The Origins of Maywood’s Bataan Day and the Maywood Bataan Day Organization
They were barely more than kids, only in their teens and early twenties. Their buddies from Proviso High School called them “Weekend Warriors”. They were members of the 33rd Tank Company, 33rd Infantry Division of the Illinois National Guard based at the Armory in Maywood, Illinois. In September 1940, the Draft Act had been passed and selected National Guard Units were called into active duty to prepare for the possibility of entering the war in Europe. The 33rd Tank Company was organized May 3, 1929 at Maywood, Illinois and was inducted into active Federal service as Company “B” of the 192nd Tank Battalion on November 25, 1940.
One hundred twenty-two of these men left the Armory at Madison Street and Greenwood Avenue in Maywood to board a Northwestern Railroad train which took them to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where Company B joined Company A from Janesville, Wisconsin. Company C from Port Clinton, Ohio, and Company D from Harrodsburg, Kentucky, to form the 192nd Tank Battalion.
Deployment and The War Begins
After further training and participating in Louisiana maneuvers, the 192nd Tankers were at Camp Polk, Louisiana, to be fully equipped for overseas shipping. In October of 1941, 89 men of the original Company “B” left the United States for the Philippine Islands. They arrived in Manila, Luzon, Philippine Islands on November 20, 1941 — Thanksgiving Day. From the port area, they went to Clark Field on Luzon, 60 miles to the north of Manila.
The Army had expected to give these young Americans additional military training and develop the fighting skills of the newly mobilized Philippine forces, but that training never happened. In less than three weeks, on December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked; six battleships went down to the bottom of the harbor. A few hours after the attack on the Hawaiian base, Japanese bombs smashed into Clark Field and other bases on Luzon. Thereafter, Japan dominated both the air and the waters around Luzon.
Japan’s next move was the actual invasion of the island, beach by beach. By Christmas Eve 1941, General Douglas MacArthur, Commander of all the Island Forces in the Philippines, knew his exhausted troops could not stop this Japanese invasion. He put into action plans, made much earlier, for a mass withdrawal of all Philippine and American forces into Bataan; nearly 80,000 hungry and battle-worn troops. The 192nd Tank Battalion was tasked with providing cover for these withdrawal operations — they would be the last defenders into Bataan.
Clothing, barbed wire, gasoline, sand bags, medicine — everything was in short supply. The scarcest commodity of all was food. By the end of January, after the forces had been only a month in Bataan, malaria, scurvy, and dysentery had reached epidemic proportions. Pilots without planes, cavalrymen without horses, gunners without tanks, and Filipinos without shoes all fought doggedly against the relentless tide of Japanese invaders and their unending artillery bombardment. In March, General Douglas MacArthur was ordered out of the Philippines to Australia to assume command of all Far East forces. General Jonathan M. Wainwright III took command of the allied forces in the Philippines.
Surrender and The Descent Into Hell
On April, 9, 1942, Bataan surrendered. The following day, some 70,000 American and Filipino soldiers, as Japanese captives, all became victims of the greatest atrocity of the Pacific War: the Bataan Death March. A seemingly endless line of sick and starving men began their trip from the peninsula to Camp O’Donnell in central Luzon. The former Philippine cantonment was to have been an American airfield before the Japanese invasion but had to be abandoned before completion.
The entire march to Camp O’Donnell was 112 kilometers (70 miles).
Because of the deteriorated condition of these men and the brutal actions of their captors, no one knows how many died during that march. Probably 5,000 to 10,000 Filipinos and between 600 and 700 Americans lost their lives. What is known is that the dying and suffering did not end when the men reached Camp O’Donnell, the “Death March” would not end for a long time.
There would be more misery, more starvation, and more indignities, but most of all, there would be much, much more death before freedom. Of the nearly 10,000 Americans taken prisoner at Bataan, between 6,000 and 7,000 died in Japanese prison camps during the three-and-one-half years of their captivity. Of the 89 men of Company “B” who left the US in 1941, only 43 would return from the war.
The American Bataan Clan
Today’s Maywood Bataan Day Organization (MBDO) traces its roots back to the American Bataan Clan (ABC). This small group arose out of the anguish of mothers over the welfare of their sons who were lost when Bataan fell. After suffering through just over four months of promises of military and supply relief that was to be sent to the men fighting to slow or push back the invasion of Imperial Japan, these family members decided to take matters into their own hands.
Viola Heilig, mother of Sgt. Roger Heilig of Co. B of the 192nd Tank Battalion, was one of the founding mothers and also the first president. In the summer of 1942, the ABC registered itself as a charitable foundation and set about collecting the items that prisoners of war would need. They had food drives, collected clothing, and worked with the Red Cross to determine where to send the items. During the summer, little information came out about the fate of the captured troops, but some heavily censored letters from the prisoners confirmed that at least some of the men of the 192nd were still alive.
On the second weekend of September, 1942, the ABC helped sponsor an incredible weekend of celebrations of the American spirit just as America fully turned its efforts to the war effort. Recent victories in the Pacific theater of the war led some to believe that the tide was turning. A parade through the streets of Maywood that weekend featured hundreds of marching bands, floats, soldiers, and celebrities. Even Chicago Mayor Kelley was there.
One of the featured speakers at an evening rally was Illinois Governor Green (1941 – 1949), who remarked, “…the heroism of the men who defended Bataan and Corregidor and our other outposts will endure forever, giving new inspiration and new courage to free men everywhere”. More than 30,000 people lined the parade route and jammed the grandstand area to hear the speakers. The families of the captured men had a place of honor on the reviewing stand. Senator Charles W. Brooks (1940 – 1949) said, “Maywood tonight exemplifies the true American spirit that will win the war.”
No Easy Answers
That early optimism of a quick victory faded as the Japanese dug in and began a war of attrition across the Pacific. As the hopes for a swift return of their sons were dashed, the ABC turned its efforts from sending aid to their sons, husbands and fathers to becoming more of an advocacy group on their behalf here in America. While the troops in Bataan sung their ironic song about being the “Battling bastards of Bataan”, forgotten by everyone – including Uncle Sam – the ABC insured no one forgot about them.
ABC President A.C. McArthur, whose son, Sgt. Albert C. McArthur, Jr. was reported as having died in a Japanese prison camp in 1943, began to speak more and more fervently about the need to provide reinforcements to the forces fighting in the Pacific. For example, he openly advocated for additional forces to be deployed in China to be ready for a final push into Japan to quickly free all prisoners. And the ABC never missed an opportunity to mark the passing of April 9th – the anniversary of the fall of the Philippines.
Throughout the rest of the war, the ABC and another group in Illinois, the Bataan Relief Organization, acted on behalf of the prisoners whenever and wherever they could. And each September, they would have a bond drive and parade to mark those efforts.
After The War, The Mission Continues
At the end of the war, the ABC grew to include more members – including not only returning survivors of the 192nd, but also other members of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. On Bataan Day 1946, the returned heroes of Bataan who were able marched down Fifth Avenue in Maywood at the head of the Bataan Day Parade as honored guests of their hometown. On that same day the ABC helped dedicate a memorial in Maywood that featured a light tank similar to the one that the men of the 192nd had used in the defense of Bataan.
In 1957, they changed their name to the Maywood Veterans Council to better signify the new inclusion of all veterans from WWII. They continued to mark Bataan Day in September, and the annual event became the largest community event in the western suburbs of Chicago with a huge parade, banquets, guest speakers, and even a “Miss Bataan Day”. This tremendous outpouring of community and patriotic pride continued throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and well into the 1970s.
On May 17, 1959, at the conclusion of a special Armed Forces Day Parade, a bronze plaque was dedicated in front of the former National Guard Armory at Madison Street and Greenwood Avenue as a memorial to Co. B, 192nd Tank Battalion. The plaque and memorial installation was a donation from E. D. Coleman, President of E. D. Coleman Instruments Co. The invocation was given by Fr. Benjamin R. Morin, former Lt. Morin (Co.B) tank commander and Bataan Death March survivor. Also serving on the arrangement committee was George Dravo, HQ Co. 192nd Tank Battalion and Bataan Death March survivor.
During 1964, the Veterans Council made a great effort to contact all men and women who were POWs to come and join Maywood in this event. One hundred thirty-eight former POWs came to the O’Hare Inn on September 12, 1964 as guests of honor. At this testimonial dinner, Congressman Harold Collier, Maywood’s Congressional representative was handed a resolution to make this day a National Day — Congressman Collier went on to introduce this bill (House Joint Resolution 165) in Congress.
In June 1973, a number of concerned citizens of Maywood requested assistance from the Village Mayor, David White. With his help, and with the help of civic organization involved, the Veterans Council was reorganized as the Maywood Civic and Veterans Association for the Preservation of Bataan Day. Later, the name was changed to the Maywood Bataan Day Organization.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the Bataan Death March, a gala banquet was held in September 1992 at the Terrace Restaurant in Lombard, Illinois. Memorial services continued to be held each year on the second Sunday in September at the location of the tank in Maywood Park (4th Avenue and Oak Street).
Birth of The Maywood Bataan Day Organization
On July 31, 1996, the Maywood Veterans Council was renamed and rededicated as the Maywood Bataan Day Organization.
In January 1999, the Maywood Village Board of Trustees approved a proposal by the Maywood Bataan Day Organization to establish a Veterans Memorial in the southeast corner of Maywood Park (1st Avenue and Oak Street). The plan called for bringing together the major mementos of Company “B” (the tank dedicated in 1946 and memorial plaques), as well as a World War I cannon to ensure the continuing recognition and preservation of an important part of Maywood’s heritage.
In March 1999, an historic photograph of Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion, similar to one which hung in the lobby of the Lido Theatre in Maywood, was installed in the History/Board Room on the 1st floor of the Carnegie Library (original wing) in Maywood.
On Bataan Day, September 12, 1999, the newly created Veterans Memorial was dedicated. Speakers at the historic occasion included Brigadier General Edward J. Dyer, U.S. Army, Assistant Division Commander for Maneuver, 24th Infantry Division (Mech) & Fort Riley, Brigadier General David Harris, 35th Adjutant General, State of Illinois, and the Honorable Emelinda Lee-Pineda, Consul General of the Philippines.
On September 14, 2014, during the 72nd Annual Bataan Day Memorial Service, the large plaque, newly renovated and refurbished, was rededicated on the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the Veterans Memorial.
Today and The Future
Today, the MBDO continues to perpetuate the sacred honor of marking Maywood’s Bataan Day each year.
Recognition has grown to include not only the local heroes of Maywood, but also their valiant brothers-in-arms – the men of Companies A, C and D of the 192nd. And another important aspect of the battle to defend Bataan has also grown in importance – the presence and support of the Chicago area Filipino-American community. Today, Filipino-Americans are an important part of the MBDO and through their efforts, and attendance at the annual Maywood Bataan Day event, they are helping preserve not only the memory of the men of the 192nd, but also the incredible valor, sacrifice and brotherhood that the Filipinos showed in defending the Philippines shoulder to shoulder with Americans.
As we move into the 21st century, the MBDO is well-positioned to perpetuate the memory of why Maywood marks Bataan Day on the second Sunday of September. Through the efforts of the MBDO, and the support of those who hold these memories as sacred as the MBDO does, no one will ever forget the sacrifice of these brave soldiers in WWII – or the dedication and support of their families through their long captivity.
Further information about Maywood Bataan Day can be found at the Maywood Bataan Day Organization’s website: http://mbdo.org
Further information about the 192nd Tank Battalion can be found at the award-winning Proviso East Bataan Commemorative web site:
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