Saturday, November 26, 2011

Janesville 99

Photo by Cliff of Janesville Memorial
Janesville, Wisconsin was home to Company “A” of the 192nd Tank Battalion during World War II. The Battalion was made up of four former National Guard units that were mobilized in November 1940. One company was from Janesville, Wisconsin; one from Port Clinton, Ohio; one from Maywood, Illinois; and one from Harrodsburg, Kentucky. Company “A” is known as the “Janesville 99.”

These men, from the 32nd Divisional Tank Company of the Wisconsin National Guard, trained at Janesville’s town Armory prior to the War. They were deployed to the Philippines in November 1941 and arrived at Fort Stotsenburg and Clark Field on Thanksgiving Day. On December 8th, Japan bombed Clark destroying the Army Air Corps on the Philippines and by January 7, 1942 Company "A" had retreated onto the Bataan peninsula.

For the next three months, out-gunned and under-supplied, they fought the Battle of Bataan against a substantial Japanese invasion force. They were surrendered by their commanding officers on April 9th and forced onto the infamous Bataan Death March—65 miles of Hell.

Only 35 of original Janesville 99 returned after the War. Two-thirds perished as prisoners of Japan. Two were killed in combat, and one died on the Bataan Death March. Japanese brutality, malfeasance, and torture killed the others. They died from disease, dehydration and starvation all over Asia: Camp O’Donnell, Cabanatuan, Formosa, Moji, Mukden, Palawan. One was among the five of the 192nd Battalion who were murdered in the fire set by the Kempeitai in the December 1944 Palawan Massacre. Fifteen men died when their unmarked POW transport ships were bombed or torpedoed by American forces.

Many of the men were lost at sea or buried in mass graves. They are among those on the tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila. The film, Price Of Freedom: In the Hands of the Enemy, poignantly documents the history of the Janesville 99 (the website includes a clip of the film).

Gavan Daws, in his seminal book Prisoners of the Japanese: POWs of World War II in the Pacific, highlights the POW experiences of Forrest Knox, a Janesville soldier. Forrest and his brother Henry were among the few who returned home alive. In the suffocating hold of the Hell Ship Hokusen (Haro) Maru, Forrest had to kill men to stay alive. It was one of the longest Hell Ship vogages of the War. Too often, Forrest hallucinated later seeing his dead friends walking on Janesville’s streets.

On the corner of Milwaukee and Franklin Streets in Janesville is the Lions Club WWI plaza. Joining the WWI Memorial is a stele topped with a tank “in fulfillment of a pledge by the Tank C Company boys to their comrades on Bataan.” This memorial installed in 1947 lists both those who died and those who returned home. It personalized the War and focused its story on its individuals.

Significantly, as historian John Bodnar notes, the memorial does “not represent the full scope of how this particular war experience was remembered.” No memorial captures the extent of the suffering and mistreatment of the local soldiers both during the War and after they came home.  In large part, the men were abandoned by the War Department and Veterans Administration and their wartime traumas misunderstood. The listing of former resident's names brought the war and its sadness into the community. In many ways, the memorial affirmed “that the wartime generation had grave reservations about the struggle and its costs and tried to say as as much in whatever public space it could find” (Ibid., 156).

Outside the Janesville Armory
The Armory where the Janesville 99 were mustered remains. It is two and a half blocks from the memorial mentioned above. Built in 1930, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is now a dinner theater. The building features a stunning array of brickwork, terrazzo floors and decorative iron. The building’s exterior has been preserved to retain its historical significance. A simple plaque erected in 1990 commemorating the history of Company A stands outside the Armory.

On August 3, 2012 the last man from Company "A" died: Albert Joseph DuBois. He was a slave laborer for Mitsui mining coals at Fukuoka #17 POW camp in Omuta.

Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), from Janesville and head of the House of Representative’s powerful Budget Committee is a co-sponsor of H Res 333.

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