Pfc. William Joseph Kerins
| Pfc. William J.
Kerins was the second son of James A. &
Cecelia Kerins and was born on February 28,
1919. The family lived at 2937 South Canal
Street in Chicago, Illinois, and later in Berwyn,
Illinois, at 6731 West Stanley Avenue. He
left high school after three years and worked as
Bill enlisted in the Quartermaster Corps of the Illinois National Guard because he wanted to fulfill his military obligation. The company was made up of men from Berwyn. In November of 1940, he was transferred to 33rd Tank Company, Maywood, Illinois, as it prepared to leave for federal duty at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and going with meant he would complete his military obligation sooner.
When the 33rd Tank Company arrived at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, they were joined by National Guard companies from Janesville, Wisconsin, Port Clinton, Ohio, and Harrodsburg, Kentucky. Together, they would become the 192nd Tank Battalion. At Ft. Knox, Bill was trained as a cook, baker and radio operator. He was also trained on halftracks. The battalion was stationed near as OTC Center. The reason for this according to members of the battalion was that the army wanted to keep the 192nd somewhat isolated from the regular army because they were Guardsmen.
In September of 1941, the 192nd Tank Battalion
was sent to Louisiana on maneuvers.
William believed that this training was
beneficial to the men because it helped them
adjust to the climate of the Philippines.
At Camp Polk, the men were informed that they
were going overseas and it would be for no less
than six months and no more than six
years. Since the battalion was being sent
overseas, each man received a ten day emergency
leave home. When they returned, their old
M-2 tanks were replaced with M-3 tanks. It
was also at this time that the men officially
were informed that their overseas orders were
for deployment in the Philippine Islands.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the sleeping quarters for
the 192nd consisted of tents. Each tent
had eight men assigned to it. During the
next seventeen days, Bill and the other men
spent most of their time loading live
ammunition. They also spent a large amount of
time going over their equipment and preparing it
for maneuvers. The battalion was on full
alert from the day it landed in the
Philippines. During this time, the
battalion's reconnaissance unit made recon
patrols up to the Lingayen Gulf. When they
returned to Clark Field, they reported
that it would be an excellent place for the
landing of troops.
On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked
by the Japanese. Bill heard the news as he
was lining up for breakfast. The tanks
were dispersed around the perimeter of Clark
Field in anticipation of Japanese
paratroopers. A short time later, the
members of his battalion were informed that
Japanese bombers were about 45 minutes
away. The attack on Clark Field came at
about 11:45 A.M. right after Bill had eaten
lunch. All Bill and the other men could do
was watch the high altitude bombers drop their
bombs. When the dive bombers came in, the
tankers did their best to bring them down with
the weapons they had. After the initial
attack was over, Bill's platoon moved closer to
the landing strip of Clark Field.
During the withdraw into the peninsula, the
night of January 6/7, the 192nd held its
position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could
leap frog past it, cross a bridge, and then
cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge. The
192nd was the last American unit to enter
B Company also took part in the Battle of the
Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had
been trapped behind the main defensive
line. The tanks would enter the pocket one
at a time to replace a tank in the pocket.
Another tank did not enter the pocket until a
tank exited the pocket.
On April 9, 1942, Bill along with most of the members of the 192nd Tank Battalion became Prisoners of War when the troops on the Bataan Peninsula were surrendered to the Japanese. The men received the news of the surrender from their officers. They spent the remainder of their time, as free men, destroying equipment to prevent it from being used by the Japanese.
On April 12, 1942, Bill and other members of his tank platoon were on the beach near General Hospital #2. It was there that the death march started for Bill. Bill recalled that the march was very slow under an extremely hot sun which resulted in high temperatures. If the men wanted something to drink, they had to break out of the line for the wells along the road. When a guard spotted a man who had done this, the guard would shoot at him. During the entire march, Bill and the other prisoners received only three handfuls of rice and three rations of water. All along the route, the Japanese sentries were sitting in their tents drinking soft drinks and taunting the POWs. Whenever POWs dropped to the side of the road, they were shot, bayoneted or killed by sword.
The first camp Bill was held at as a POW was
Camp O'Donnell. Camp
O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training
base. The Japanese pressed the camp into
use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When
they arrived at the camp, the Japanese
confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had
and refused to return it to them. They
searched the POWs and if a man was found to have
Japanese money on them, they were taken to the
guardhouse. Over the next several days,
gunshots were heard to the southeast of the
camp. These POWs had been executed for
headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army
About a month before he arrived in camp, the Japanese had begun a routine of taking every fifth POW from morning roll call and making the men bow to the guards. As they bowed, the guard kicked the men in their faces and hit them in the back of the neck with a club while they were bent over. They continued doing this to the POWs until March 31, 1944. The Japanese also created disturbances after the POWs had gone to sleep to deprive them of sleep.
Meals for the prisoners often consisted
rice. In the rice were small pebbles which
damaged the POWs teeth. The sick in the
camp were forced to work since the Japanese
needed a certain number of POWs to unload the
coal at the docks. To get them to work,
the POWs were punched, hit with sticks, clubs,
rifle butts, and iron bars.
For food, the Japanese had the POWs raise
rabbits, but when the rabbits became large
enough to eat, the Japanese did not allow them
to slaughter them and the rabbits were allowed
to starve to death. When the prisoners
received meat, each POW received a piece the
size of a thumb nail. Three times a year
the POWs received fish three times in
1945. In place of vegetables, the POWs
were given a flour made from tree roots which
was impossible to eat, so most of the POWs
wouldn't even take it.
About one month before the surrender, there was a noticeable change in the attitude of the guards. The POWs had no idea that the war had ended until a week after the official surrender took place. Before the surrender, the guards at the camp were replaced with guards who spoke more English and appeared to be trying to "soft-soap" the POWs.
At the same time, the area was being bombed and strafed by American planes on a daily basis. One day, an American plane came in low over the camp without any ground fire. A few hours later an American pilot came into the camp in a Japanese command car and informed the POWs that the war was over. Bill and the other POWs remained in the camp for about a week and then took a train into Tokyo. It was there that Bill first saw American troops.
Bill was sent back to the Philippines to be fattened up. After passing a final physical, Pvt. Bill Kerins returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Hugh Rodman on October 3, 1945, at San Francisco. After a stay at Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco, he returned to Chicago where he married Marqurite Mary Dom in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1947. They were the parents of a son and daughter.
William J. Kerins
would later move to Sparta, Wisconsin, in 1967,
and Lebanon, Oregon, in 1987. He worked as
a civilian personnel director for the U.S. Army
and Navy. He passed away in Lebanon, on
March 22, 1991, and was buried at Sand Ridge
Cemetery in Lebanon, Oregon.