BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D.
Born on March 12, 1915, in the small farming town of New Ulm, Minnesota, Bianchi was raised on a small poultry farm. He was a sophomore in Ulm High School when his father died and he left school to take responsibility of running the farm. He later completed his high school studies at the University of Minnesota.
When he was 21, he enrolled at South Dakota State University and majored in animal science. He became a member of ROTC and was on the football team. When he graduated, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Army. He requested foreign duty so that he could become involved in the action as soon as possible.
His first duty assignment was the Philippines where he was tasked with the duty of turning the locals into jungle fighters. Bianchi distinguished himself and turned the locals into fierce jungle fighters.
By December of 1941, there were two threats to the Japanese plans for expansion into Indonesia and South East Asia. The United States Navy had their Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and the combined American and Philippine Army in the Philippine Islands ( 130,000 troops) under the command of General Douglas MacArthur.
The attack on the Philippines began on December 8, one day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese Air Force raided Clark Field in the Philippines and destroyed the majority of Gen. MacArthur’s air power while it was still on the ground.
The Japanese air raid on the 8t was just the beginning of the Japanese offensive against the Philippines. The Japanese goal was the invasion and occupation of all of the Philippine Islands. History tells us that by April of 1942 the Japanese had accomplished their goal. The Bataan Field Force was ordered to lay down their arms and some 76,000 became prisoners of the Japanese.
Before they were ordered to surrender in April, the Philippine Division had fought a series of delaying actions as they were pushed southwards. By the last week in January 1942, Bianchi and his men were in defensive positions near the southern end of the Bataan Peninsula in the “Reserve Battle Position”, a defensive line that ran from the town of Bagac in the west to Orion in the east. On January 25th, Bianchi volunteered to lead a platoon of Scouts in an attack on Japanese machine gun positions.
The attack was to be supported by some M3 Stuart tanks, but it was doubtful they would be of much value as the Japanese were well dug in. Bianchi was wounded in the hand early in the attack and threw his rifle aside and advanced with only a pistol, using cover to work his way into close range. When he was within 20 yards or so of the machine gun position, he left cover and threw a hand grenade into the machine gun nest, putting it out of action. During his assault on the machine gun nest Bianchi was wounded in the chest twice. Not able to walk, Bianchi pulled himself onto one of the knocked out Stuart tanks and began firing the turret-mounted machine gun until knocked unconscious by the concussion from a Japanese grenade. Bianchi recovered from his wounds, but for him and the other self-proclaimed “Battling Bastards of Bataan”, the long ordeal of Japanese captivity was about to begin. When the Bataan Field Force was ordered to lay down their arms in April 1942, some 76,000 became prisoners of the Japanese. Bianchi became invaluable to the men on the three day Death March to the prisoner-of war camps where inhuman conditions awaited them. Japanese discipline, harsh even to its own soldiers, was monstrous when applied to prisoners of war who had committed the shameful (to the Japanese) act of surrender.
Bianchi died January 9, 1945 while imprisoned on board an unmarked Japanese prison ship enroute to Japan. The ship was sunk that day by Americans who didn’t know the American prisoners were on board.
MEDAL OF HONOR CITATION
Bianchi, Willibald C.
Rank and organization:First Lieutenant, U.S. Army, 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts
Place and date:Near Bagac, Bataan Province, Philippine Islands, February 3, 1942
Entered service at:New Ulm, Minnesota
Born:New Ulm, Minnesota
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy on 3 February 1942, near Bagac, Province of Bataan, Philippine Islands. When the rifle platoon of another company was ordered to wipe out 2 strong enemy machinegun nests, 1st Lt. Bianchi voluntarily and of his own initiative, advanced with the platoon leading part of the men. When wounded early in the action by 2 bullets through the left hand, he did not stop for first aid but discarded his rifle and began firing a pistol. He located a machinegun nest and personally silenced it with grenades. When wounded the second time by 2 machinegun bullets through the chest muscles, 1st Lt. Bianchi climbed to the top of an American tank, manned its antiaircraft machinegun, and fired into strongly held enemy position until knocked completely off the tank by a third severe
1st Lt. Willibald C. Bianchi is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Section MA, Grave 39.