Col. Richard A. McMahon, Jr., President of the Maywood Bataan Day Organization points out the name of Private Harry Jerele (below left) on the rededicated memorial plaque in Maywood Veterans Memorial Park. Photo by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press.
Thursday, September 18, 2014 || By Michael Romain
MAYWOOD — There was something different about this year’s Bataan Day Memorial Service held Sunday, September 14, at Veterans Memorial Maywood Park. The event is hosted every second Sunday in September by the Maywood Bataan Day Organization (MBDO). Past and present participants of America’s wars — from WWII to Iraq and Afghanistan — mingled with civilian family members, friends and supporters beneath a pitched white tent.
They included the family of Private Harry Jerele, a graduate of Melrose Park Elementary and former resident of Maywood. Jerele died as a prisoner of war in the Philippines, but his resting place at the American Military Cemetery at Manila — plot L, Row 2, Grave 57 — reads: “Unknown.” That’s because, more than 70 years after his family received the dreadful news of his death on December 28, 1943, Harry Jerele’s remains still haven’t been positively identified.
Colonel Richard A. McMahon, Jr., the President of the Maywood Bataan Day Organization, introduced Jerele’s family as he fought back tears.
“Harry Jerele is buried in an unmarked grave in Manilla and his family is here to today, specifically Sharon Nakamura,” Col. McMahon said. “Unfortunately, we can’t seem to get [the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, which is responsible for identifying the remains of U.S. soldiers] to move on going to Manila and identifying Harry, but [Sharon’s] working hard on it,” he said. “All these years later and there is still love going on for what uncle did what grandpa did.”
As with every year, the ceremony’s program listed the nearly 600 young men who comprised the 192nd Tank Batallion that would eventually play such a devastatingly important role in the Bataan Death March. The March is widely considered to be “the greatest atrocity of the Pacific War.”
“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,” according to the event program.
The 192nd was responsible for providing cover for the nearly 80,000 troops who had withdrawn into Bataan, a province of the Philippines, after the Japanese attacked and invaded Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. When the Japanese subsequently invaded Bataan several months later, many of the men from the 192nd would suffer the indignities of the 70 mile-long March — Private Jerele included. Eighty-nine men from Maywood’s Company B, or Bravo, left the United States for the Philippines during World War II. Only 43 would return.
According to Edwin Walker IV, nearly 10 percent of Maywood’s population of about 24,000 is composed of military veterans. Current Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins emphasized that unusually large sacrifice to counter some of the criticism that’s been coming against the Village’s employees in the wake of the recent controversy involving the American flag.
Earlier this month, Maywood’s Fire Chief Craig Bronaugh had issued an order demanding that all decals, including those of American flags, be removed from the lockers and helmets of firefighters. The order wasn’t followed by four firefighters, who were subsequently ordered to go home for the day for their insubordination.
The Chief and Village officials have insisted that the order was strictly to promote uniformity and professionalism in the department, which Chief Bronaugh said had been mired in past conflicts stemming from inappropriate locker decals. Internet blogs and various other media outlets, however, have painted the Chief as anti-American.
Command Sgt. Major Mark Bowman, left, and Generoso D.G. Calonge, the Philippine Consul General in Chicago. Photos by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press.
“We honor our veterans. We honor our acting soldiers,” the Mayor said during remarks. “Maywood is one of the most patriotic places in America. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise […] And for anyone who may have doubts about how much we love our country and our flag, they should be here right now.”
The unique connection between Bataan and Maywood was enhanced by several of the day’s speakers, some with intimate personal connections to Maywood.
“The epic of Bataan sparked a light that crossed to the other side of the world [and landed in Maywood],” said Generoso D.G. Calonge, the Philippine Consul General in Chicago. “It inspired mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and an entire community to work tirelessly for their brave Bataan boys to be remembered and honored.”
“My grandmother live in this town for 40 years,” said. Command Sgt. Major Mark W. Bowman of the Illinois National Guard. “When I was a young boy, I remember playing on that tank,” Bowman said, pointing to the tank prominently displayed on the east side of the park. “It wasn’t there, it was somewhere else in town.”
The tank had just received a fresh coat of paint by the MBDO’s directors. At 17, Bowman joined active duty as a tanker and mused that “it may had something to do with playing on that piece of metal.” When he, along with the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team was deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, he said that he felt as if Maywood’s Bravo Company was with he and his men. Bowman credits the legacy of Maywood’s Bravo Company with inspiring the courage of men from the Illinois National Guard who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. So far, their collective acts of heroism have produced 66 purple hearts and more than 600 bronze stars, among many other accolades.
Bowman said that 19 of his fellow National Guard men lost their lives to war.
Private Harry Jerele became a prisoner of war (POW) on April 9, 1942, after receiving word from his commanding officer to surrender. Jerele and his band of brothers laid down their weapons and ate what the commanding officer called “their last supper” before appearing in front of their Japanese captors two days later.
When the Japanese soldiers showed up, they rummaged through the American captives’ possessions, taking what they wanted. The Japanese then ordered the men to sit in the sun for hours with no water or food before commencing the long march to Camp O’Donnell.
As the men marched the many miles to the Camp, some were killed by American artillery shells launched from nearby islands that had not yet surrendered; some starved; some were buried alive. It took almost a week to reach San Fernando, where Harry and the other surviving POWs were shoved into wooden boxcars, packed 100 strong into cars that weren’t meant to hold much more than 40 men or eight horses. Harry would’ve seen men die standing up, living bodies standing shoulder-to-shoulder with corpses.
Harry survived the boxcars to make it to Capas, where he was forced to walk another ten miles to Camp O’Donnell. When he got to the Camp, he would’ve seen his fellow POW’s dying at a rate of 50 per day, many from starvation and dehydration. He may have waited in line for days to drink from the one working faucet in the entire POW camp. Sick and starving, Private Jerele was nonetheless expected to work a detail that required him to recover destroyed military vehicles.
By this point, having survived what had to at least have been the emotional and physical equivalent of ten wars, Private Jerele may have been spiritually emaciated. The final report on the 192nd notes that Jerele, 27, died cerebral malaria and pneumonia on December 24, 1942, at approximately 1 PM.
Harry Jerele was buried in grave 804 in a camp cemetery with three other POWs, all of whom were positively identified after the war. Jerele’s remains, for whatever reason, were not. According to the Proviso East High School Bataan Commemorative Research Project, “On December 1, 1949, the remains of the one man, who had been buried in Cabanatuan grave #804 and not identified, were returned from Fort Mason in San Francisco, California, to Manila. The remains were identified as X-846. It is believed these remains were those of Harry Jerele […] At this time, Harry’s family is attempting to have these remains exhumed and, through the use of DNA, bring him home.”
Private Jerele, according to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, or JPAC, is one among approximately 8,600 WWII missing persons buried in U.S. cemeteries at home or abroad.
Last Sunday, the MBDO unveiled it’s rededicated memorial plaque, etched into which are the names of the men of the 192nd. After removing the plaque’s covering, Col. McMahon, pointed to Harry Jerele’s name and nearly broke down again, as if in subtle protest. ‘This was a life,’ he seemed to be saying in his tears.
“There’s Harry’s name right there,” McMahon said, pointing. Then he shouted to no one in particular, to Jerele’s spirit perhaps, or perhaps to the great unlistening world: “Jerele, your name is right up here!”
Later in the ceremony, the DuPage Chapter of the VietNow Color Guard would perform the always touching Monument Ceremony, the men of the Howard Rhode American Legion Post would deliver the rifle squad gun salute, two trumpeters of the US Navy Ceremonial Band Great Lakes would solemnly perform taps. But it was the most unceremonial exchange that would comprise the most tragically poignant part of the ceremony.
“Who is that?” said a spectator as Col. McMahon pointed.
“He’s laying in an unmarked grave in Manila,” the Col. said. “We’re just waiting for JPAC to….identify his remains.”
“How come they won’t do it,” the spectator asked.
“Because he’s only one. It costs too much money,” Col. McMahon said. VFP
To read more stories of Maywood soldiers who were involved in the Bataan Death March, click here. Special thanks to the Proviso East High School Bataan Commemorative Research Project for providing the information on Pfc. Jerele’s life that was used as the basis for much of this article.