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. 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.  When he joined, he enlisted with his brother and three friends.  All of them 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,  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 Ken Squire, who was the radio operator, and 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.  It was after the maneuver on the side of a hill that the members of the 192nd learned they were being sent overseas. Many received leaves home to say their goodbyes.
    The battalion traveled by train,, over different train routes, to San Francisco.  By ferry, they were taken to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, they received inoculations and physicals.  Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island.  They were scheduled to join the battalion at a later date.
   
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd.  The soldiers were given leaves so they could see the island.  On November 5th, the ships sailed for Guam.  At one point, the ships passed an island at night.  While they passed the island, they did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables.  The ships sailed the same day for Manila and entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th.  They docked at Pier 7 and the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. 
    At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.  He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own. 
Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
   
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons.  The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.
 
    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.

    Just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 8, 1941, Ed and the other soldiers of his company lived through the Japanese bombing of Clark Field.  Since their guns were useless against planes, they could do little more then watch.
    The tankers were eating lunch when a formation of 54 planes was spotted approaching the airfield from the north.  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.

     The 192nd remained at Clark Field and experienced several more air raids.  The company was sent to the Barrio of Dau, on December 12th, so it could protect a highway and railroad against sabotage.   From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River.  There, the tanks, with A Company, 194th held the position.

    In one incident, that took place December 23rd and 24th, the company was told by General Wainwright's headquarters that he was immediate commander of the area.  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. . They successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
    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 held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.
    A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Reed.  The company returned to the 192nd on January 8, 1942.
    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.  Ed believed that another problem was that the tanks had only received a limited number of armor piercing shells to use against enemy tanks.

    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.

    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.  

    The next morning, Ed and the other members of Company A started 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.  Although he saw bodies of dead men and heard the sound of guns, he never witnessed anyone being shot or bayoneted by the Japanese.  

    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 was when he was taken off of this detail.  

    Ed was next sent to Cabanatuan.  He 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.  

    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.  This 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.  It 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 war 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.  It 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.  

    According to Ed, one morning the prisoners awoke to discover that the guards had disappeared from the camp.  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 Dutch 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 four years to the day that 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 as an insurance agent in Racine until he retired.

    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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