Pvt. Edward Plodzien was born on September 24, 1918, in Chicago, Illinois, to Martin Plodzien & Agnes Zachara-Plodzien. With his two sisters, he grew up at 1320 West Julian Street in Chicago. He attended high school for one year before leaving and going to work in a tannery as a mill hand. With his two friends, Steve Gados and Mike Wepsiec, he joined the Illinois National Guard's tank company in Maywood. The reason he did this is that a draft act was just passed and the friends knew they would be drafted. They also knew that the tank company would be federalized and after one year of service, they would be done with their military commitment.
In September 1940, the tank company was designated B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. On November 25, 1940, the members of the company reported to the armory in Maywood. Two days later, they march down Madison Street to Fifth Avenue and north to the Chicago & North Western Train Station. They traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, with the members of A Company, 192nd Tank Company.
The members of the battalion attended various schools at Ft. Knox and learned to operate the battalion's equipment. Near the end of the summer of 1941, they were sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where they took part in maneuvers. The maneuvers were suddenly canceled after the Red Army, which they were part of, broken through the Blue Army's lines and on their way to overrun General George Patton's headquarters.
After the maneuvers, the battalion remained behind at the base instead of returning to Ft. Knox. The company members had no idea why they were being held at the fort. On the side of a hill, they were informed they were being sent overseas. Those men 29 years or older were allowed to resign from federal service. Replacements
for these men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion. The code name for the move was "PLUM." Within hours, most of them had figured out PLUM stood for Philippines, Luzon, Manila. After the companies were brought up to strength with replacements for the men released from federal service, the battalion was equipped with new tanks and half-tracks. The battalion traveled over three different railroad routes to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. On the island, the soldiers were inoculated and received physicals. Those who had minor medical issues 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. 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. Two members of each tank crew remained with their tanks at all times. The
morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were guarding the perimeter of Clark Airfield. Early that morning, the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had reached the Philippines. As they sat on their tanks, they watched American planes fill the sky. At noon, every plane landed.
The tankers were eating lunch when they saw 54 planes approaching the airfield from the north. As they watched the planes, they saw what looked like raindrops falling from the planes. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. Most of the tankers could do nothing but watch since their weapons were not meant to fight planes.
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 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 one occasion, a member of the company, who had gotten frustrated by being awakened by the planes, had his half-track pulled out onto the beach and took pot shots at the plane. He missed the plane, but twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared over the location and dropped bombs that exploded in the tree tops. Three members of the company were killed.
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. The 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.
The morning of April 9, 1942, at 6:45, the tankers received the order "crash." They circled their tanks. Each tank fired a armor piecing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
After the Japanese made contact with B Company, the members of the company made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. They were now officially Prisoners of War. At Mariveles, the Japanese took blankets and other items from the POWs that they could use. The tankers striped anything from their uniforms that indicated that they were tankers. They heard the rumor that the Japanese were looking for them.
The tankers made their way north along the east coast of Bataan. The first five miles of the march was uphill. They received little food or water. One night as they were being given a break, it began to rain. This provided some relief for the men.
At San Fernando, they were herded into a bull pen. One corner had a slit trench which was meant to be used by the POWs as a washroom. The surface of the trench moved because it was covered by maggots.
Near dusk, the POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men. They were marched to the train station in San Fernando and boarded onto small wooden boxcars used to carry sugarcane. Each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car. Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas and walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp. There was one water spigot for the entire camp. Men stood in line for hours just to get a drink. The lack of medicine meant that disease ran wild among the POWs with as many as 55 men dying each day. The situation got so bad in the camp that the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. Edward went directly to the camp when it opened.
After arriving in the camp, Edward became ill. According to camp medical records from the camp, he was admitted to the camp hospital, on June 25, 1942, suffering from malaria and beriberi and remained in the hospital for seven months until he was discharged on January 29, 1943.
On August 15, 1943, he was selected to go out on a work detail to Las Pinas to build runways. They built the runways with picks and shovels. Conditions in the camp were bad and a large number of POWs became ill and died. Edward was returned to Cabanatuan, within a year, due to illness.
In July 1943, the names of the POWs being transferred to Japan was posted at the camp. They were taken by truck to Bilibid Prison. On July 17th, the POWs were marched to the Port Area of Manila where they were boarded onto the Nissyo Maru that morning. The POWs were put into hold three. Once they were use to the dark, they could see three tiers of shelves ling the aft wall, forward wall, and starboard wall.
The Japanese attempted to put all 1600 POWs in the one hold. When they finally realized that it couldn't be done, they moved 900 of the POWs into the second hold. At 9:00 P.M., the Japanese fed steamed rice to the POWs. The ship remained in port until the other ships arrived to form a convoy of 21 ships.
The ships sailed on July 25th and entered the South China Sea. There, the ships were spotted by three American submarines that made up a wolf pack. At 2:00 in the morning, the submarines started there attack on the convoy. One ship, the Tosan Maru, was hit by two torpedoes.
Another ship, the Aki Maru was hit once in its bow. A third ship, the tanker the Otoriyama Maru, was hit by a torpedo amidships and burst into flames. The POWs could see the flames shoot over the Nissyo Maru since the hatch was not covered.
The POWs in the hold panicked and attempted to climb out of the holds. The Japanese kept them in the holds by aiming their guns at them. In one hold, Fr. John Curran, a Catholic chaplain, calmed the men down by telling them there was nothing they could do so they should pray. He led them in prayer.
The Nissyo Maru arrived at Takao, Formosa, on July 27th at 1:00 P.M. While it was in port the lower part of the second hold was loaded with sugar. The convoy was reorganized and sailed on July 28th. The ships arrived at Moji, Japan, on August 3rd.
The POWs were disembarked and organized into detachments of 100 men. They were marched to the train station and boarded onto trains. Edward's POW detachment was taken by train to the Osaka area to Tanagawa Camp. The POWs were used to tear down the side, with picks and shovels, of a mountain to build a dry dock.
In March 1945, Edward was one of 69 American POWs transferred to Fukuoka #8.
At this camp the POWs were used as slave labor by the Yamano Mining Company in a coal mine. The POWs were housed in twelve barracks that were 10 feet wide by 100 feet long. None of the barracks were heated and were infested with lice.
The daily meal for the POWs was rice, between 550 and 750 grams a day, and thin vegetable soup. Once a month, fish would be added to the soup.
The Japanese guards were brutal toward the POWs and beat them for any offense. The treatment the POWs received from the civilian supervisors at the mine was even worse. Ironically, the Japanese took a good number of precautions to protect the POWs from being hurt in cave-ins.
Edward remained in the camp until he was liberated in September 1945. On September 21, 1945, he was taken to the Dejima Docks at Nagasaki and returned to the Philippines for medical treatment. In the Philippines he was reunited with his two friends, Mike Wepsiec and Steve Gados. Both had survived the POW camps. He
returned home on the U.S.S.
Marine Shark, on March 16, 1945, at San Francisco, where he received more medical treatment.
Peter married Estelle Romanek on April 11, 1953, in Chicago and spent the rest of his life in there. He passed away on September 25, 1966, in Chicago, and was buried at Rosehill Cemetery.