Warren Griswold’s enlistment in the Navy on September 6, 1940 led to a twenty-five year career in that branch of the American military, but it also resulted in Warren spending forty-four months as a Japanese prisoner of war. Assigned to the U.S.S. Peary, a destroyer, Warren’s ship arrived in the Philippines in May 1941 as part of the Asiatic Fleet. When Japanese planes bombed Manila Bay two days after the attack at Pearl Harbor, hot shrapnel from a bomb that hit the foremast of the Peary penetrated Warren’s back. The next day Warren found himself at an Army hospital in Manila. He remained in the city throughout the rest of the month, moving to a Naval hospital and then, on December 24th, to Santo Scholastica College for further recuperation. It was there that the Japanese took him as a prisoner on the second day of January 1942. For over two years, Warren stayed at various POW camps in the Philippines. What he identified simply as “rough treatment” marked all of his internments. In August 1944 his captors put Warren on a ship headed for Japan. Once he arrived on the island of Kyushu in September, the Japanese assigned him to work in a coal mine. Eleven months later, the war ended. After the guards abandoned the camp, Warren and three other POWs walked out of it, in a way liberating themselves. They made their way to an airfield held by American forces. From there the military flew the former prisoners to Okinawa and then Manila. Late in September 1945 Warren arrived at a Naval hospital in Oakland, California, just outside of San Francisco. Anxious to be reunited with their son, Warren’s parents drove to Oakland from their home in northern San Diego County. It had been more than five years since they had seen each other. As his mother Ruth recalled, “The sight of that young man coming down the steps of the barracks to meet us, is one we will never forget.”

Ruth Charlesworth Reavis Griswold made a scrapbook to preserve documents related to her son Warren’s wartime experiences. But its pages also give the reader a glimpse into what the Griswold family endured. Accompanying the scrapbook is a five-page, double-spaced typed account Ruth wrote about her son’s experiences at the hands of the Japanese. The first sentence begins with the bombing of the Philippines. The Griswolds knew the Peary was in those islands, but that was all they knew. Letters Ruth sent to the Bureau of Naval Personnel early in 1942 brought her no information on her son’s status. She even wrote three letters directly to Warren, one in February, one in March, and one in April. All three envelopes were returned. For the first one and a half years, Ruth’s frustration at obtaining such information is apparent --“we could get no news of Warren’s whereabouts, whether he was living or dead, though we persevered in writing all sources of information.”  Finally, in June of 1943, the Griswolds received a letter from the Bureau of Naval Personnel informing them that the International Red Cross (IRC) could now confirm that their son was a prisoner of war. She regularly received newsletters from the organization as well as written instructions on the rules the Japanese had laid down for any letters and packages American families might send to their loved ones. Ruth carefully placed these Red Cross bulletins at the very back of the scrapbook. Inside of its pages, she put lists of items she mailed to Warren. Ruth also put into the album postcards the Japanese allowed her son to mail the family. In keeping with his captor’s orders, however, Warren’s sentences were brief, containing little true information on his condition. After his 1944 transfer to Japan, the Griswolds received another postcard from there. Ruth used the word “overjoyed” to describe the family’s feeling upon receiving it. As Ruth explained, “we knew where he was, and that he was alive.” A year later, with Japan’s surrender, Warren returned home. In Ruth’s own words,” An old Irish saying expresses our happiness, ‘The Lord was between us and harm.’”  

Morgan Thomas Jones, Jr. likes to point out that when he joined the 200th CA (AA) New Mexico National Guard at Christmastime in 1940, he did so to “get my one year of service in the Army” out of the way. But as Morgan continues, it would be “five years, five months, and five days” until he received his military discharge. He spent the majority of that time as a Japanese prisoner of war. Just weeks after his enlistment, the national government federalized the New Mexico National Guard. The 200th was now officially part of the United States Army. In September 1941 Morgan and the 200th found themselves in the Philippines. With pride in those with whom he served, Morgan explains that on December 9, 1941 “my Regiment was the first unit to fire on the Japanese in the Far East Theater when the Japanese bombed and strafed Clark Field, north of Manila…” A few weeks later, American forces moved to the Bataan Peninsula where Morgan and thousands of others held off the Japanese through January, February, and March. The Defenders of Bataan saw their food rations cut and cut again. Diseases such as malaria and dysentery ravaged them. By April, the American forces did not know how much longer they could hold back the increasing number of enemy soldiers bearing down on the peninsula. On the 8th, the 200th received orders to set up a line of last resistance, but it was to no avail, and in the chaos of that night, Morgan lost a treasured possession, a Bible given to him by his parents when he was a child. Five and a half months passed before he saw it again. On April 9, 1942, a forced surrender occurred. After the fall of Bataan, Morgan succinctly explained what followed with the sentence, “I worked behind the lines for 3 ½ years in the Philippines and Japan.” That droll phrase belies the drama that marked that period--his survival in four POW camps, a horrific voyage to Japan on a Hell Ship, and forced labor in Japan. Through it all, however, his luck, sense of humor, and faith proved crucial to his survival. Read more of Morgan's story here.   For additional information regarding Morgan's memoir, visit the site http://wwii-pow-philippines.com/

Iona Sinclair Jones must have known that her son Morgan would draw on his faith to make it through whatever confronted him as a prisoner of war. She would have believed, she had to believe, that “Tommy” would come home. But as with other mothers of American prisoners of war, “not knowing” overwhelmed/dominated her waking hours.  And like Ruth Griswold, Iona Jones made a scrapbook where she carefully placed official correspondence, family letters, POW postcards from her son, and other items related to those years of waiting. Early pages hold article after article that Iona cut out of their hometown newspaper, the Clovis Journal. All of them concerned local “boys,” members of the New Mexico 200th, who served with Morgan. The articles announced their death while being held as a POW by the Japanese. With each story’s inclusion into her scrapbook, Iona must have prayed that a similar article on her only child would not appear. The Joneses knew that Morgan survived the first days of the war because on December 12, 1941 he sent them a telegram from Manila. It had been four days since enemy forces first attacked American military installations in the area. The telegram assured Morgan’s parents that he and others from the 200th were unharmed, but he also included the phrase “do not worry.” That admonition proved senseless in the years ahead. This would have been especially true for the sixteen months after that December telegram arrived at the Jones’ home. That is the length of time that “not knowing” probably reached its apex until Morgan’s parents received another telegram in June 1943, this time from the United States government. It informed them that Morgan was being held as a prisoner of war. The next two years would have passed very slowly for Iona. Cards, notes, and letters she placed in the scrapbook give evidence of the strong support system she had from family and friends. The Masons and members of the Eastern Star (the female arm of the Masonic Order) provided even more support. The faith that allowed Morgan to survive as a prisoner of war did the same for his parents, especially his mother who was connected to her son as only as mother can be.

Don Schloat once identified zoology and art as his “life before the war.” Both became important to his life while being held as a prisoner of war. Don enlisted in the Army in the summer of 1941, requesting assignment to the medical corps. Stateside, he worked as a lab technician. He recalls being excited about receiving orders to go to the Philippines because of the endemic plant and animal life he would see there. Before the Japanese attack in December 1941, the Army assigned Don to laboratory work. After moving to Bataan, however, he worked as a medic, assisting nurses and doctors as the patient population increased in two hospitals on the peninsula. Don probably learned more than he wanted to know about diseases such as dysentery, dengue fever, beriberi, and malaria. He kept a small notebook, its pages filled with drawings of local flora and fauna. After the surrender, Don remained at the hospital helping care for the patients. From Bataan, he was sent to Bilibid, a prison in Manila. From there, the Japanese sent him to various prisoner of war camps. One was on the island of Palawan. It was there that he decided to escape. Don and another prisoner made it out of the camp, only to be captured the next day. Usually, the Japanese executed those who tried to escape. This was not the case for Don, however. His captors sent him back to Bilibid. That is where he was when American liberation forces landed at  Leyte in the Philippines in October 1944. The Japanese knew that Americans would soon be at Palawan, too, and because of that, they massacred almost all of the POWs in their charge there. Out of one hundred and forty-seven, only eleven escaped being burned alive in an air raid shelter, machine-gunned down if they tried to get out. If it had not been for his attempted escape, Don would have been in that group targeted for mass execution. After the war, Don became a professional artist. Some of his most powerful pieces are large oil paintings depicting men engulfed in flames. On some, Don added the names of men who had been massacred at Palawan. In the fall of 2009, Don returned to that island to oversee the construction and dedication of a memorial he designed to his fellow Americans murdered at Palawan.

Henry Bernard Stober, a Catholic priest entered the Army in 1941 as a noncombatant in the Chaplancy Corps. He volunteered again in the spring of that year, this time for overseas service in the Philippines. Chaplain Stober was at Fort McKinley, near Manila, when America entered the war. While on Bataan, he ministered to the physical and spiritual needs of American forces. After the surrender on April 9, 1942, Father Stober continued to be there for his charges. On the Death March, his insistence on helping a dying American, in spite of warning from a Japanese soldier, resulted in that guard wounding him with a bayonet. In various camps, Father Stober organized church services and individually counseled the men. At one point, when he himself was very ill, he gave away some food another prisoner had stolen for the priest. Father thought the man he gave it to needed the nourishment more than he did. In December of 1944, Father Stober began a voyage to Japan on one of the Hell Ships. The Japanese packed over sixteen hundred prisoners in the holds of the ship. With hatches closed and no ventilation, the heat was almost too much to bear. Deprived of oxygen, water and food, prisoners died. More than one survivor of the Bataan Death March judged a voyage on such a Hell Ship as worse than the March. Father Stober died before his ship reached Japan. American planes routinely bombed ships heading toward Japan. That is what happened to the one Father was on. Timbers from an explosion crashed down on the prisoners in the hold. One killed Father Stober. The life and death of Father Stober serve as a reminder of the critical role played by chaplains who, by their very presence and actions, gave hope to other prisoners of war in their darkest hours.

Louis Duncan always believed that he owed his survival as a Japanese prisoner of war to the United States Marine Corps. Whether it was the time he spent in camps around Manila, the voyage on a Hell Ship, or the time laboring in a coal mine in Japan, Marines took care of Marines. Although Louis died many years ago, his family still has firsthand testimony to one particular aspect of that support. It is a portrait studio photograph of Louis and his fellow POW Gerald “Bud” Turner. Taken after the war, it is an unusual picture. As Louis’s daughter Sandy points out, how many men would pose with another man for a portrait? But Louis and Bud’s decision to do that speaks to the special bond they shared as Marines and as POWs. The Duncan family has one other memento from Louis’ war years. Soon after the military command on Corregidor surrendered to the Japanese on May 6, 1942, Gunnery Sergeant Duncan buried a gun. Thirty years later, he returned to Corregidor and unearthed it.  The photograph and the gun represent a wrenching time in the service of a Marine. Yet Louis seldom talked about his years as a prisoner. He never spoke to his daughter Sandy about them. Over the last years she has read volumes by and about Americans held by the Japanese. She understands his aversion to flies. The insects swarmed over the latrines and hovered over sick prisoners. Even the Japanese wanted them gone, knowing they could spread diseases. Louis once told his son that the guards gave him a biscuit for each matchbox he filled up with dead flies. Sandy also understands her father’s insistence, when she was growing up, that no food be left on a plate. Her reading detailed the malnutrition prisoners suffered from. Sandy’s study of Americans held by the Japanese has helped her understand her father in other ways, too. Was his stern demeanor and sometimes uncompromising attitude also the aftereffects of war? Perhaps more importantly, though, is a question Sandy has after reading stories of how war changes everyone. It is a query, however, that she will never have the answer to--what type of man “would my father have been if there had been no war?”    

Bob Farner lied about his age in 1939 so he could join the Marine Corps when he was only sixteen. His first overseas duty was later that year in Shanghai. In 1940 he saw duty in northern China protecting Americans as Japanese aggression threatened the area. Traveling on a World War I Navy tug, Bob left China and arrived in the Philippines on December 10, 1941, two days before Japan attacked United States forces there. His ship landed at Mariveles, at the very tip of the Bataan peninsula.  Some two weeks later, while most American and Filipino troops made their way to the Bataan peninsula, the military command sent Bob and others to Corregidor, the island off of Mariveles. At one point, he recalls using ammunition from World War I as he loaded his rifle in defense of that island. With its surrender to the Japanese early in May 1942, Bob began over three years as a prisoner of war. He lived and worked in seven different camps during that time. Regardless of what food his captors gave the prisoners, “you ate it.” That included maggots on pieces of fish and worms in small portions of rice. As Bob explains, “it was protein.” While in a camp on the island of Palawan in November 1942, a guard caught Bob picking fruit from a papaya tree. The Japanese soldier moved towards the Marine with an iron rod about five feet long. Bob tried to use his arms to protect himself, but he ended up with a fractured left arm and bruises on his right arm and back. Since Bob could no longer do manual labor until his injuries healed, the Japanese shipped him back to the main island of Luzon. In Manila, at the prison Bilibid, Bob recovered. The Japanese forced Bob and other POWs to use picks and shovels to work on a runway at Nichols Field. “It was hell,” Bob recalls. Bob freely characterizes himself as “a wise guy.” As such, his less than subservient attitude resulted in another beating that left him with a severe back injury. Like the majority of American prisoners, Bob ended up in Japan where he worked in a steel mill. Today, decades later, he speaks with pride of his acts of sabotage, as well as his twenty-one years as a Marine.     

Paul McCleaf was born and raised in a small Pennsylvania community that some of his 18th century ancestors helped to settle. At least one of his forefathers may have fought in the American Revolution; we know that others served in the military during the War of 1812, the Mexican American War, and the Civil War. His father registered for the World War I draft. When duty called, men in Paul's family answered. Paul did the same during World War II. Soon after he turned nineteen in August 1942, Paul enlisted in the USMC. Assigned to Marine Corps Aviation, he was trained as a radio-gunner in a dive bomber squadron. Paul's family received little information on his fate after his plane went down in the South Pacific on January 14, 1944. Over the next few months, telegrams and letters arrived at the McCleaf home in Rouzerville, Pennsylvania from the Office of the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps. They contained, however, only the barest facts. Initially, in February, Paul's family was told he was “missing in action.” In March, they received a second communication informing them that he had been “killed in action.” It was not until March 1946, with another letter from the Commandant's Office, that the McCleafs learned Paul had died as a prisoner of war. That was two years after Paul had parachuted out of his plane and six months after the war had come to a formal end. Read Paul's story in When Duty Called, The Sacrifice of One Pennsylvania Family in World War II.

William “Bill” Montgomery joined the U.S. Army as a twenty-year-old enlisted soldier in November 1927. He retired in November 1947 as a captain. Bill signed up for a very practical reason. “I was anxious to learn aircraft wielding,” he explained, “and had no money to take training.” He was assigned to a service unit that maintained planes. Late in September 1941, Bill's squadron shipped out to Clark Air Base, sixty miles north of Manila on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. On the same day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, their planes bombed American military installations around Manila. After a forty-five-minute raid on Clark Air Base, Bill concluded, “What had been a well-regulated and somewhat efficient airbase was a shambles.” The American and Filipino military on Luzon moved to the Bataan peninsula across the bay from Manila. There they mounted a defense against Japanese ground and air forces. As weeks passed, however, the enemy came to outnumber the Defenders of Bataan who ran low on food and military supplies. With the Japanese in control of the skies, there were no American planes for Bill's unit to service. He accepted a battlefield commission, which changed his rank from that of a master sergeant in the AAC to that of a second lieutenant in the Infantry. “Our usefulness as airmen was about over. We were, I felt, obliged to do the next best thing, fight wherever we would be of the greatest help.” As the weeks passed, it became more and more apparent how dire their situation was. Bill later wrote about this time, “These boys had fought a long, wearisome battle, not only with the enemy but with hunger, filth, and disease.” Bill's wife, Florence, was never far from his mind. She was a schoolteacher back home in Riverside, California. Bill wrote her letters during the fighting on Bataan, but he never had the opportunity to mail them. Early in April, he received a minor injury during an enemy attack; it became infected. Bill's commanding officer sent him to the base hospital on Bataan. He arrived there on April 5th and was still there on the 9th, the day of the surrender. Over the next three years, Bill lived in four prison camps, all in the Philippines, before his liberation in February 1945. Eight years later, at Florence's urging, Bill drafted a memoir of his military service, I Hired Out To Fight. Its Introduction made it clear that Bill wanted to pass on some “life lessons” to his son, Jess. They are lessons, however, that we can all learn from.



Prisoners of War Stories

Stories from American  Prisoners of War > 3