Cpl. Leo H. Dorsey
Leo H. Dorsey was born May 11, 1919, to Hubert and Stella Dorsey of Syracuse, New York. With
his three brothers and two sisters, his
family resided at 639 Chestnut Street in Janesville, Wisconsin.
During the 1930s, his father died and his family was living at 263 Center
Avenue in 1940. Leo was educated in Janesville
Public Schools and attended Janesville High School. While he
was a teenager, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps.
In December of 1939, Leo enlisted in the Wisconsin National Guard's 32nd Divisional Tank Company in Janesville, Wisconsin. In November of 1940, Leo was called to federal duty when the tank company was called into the regular army as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. He trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky and was transferred to the newly created Headquarters Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion in January of 1941. After this training, Leo took part in maneuvers in Louisiana in the late summer of 1941.
At Camp Polk, Louisiana, Leo and the other members of the battalion were called together and informed by Capt. Beacon Moore, commanding officer of the 192nd, that they were being sent overseas for further training. Those men over 29 years old, or the fathers two children, were given the opportunity to resign from federal service. After a furlough home, Leo returned to Camp Polk and boarded a troop train bound for San Francisco. In San Francisco, the soldiers were sent to Angel Island. There they received the necessary shots and examinations before being sent to the Philippine Islands.
After boarding a transport, the ship sailed to Hawaii. The soldiers received a two day leave before sailing for Guam. Leo and the other members of the 192nd Tank Battalion arrived in the Philippines on Thanksgiving Day, 1941. They were rushed to Clark Field and had the leftovers of the 194th Tank Battalion as their Thanksgiving Dinner.
For the next two weeks, Leo and the other members of the battalion spent their time readying equipment for the expected maneuvers. These maneuvers never took place. On December 8, 1941, Leo lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. After hearing the news about Pearl Harbor, the tankers had been assigned to guard the perimeter of the airfield against Japanese paratroopers.
With his battalion, Leo spent the next four months attempting to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines. Like the other men of his battalion, Leo knew that no reinforcements were coming to rescue them. This was confirmed when Leo and the other defenders of Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942.
Leo took part in what would become known as the Bataan Death March. It took Leo three weeks to complete the march because he was ill. He recalled that on the march men were beaten for attempting to get water. Others were shot or bayoneted if they fell out and could not continue.
Leo recalled that a Filipino women risked their lives to give them food. As the POWs marched by, the women ran up and gave them raw eggs or water wrapped in leaves. These women saved the lives of many men.
When Leo finally arrived at Camp O'Donnell, he was put into the hut that passed for a hospital. The next six weeks he spent in the camp hospital suffering from malaria. During this time, his weight dropped to 90 pounds. To get Leo out of the hospital and the camp, Lt. Leroy Scoville got himself and Leo assigned to a work detail. So that Leo would be selected, Scoville and another member of A Company held Leo up under his armpits. Lt. Scoville then helped Leo walk out of the camp to show that he was healthy. The day he went out on this work detail was May 11, 1942, his 23rd birthday.
On the work detail, Leo and the other POWs recovered scrap metal near San Fernando. Members of the two tank battalions were specifically selected for this detail because the Japanese knew they could drive cars. To recover the metal, the POWs worked in teams. The vehicles were tied together by rope and each man drove one to San Fernando. From there, the vehicles were sent to Manila and taken to Japan.
Leo recalled that the Japanese commanding officer of this detail was decent to the POWs. He made sure that they were well fed and that they were not beaten.
When this detail was completed, Leo was sent to Cabanatuan. He was not at Cabanatuan long when he was sent to Bilibid Prison outside of Manila in October of 1942. At Bilibid, the prisoners were given a physical to determine if they were healthy enough to be sent to Japan.
On October 20, 1942, the prisoners were marched through Manila to the dock area. There, Leo was boarded onto the Tottori Maru for Japan. During the voyage to Japan, the convoy was attacked by an American submarine. This resulted in the convoy being held up for two days. During this time the prisoners held in the hold of the ship with the hatches secured.
Upon arriving in Japan, Leo was sent to Tanagawa to build a dry dock. He remained in this camp for two years. In an attempt to get the POWs to work harder, the Japanese offered a food bonus of an onion or rice ball to any POW who loaded fourteen cars of dirt. Leo recalled that many men killed themselves working for the bonus.
It was also at this camp that the POWs refused to load and unload war materials for the Japanese. After several beatings, the Japanese pulled the POWs from the detail. With their success with the munitions in mind, the prisoners decided that they were going to slow construction of the dry dock by slowing the amount of dirt they removed for the dry-dock. Even though they were beaten the prisoners would not load more than four cars of dirt a day.
The prisoners also retaliated against the Japanese by committing acts of sabotage. One of the easiest acts of sabotage to commit was to mix the concrete for the dry-dock walls to thin. The POWs would make the concrete soupy and mostly water. They did this so the walls of the dry-dock would start to crumble after it was completed.
Leo was then sent to Osaka #5-B a camp near Tsuruga, Honshu, on the Sea of Japan. The POWs in this camp were used as stevedores unloading foodstuffs from ships that were arriving in Japan from Korea and Manchuria. In this camp, Leo became bunkmates with Emerson McCarter of A Company. The two men spent the rest of the war together.
While unloading the food from the ships, the prisoners stole food for themselves to supplement their meager rations. An average meal for the POWs was soybean and rice. The POWs carried 100 pound burlap sacks of soybeans. To get extra food, the POWs would tear holes into the bags and drop beans into their pockets. The pockets had holes to allow the beans to fall down their legs and settle in pouches around their ankles. This prevented the Japanese from finding them when they searched them when they returned to camp.
When the Japanese attempted to get the prisoners to unload munitions from ships, Leo and the other prisoners went on strike. Even though they were beaten, the prisoners would not unload the war materials from the ships. The Japanese finally gave in and took the Americans off the detail.
Showing how little respect the Japanese had for the POWs, as part of their diets, the Japanese served barley or burned wheat in place of the rice to the prisoners. The wheat had been in a warehouse fire and determined to be too badly burnt to be given to the Japanese civilians but good enough for the prisoners.
As time went on, Leo became a witness to the bombing of Tsuruga by American planes. The first air raid Leo lived through took place in December 1944. During that month there were twenty air raids. In January 1945, there were even more air raids causing greater destruction.
The prisoners got use to the air raids and did not run for shelter when the air raid siren was sounded. When the siren went off, the prisoners stayed where they were. Only when the short alert was sounded that the bombers were minutes away did they run for cover.
During an air raid, Leo went to the lower floor of the his barracks. Realizing that all his possessions were on the third floor of the barracks, Leo left the floor and attempted to reach his bunk. As he climbed the stairs, the building burst into flames. Leo lost all his clothing except the shoes and shorts he was wearing. He also lost two of his fingers.
In another air raid, Leo did not go to the shelter but watched the bombers. As he watched a Japanese fighter that was attacking the formation of B-29s was hit. Leo watched the plane burst into planes as it fell toward the ground. The plane crashed in flames within a mile of the camp.
In July of 1945, Leo and other POWs watched a B-29 fly over the camp with its bomb bay doors open. As it went over it dropped a 1000 pound bomb. Leo remembered watching the bomb's 20,000 foot downward trip. As they watched, it appeared that the bomb was going to land on the camp. The bomb hit about two blocks from the camp destroying a power plant. The explosion sent a shockwave and debris flying all over the camp.
In August of 1945, Leo and the other prisoners noticed a change in the attitude of the guards. Soon American bombers appeared and dropped food to the prisoners. Not too long later, Leo and the other men learned that the war was over. On September 10, 1945, Leo and the other POWs in his camp were officially liberated.
Leo was sent back to the Philippines and after recuperation sent back to the United States by ship. After time in a military hospital, Leo returned to Janesville. Leo was discharged from the army on May 29, 1946. He was again hospitalized when it was discovered that he was suffering from tuberculosis. While he was in the sanitarium, he met Ruby Watters. The two married on September 8, 1951, and raised a family of nine children.
It should be noted, that Lt. Leroy Scoville, the officer who saved Leo's life by getting him out of Camp O'Donnell, did not survive the war.
Leo H. Dorsey passed away on February 24, 2003, in Madison, Wisconsin. He was buried at Highland Memory Gardens, Cottage Grove, Wisconsin.