Pfc. Earl Orrin Burchard
Earl O. Burchard was the son of Orrin Burchard and Villa Johnson-Burchard. He was born
on October 22, 1917, in Superior, Wisconsin. With his two sisters and two brothers, he
grew up at 413 South Linn Street in Janesville, Wisconsin.
In October of 1940, Earl enlisted in the 32nd Tank Company of the Wisconsin National Guard. His reason for doing this was that the draft act had been passed and he wanted to fulfill his military obligation. He also knew that the unit was being called to federal service which would fulfill his military obligation more quickly. He decided that if he had to serve in the army, he would like to serve with friends from his hometown.
Earl with the other members of the Janesville Tank Company, which was now A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, arrived at Fort Knox, Kentucky in November of 1940. There they would train in tank tactics. In his opinion, this training was helpful in what lay ahead of them. During his time at Ft. Knox, Earl trained as a motorcycle messenger.
Earl next took part in maneuvers in Louisiana during the late summer of 1941. After these maneuvers, the 192nd was informed that they were being sent overseas for further training. With this announcement, any hope of being released after one year of service vanished. Earl and the other members of the battalion were informed that their time in the military had been extended from one to five years.
After returning home to say his goodbyes, Earl and the other members of his company traveled by train Camp Polk and then to San Francisco. On Angel Island, they received the necessary shots before departing for the Philippine Islands.
Earl arrived in the Philippines on Thanksgiving Day, 1941. In the Philippines, for the next two weeks, he worked to ready his equipment for the additional training that was expected. This training never came.
On December 8, 1942, the same day as the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese bombed Clark Field. Earl and the other tanks crews were ordered to position their tanks around the perimeter of Clark Field in case the Japanese attempted to drop paratroopers. As a motorcycle messenger, Earl's job was to carry messages between A Company headquarters and battalion headquarters. He also was expected to scout enemy positions.
For the next four months, Earl and the other members of A Company fought to slow the Japanese advance in the Philippines. His battalion was the last American unit to withdraw into the Bataan Peninsula. During the Battle of Bataan, Earl recalled that it seemed the Americans could never see the enemy, but the Japanese seemed to always be able to see them.
On April 9, 1942, the Filipino and American forces on Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese. That morning, Earl was trying to get some rest and was laying on the ground outside the Battalion Headquarters of the 192nd. He heard the news as it came in from General King's headquarters. Earl was ordered to take the surrender message to Companies A and C of the 192nd.
Earl took part in the death march and did the march alone. During the march, he never saw another member of his tank company. He was first held as a Prisoner of War at Camp O'Donnell and then Cabanatuan for two years. On July 17, 1944, he was sent to Japan on the hell ship Nissyo Maru. After a stop at Formosa on July 27th, the ship sailed the next day for Moji, Japan. It arrived there on August 3, 1944. This trip was the worse experience Earl had a a POW.
In late 1944 in Japan, Earl was assigned to Fukuoka Camp #23. There he was reunited with Bob Bartz of A Company. The POWs at this camp were assigned to work in a coal mine. Earl recalled that working in the mine was scary because conditions in the mine. The mines the POWs worked were often mines that Japanese engineers had determined to be unsafe for Japanese miners.
As a prisoner, the worst atrocity Earl witnessed was an American shot to death by a firing squad. This was done because the soldier had stolen a piece of bread.
One morning the prisoners awoke to discover that the Japanese guards were gone. B-29s appeared above the camp and began dropping 55 gallon drums of food to the former POWs. This was how Earl and the other prisoners at Fukuoka #23 learned of the Japanese surrender. Two weeks later, the former prisoners made their first contact with American troops. When he was liberated, Earl weighed 118 pounds.
Earl was returned to the Philippine Islands and assigned to Clark Field. It was also at this time that he was promoted to sergeant. He returned to the United States in November of 1945, and was sent to Fort Lewis in Washington State. He then was sent to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Clinton, Iowa. He was discharged from the army on May 22, 1946. The one lasting effect of his captivity is that he had a hard time being around other people.
Pfc. Earl O. Burchard returned to Janesville and married. He was the father of six sons and three daughters. In the early 1960s, Earl moved his family to California where he was employed as a body and fender man. One of his sons was Killed in Action in Viet Nam.
Earl O. Burchard passed away on October 5, 2002, in Carmichael, California. He was buried at Saint Patrick's Cemetery in Placerville, California.