Vetter

 

Pfc. Paul Henry Vetter


    Pfc. Paul H. Vetter was born August 9, 1917, in Michael, Illinois.  He was one of nine children of Olando Vetter and Seralda "May" Paige-Vetter.  The family resided in Carlin, Calhoun County, Illinois, in 1940.

    Paul entered the army in January 1941.  He was assigned to B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion as a replacement when openings in the company were created because men from each of the letter companies were transferred to  Headquarters Company when it was formed.  Since Paul was from Illinois, he was assigned to the company which had originally been an Illinois National Guard tank company.

    When Paul arrived at Ft. Knox, he and the other men were assigned to tents instead of barracks.  Being winter, the tent got cold at night in spite of its stove.   It was during this time that he received his basic training.  This training was done by sergeants from the different companies of the 192nd. 

    Paul spent the next eight months training at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  During this time, he qualified as a tank driver.  His company continued to train for the next several months until they were sent on maneuvers in Louisiana.  According to members of the battalion, they were assigned to the 2nd Armor Division and part of the Red Army.  The opposing Blue Army was under the command of General George Patton.

     At one point, the 192nd broke through the defensive lines of the Blue Army and on their way to overrun its command post when the maneuvers were suddenly canceled.  Instead of returning to Ft. Knox, the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk.  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 reason for this move -  which had been made in August 1941 - was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance.  He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island which was hundred of miles away.  The island had a large radio transmitter.  The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
    When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.  The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat - with a tarp on its deck - which was seen making its way to shore.   Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
    From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes.  Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases by the battalion's medical detchment. Those with minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Som men were simply released and replaced.
    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 spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons.  They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts.  The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
    On December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers.  Two crew members had to be with their tank at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
    The morning of December 8th, December 7th in the United States, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier.  The tankers were ordered back to their tanks around the perimeter of Clark Airfield. 
    All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north.  The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes.  When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese.  

    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, where the bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River had been destroyed.  The tankers made and end run to get south of river and ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening but 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 fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and December were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.
    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 the area.
    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.
    At 6:45 A.M. on April 9, 1942, Paul became a Prisoner Of War when the Filipino and American soldiers were surrendered to the Japanese.  B Company destroyed any equipment usable by the Japanese and made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.  Once there, the Japanese took anything they believed that would be usable to them from the prisoners.

    Paul took part in the death march to San Fernando.  Arriving there, he and the other prisoners boarded a train and were shipped to Capas.  The POWs were packed in so tightly that when a man died, he remained standing since he could not fall to the floor of the car.  At Capas, Paul and the other men disembarked the train and walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.

    Camp O'Donnell was a death trap.  There was only one water spigot for the entire camp, and men literally died waiting in line for a drink of water.  The Japanese guards would randomly turn off the water at any moment.  The death rate among the POWs rose so high that the Japanese opened a new camp in an attempt to lower it.

    Being one of the healthier POWs, Paul was sent to Cabanatuan.  During his time in the camp, he became ill.  According to records, he was admitted to the camp hospital on January 19, 1943.  It is not known what he was admitted for and how long he was a patient, since no date of discharge is known.  On March 26, 1943, he was again admitted to the hospital.  Again, no illness or date of discharged were given.
    Paul was sent to Bilibid Prison at some point.  Paul remained in Bilibid until August 13, 1944, when he and the other POWs were marched to the Port Area of Manila.  They were boarded onto the Noto Maru and sailed for Japan on August 22, 1944.  On its way to Japan, the ship stopped at Takao, Formosa.  During the trip, the convoy the ship was in came under attack by American submarines.  One submarine fired two torpedoes at the Noto Maru, but they were set deep and passed harmlessly under the ship.  

    After arriving at Moji, Japan, Paul worked in an unknown mine.  According to the military records held at the National Archives, Paul was sent to Tokyo #9-B, which was  also known as Ashio Camp and arrived in the camp on September 8, 1944.  The POWs worked at the Ashio Copper mine which had been reopened during the war. 
    Living conditions in the camp were atrocious.  The camp had a limited amount of water because the water line to the camp was broken, which meant they could not wash after working.  The POW kitchen was 40 feet from the latrines resulting in flies being everywhere in the kitchen.  The Japanese also did not supply lids for the cooking utensils.  The Japanese guard in charge of the POW mess stole food for himself that was meant for them.  POWs reported he was seen carrying sacks of rice and sugar, assigned to them, from the camp.
    In the camp, the POWs slept in barracks that were inadequately heated and during the cold nights the POWs had only thin blankets to cover themselves with.  The Red Cross blankets that were sent to the camp, for the POWs, were issued to the guards.
    The Japanese appropriated the Red Cross packages for themselves and stored them in a warehouse inside the camp.  Besides the blankets, they also took chocolate, canned meats, fruit, and milk, and clothing meant for the POWs.  Since a certain number of POWs had to report for work each day, the Japanese medic in charge of the sick bay, sent men to work who were too sick to do heavy work.  The Japanese also withheld medicine and medical supplies sent for POW use and used it for themselves.

   At some point, Paul was sent to Tokyo #10-D which was also known as Tsurumi where the POWs were used as slave labor at the Osaka Shipyard Company which attempted to get the POWs build ships. 
    One day Paul did not understand the instructions that the Japanese guard had given him on how to do the work on the docks.  Paul was attempting to tell the guard that he did not know what the guard wanted him to do.  Another POW told Paul what to say to the guard.  Whatever he said resulted in him receiving a beating.  It turned out that the other American had attempted to be funny at Paul's expense.  Paul carried the scars from the beating for the rest of his life. 

    In Japan, his clothing began to deteriorate until all he had to wear was a G-String.  One morning Paul and another POW discovered the guards were gone.  Not too long later, American bombers appeared over the camp and began dropping food and other supplies to the POWs.  The POWs made clothing from the parachutes

    Paul and some other liberated POWs made their way to the coast where they made contact with U. S. Navy personnel.  When Paul reached the Naval personnel, he was wearing a parachute.  The Navy gave the liberated POWs clothing and cleaned them up.  His first meal as a freed man was a spaghetti dinner.

    After returning to the Philippines, he was promoted to corporal and received medical treatment.  Paul returned to the U. S. on the U.S.S. Joseph T. Dyckman, on October 16, 1945, and called home from San Francisco, California.  He asked his brother if his girlfriend, Minnie, was still waiting for him, and his brother said she was.  Paul and Minnie Haus married on November 6, 1945.  Paul remained in the Army for medical treatment and was discharged on May 10, 1946. 

    Paul became a father of two children; Roger and Virginia. When the children were baptized, their baptismal gown was made from the parachute's silk he had found and used to wrap himself with while attempting to reach U. S. troops after the war had ended.  The only thing that was changed for each baptism was the color of the ribbons on the gown.  

    Paul held a variety of jobs, including owning his own gas station in Godfrey, Illinois.  He bought a home in Dow, Illinois, and custom built all the cabinets in the house.  For the rest of his life, Paul carried on his back the scars from a beating he received while a prisoner.  Paul's family also recalled that on his back and legs were scars from cigarette burns that he received from the Japanese during torture.  He never told his family the story of the beating or how he got the cigarette burns.

    On February 19, 1979, Paul H. Vetter passed away at 61 years old from a heart attack and was buried at St. Anselm's Catholic Cemetery in Kampsville, Illinois.


 

 

Return to B Company

Next