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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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
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