Sgt. Herbert August Durner Jr.
Herbert A. Durner Jr. was one of the three sons of Herbert A. Durner
Sr. & Bessie
May Fellows-Durner. He was born on June 15, 1916, and grew up in Evansville,
Wisconsin. He graduated from Evansville High School in 1935.
After high school, he worked as an electrician's apprentice.
Knowing that a draft act had been passed, Herb joined the Wisconsin National Guard's 33rd Tank Company in Janesville, Wisconsin. He was called to federal duty when the company was federalized on November 25, 1940.
Herb trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and then took part in maneuvers in Louisiana in the late summer of 1941. It was after the completion of the maneuvers that the battalion learned at Camp Polk that they were being sent overseas. Those men determined to be too old were released from federal service. Those going overseas received a ten day pass home.
The overseas destination of the 192nd was suppose to me a secret. But Herb found that this "secret" was known to everyone at Camp Polk. All over the camp on light poles and in dayrooms, the army had posted bills seeking volunteers to join the 192nd. The volunteers were needed to replace those men released from federal service. The bills also stated that the battalion was being sent overseas to the Philippine Islands. In spite of this, Herb was actually threatened with a court martial when he spoke about the battalion's destination.
From Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, the 192nd Tank Battalion sailed for the Philippines. After stops in Hawaii and Guam, they arrived in Manila on Thanksgiving Day, 1941.
On December 8, 1941, Herb lived through the Japanese attack of Clark Field. The tanks had been placed around the perimeter of the airfield to prevent the use of paratroopers. Herb fought the Japanese for four months before the Filipino and American forces were surrendered to the Japanese. Herb's tank crew of Ed DeGroot, Bob Bohem and Ken Squire did what they could during the attack.
As a tank commander, it was Herb's job to command the tank's crew during engagements against the Japanese. He would also control the which way the driver would go through a series of signals given by tapping the driver on his shoulders.
The night of April 8, 1942, Herb commanded a platoon of eight tanks that were sent north to defend an airfield against the advancing Japanese. Before they left the 192nd's headquarters area, he told the other 31 men that their mission was most likely a one way trip. Their orders were to hold out as long as possible. As the tankers reached the airfield, they received orders to return to HQ.
On April 9, 1942, Herb and the other men received word of General King's surrendering them to the Japanese. He and many of the other men were angry because they wanted to fight to the very end.
Once news of the surrender reached them, Herb's tank crew and the other tank crews spent their remaining time as free men cutting the gas lines on their tanks and firing a armor piecing shell into the engines of each of the tanks. After they had finished, they waited for the Japanese to arrive. This took place the next day.
When the Japanese arrived, Herb and the other men were pushed around by the Japanese. The Japanese made menacing gestures with their rifles. Each rifle had a bayonet attached to it.
As a Prisoner of War, Herb with his company was sent south to Mariveles, there they were searched and the Japanese took whatever they wanted from the men. It was from this barrio at the southern tip of Bataan that he started what became known as the death march.
It took Herb five days to complete the march. He recalled that their were men who did not have shirts to protect their skin from the sun. These men literally baked in the sun as they marched. With him on the march were Dale Lawton and Forrest Knox.
The POWs marched north toward San Fernando. As they walked they passed artesian wells. According to Herb, at one point he and the other POWs were stopped at wells. They could look at the water flowing from them, but they were not allowed to take any water. To keep moisture in his mouth, Herb kept a pebble in his mouth and worked it around his swollen tongue.
At another point on the march. Herb and the other prisoners were left sitting in the sun for hours. In his opinion, the Japanese wanted the POWs to bake.
At San Fernando, Herb and the other prisoners were boarded onto small boxcars. They were packed in so tightly that the dead remained standing. At Capas, the POWs climbed out of the cars and walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.
While a prisoner at Camp O'Donnell, Herb and other POWs were given permission to collect water for baths. The men organized a system were they carried water to the camp in small buckets. They then dumped the water into a 55 gallon drum.
This job turn out to be long and hard. To protect their work, the men posted a guard. Somehow the system broke down and the drum of water was left unguarded. When Herb came up to the barrel, two officers were using the water.
Herb explained to the officers that the water belonged to him and his friends. The officers looked at Herb and said that it was their water and that they were going to use it. Herb kicked the barrel as hard as he could causing it to spill its contents on the ground. This left the two officers covered with soap with no place to rinse off. Herb didn't stick around to find out how they got the soap off themselves.
Herb was also held as a POW at Cabanatuan. From there, Herb was sent to Bilibid Prison, where he was processed for shipment to Japan in July, 1944. In his voyage to Japan, Herb and the other POWs spent two weeks in the hold of the cargo ship and were never allowed out except to go to the washroom.
During the trip, the ship was caught by a typhoon near Formosa. It was Herb's belief that the storm saved the ship from being attacked by American planes and submarines.
Herb would spend the remainder of the war at Tokyo Camp #1 which also was known as Kawasaki #1. The prisoners in the camp were used as slave labor at the Kawasaki ship yard. At the ship yards, some of the POWs worked as welders while others worked as laborers.
When the war ended, Herb was the seventh member of A Company liberated at the end of the war. Of the 99 men who left Janesville on November 25, 1941, Herb was one of 34 to survive the war and Japanese prison camps.
When he returned to the United States, he learned that his parents had moved to Janesville. He married Majorie Hayne on June 1, 1946. The couple became parents of two children. He worked as an electrician and served three terms as the president of Local #890 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Janesville.
One of the lasting affects of his time as a POW was that Herb had a hard time smiling. He also never forgave the Japanese for what he had gone through as a POW. Herb was discharged from the army on April 26, 1946.
Herbert Durner passed away on May 26, 1995. He was buried at Maple Hill Cemetery in Evansville, Wisconsin, Campbell Block 3, Section 036, Grave 8.