Lewis Wallisch, Janesville, died Wednesday morning at age 88. He was the final surviving member of the group of local soldiers who suffered through the Bataan Death March.
Wallisch said little about his experience through the years, either to the public or his family, said his son, Curt Wallisch.
“You can’t blame him,” Curt said. “I learned more about it recently researching it online.”
Wallisch and fellow Army National Guard soldiers in Company A of the 192nd Tank Battalion defended the Philippines at the start of World War II. Of the 99 Rock County soldiers in the company, only 35 returned after the war.
Two were killed in combat, and one died on the Bataan Death March.
Japanese brutality and torture killed others. Fifteen men died when their unmarked prisoner of war transport ships were bombed or torpedoed by American forces.
Disease, dehydration and starvation killed the others.
Wallisch’s story is featured on a Web site devoted to the 192nd Tank Battalion. One section describes the horrific Bataan Death March: After three months of siege, the American soldiers surrendered in 1942. Japanese troops forced the soldiers to march up to 90 miles without food, water or rest to prisoner-of-war camps.
“Lewis remembered seeing the bloated bodies of dead Americans along the sides of the road,” the Web site says. “One Japanese guard showed kindness to the Americans and gave them little pieces of candy. As it turned out, this candy would be the only food that Lewis and the other prisoners of war received for two days until they arrived at Tarlac.”
Wallisch suffered from beriberi, malaria and dysentery at the camp.
Wallisch survived and returned to Janesville. He married and had 10 children, but the experience affected the rest of his life, said one son, Keith Wallisch.
“We all had a hard life because of it,” Keith said.
The Janesville 99 has been commemorated in a documentary, “In the Hands of the Enemy,” and through the continued effort of the Janesville 99 Committee. Many of the committee members are children or grandchildren of Janesville 99 soldiers.
“It’s the end of an era, and we do have to preserve the memories and the sacrifice that men here from town made, including Lewis,” said committee member Curt Parish.
Parish said Memorial Day ceremonies in Janesville would continue to commemorate the 99’s sacrifice.
Parish said Abel Ortega Sr., who served in Company A, 192nd Tank Battalion, alongside members of The Janesville 99, died earlier this year. The Texas man shared his memories of the Janesville troops when he visited Janesville in 2007.
Ortega’s son wrote “Courage on Bataan and Beyond,” which includes references to the Janesville men, Parish said. That book and others are available at the Hedberg Public Library.
Parish said about 200 copies of the “In the Hands of the Enemy” DVD were recently delivered to Janesville high school libraries. Wallisch is among four survivors featured in the film.
Curt Wallisch encouraged everyone to see the DVD and learn about what the Janesville 99 endured.
“I would love everybody to see that,” he said.