|William Herman Sommerlund|
Pvt. William H. Sommerlund was born in Granton, Wisconsin on September 8, 1919. He was the son of Hans and Minnie Sommerlund who had come to the United States from Denmark. As a child he attended local schools in Granton.
As a teenager, William went to Iowa to find work on farms. In early 1941, when it became apparent that he was going to be drafted into the army, he went back to his Granton to enlist in the army.
In 1941, William was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training. Upon arriving there, he was assigned to A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion which was originally a Wisconsin National Guard Company from Janesville. After completing basic training, William attended tank school where he qualified as a tank driver.
In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers. It was after the maneuvers at Camp Polk, Louisiana, that William and the rest of his battalion learned that they were being sent overseas. He received a leave home to say his goodbyes.
William and A Company traveled west to San Francisco. Upon arriving, in San Francisco, he was ferried to Angel Island. On the island, he received a physical and inoculations for duty in the Philippine Islands.
Traveling by ship, William arrived in Manila on Thanksgiving Day, 1941. He and the rest of his company spent the next eighteen days preparing for maneuvers.
The morning of December 8, 1941, Capt. Walter Write gathered the members of his company around him and told them of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He then ordered the tanks to the perimeter of Clark Airfield. Being that they were expecting to take part in maneuvers, many of the men believed that this was start of the maneuvers.
Around 12:45 in the afternoon, while many of the tankers were getting lunch, planes appeared in the sky approaching the airfield. The soldiers watched the planes approach assuming that they were American. It was only when they saw bombs falling and exploding that they knew the planes were Japanese.
During the next four months, William fought numerous engagements against the Japanese. At one point, his company was strafed and bombed by Japanese planes attempting to knock out American artillery located next to the company's bivouac area.
William was wounded twice during the Battle of Bataan. On one occasion he received a bullet wound to the head. On another occasion, he was hit in right thigh by shrapnel from an exploding shell.
On April 9, 1942, William and the other tankers received the order "crash". They preceded to circle their tanks and pile their ammunition and on them. They opened the gasoline valves and fired a armor-piecing shell into the motor of each tank. The soldiers then dropped a hand grenade into each tanks.
William and the rest of the company stayed in their bivouac and waited for orders to march. The next day Japanese soldiers arrived. The Japanese roughed up the Americans and took anything they wanted from them. William and the other members of the company were then ordered to go to Mariveles. It was from Mariveles that William started what became known as the death march.
On the march, William received no water and little food. At one point, he and the other men had to run across a field being used by Japanese artillery to shell Corregidor. As they crossed in front of the artillery, shells from Corregidor landed around them. At San Fernando, William boarded a small boxcar. The POWs were packed into the cars. At Capas, he disembarked and walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Conditions in Camp O'Donnell were horrible. As many as 50 POWs died each day. To relieve the conditions in Camp O'Donnell, the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. William was sent to this camp in May 1942. During his time in the camp he suffered from beriberi and dysentery. He remained at Cabanatuan until July 1943, when he was sent to the Port Area of Manila.
On July 23, 1943, William was boarded onto the Clyde Maru. The ship sailed on July 23rd and arrived on August 7, 1943 at Moji, Japan. After he arrived in Japan, William was sent to Fukuoka #17. The POWs in the camp were used as slave labor in a condemned coal mine.
In August, 1945, many of the POWs witnessed a large explosion over Nagasaki. Those who saw the explosion told the men who had been working in the mine about it.
A few days later the prisoners got up to work but were told that this was a holiday. William and the other POWs knew something was up since this was the first holiday that they got the day off for. When the guards fled and American planes appeared over the camp and dropped food and clothing, the POWs knew the war was over.
On September 6, 1945, William and the other POWs were liberated. At the time of his liberation, he weighed 86 pounds. He was returned to the Philippines to be fattened up before being returned to the United States. While he was in the Philippines, he was promoted from private to corporal and finally to sergeant.
William arrived back with the United States on October 27, 1945. He was sent to Schick General Hospital in Clinton, Iowa. There, he met his future wife who was working as a medical assistant in the hospital. They married on March 24, 1950.
William stayed in Iowa and became a farmer. In 1999, William was diagnosed with cancer. Just before Christmas, he suffered a stroke. William H. Sommerlund passed away on January 13, 2000.
The photo at the top of this page was taken after William had returned home in 1945.
Credit: Jim Opolony: 192nd & 194th Tank Battalion
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