The story of the Janesville 99 is one that should always remain a part of the city’s history and its culture. It’s also a story we should remember in terms of the city, our state and the nation moving forward.
Company A of the 192nd Tank Battalion was a National Guard unit called into active duty following suspicion that Japan was preparing for military action in the South Pacific.
After training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and in Louisiana, the 99 men in the unit shipped out on Oct. 27, 1941, to the Philippines from San Francisco. They landed on the Bataan Peninsula of Luzon on Thanksgiving Day prepared to hold the Philippines from Japanese attacks.
Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and just 12 hours later Japan bombed Clark Field in central Luzon. For the Janesville 99, the war had begun.
On March 11, 1942, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the commander of the Filipino-American forces, went to Australia, leaving behind troops in the Philippines to form a defense until the Filipino-American forces could regroup for a major offensive. In the meantime, the defensive units were left to fight with little, if any, weapons, food or medicine. The Janesville 99 was part of the defensive force.
The Japanese attacked Batten on April 3, and the defensive forces were overrun and taken as prisoners.
The Bataan Death March, a 62-mile forced march, began shortly after.
The death march included short rides on trains where prisoners were packed into rail cars so tight that they could only stand. They stood in human waste, and when a prisoner died, he remained standing next to other prisoners who managed to live through the experience.
Prisoners who survived POW facilities at Camp O’Donnell and Camp Cabanatuan on Luzon were later sent by ship to prisons in Japan. The holds of the ships treated prisoners similar to the rail cars. Inhumane conditions resulted in several deaths.
By the end of the war, only 35 members of the Janesville 99 remained alive.
I became aware of many of these horrifying facts last week at a ceremony at the Janesville VFW club. I left the event with a greater appreciation of those who served and “gave the last full measure of devotion.”
This week, we were told that similar conditions suffered by the Janesville 99 are present at camps in the United States holding immigrants coming to the United States seeking asylum.
I was appalled at what I heard from Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, who explained what he saw on a recent visit to a border camp in Texas.
Durbin recalled seeing about 150 people crammed into a cage meant to hold 35 people. Like the Janesville 99, the immigrants had to stand should-to-shoulder because there was no room to sit. One toilet was available to the group.
Durbin was understandably horrified. He said he was forced to do something he never dreamed would happen. Durbin asked the Red Cross to investigate what amounted to World War II Japanese prison camp conditions in the United States.
Durbin’s comments on the Senate floor can be accessed through GazetteXtra.com/durbin.
Whatever our political differences may be, there is no room for inhumane practices committed by Americans. That is unacceptable under any circumstances.
The Janesville 99 reminds us that inhumane actions leave a permanent scar. Americans are above such treatment, and any indication that they might exist should sound an alarm that needs an immediate response.