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Willibald C. Bianchi (March 12, 1915 − January 9, 1945) was an officer in the Philippine Scouts who received the Medal of Honor for actions in Bataan, Philippines during that country's capitulation to Japanese forces during World War II. After the action near Bagac in the Bataan Province, Bianchi was among the troops captured by the Japanese at the fall of Bataan,on April 9, 1942.
He was part of the Bataan "Death March," and was imprisoned in several Japanese prisoner of war camps, enduring horrible conditions. He was known for his compassion and efforts to better the lot of his fellow prisoners by bartering with their captors for extra food and medicine. On January 9, 1945, while imprisoned in an unmarked Japanese prison ship, Bianchi was killed instantly when an American plane, unaware that the ship contained American prisoners, dropped a 1,000-pound bomb in the cargo hold. Bianchi is one of three members of the Philippine Scouts who were awarded the Medal of Honor.
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
Citation: 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 wound.
Honors. Bianchi attended South Dakota State University and a monument was erected honoring him and fellow alumnus and Medal of Honor recipient Leo K. Thorsness.
From The Journal [New Ulm, Minnesota], February 20, 2011
Willibald Bianchi: Hometown Hero
Upcoming program to commemorate Willibald Bianchi, WWII hero who earned war’s third Congressional Medal of Honor
NEW ULM - A serviceman once teared up while viewing the rare, authentic artifacts - an actual World War II Congressional Medal of Honor, a Purple Heart, other medals, diligently preserved in a simple, old-fashioned gilded frame, a museum worker remembers.
"It means a lot to veterans, to actually be able to see a Congressional Medal of Honor...," says Brown County Historical Society Museum Research Librarian Darla Gebhard.
To her knowledge, the honor has been earned by only one Brown County native: New Ulm's World War II hero Willibald Bianchi.
(Another, Civil War, recipient of the medal, Canadian-born Alonzo Pickle, relocated to this area after having earned it, according to Veterans Service Officer Greg Peterson. Only 46 Medals of Honor, including Bianchi's and Pickle's, have been accredited to Minnesotans.)
Many don't even realize that, courtesy of the Bianchi family, Bianchi's medals, with the original accompanying documentation and interesting historic photos, were left in the museum's care, thus being made available to many generations of viewers.
The public will have a chance to view them - and be reminded of the extraordinary story of the man behind it - at an event sponsored by the Junior Pioneers of New Ulm and Vicinity, on Feb. 26.
The guest speaker, Bianchi's niece Susan Marti, a lifetime member of the Philippine Scouts who now lives in Forest City, Iowa, will tell about Willibald Bianchi's life and subsequent death by friendly fire. The Seifert Bianchi Post 132 will post the colors, and Mayor Bob Beussman, himself a veteran, will provide opening remarks.
The event is Saturday, Feb. 26, at Turner Hall. The social hour starts at 6 p.m. and a meal will be served at 7 p.m. The program starts at 8 p.m.
Banquet requests need to be returned by Monday, Feb. 21. Banquet tickets are $17 each. With questions, call Gebhard at 354-6618.
The Junior Pioneers is a group of direct descendants of early settlers. It is dedicated to preserving settlers' history through educational programs and markers. The organization, set up in 1912, is open to people whose ancestors had settled in this area by 1870. But its programs are often aimed at a wider audience.
United States Army Forces, Pacific
Office of the Commander-in-Chief
25 October 1945
Dear Mrs. Bianchi:
My deepest sympathy goes to you in the death of your son, Captain Willibald C. Bianchi, who died in action against the enemy.
You may have some consolation in the memory that he, along with his comrades in arms who died on Bataan and Corregidor and in prison camps, gave his life for his country. It was largely their magnificent courage and sacrifices which stopped the enemy in the Philippines and gave us the time to arm ourselves for our return to the Philippines and the final defeat of Japan. Their names will be enshrined in our country's glory forever.
In your son's death I have lost a gallant comrade and mourn with you.
Mrs. Carrie Bianchi
New Ulm, Minnesota
The solemn, heart-breaking letter, signed by another hero of the war in the Pacific, signaled the end of the short but heroic life of a local boy, a family's only son, by many accounts a selfless, fair man...
Willibald Bianchi, or Bill, as he liked to be called, was born March 12, 1915, and attended New Ulm Catholic Schools, according to newspaper clippings in the BCHS archives (Gale Tollin, Associated Press, Nov. 12, 1979). His father died in an accident, and Bianchi dropped out of the New Ulm High School in his senior year, to help on the family dairy and turkey farm. He hunted pheasants, rabbits and deer and became an expert marksman.
He completed his high school studies at the University of Minnesota's School of Agriculture in St. Paul before entering South Dakota State University.
Bianchi worked his way through college, doing janitorial work for his room and board. He boxed and played football.
In the Reserve Officers Training Corps at college, he became a cadet major. Bianchi wore his uniform a lot, and his friends jokingly nicknamed him "Medals," because he was proud of his ROTC decorations and wore them with his uniform.
Bianchi graduated in animal husbandry in 1939 and was commissioned second lieutenant in 1940. Less than two years later, he was sent to the Philippines.
In presenting the third Medal of Honor of the war, Gen. Douglas MacArthur praised Bianchi "for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty."
An Associated Press correspondent wrote about the bravery he displayed on Feb. 3, 1942 (New York Times, Feb. 20, 1942).
When a rifle platoon of another company in his battallion was ordered to attack two Japanese machine gun nests, Bianchi volunteered to lead. Early in the advance, he suffered two bullet wounds in his left hand and no longer could handle his rifle. He moved on forward firing with his pistol. He came upon a machine gun nest and silenced it with hand grenades. Two machine gun bullets ripped muscles in his chest.
Bianchi still fought on. He climbed atop a disabled American tank and turned the tank's gun on the enemy. Several machine gun bullets struck him and finally he was knocked off the tank by a grenade blast. By that time, Bianchi had so weakened the position that it was readily captured by infantry.
After a month of recuperation, he returned to action and was promoted to captain.
Taken captive when Bataan fell April 9, 1942, Bianchi survived the infamous Bataan Death March.
Other prisoners told how he moved up and down the line, spurring on those crazed by hunger and thirst and sharing their burdens.
The march ended at a camp where more than 2,000 prisoners died in the first two weeks. Some who lived told how Bianchi bartered with Japanese guards to get food for Americans threatened with starvation (Tollin, BCHS archives).
"Dear Mrs. Bianchi," says a letter by Capt. Theodore I. Spaulding, a fellow prisoner, of June 8, 1951 (BCHS archives). "I wonder if anyone has told you of what I consider Bill's most difficult assignment. Much to our dismay, we discovered in prison camp that few could be trusted to honestly divide the rather short rations that were issued by our captors... Bill was one of those chosen who proved to be absolutely honest and fair in the performance of his assignment, and it was considered a lucky break to get to eat at his kitchen...
One must be starving to understand the mental processes of a hungry man..."
On Dec. 15, 1944, Bianchi was being transported from Manilla to Japan aboard an unmarked Japanese prison ship that was sunk by the Americans. Many of those topside were rescued, but Bianchi was not among them. It was typical, survivors told his family, that he had gone into the ship's hold to aid the sick (Tollin, BCHS archives).
Story and layout by Kremi Spengler; photos of awards and documentation by Steve Muscatello
Philippine Scout Heroes of World War II:
Willibald C. Bianchi
Philippine Scouts Heritage Society Summer 2002
by John A. Patterson, First Vice-President
In an earlier Society newsletter (Fall, 2000 issue), I wrote a short article about the outstanding exploits of the Philippine Scouts during the early days of World War II. The article noted specifically the three Scouts who were awarded the Medal of Honor —Jose Calugas, Sr.; my uncle, Alexander R. Nininger, Jr.; and Willibald C. Bianchi.
At the time I wrote about these three heroes, the society did not know very much about Willibald Bianchi other than that which was contained in his official Medal of Honor citation. Fortunately, as a result of the article, I was given a lead by Major Thomas White of the U. S. Air Force, with respect to Bianchi’s relatives in his hometown of New Ulm, Minnesota. After numerous phone calls, I was able to reach Bianchi’s sister, Mag Marti.
She talked at length about her brother and was kind enough to send along various materials that give a fuller picture of this extraordinary individual. We are now in close contact with all three families of these men.
Thanks to Ms. Marti, I also contacted her daughter, Sue Marti, who is very interested in preserving the history of the Scouts and is, of course, very proud of her late uncle. Sue, her sisters and husband, are members of our society. She spoke movingly about her uncle at the Philippine Scouts centennial event on October 6, 2001, at the Presidio in San Francisco.
Willibald (Bill) Bianchi was born on March 12, 1915, in New Ulm. He was raised on a farm near the town. When his father died during Bianchi’s sophomore year in high school, Bill took over the farm. At the age of 21, he enrolled at South Dakota State University where he majored inanimal science, played football and was active in the Army ROTC. Upon graduation in 1940, Bianchi was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U. S. Army. He requested duty overseas and was assigned to the Philippines in
Bianchi’s exploits on February 3, 1942, while serving with the 45th Infantry Regiment (Philippine Scouts), led to the award of the Medal of Honor. In what became known as the Battle of the Pockets, Bianchi distinguished himself above and beyond the call of duty by voluntarily leading part of a rifle platoon against two fortified Japanese machine gun nests. He was wounded early on when two bullets passed through his left hand. He wouldn’t stop for first aid, but, instead, discarded his rifle and began firing a pistol with his good hand. He located one machine gun and silenced it with grenades.
After being wounded a second time by two bullets through the chest, Bianchi climbed on an American tank, manned its antiaircraft gun, and fired into the strongly held Japanese positions until he was knocked off the tank by a grenade blast that wounded him yet a third time. As a result of Bianchi’s action, the Japanese positions were then eliminated by the Scouts with minimal effort.
Bianchi was captured by the Japanese with some 75,000 other Filipino-American soldiers when Bataan fell on Apri1 9, 1942. He and thousands of others then endured the infamous 65-mile Death March. Somehow, despite brutal treatment by the Japanese, hunger, thirst and the tropical heat, he survived to be imprisoned at Camp O’Donnell. Bianchi was moved in the ensuing months from O’Donnell where conditions were horrendous to the prison camp at Cabanatuan where the situation was hardly better.
Bianchi was well known for his honesty and integrity and for helping his comrades, who, like himself were suffering from the effects of Japanese savagery, poor diet, and slave-like working conditions. There was little food, clothing, medical supplies or sanitary facilities. Thousands died, but there would have been even more, were it not for the likes of caring individuals like Willibald Bianchi.
On October 16, 1944, Bianchi was transferred to the notorious Bilibid prison in Manila where the living conditions continued to deteriorate. On December 12, 1944, Bianchi was placed on one of what became known as the Japanese Hell Ships. These unmarked vessels, against all international conventions, transported allied prisoners of war under inhumane conditions to several Japanese slave labor camps in Japan, Formosa, Manchuria and Korea.
Tragically, in one of the saddest ironies of the war, it was on one of these unmarked ships that Bianchi lost his life at the hands of an American dive bomber. He was 29. To preserve Willibald Bianchi’s memory, South Dakota State University in 1998 and again in 2000 commissioned memorials in his name.
After the war, Carrie Bianchi (Willibald’s mother) wrote, “As a mother, I am proud to be able to give to this generation and to our beloved America the most precious gift that life makes possible, my only son.”