S/Sgt. Robert E. Peterson
Robert E. Peterson was born on March 6, 1921, to John E. Peterson and Maibel
I. Schwarz-Peterson in Chicago, Illinois. With his brother, Roy, and his sister, June, he was
raised at 906 South Ninth Avenue in Maywood, Illinois. His father
was the Chief of Police in Maywood. After high school, he worked
as a underwriter for Aetna Insurance Company.
Bob attended school in Maywood and was a 1938 graduate of Proviso Township High School. At the age of fifteen years old, he got his parents to sign his enlistment papers to join the 33rd Tank Company of the Illinois National Guard on June 12, 1936. He remained in the National Guard until June 11, 1939, when he was discharged.
On October 1, 1939, Bob reenlisted in the National Guard with his two best boyhood friends, Jim Bainbridge and Ray Vadenbroucke. A few weeks later the company was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for what was suppose to be a year of training.
From November, 1940 to the late summer of 1941, the men of the 192nd Tank Battalion trained in offensive tanks tactics. During this time Ray attended cryptology school. In the late summer of 1941, the battalion was sent to take part in maneuvers at Camp Polk, Louisiana.
It was after the maneuvers in Louisiana that Bob and the other members of the battalion learned they were being sent overseas. Bob was given leave, said his goodbyes and returned to Camp Polk to prepare for duty overseas.
From Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, the 192nd sailed for the Philippine Islands. After stopping in Hawaii, the battalion arrived in Manila on Thanksgiving Day, 1941.
On December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Bob lived through the attack on Clark Field. The tankers were assigned to guarding the perimeter of the airfield to prevent the Japanese from using paratroopers.
After the Japanese landed troopers at Lingayen Bay, Bob and the other tankers were sent north. From this time on, the tanks were used as a rear guard to hold a position so that the Filipino and American troops could withdraw.
On January 31, 1942, Bob wrote a letter to his parents. His family received the letter on March 31st. In the letter he stated, "Things are a terrible mess." He told his parents he was getting enough food and that they should not worry about him.
The tanks of B Company and C Company engaged the Japanese and wiped out what became known as Tuol Pocket. Next, Bob and the rest of B Company was given the duty of guarding the east coast of the Bataan Peninsula from possible Japanese invasion.
During the day, the tanks would hide under the jungle umbrella. At night, the tanks would pull out onto the beaches. One night, while he was on this duty that Bob and the other tankers were involved in a firefight with Japanese barges that were attempting to land troops.
On February 3, 1942, while on this duty, Bob lived through a strafing and bombing by the Japanese. Everyday, "Recon Joe" would fly over attempting to locate the tanks. After one member of the company attempted to shoot him down, the Japanese sent in fighters to strafe and bomb. Three members of B Company died during the attack. Bob was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.
On April 9, 1942, Bob and the rest of the 192nd became Prisoners Of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. Bob and those members of the company who did not escape to Corregidor made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. After being searched, Bob started what became known as the Death March.
Bob, Jim Bainbridge and Ray Vadenbroucke made the march together. Jim Bainbridge was ill with dysentery, so Bob and Ray carried him between them. At San Fernando, the three soldiers were packed into a boxcar. At Capas, they disembarked and walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Since conditions at Camp O'Donnell were extremely bad, Bob, Ray and Jim went out on a work detail to collect scrap metal. The POWs would tie ropes between cars or trucks and then tow them to San Fernando. Each man sat in a vehicle and steered it as it was pulled. He remained on the detail until November 1942.
When the detail ended, Bob was sent to Bilibid Prison outside of Manila because of malnutrition. He remained at Bilibid until April 1943, when he was sent to Cabanatuan. During his time as a POW, in addition to malnutrition, he also suffered from dysentery, beriberi, and pneumonia.
On August 13th, the POWs were taken to the Port Area of Manila. They boarded the Noto Maru and were packed into the holds of the ship. Bob and the other POWs were put into the hold of the ship back to back while standing up. When the hold was full, the Japanese closed the hatches. There was very little water and no sanitary facilities. For the men in the hold, food was not as important as water. Men began going crazy and would attack each other for the smallest reasons.
During the voyage, the prisoners heard a "bang" under the ship. They assumed that it was a torpedo from an American submarine. Another ship in the convoy that was carrying POWs was hit by torpedoes resulting in the deaths of almost 1500 Americans. The trip to Japan took eleven days to complete and resulted in the deaths of fourteen men. The prisoners were only allowed on deck once a day for about fifteen minutes.
The ship sailed on August 27, 1944, and stopped at Formosa before sailing to Moji, Japan. Bob landed in Japan on September 4, 1944. On September 9th, he arrived at Hanawa POW Camp which was also known as Sendai #6. The camp was located on the Island of Honshu.
The POWs in the camp mined copper. The work was extreme dangerous. The POWs often did work that the Japanese considered too dangerous for the Japanese workers to do. The POWs at this camp were so isolated that they had no idea how the war was going.
One morning, the POWs fell out for assembly. Bob and the other men were
told to return to their quarters. Bob and the other men had no
idea that the war was over. For the next several days, this
When the rail line was repaired, Bob and the other men rode the train into Yokohama. From there, they boarded U. S. ships and were returned to the Philippines. In the Philippines, Bob was reunited with his boyhood friend Ray Vanderbroucke. His other boyhood friend, Jim Bainbridge, had died while a POW. On October 8, 1945, Bob left the Philippines for home.
Bob returned home and was sent to Billings General Hospital at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, to recover from his years as a POW. He was next sent to Percy Jones Convalescent Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. He was discharged from the army on April 22, 1946. Bob married Lillian Gorka. Together, they raised three children; Ray, Cathy and Steve. Bob opened his own insurance business in Maywood and remained in the National Guard and rose to the rank of captain before leaving the National Guard. Bob was also active in the Maywood VFW and American Legion.
Robert E. Peterson passed away on May 6, 1965. He was buried at Concordia Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois.