Pfc. Thomas H. Samek
Pfc. Thomas H. Samek was born on June 16, 1922, to Frank and Martha M.
Samek. He was the younger of two sons born to the couple.
Tom grew up at 704 Fifth Street in Janesville, Wisconsin. When he was
eight, his father passed away leaving his mother to raise him and his
brother. She supported her family by working as a seamstress,
Tom attended local schools and then Janesville High School. While he was in high school, Tom's mother signed the necessary papers enabling him to enlist in the Wisconsin National Guard's 32nd Tank Company. The tank company was headquartered in an armory in Janesville. He may have done this to help his family financially.
In November of 1940, while Tom was in his senior year of high school, the tank company was called to federal service. Tom left school and traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky where he trained for the next ten months.
In the late summer of 1941, Tom went on maneuvers with the 192nd in Louisiana. After the maneuvers, the battalion learned it was being sent overseas for further training. Tom like the other members of the battalion was given a furlough home to take care of unfinished business and say his goodbyes.
Traveling west by train, Tom arrived at Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. After being inoculated, he and his battalion sailed for the Philippine Islands. West of Hawaii, the convoy traveled in complete blackout. A sign that the coming of war was not far off.
After stops in Hawaii and Guam, the battalion arrived in the Philippines on Thanksgiving Day, 1941. A little over two weeks later, Tom lived the Japanese attack on Clark Field just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
For the next four months, Tom was involved in the effort to slow the conquest of the Philippines. During one engagement the tank Tom was driving threw a track. Since the Japanese were advancing, Tom and the other members of his tank crew could not take the time to repair the tank. They abandoned it where it was.
On April 9, 1942, Tom with the many of the other members of the 192nd became Prisoners of War. Tom took part in the death march and was held as a POW at Camp O'Donnell. He was next held at Cabanatuan.
In September 1943, Tom was sent to Las Pinas on a work detail. The POWs on the detail built runways for an airfield. The only tools that they had were picks and shovels. He remained on the detail until September 22, 1944. The detail ended suddenly when American dive-bombers appeared over the airfield and began strafing. As they did, the POWs cheered.
When the detail ended, Tom was sent to Bilibid Prison. There, he was examined and declared healthy enough to be sent to Japan. In October 1944, Tom and other POWs were marched to the Port Area of Manila and boarded onto the Hokusen Maru. The ship sailed on October 3, 1944. During this portion of the trip, three of the ships in the convoy were sunk by an American submarine. One torpedo hit the Hokusen Maru but did not explode. The POWs heard it scrapping the side of the hull as it ran along it.
The surviving ships arrived at Hong Kong on October 11th. On October 13th, the convoy was attacked by American planes. The ships remained at Hong Kong until October 21st. The ships sailed again and arrived at Takao, Formosa on October 24th. The POWs remained in the Hokusen Maru's holds until they were disembarked on November 8th. On Formosa, Tom was held at Toroku POW Camp.
Tom remained in the camp until January 14, 1945. He was transported to Japan on the Melbourne Maru. The ship docked at Moji on January 23rd. There, Tom and were used as stevedores. The other POWs loaded and unloaded war materials for the Japanese war effort. To get from the camp, the POWs were transported by train in gondola cars regardless of weather.
Later, Tom was sent to the Japanese city of Yawata. He was imprisoned at Fukuoka #3-B near the Yawata suburb of Tobata. With him in the camp were seven other members of the 192nd Tank Battalion including Robert Boehm of A Company. The POWs in the camp worked in the Yawata Steel Mills. There, the men shoveled coal and ore and cleaned blast furnaces.
In early 1945, Tom became ill and was diagnosed with enteritis. This infection of the intestines resulted in him being sent to a hospital for prisoners in Moji. It was at the hospital that Pfc. Thomas H. Samek died on February 12, 1945. He was 23 years old.
After the war in 1948, Martha Samek requested that her son's remains be returned to Wisconsin. She had Pfc. Thomas H. Samak buried next to his father at Walnut Hill Cemetery in Baraboo, Wisconsin.