Pvt. Lester Irwin Tennenberg
Lester I. Tennenberg was the son of Mr. & Mrs. Gus Tennenberg on
July 1, 1920.
He lived on the north side of Chicago at 1209 West Sherwin Avenue.
As a student, he attended Lane Technical High School in Chicago.
After high school, he worked as a helper on a delivery truck for a radio
September, 1940, Les knew that it was only a matter of time before he would be
drafted into the army. To prevent this from happening, and to have
a say with whom he served with, Les joined the Illinois National Guard's
33rd Tank Company in Maywood, Illinois.
In November, 1940, the men of the 33rd Tank Company were federalized and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky as Company B, 192 Tank Battalion. Here Les had the privilege of serving the company as its first cook. When other members of the company completed baking school, he then trained as a tank crew member.
After Fort Knox, Les and the other members of the company were sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana. The 192nd Tank Battalion took part in the Maneuvers of 1941. To Les, these "maneuvers" were somewhat of a joke because the 192nd had few tanks. Without knowing it, the 192nd had already been selected for overseas duty in the Philippine Islands. On the side of a hill, the members of the battalion were informed that they would be in the Philippines from six months to six years. The192nd was sent west to Angel Island where it awaited transit to the Philippines.
Upon arrival in Manila, the company was rushed to Clark Field. Thanksgiving dinner consisted of leftovers from the 194th Tank Battalion. For the next few weeks, the men spent the majority of their time loading ammunition and attempting to make their equipment combat ready.
War came to the Philippine Islands just ten hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor when planes appeared over Clark Field and bombed the American planes sitting on the runways. For the next four months, Les and the other members of his company fought to hold the Japanese as long as they could. On April 9, 1942, the men of Company B were ordered to destroy their tanks and other equipment that could be used by the Japanese. With this order, Les and the other men of the company became Prisoners of War.
Les took part in the death march. On the march he was accompanied by Bob Martin also of B Company. Les would first be held as a POW at Camp O'Donnell and then Cabanatuan. He would then be selected for shipment to Japan.
On July 23, 1943, Les was boarded onto the Clyde Maru. The ship sailed for Santa Cruz, Zambales, to load manganese ore. After a three day stay, it sailed again and arrived at Takao, Formosa, on July 28th. It remained in port until a nine ship convoy formed. On August 5th, the convoy left Formosa.
The next day the POWs left the ship and were marched to a train station. They boarded a train and took a two day ride to Omuta, Kyushu. The POWs disembarked the train and formed lines. They were marched eighteen miles to their new camp. Eighteen men too ill to walk, were driven to the camp.
In Japan, he was held at Fukuoka Camp #17, which was located near the town of Omuta. Here, Les and the other prisoners would be used as slave labor to work in a coal mine that had been abandoned by the Japanese because it had been determined to dangerous to mine. It was also at this camp that Les witnessed POWs willingly give up their food for cigarettes. The men had given up all hope and wanted to die.
It was at Camp #17 that his friend, Bob Martin, would save Les' life. Bob had been injured and assigned to work in the camp kitchen. Bob would sneak food to the prisoners being held in the camp's internal guardhouse. One of these prisoners was Les. Bob did this knowing that he was risking his own life. The two men would stay friends for the rest of their lives.
In September of 1945, Les was liberated from captivity by the occupational forces of the American military. In 1947, Les would change his last name to "Tenney," which is what many of the other POWs had called him in the camps. Les would go to college and become a professor of finance and insurance at Arizona State University.
After he retired from Arizona State University, Lester Tenney wrote the book My Hitch in Hell, about his experiences as a POW under the Japanese. Today, Les travels the country talking about his life as a POW.