Pfc. Harry Jerele
Pfc. Harry Jerele was born in February 1, 1916, in Clinton, Iowa, and was one of the seven children of Leo and Mary Jerele. After leaving Iowa, his family moved to Maywood, Melrose Park, Bellwood, and finally Berkley, Illinois. Since his father was an employee of the Chicago & North Western Railroad, his family was allowed to live in a house, that sat on railroad property, at the intersection of St. Charles and Wolf Roads. Harry loved to tinker with mechanical things and to play the guitar.
Harry attended Melrose Park Grade School and
after he graduated, like his father, he worked
for the Chicago & North Western
Railroad. At some point, with his friend,
Norman Spencer, he joined the Civilian
Conservation Corps to have the opportunity to
travel and take pictures. He also liked
the idea of working outside. Together,
Norman and Harry built roads and parking lots in
national parks in Colorado, Wyoming, and
Harry returned home and worked as a janitor for
the National Youth Administration and joined the
Illinois National Guard because his friend,
Norman Spencer, wanted to join. Norman
made this decision after talking to an officer
in the National Guard who lived across the
street from him. Harry became a member of
the 33rd Tank Company of the Illinois National
Guard which was stationed in Maywood.
In January 1941, Harry was transferred to
the Headquarters Company when the company was
formed with men from the four companies of the
battalion. As a member of the Headquarters
Company, Harry took part in the 1941 maneuvers
in Louisiana by maintaining the tanks of the
battalion. Afterwards, the members of the
battalion were ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana,
instead of returning to Ft. Knox as expected.
Harry as a motorcycle messenger carried
messages between the 192nd Headquarters Company
and the different companies of the
battalion. While doing this job, he was
twice reported Missing In Action during the
Battle of Bataan.
11th, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ
company's encampment. A Japanese officer
ordered the company, with their possessions, out
onto the road that ran in front of their
encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers
were ordered to kneel along the sides of the
road with their possessions in front of
them. As they knelt, the Japanese
soldiers, who were passing them, went through
their possessions and took whatever they wanted
from the Americans. They remained along
the sides of the road for hours.
Harry and his company finally boarded their trucks and drove to Mariveles. At some point, outside of Mariveles, they were ordered by the Japanese out of their trucks. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and were ordered to sit. As they sat, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
As they sat watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the soldiers. He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. The sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, Harry's group of POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours. The Japanese did not feed them or give them water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which were firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs who could do little to protect themselves since they had no place to hide. Some POWs were killed by incoming American shells. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move again by the Japanese and had no idea that they had started what became known as the Bataan Death March. During the march, they received no water and little food. It took the members of HQ Company six days to reach San Fernando.
Once at San Fernando, the POWs were put into a bull pen that had a fence around it. The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down. During their time in the pen, the POWs watched the Japanese bury three POWs. Two were still alive and when one of the men attempted to climb out of the grave, he was hit in the head with a shovel and buried.
The POWs were ordered to form 100 men detachments. Once this was done, they were marched to the train station in San Fernando and put into a small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car. Those who died remained standing - since they could not fall to the floor - until the living climbed out of the cars at Capas. From Capas, they walked the last ten miles to Camp O' Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed into service as a Prisoner of War camp. It turned out to be a death trap with as many as fifty POWs dying each day. There was only one working water faucet for the entire camp. To get a drink, men stood in line for days. Many died while waiting for a drink.
While at Camp O'Donnell, Harry was selected for a work detail at San Fernando, which had the job of recovering vehicles that had been destroyed by the Filipino and American forces before they surrendered. The POWs would tie the vehicles together, behind an operating vehicle, and drive them the vehicles to San Fernando where they would be loaded onto ships as scrap metal.
When this detail was completed, Harry was sent
to Cabanatuan Prison Camp. On which
had been opened to lower the death rate among
the POWs. According to medical records
kept at the camp, on Thursday, July 9th, Harry
was hospitalized suffering from pneumonia.
According to the medical roster and the final
report on the 192nd, he died of cerebral malaria
and pneumonia, at the age of 27, on Thursday,
December 24, 1942, at approximately 1:00
PM. The medical record also shows
that he had dysentery.
In June 1943, Harry's father made his first attempt to find out if his son was dead or alive. The family had learned he was a prisoner in March 1943. Harry's father would make two more attempts before the end of the year. The family did not know anything about Harry until they were notified of his death on December 28, 1943.
The remains of Harry Jerele were buried in the camp cemetery at Cabanatuan in grave 804 with three other POWs. After the war, the remains of the three other men, who shared Harry's grave, were identified. For some reason, Harry's remains were never identified, but somehow made their way to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California.
On December 1, 1949, his remains were returned from Fort Mason to Manila. The remains were identified as X-846 and buried at the American Military Cemetery, at Manila, as an "Unknown" in Plot L, Row 2, Grave 57. Although Harry's remains were never identified, his name does not appear on the Tablets of the Missing at the cemetery. Harry's name does appear on the Cabanatuan Memorial at the site of the former POW camp.
In October 1946, Berkley renamed Fifty-first Avenue to Jerele Avenue in Harry's honor. Fifty-second Avenue was renamed in honor of Norman Spencer to Spencer Avenue.
At this time, Harry's family is attempting to have these remains exhumed and, through the use of DNA, bring him home.