Robert Jesser joined the Wyoming National Guard as part of the 115th Calvary Regiment when he was 18. The regiment activated nine months before World War II and Robert was inducted into the U.S. Army on February 24, 1941.
Following basic training Robert volunteered for duty at the Philippine Islands and transferred to the 194th Tank Battalion. The tropical islands likely appealed to a sense of adventure.
In September 1941 Robert’s battalion deployed to the Philippine’s main island, Luzon. The island defense plan called for the U.S. Army and Philippine forces to hold the island for up to 6 months until the U.S. Pacific Fleet, stationed at Pearl Harbor, could respond.
On December 7, 1941 the Empire of Japan attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The attack destroyed or damaged 19 U.S. Navy ships and killed 2,403 U.S. personnel, including 68 civilians. Having disabled the US main strategic plan the Japanese turned towards the Philippines.
Ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor the Japanese Airforce bombed Clark Airfield outside Manila. Seeming to disregard Washington’s warning General Douglas McArthur did nothing to protect the planes located there. At 11 am on December 8 the Japanese planes arrived.
Robert’s tank battalion was out of harm’s way on the north end of the airfield but the men weren’t. Those not assigned to a tank were expected to be at the command post. Robert, like his fellow soldiers, likely scrambled for cover as over half of the airplanes were destroyed.
Within the first weeks of battle, the 194th was vital in protecting strategic locations and providing ground support. On December 22 the main bridge at Carmen was bombed. The battalion quickly maneuvered to cross the Agno River and held the south bank until ordered to withdraw on December 27. The 194th was behind enemy lines, but punched through enemy resistance.
By January the 194th had been fighting non-stop with no tank maintenance. Even in such conditions the battalion defended the battle lines as the Battle of Bataan wore on. By April 9, 1942 General Edward King decided to surrender after four months of fighting.
On April 10 the Bataan Death March began. Robert marched for four days with minimal water, food, and breaks of less than an hour each day. Then he was forced into a boxcar with 100 men, 60 men over capacity. When they finally arrived at the POW Camp, the Japanese searched everyone, took their belongings, and shot anyone with money.
On June 1, 1942 Robert was marched from POW Camp O’Donnell to Capas. Then he was transferred to Camp 1 at Camp Pangatian via train.
Robert died of disease on November 10, 1942 while a POW. He was 20 years old.
To learn more about Sheridan County’s role in World War II come see the museum’s exhibit, Sheridan on the Frontlines.