Pvt. Joseph Patrick Henderson
| Unlike many
other stories on this website, the story of
finding Pvt. Joseph P. Henderson took on its own
life. For the first seven years of the
project, we could not confirm that, as indicated
in 1st Lt. Jacques Merrifield's final report on
the 192nd Tank Battalion, a Pvt. Henderson was a
member of the 192nd.
It was in 2006, that we received our first confirmation that "Mule" Henderson, as he was called, had been a member of the battalion. A couple of years later, we received an interview that Field Reed, a Kentucky National Guardsman, had given. In the interview, Reed told how he and "Mule" Henderson delivered supplies to the tanks. Reed believed that Henderson was from Georgia or another southern state.
So the search for Pvt. Henderson continued. We worked under the assumption that he was from the South. On several occasions, we thought that we had found Pvt. Henderson only to find that we were wrong, and that the man was a member of another unit. On one occasion, we actually had found him, but because of the assumption that he was from the South, we dismissed our finding as wrong. The mystery of who Pvt. Henderson was continued to haunt us.
Thanks to Tuller Merrifield, the daughter of Jacques Merrifield, the mystery of "who was Pvt. Henderson" was solved. Tuller sent us her father's journal which he had compiled while he was a Prisoner of War. It was from this journal that the final U.S. Army report on the 192nd Tank Battalion was written. In the journal, Merrifield had written that Pvt. Henderson had originally been a member of the 31st Infantry. We knew that the situation on Bataan was "fluid," so Henderson becoming a member of the tank battalion was a possibility. Merrifield also indicated that Henderson died on Palawan Island,
With this information, we were able to search the Palawan Massacre Roster and found that there were two Hendersons who had been killed by the Japanese on the island. The roster indicated that one of the Hendersons was a U. S. Marine, while the other Henderson had no unit indicated on his file. So, we now believed that Pvt. Joseph P. Henderson was "Mule" Henderson of the 192nd.
We next checked the NARA POW on-line files and found additional information on Pvt. Joseph P. Henderson. Karl Rowe had provided NARA with a roster of the members of 31st Infantry. Pvt. Joseph P. Henderson was not listed on the roster. In addition, the burial card from Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery indicated that Joseph P. Henderson was a tank battalion member. We had finally found Pvt. Mule Henderson.
Pvt. Joseph P. Henderson was the son of Mrs. Emma Henderson and was born in California on February 8, 1916, and lived at 1247 West 109th Street in Los Angeles. It is known he had one brother, Robert. He completed three years of high school before enlisting in the Army. In 1940, Joseph was stationed at the Presidio, Monterrey County, California, as a member of E Company, 11th Cavalry. From August 4th to 29th, 1940, the unit took part in maneuvers at Fort Lewis, Washington. He reenlisted at Fort Riley, Kansas, on September 11, 1941, and it appears he was assigned to the 31st Infantry and sent to the Philippine Islands.
During the Battle of Bataan, Joseph joined the 192nd Tank Battalion from the 31st Infantry Regiment. He was nicknamed "Mule" by the other members of the 192nd. As indicated earlier, he supplied the tank crews with food, gasoline, and ammunition.
According to Field Reed, it was while attempting to deliver supplies to A Company, that Mule and he witnessed the death of Capt. Walter Write. According to Reed, when they found the tanks, Write was lying on a tank. He had been mortally wounded from a landmine exploding in his hands while he was planting it.
Mule became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. He took part in the death march from Mareveles to San Fernando. From there, the POWs were backed into small wooden boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane. Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas. He walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell. While Mule was a POW there, a detail to rebuild bridges was sent out. Mule, with Field Reed, volunteered to go out on the detail.
On the detail, the POWs rebuilt the same bridges that they had destroyed while retreating into Bataan. At the Clumpet River, the POWs were working to rebuild a bridge. Some of the POWs were given the job of pushing debris in the water to prevent it from hitting the pilings that had been driven into the water.
A Japanese guard, on the detail, liked to abuse the POWs. One day, Mule and Reed used their bamboo poles as weapons and killed the guard. After the guard was dead, they dumped his body into the river. When the Japanese came looking for the guard, the two POWs said that he had been with them earlier in the day, but he had left sometime earlier.
When the detail ended, Mule was sent to Cabanatuan. He was next selected for the work detail to Palawan Island. The POWs on the detail built runways at an airfield. Mule remained on Palawan the rest of the time he was a POW. After the island was raided by American bombers in late October, the Japanese ordered the POWs to dig three trenches for air raid shelters. Each trench had to be able to hold 50 men, and only one man could enter or leave the trench at a time.
An American B-24 bombed Palawan on October 19, 1944. During the attack, planes at the airfield were damaged and two ships were sunk. Nine days later, American planes returned and bombed the airfield destroying 60 planes. The POWs had to hide their joy and silently cheered the air raid.
On December 14th, an American convoy was spotted by Japanese planes. The Japanese believed that Palawan would soon be invaded by the advancing American forces. The fact was the convoy was heading to Mindoro Island an island just south of Luzon.
On Thursday, December 14, 1944, the POWs went to work as usual, but they were recalled to their barracks early. They knew that something was going on. They were ordered into the trenches when two American planes were spotted. When nothing happened, the POWs left the trenches. At 2:00 PM, the Japanese sounded the air raid siren and the POWs were ordered into three trenches. They were told a large air raid was about to take place.
The first POWs killed were in the A Company trench. The Japanese ordered the POWs to remain down. They next through a lit torch into the trench and then two buckets of gasoline which exploded. The Japanese had set up machine guns at the end of the trenches, so those who tried to escape were shot. POWs begged to be shot in the head, but the Japanese shot or bayoneted them in their stomachs. The entire time they did this they laughed.
The Japanese proceeded to set the other two trenches on fire. This was done to prevent the POWs from being liberated by advancing American forces. Eighteen POWs were successful at escaping, but only eleven survived the massacre.
When the 186th Infantry Regiment of the 41st Infantry Division arrived at Puerto Princesa, they already knew what they would find when they arrived there. In the backyard of the Philippines Constabulary Building, they found the three mounds where the murdered POWs were buried.
After the war, the remains of 133 of the 140 POWs who died on Palawan Island were disinterred and reburied at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery on February 14, 1952. This location was selected since it meant the majority of families would have approximately the same distance to travel to visit the grave. Pvt. Joseph P. Henderson shares his grave with 132 POWs who were murdered on Palawan Island.
Any additional information on Pvt. Joseph P. Henderson would be appreciated.