Pvt. Kenneth A. Heinrich
| Pvt. Kenneth A. Heinrich was born on April 24, 1919, in Chicago, Illinois, to Otto Heinrich & Grace Schmacher-Heinrich. He grew up, in Chicago, at 1909 West Wilson Avenue with his two brothers and graduated from Senn High School in 1937.
After high school, he attended the RCA Radio Institute and worked as a repairman at a radio store. |
On April 7, 1941, Ken was inducted into the U. S. Army and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. Once there, he was assigned to B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. Since the company had been a Illinois National Guard tank company, the army filled the vacancies in the company with men from Illinois.
While at Ft. Knox, Ken became friends with Charles Corr, who was one of the soldiers in charge of training radio operators. On January 13th, Ken was sent to radio operator's school as a radio and qualified as a radioman during his training and assigned to a tank crew.
In the late summer of 1941, Ken took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk. None of the members of the battalion had any idea why they were there. On the side of a hill, the members learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, many men had figured out they were being sent to the Philippine Islands.
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.
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.
The tank battalion received orders on December 21st that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
On December 31st/January 1st, the tanks were stationed on both sides of the Calumpit Bridge when they received conflicting orders, from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff, about whose command they were under and to withdraw from the bridge. The defenders were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders.
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations were cut in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor.
The morning of April 9, 1942, at 6:45, B Company received the word "crash" to destroy their tanks. They circled their tanks and fired an armor piercing shell into the engine of each tank. They then opened the gasoline cocks inside the crew compartments and dropped hand-grenades into the tanks. At 7:00 A.M., they officially became Prisoners of War. When the Japanese made contact with them, Ken's company was ordered to Mariveles, where they were searched and the Japanese took what they wanted from the POWs, before being herded into a field. It was from this barrio that Ken started what became known as the death march.
Ken made his way north to San Fernando, where they were ordered into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane which were known as "forty or eights," since each one could hold forty men or eight horses. One hundred men were packed into each car and the Japanese closed the doors. Those who died remained standing until the living disembarked the cars at Capas, since there was no room for them to fall to the floors. From Capas, they made their way to Camp O'Donnell.
Upon arriving at the camp, the POWs were told by its commandant that they were not POWs but captives and would be treated as captives. Conditions in the camp were terrible and as many as 55 POWs died each day. There was only one water spigot for the entire camp and men literally died for a drink. The Japanese finally admitted that they had to do something, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.
Ken was sent out on a work detail to Clark Field to build runways and revetments. He remained on the detail until August 17, 1944, when he was sent to Bilibid Prison. It was also on this date that his family received a POW postcard from him. The card was the first news they had from him in over a year. During his time as a POW, his weight dropped from 140 pounds to 98 pounds, and he also suffered from pneumonia, pellagra, and dysentery.
Ken was scheduled to be sent to Japan on the Hokusen Maru, but at the last minute, a Japanese doctor determined that Ken was too ill, with pneumonia, to go to Japan. This decision caused Ken to remain at Bilibid, and it also saved his life.
As it turned out, Ken's POW detachment was put on the Arisan Maru instead of the Hokusen Maru. The reason this happened was that the Hokusen Maru was ready to sail but not all the POWs, in the detachment, had arrived at the pier. Since another detachment of POWs which was scheduled to sail on the Arisan Maru had arrived, the Japanese switched POW detachments and Ken's original detachment was put on the Arisan Maru. As it turned out, the ship was sunk by an American submarine, and only nine, of the nearly 1800 POWs on the ship, survived its sinking.
On February 4, 1945, Ken was liberated by American troops at Bilibid Prison. Upon liberation, he was assigned to the 12th Replacement Battalion which meant that he was receiving medical treatment. His family learned he had been liberated on February 20, 1945.
Ken returned to the United States arriving in San Francisco on March 16th on the U.S.S. Monterey and sent to Letterman General Hospital. He was sent to Gardiner General Hospital in Chicago, which had been the Chicago Beach Hotel before the war, and had been commandeered by the military as a hospital.
While a patient, Ken met Charles Corr's girlfriend, Joanne Budimier, who he had been introduced to four years earlier. Her reason for visiting the hospital was to see if any of the former POWs had known Charles Corr. It was Ken who told her that Charles had died while a POW at Cabanatuan.
Ken and Joanne visited many times and fell in love. The two were married on June 28, 1945, at Gardiner General Hospital. They became the parents of two children.
Ken was discharged, from the army, on October 4, 1945. He supported his family as a television repairman and would later move to Schaumburg, Illinois. After he retired he and his wife would moved to California.
Ken Heinrich passed away on October 16, 1992, and was buried in Section 8, Site 213-D, at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California.
It should be noted that while Ken was a POW, his parents received a letter that he had written right before the surrender of Bataan. Ken had mailed the letter, but the ship that it was on was sunk by the Japanese. An American submarine fished the mailbag, the letter was in, from the sea. When the letter arrived at his parents' home, it showed signs of its time in the water.