Peterson_R

 

S/Sgt. Robert Edward Peterson


    S/Sgt. Robert E. Peterson was born on March 6, 1921, to John E. Peterson and Maibel I. Schwarz-Peterson in Chicago, Illinois.  With his brother, Roy, and his sister, June, he was raised at 906 South Ninth Avenue in Maywood, Illinois.  His father was the Chief of Police in Maywood.  After high school, he worked as a underwriter for Aetna Insurance Company.

    Bob attended school in Maywood and was a 1938 graduate of Proviso Township High School.  At the age of fifteen, he got his parents to sign his enlistment papers to join the 33rd Tank Company of the Illinois National Guard on June 12, 1936.  He remained in the National Guard until June 11, 1939, when he was discharged.

    On October 1, 1939, Bob reenlisted in the National Guard with his two best boyhood friends, Jim Bainbridge and Ray Vadenbroucke.  A few weeks later the company was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for what was suppose to be a year of training.

    From November, 1940 to the late summer of 1941, the men of the 192nd Tank Battalion trained in offensive tanks tactics.  During this time Ray attended cryptology school and chemical weapons.  In the late summer of 1941, the battalion was sent to take part in maneuvers at Camp Polk, Louisiana.  He also became the platoon sergeant of  the first tank platoon.

    It was after the maneuvers in Louisiana that Bob and the other members of the battalion learned they were being sent overseas.  Bob was given leave, said his goodbyes and returned to Camp Polk to prepare for duty overseas.
    The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco.  Arriving there, they were taken by ferry to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.  At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated.   Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
    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.
    On Wednesday, November 5th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th.  During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.  On Saturday, November 15th, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.  The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
    When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day.  At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning.  At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
   At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.  He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.  Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
    The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg.  The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent.  There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
    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 as they prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.  

    On December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers.  Two members of each tank crew remained with their tanks at all times.  On December 8, 1941, the tankers learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor just ten hours earlier.  He and the other tankers watched the attack on Clark Field since most of their weapons were useless against airplanes.  They fought the best they could with weapons that were not designed to fight aircraft.

    After the Japanese landed troopers at Lingayen Bay, Bob and the other tankers were sent north to December 21st.  From this time on, the tanks were used as a rear guard to hold a position so that the Filipino and American troops could withdraw.
    On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta.   The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of river.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening.  They successfully crossed at 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.

     The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.  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.
    Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River and about half the defenders withdrew.  Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted.  From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
    At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5th/6th, the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force and using smoke as cover.  This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions.  At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
    The night of January 6th/7th the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge.  The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan, before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M.
    The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan on which was worse than having no road.  The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations.  After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
    A composite tank company was formed, the next day, under the command of Capt. Donald Haines, B Co., 192nd.  Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire.  The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road.
    When word came that a bridge was going to be blow, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company.  This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
    The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road.  It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance.  It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon.  The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance.  Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400 hour overhauls.
    It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver:  "Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal.  If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay."
    The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Heicienda Road on January 25th.  While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M.  One platoon was sent to the front of the the column of trucks which were loading the troops.  The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
    Later on January 25th, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight.  They held the position until the night of January 26th/27th, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads.  When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were suppose to use had been destroyed by enemy fire.  To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
    The tank battalions, on January 28th, 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, while the battalion's half-tracks were used to patrol the roads.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
    Companies A & C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company - which was held in reserve - and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan.  The tankers were awake all night and attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance planes.  During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and off shore. 

    On January 31, 1942, Bob wrote a letter to his parents.  His family received the letter on March 31st.  In the letter he stated, "Things are a terrible mess."  He told his parents he was getting enough food and that they should not worry about him.

    On February 3, 1942, while on this duty, Bob lived through a strafing and bombing by the Japanese.  Everyday, "Recon Joe" would fly over attempting to locate the tanks.  After one member of the company attempted to shoot him down, the Japanese sent in fighters to strafe and bomb.  Three members of B Company died during the attack.  Bob was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.
    The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available.  The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces.  There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over.

    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.
    To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used.  The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank.  As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole.  Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
    The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. Driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole.  The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
    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 Japanese lunched an all out attack on April 3rd.  On April 7th, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening.  During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew.  The number of operational tanks also became more critical with C Company, 194th - which was attached to the 192nd - having only seven tanks left.
   The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle where they could not fight back.  The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company's offer of assistance in a counter-attack.  When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.   
On April 9, 1942, Bob and the rest of the 192nd became Prisoners Of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese.  Bob and those members of the company who did not escape to Corregidor made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.  After being searched, Bob started what became known as the Death March.

    Bob, Jim Bainbridge and Ray Vadenbroucke made the march together.  Jim Bainbridge was ill with dysentery, so Bob and Ray carried him between them.  At San Fernando, the three soldiers were packed into a boxcar.  At Capas, they disembarked and walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell.

    Since conditions at Camp O'Donnell were extremely bad, Bob, Ray and Jim went out on a work detail to collect scrap metal.  The POWs would tie ropes between cars or trucks and then tow them to San Fernando.  Each man sat in a vehicle and steered it as it was pulled.  When the detail ended, but was sent to Cabanatuan.  According to records kept by the medical staff he was admitted to the camp hospital on June 30, 1942.  The records do not indicate what the illness was or when he was discharged.

    Medical records kept at Bilibid Prison indicate that Bob was admitted to the hospital suffering from pilonidal cyst on his tail bone while he was on the detail.   He remained at Bilibid until May 17, 1943, when he was returned to Cabanatuan.  During his time as a POW, in addition to malnutrition, he also suffered from dysentery, beriberi, and pneumonia.      

    On August 13 1943, the POWs were taken, by train, to the Port Area of Manila.  The POWs were boarded onto the Noto Maru on August 25th, and packed into one hold.  The ship sailed, as part of a four ship convoy, on the 27th but dropped anchor off Bataan.  On its trip to Formosa depth charges were dropped since American submarines were believed to be in the area of the ships.  During the voyage, the prisoners heard a "bang" under the ship.   They assumed that it was a torpedo from an American submarine.

    The ships arrived at Takao, Formosa, on August 30th.  The convoy sailed again on August 31st and arrived at Moji, Japan, September 4th. 
    During the trip to Japan, the POWs were packed into the ship's hold so tightly that they could not use the the half barrel that was suppose to be the toilet.  The floor of the hold was covered in human waste since most of the men were suffering from dysentery.  The smell got so bad that the Japanese covered the hatch of the hold.  The POWs received water twice a day and were fed once a day. 
 

    As the ship made its way to Japan men died of sickness and starvation.  With each death, there was more room in the ship's hold.  The bodies of the dead were hosted out of the hold by ropes and dumped in the sea.  The suction of the ship's propellers pulled the bodies into them and resulted in the bodies being cut up.    The Japanese finally decided that the only way to deal with the smell coming from the hold was to bring the POWs on deck and wash them down with seawater.  They also washed down the floor of the hold at the same time.

    Once at Moji, the POWs were broken into two groups.  Bob's group of POWs were marched to the train station and taken by train to the camps along the line.  Forest's POW detachment was taken to Sendai Camp #6, arriving at the camp on September 4th.  In the camp, he was designated POW #98.
    The POWs were housed in barracks with two tiers of bunks.   They were issued Japanese clothing made of thin cloth and shoes with webbing between two toes.  The POWs worked in a copper mine owned by Mitsubishi.  Each day, the POWs were marched up the side of a mountain to the top and then down into the mine.  To their amazement, their guards always seemed to be waiting for them.  It turned out there was a tunnel into the mine which the guards used so they did not have to climb the mountain.
    Within weeks it snowed.  The area received as much as ten feet of snow which, since the barracks were unheated, served as insulation against the cold.  The POWs barely survived the winter.
    When the Japanese surrendered, the camp commandant announced to the the POWs that he was turning over the camp to the American officers.  An American Naval plane flew over the camp.  The pilot dropped a note to the POWs and told them to paint one stripe on the roof of a barrack if they needed medicine, two stripes if they needed food, and three stripes if they needed clothing.  The POWs painted one stripe on one barrack, two stripes on another barrack, and three stripes on a third barrack. 
    When the plane returned. he dropped another note saying that there was no way for him to drop everything, so B -29s would have to drop the supplies.  The POWs had no idea what the pilot was talking about.  When the B-29s appeared over the camp, the POWs had never seen anything so large in the sky.  The POWs received so much food and clothing that they shared it with the Japanese civilians who had been kind to them. 

    One morning American soldiers drove into the camp.  They told the liberated POWs to stay in the camp until the runway for Yokohama air field had been repaired.  Food and clothing also dropped to the former prisoners while they waited.  He was officially liberated on September 16, 1945.

    When the rail line was repaired, Bob and the other men rode the train into Yokohama.  From there, they boarded U. S. S. Monitor and were returned to the Philippines.  In the Philippines, Bob was reunited with his boyhood friend Ray Vanderbroucke.  His other boyhood friend, Jim Bainbridge, had died while a POW.  On October 8, 1945, Bob left the Philippines for home.

    Bob returned home on the Dutch ship, S.S. Klipfontein, and arrived at Seattle on October 9, 1945.  He was sent to Madigan General Hospital at Ft. Lewis, Washington.  While there, he fell down a flight of stairs and broke his elbow.  He was  next sent to Billings General Hospital at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, to recover from his years as a POW.  On December 18th, he stopped at home.  It was the from there, he was sent to Percy Jones Convalescent Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan.  He was discharged from the army on April 22, 1946, and returned to Maywood. 
    Bob married Lillian Gorka.  Together, they raised three children; Ray, Cathy and Steve.  Bob opened his own insurance business in Maywood and remained in the National Guard and rose to the rank of captain before leaving the National Guard.  Bob was also active in the Maywood VFW and American Legion.

    Robert E. Peterson never really recovered from his time as a POW.   His health began to decline from the beatings he experienced while a POW.  He passed away on May 6, 1965, and was buried at Concordia Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois.


 

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