Pvt. Lewis Wallisch
Pvt. Lewis Wallisch was born on June 7,
1922, to William Wallisch & Helen Zierath-Wallisch. He had two
brothers and a sister. His family lived at 1302 South Center Avenue
in Janesville, Wisconsin.
When Lewis was eighteen, immediately after graduating from high school, he joined the Wisconsin National Guard's 32nd Tank Company from Janesville, Wisconsin. His reason for doing this was that his cousin was in the National Guard and that he liked the idea of earning a little extra money when he drilled.
When the company was federalized on November 20, 1940. On November 25, 1940, Lewis went to Fort Knox, Kentucky to train. It was there that the company's name was changed to A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
In January 1941, replacements entered A Company to fill vacancies when twenty of the original members, including Lewis, were transferred to the newly created Headquarters Company. This transfer would lead to Lewis reaching the rank of sergeant and tank commander.
Lewis recalled that the biggest task at Fort Knox facing the members of the 192nd, was that each company had to get use to each other. During this process of adjustment, the members of the different companies often were involved in fist fights. As time passed, the fights ended as the members of the battalion became friends.
According to Lewis, each company was made up three platoons of thirty men. Each company had the same number of tanks assigned to it. The one exception was Headquarters Company which had three assigned tanks. One of these tanks was the tank commanded by Lewis.
In the late summer of 1941, the battalion was sent to Louisiana for maneuvers. The one thing that Lewis remembers about the maneuvers was the rain. Everything seemed to be underwater.
It was after the maneuvers that Major Beacon Moore, commanding officer of the battalion, informed the members of Headquarters Company that the battalion was being sent overseas. The soldiers considered "too old" were allowed to resign from active duty. All others received a pass to return home to say their goodbyes to their families.
The idea of going overseas excited Lewis because it would give him a chance to see the country and then the world. In his opinion, none of the soldiers believed that the war would catch up with them.
Leaving San Francisco on October 27, 1941, the battalion stopped in Hawaii for a few days. From Hawaii to the Philippines, the ships sailed under blackout conditions. When the battalion arrived in Manila, the soldiers were sent to Fort Stotsenburg. They would later return to Manila to get their tanks.
The men of the 192nd Tank Battalion found themselves living in tents at Fort Stotsenburg since the barracks they had been assigned to were not finished. From the time of arrival until the outbreak of war, they spent most of their time preparing their equipment for use.
Lewis remembered that on December 8, 1941, he had just finished eating lunch and was walking to his tank. Having heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the tanks had been placed around the perimeter of the air field to protect it against Japanese paratroopers.
On his way back to his tank, Lewis noticed the other tankers looking up into the sky at planes. At first, the men all seemed to believe that the planes were the reinforcements that they believed were coming to the Philippines. One reason for this confusion was that the P-35's silhouette looked almost like the silhouette of the Japanese Zero. It was only when the bombs began exploding around them that the soldiers realized the planes were Japanese.
In an attempt to escape the bombs, Lewis ran to his tank, climbed in and closed the hatch. In the tank, Lewis could feel the concussions from the bombs. It was then that he realized that he was not alone in the tank. With him was another GI and a Filipino Scout who had followed him into the tank. After the bombing ended, both went on their way. Leaving the tank, Lewis could see that the Japanese had hit Clark Field very hard.
Around December 21st, Lewis's tank and other tanks from the 192nd were sent north to Lingayen Gulf. As they approached, they could hear the sound of Japanese guns firing on the beaches where the Japanese were landing. He remembered seeing horses, from the 26th U. S. Cavalry, of Filipino Scouts, without riders galloping past his tank. The tankers never reached the landing area because they were ordered from the area.
From this time on, until the withdrawal into the Bataan Peninsula, the tankers would find themselves sent to areas where the Japanese had broken through the Filipino and American lines. The tanks were used repeatedly as a rearguard so that the infantry could withdraw from an engagement.
Lewis recalled how his tank used a bridge to cross a river. That night, he and his crew watched as the engineers blew the bridge to prevent the Japanese from using it. This was a process he and other tankers saw over and over again as the Filipino and Americans withdrew into the peninsula.
In a separate incident, Lewis' tank was in a Filipino village. They came upon some men whom they believed to be Filipinos cooking in a hut. He recalled that these men could have been Japanese infiltrators. It was shortly after this incident that his tank was strafed by Japanese planes.
As the American and Filipino forces withdrew into Bataan, it seemed the Japanese artillery knew where the American tanks were located. The tank's job during the withdraw was to set a line so that the other troops could pull out. One of the things that made this possible was the food and gasoline for the tanks was transported to them by truck. The tanks of the 192nd Tank Battalion were the last American forces to enter the Bataan Peninsula.
It was at the time that Lewis' tank was transferred to B Company. The reason for the transfer was the company had lost a number of tanks and his tank was one of the replacements. B Company was assigned to guarding the east coast of the Bataan Peninsula. From Manila Bay, the Japanese were using barges to land troops behind Filipino and American lines. During the day, the tanks of B Company were hidden under tall trees to protect them from Japanese attack. At dusk, the tanks would be driven out of the jungle onto the beaches.
One night, Lewis recalled seeing flashes out on the bay. A few moments later, shells were landing among the tanks. The tanks returned fire which resulted in a firefight.
As time went on, the meals the soldiers received were cut to two a day. One meal was in the morning, and the other was in the evening. The one thing Lewis recalled about these meals was the lack of meat in the food. According to Lewis, it was at this time that the remaining horses of the 26th U. S. Cavalry were slaughtered for meat.
The first result of the lack of adequate food was the increase in the number of cases of malaria and diphtheria. Another result was that the soldiers all began to lose weight. In spite of this situation, Lewis believed that the morale among the soldiers was still good. The reason it was good was that the soldiers still believed that help was on the way. This belief was reinforced by the motorcycle messengers, of the battalion, who told the tankers that they had seen boats off the shore of Corregidor. What the messengers did not know was that these boats had simply been moved from the other side of the island to protect them from the Japanese Navy.
Later, Lewis' tank was reassigned to Headquarters Company. It was not too long after this that Lt. Col. Wickord and Capt. Hanes informed the soldiers of Headquarters Company of the surrender. The one remaining tank of the company was set on fire to make it unusable by the Japanese. The soldiers then next marched down a jungle trail to the China Sea to the position held by A Company. From there, the companies rode trucks to Mariveles.
It was at Mariveles that Lewis saw his first Japanese soldier. The Japanese made the Americans place their possessions on the runway of the airfield to be inspected. The Japanese took what they wanted. After the war, Life Magazine published a captured Japanese picture of this event. The American prisoners shown in the picture were members of A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
On April 10, 1942, at Mariveles, Lewis started what would become known as "The Bataan Death March." Lewis remembered seeing the bloated bodies of dead Americans along the sides of the road. One Japanese guard showed kindness to the Americans and gave them little pieces of candy. As it turned out, this candy would be the only food that Lewis and the other Prisoners Of War received for two days until they arrived at Tarlac.
One day on the march, Lewis' thirst got the best of him, and he attempted to get water from one of the many artesian wells along the road. As he was getting his drink, he heard a guard coming up behind him. As the guard went to bayonet him, Lewis twisted his body which resulted in his being bayoneted in the hip.
It was also on the march that Lewis and other POWs snuck into the peanut fields and dug up peanuts as they trudged passed the fields. When they heard a guard coming, they got back in line and continued the march.
Lewis remembered that even though the POWs were weak and ill, the concern they showed for their comrades was amazing. To prevent the Japanese from killing their friends, the POWs would carry those men who were ready to fallout. All the men knew that if a prisoner fell out, it meant he would be bayoneted.
At night, the prisoners were held in bullpens. When the next day came, the Japanese would count 100 prisoners and they would continue on the march. Finally, when the POWs reached San Fernando, they received their first food and water. From there, the Japanese boarded the prisoners on trains for Camp O'Donnell. After disembarking the train at Capas, the prisoners marched the last few miles to the camp.
At one point on the march, Lewis attempted to get water from one of the artesian wells that flowed across the road. A Japanese guard spotted him and stuck Lewis with his bayonet. This made it harder for Lewis to continue the march.
Upon arrival at Camp O'Donnell, the POWs were greeted by the camp commandant, Captain Tsuneyoshi. Through an interpreter, he read them the rules of the camp and informed the prisoners that they would be shot if they did not follow them. Lewis did not stay long at Camp O'Donnell. Col. Wickord was put in charge of a work detail and filled the detail with as many members of his own battalion as he could.
No sooner did Lewis leave Camp O'Donnell on the work detail for Calauan, then he came down with malaria. The Japanese captain in charge of the detail had gone to school in the United States and treated the POWs fairly well. He allowed a Filipino doctor to treat the Americans who were ill. This resulted in Lewis receiving quinine to treat his malaria.
With Lewis on the work detail were Dale Lawton, Ken Schoeberle, John Wood, Phil Parish, Forrest Teal and James Schultz. When they finished the bridge at Calaun, they were taken to Batangas and then Candaleria.
While on this detail, Lewis came down with wet beriberi which resulted in his swelling up like a balloon. At the same time that he was suffering from beriberi, Lewis also had malaria and dysentery.
After several months, the work detail ended. Lewis was sent to Cabanatuan prison camp. There he would perform different duties. One of the duties Lewis did was to bury the dead. The prisoners would dig the graves in the morning and bury the dead in the afternoon. Since the water table was high, the dead were held down with poles. Lewis recalled that the bodies of the dead were unrecognizable unless the POWs looked carefully at the dead.
One day on the burial detail, Lewis saw the body of M/Sgt. Osborne McDonald among the dead. For Lewis, working this detail was both physically and emotionally draining. It was not only seeing the number of men dying each day but also seeing the bodies of prisoners he personally knew.
Lewis recalled that the guards assigned to the kitchen detail asked him and a couple other POWs if it was their tank battalion that had been involved in the the wiping out the pockets of Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind Filipino-American lines during the Battle of Bataan. Fearing retribution, the Americans did not confirm the Japanese question.
As a cook, Lewis used the job as an opportunity to give his friends extra food. If he had been caught by the Japanese, he most likely would have been executed.
When the kitchen at Cabanatuan was closed, Lewis was sent to Bilibid Prison. While there, he worked as a stevedore loading and unloading ships in the port area of Manila. He recalled that they filled 50 gallon drums with gasoline to be sent to other parts of Luzon for use by the Japanese Army.
On July 17, 1944, Lewis was boarded onto the Japanese ship the Nissyo Maru which was bound for Japan. With him on the ship was Robert Boehm of A Company. On the journey, American submarines infiltrated the convoy and sunk a number of ships. The POWs began to panic and attempted to get out of the hold. Lewis recalled that a Fr. Riley, a Roman Catholic priest, calmed the prisoners by leading them in "The Lord's Prayer."
The Nissyo Maru docked at Takao, Formosa on July 27th before sailing for Moji, Japan. The ship left the next day and arrived at Moji on July 30, 1944. On August 3, the ship arrived at Moji where the POWs were disembarked and sent to Narumi POW Camp. It was in Japan that Lewis began keeping a diary of his life as a POW. Why the Japanese never confiscated the diary is not known.
Before being sent out to work, the Japanese allowed the prisoners a few days off of work to recover from the trip. When the POWs were sent to work, they were assigned to work at a locomotive plant making charcoal. The prisoners would work ten days straight before being allowed one day off. The plant was producing speed boats for the Japanese war effort.
In the plant, the prisoners worked alongside the Japanese civilians. One of these civilians was referred to as the "Little Old Man". This old man was good to the POWs and tried to help them. He would give them potatoes and tobacco to make their lives a little better. Lewis recalled how the man would tell them that he had a son fighting in China and of his letters home.
To get to the plant, the POWs had to ride a train with the Japanese civilians. The civilians would throw their cigarette butts on the floor of the train cars. The Americans who got on the trains first were able to collect the butts. One day, Lewis attempted to beat the other POWs onto the train by diving in through a window. He was caught by a guard who called him out of the car by his number and beat him in front of the other prisoners.
It was also at this camp that Lewis witnessed a prisoner put to death for stealing. One night, the man crawled into the camp kitchen to steal food. For whatever reason, the man did not get out. Realizing he would be caught, he attempted to kill himself. The Japanese allowed the man to heal and then made him stand naked in front of the other POWs. The Japanese then proceeded to starve the man to death.
In the little free time that the POWs had, they would sit around and talk about food and the meals they would have when they got home. This was one of the things that Lewis believed helped him to survive as a POW. Lewis and the other prisoners would actually feel as if they had eaten after each of these sessions.
As the war went on, American bombs fell around the camp. Lewis remembered seeing craters on both sides of the camp from raids to knock out the train station. As they went to work, the POWs counted the bomb craters.
One night, the bombers destroyed the factory that the POWs worked in. No prisoners were killed because the attack came at night. It was not too long after this that the POWs heard that they were going to be moved to another camp.
The new camp that Lewis was at was Narumi Camp. In this camp the POWs worked for the Nippon Wheel Manufacturing Company producing wheels. One day, the POWs heard that the emperor was going to speak to his people over loudspeakers. Through the interpreter, the POWs learned of the surrender. The camp was turned over to the POWs and the guards vanished. The guards left behind their weapons so the POWs posted guards to protect themselves against any possible attack. The POWs also marked the camp so that it could be spotted by American planes. The B-29s began dropping fifty gallon barrels of supplies to the former prisoners.
The strangest experience for the former prisoners was the fact the Japanese now insisted on bowing to them. It also seemed a little strange to them that the Japanese brought all the food dropped by the B-29s to them without taking anything for themselves. This was strange to Lewis and the other men, because they knew that the Japanese civilians did not have much more to eat than the former POWs. Even the "Little Old Man" refused to accept food from the Americans when it was offered. Lewis assumed that he, like the other Japanese, must have been told they would be killed if they were caught with American food.
On September 12, 1945, the former POWs received orders to move south. They boarded trains and went to southern Japan. There they boarded the USS Rescue for medical treatment. It was on this ship that Lewis learned that he weighed 95 pounds. Since it was determined that Lewis was in pretty good health, he was boarded onto another American ship and taken to Yokohoma.
Lewis returned home to Wisconsin on October 18, 1945. He married Phyllis Jean Hall and together they raised a family of ten children. Of the original ninety-nine soldiers who left Janesville in November of 1940, Lewis was one of only thirty-four to return home at the end of the war. He was discharged from the army on May 13, 1946.
Lewis Wallisch resided the rest of his life in Janesville and worked as a electrician. He was the last surviving National Guard member of A Company called to federal duty in the fall of 1940. Lewis Wallisch passed away on October 7, 2009. He was buried, next to his wife, at Oak Hill Cemetery in Janesville, Wisconsin.