepsiec: The secretary of war has asked me to inform you that your son, Pvt. Mike S. Wepsiec was returned to military control Sept. 12 and is being returned to the United States within the near future. He will be given the opportunity to communicate with you upon his arrival if he has not already done so.

        E. F. Witsell

        Acting Adjutant General of the Army

        Mike boarded the U.S.S. Admiral C. F. Hughes, which sailed sometime around September 20th. They arrived in Seattle, Washington, on October 9, 1945. From there, he was hospitalized at Madigan General Hospital in Ft. Lewis, Washington.  He was later transferred to a veteran’s hospital closer to Chicago.

        Mike returned to Chicago and was discharged on August 24, 1946. He married, and raised four sons and a daughter. Mike went back to work on the railroad he had worked for before enlisting in the National Guard. He retired from the Santa Fe Railroad which had absorbed the short-line railroad where he had originally worked.

        Mike Wepsiec passed away on October 15, 2001, and was buried at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois.

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