Degroot

Pvt. Edward L. DeGroot 


    Pvt. Edward L. DeGroot was born on January 10, 1919, in Franksville, Wisconsin, to Peter and Mary Barth-DeGroot.  He was the third oldest of the couple's seven children.  In 1940, his family was living on County Line Road in Racine County, and he was working as a clerk in a grocery store when the draft act took affect.
   On January 29, 1941, Ed joined the United States Army to fulfill his military obligation.  He enlisted with his brother and three friends, because they wanted to be assigned to communications and had been promised that they would be allowed to serve together.

    Ed and his friends were sent to the recruit center at Fort Sheridan, Illinois.  After three days there,  he was informed that he had been assigned to Company A of the 192nd Tank Battalion which was training at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  Ed was sent to Fort Knox without his brother or his three friends; so much for promises made by the Army. 

    Ed and the other new members of the 192nd were not put into their new companies immediately.  Instead, they lived in tents and received their training by sergeants assigned to the 192nd.  Ed recalled that Ben Morin was one of the sergeants assigned this job. 

    As a member of A Company, Ed was trained as a tank driver and was assigned to the tank of Sgt. Herb Durner.  Other members of the crew were Cpl. Ken Squire, who was the radio operator, and Pvt. Bob Boehm, the gunner.  As Ed looked back on this training, he concluded that it was of some value, but it was totally inappropriate for combat in the jungle.

    With the 192nd, Ed went on maneuvers in Louisiana.  At one point the battalion, which was part of the red army, broke through the blue army's defenses and was on its way of capturing its headquarters when the maneuvers were canceled.  The commanding office of the blue army was General George S. Patton.  It was after the maneuvers the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. 
    On the side of a hill that the members of the 192nd learned they were being sent overseas. Those men 29 years old, or older, were given the chance to resign from federal service.  Many of the remaining men received leaves home to say their goodbyes.
    The companies of the battalion traveled by train, over different train routes, to San Francisco, California, where they were taken by ferry to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island and received inoculations and physicals.  Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Other men were simply replaced.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S. A. T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th.  During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP.  The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. 
    On Wednesday, November 5th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S. S. Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th.  During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.  On Saturday, November 15th, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.  The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
    When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day.  At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning.  At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
    At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field.  He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.  Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
    The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg.  The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent.  There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents. 
    For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance as they prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion. 
    On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and received their meals from food trucks.

    Just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 8, 1941, Ed and the other soldiers lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field.  Since their guns were useless against planes, they could do little more then watch.

    That morning, about 8:30, all the American planes took off and filled the sky.  In any direction the tankers looked, there were planes.  At noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, and were lined up, in a straight line, outside the mess hall.  The pilots went to lunch.
    The tankers were eating lunch when a formation of 54 planes was spotted approaching the airfield from the north, and the tankers believed the planes were American.  As they watched, raindrops fell from the planes.  When bombs exploded on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.
    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use.  When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building.  Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. 
    That night, the tankers slept under their tanks since it was safer then sleeping in their tents.  They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed for the next three and one half years.

    The company was sent to the Barrio of Dau, on December 12th, so it could protect a highway and railroad against sabotage.   They remained there until ordered to rejoin the battalion.

    In one incident, that took place December 23rd and 24th, the company was sent north of the Agno River.  While they were north of the river, the main bridge on the Carmen Road was destroyed.  The tank company found itself in danger of being caught behind enemy lines.  This resulted in the company having to make end runs to cross the river on one of the two remaining bridges and successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
    From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River.  On December 25th, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road.  The tanks were asked to hold the position for six hours; they held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.
    The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27th and 28th.  From there they fell back to the south bank of the BamBan River which they were suppose 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. It was also on this date that the company lost tank platoon commander, 2nd Lt. Charles Read on December 30th.
    On a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30th, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries.  The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks' machine guns.  As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac.  When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened up on them.  When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion.  To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies. 
    At Gumain River, the night of December 31st to the morning of January 1st, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river.  When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts.  The Japanese were taking heavy casualties, so they attempted to use smoke to cover their advance, but the wind blew the smoke into the Japanese.  When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had suffered fifty percent casualties.
    On January 1st, the tanks were holding the Calumpit Bridge allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to cross the bridge toward Bataan.  General Wainwright was attempting to hold the main Japanese force coming down Route 5 to prevent the troops from being cut off.  General MacArthur's chief of staff gave conflicting orders involving whose command the defenders were under which caused confusion.  Gen. Wainwright was not aware these orders had been given. 
    Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River.  Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted.  From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
    The tanks often were the last units to disengage from the enemy and form a new defensive line as Americans and Filipino forces withdrew toward Bataan.  The night of January 7th, the A Company was awaiting orders to cross the last bridge into Bataan over the Culis Creek.  The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but the battalion's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, 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.
    While American and Filipino forces were withdrawing from the Pilar-Bigac Line, the battalion prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops.  The morning of January 27th, a new battle line had been formed and all units were suppose to be beyond it.  That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were suppose to have withdrawn.  While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualties.
    On January 28th, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.

    Ed believed that fighting the Japanese was made difficult because, in Ed's opinion, the equipment they had received was outdated, and they had received the wrong type of ammunition to be used in the turret cannon.  In his opinion, another problem was that the tanks had only received a limited number of armor piercing shells to use against enemy tanks.  Recalling this, he said, "It was really a delaying action.  They (Japanese) didn't realize we had as little as we did."

    Ed was involved in numerous engagements as Company A was assigned the duty of protecting the west coast of Bataan from Japanese invasion.  It was during this duty, that Company A would engage the enemy, who had landed troops behind the Filipino and American lines,  in what was to become known as the Battle of the Points.  

    Ed saw a great deal of action during the Battle of the Points.  In an attempt to end resistance on Bataan, the Japanese had landed troops on a small point of land on Bataan behind Filipino and American lines.  When additional Japanese troops were landed to relieve their comrades, they were landed on the wrong point.  This created a second pocket of Japanese troops.

    While supporting the infantry, Company A was sent to wipe-out these troops which had been cutoff from the main Japanese force.  Ed believed that the tanks were ineffective because of the terrain and jungle.  With the help of B Company tanks, the pockets were wiped out.
   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.  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 a scantly clad blond on them.  The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
    On March 2nd or 3rd, during the Battle of the Points.  The tanks had been sent in to wipe out two pockets of Japanese soldiers who had been landed behind the main defensive line.  The Japanese were soon cut off.  When the Japanese attempted to land reinforcements, they landed them at the wrong place creating another pocket.   Both of the pockets were wiped out.
   The company's last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea.  By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way.  Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave.  When asked about the Philippines, he said, "There are times when men must die."  The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.

    On April 4, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack supported by artillery and aircraft.  A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down 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.  When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.

    During the morning of April 9, 1942, Ed and the other men of Company A learned of the surrender at their bivouac area.  Ed was distressed by the news of the surrender because he believed that he and his fellow soldiers were capable of defeating the enemy.  He also came through the fighting without being wounded.  Of this he said, "I guess that's what you call the fortunes of war.  Some guys were killed the first day, and some went through without a scratch."

    The next morning, A Company started what has become known as the death march at Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.  Ed would do the march with his friends Sgt. Owen Sandmire and Sgt. Harvey Riedemann.  The march would be Ed's first experience of man's inhumanity to man.

    It was on the march that Ed developed the philosophy that he believed kept him alive.  Ed never allowed himself to placed in a situation where he would be vulnerable.  During the march he marched in the middle of the formation.  In his own words, "You had to watch out for each other, otherwise the Japanese cleanup squadrons would  get you."  Although he saw bodies of dead men and heard the sound of guns, he never witnessed anyone being shot or bayoneted by the Japanese.  He said of the march, "They didn't run you, but you kept going.  If you fell behind, the guards bayoneted you."

    As a Prisoner Of War, Ed was first held at Camp O'Donnell.  There he was assigned to the burial detail.  This was not an enviable job since hundreds of POWs were dying each day.  While working this detail, Ed recalled burying Larry Grim and Wesley Fancher of A Company.  One of his happiest days, at the camp, was when he was taken off of this detail.  

    Ed was next sent to Cabanatuan when it was opened to lower the death rate among the POWs.  At the camp, we was assigned to Barracks 2, Group 2.  In the barracks with him were Leonard Adams and John Andrews of the 192nd.  While a prisoner there, he worked in the camp farm and sent out on a work detail to build runways.  Of his treatment, he said, "The Japanese would beat us up at the drop of a hat.  Thev'd slap us or cuff us with the butt of a gun.  They were brutal and inhumane in the way they beat people up."
    Ed also believed that he survived because of his attitude, he stated, "After I became incarcerated,  things were so bad that I had to put all thoughts of home out of my mind.  Otherwise, it would drive you crazy, wishing you could be there. And when I got out, I put all thoughts of what I'd seen and experienced behind me.  I was able to black it all out."
    He believed what saved his life and the lives of other men was the occasional Red Cross package the POWs received.  "If it wasn't for the food and vitamins, I don't think we could have survived.  Getting those packages gave us the will to live."

    As the war continued and it became apparent to the Japanese the the Americans would soon be invading the Philippine Islands, Ed was sent to Manila for shipment to Japan in what would become known as a Hell Ship.  The ship that Ed and the other Americans were boarded on was the Canadian Inventor II.  The ship sailed on July 4, 1944 but returned to Manila with boiler problems.  While repairs were made, the POWs were held in its holds for eleven days. 

    On the ship was Ed's friend from A Company, Sgt. Owen Sandmire.  Somehow, Sandy and Ed got made cooks.  They were responsible for the prisoners' evening meal which meant that they were allowed out of the hold to prepare the evening meal.  Ed believed that being allowed out of the hold helped him survive the trip to Japan.

    On July 16th, the Canadian Inventor sailed a second time.  While at sea, it once again experienced boiler problems and could not keep up with the other ships in the convoy.  Because of this, the Canadian Inventor was left on its own to make port and arrived at Takao, Formosa, on July 23rd.  

    For the next twelve days the ship remained in port.  During this time salt was loaded onto the ship.  When the Canadian Inventor sailed on August 4th, it made its way along the west coast of Formosa to Keelung Harbor.  It arrived there on August 5th and remained in port for twelve days as more repairs were made to its boiler.

    On August 17th the ship sailed for Japan, but because of more boiler problems, it stopped at Naha, Okinawa.  After six days, the Canadian Inventor sailed for Moji, Japan, and finally arrived there on September 1st.

    The POWs nicknamed the ship the "Mita Mita Maru."  Mati mati in Japanese means "to wait" and that is what the POWs did in the hold of the ship.  In the end, Ed spent sixty days in the hold of the tramp steamer as it made its long, slow journey to Japan. 

    As a prisoner in Japan, Ed was sent to Omine Machi Camp.  There, he spent the rest of the war working in a coal mine.  As a slave laborer, Ed operated a air hammer in the mine.  He said of his time there, "I operated an air hammer in a little coal mine on the island of Honshu."

    According to Ed, one morning the prisoners awoke to discover that the guards had disappeared from the camp. "One day - it must have been the middle of August - the day shift was to have been awakened.  We discovered the guards had just taken off."  American planes appeared and dropped information about the surrender to the POWs.  When the planes reappeared, they dropped food, medicine and instructions about transportation from the camp.  

    After being liberated, Ed boarded the U.S. Consolation, on or about September 16, 1945, suffering from beriberi.  The ship returned the POWs to the Philippines where they received medication and shots.  When he was deemed healthy enough to return home, Ed boarded the the ship, S.S. Klipfontaine for the United States.  Ed saw the United States for the first time in four years on October 27, 1945, which was exactly four years, to the day, xince he had left from San Francisco for the Philippine Islands in 1941.   Ed was promoted to Staff Sergeant and discharged on July 17, 1946.

    Ed returned to Racine and married, Evelyn Kothe on July 1, 1948.  Together they would be the parents of four daughters and two sons.  Ed worked in a department store a few years before he went to work as an insurance agent in Racine.  He worked in insurance until he retired.  His time in the camp left him with hearing loss.  The other effect was on how he slept, "I sleep very poorly.  But I consider myself very fortunate overall."

    After he retired, Ed had the opportunity to return to the Philippines as part of a tour of former POWs.  Ed really thought about going back, but in the end, he decided not to go.  Of this, he said, "I'm not quite sure why.  I think it was because I wanted to know what it would be like to be in the same area as a free man."
The picture at the bottom of the page was taken of Ed while he was a POW in Japan at Omine Machi.  Edward L. DeGroot passed away on December 15, 2004, at his home in Racine, Wisconsin.
   He was buried at Southern Wisconsin Veterans Cemetery in Union Grove, Wisconsin. 


 

 

 

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