HensonJ
 

Pvt. James Carey Henson Jr.


    Pvt. James C. Henson Jr. was born on June 17, 1920, in Starkville, Mississippi, to James Carey Henson Sr. and Nancy Irene Morton-Henson.  With his two sisters and a brother, he grew up in Washington County, Alabama.  At some point he married, but records indicate he was widowed. 
    James enlisted into the U.S. Army on March 13, 1939, in Flushing, New York.  His military records indicate that he was a widower and had completed post-graduate work.  He was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he completed his basic training.  At some point, he was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion. 
    In the late summer of 1941, the 753rd was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, but did not take part in the maneuvers that were going on there.  It was after the completion of the maneuvers, that volunteers were sought to join the 192nd Tank Battalion which was being sent overseas.  The battalion was mostly National Guardsmen and those 29 years or older were allowed to resign from federal service.  James volunteered to join the battalion and was assigned to HQ Company.
    Traveling west over different train routes, the battalion arrived in San Francisco and were ferried to Angel Island.  There, the men were given physicals and inoculated.  On Monday, October 27, 1941, they boarded the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott
The ship sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd.  The soldiers were given leaves so they could see the island.  On Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed for Guam.  At one point, the ships passed an island at night.  While they passed the island, they did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables.  The ships sailed the same day for Manila and entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th.  They docked at Pier 7 and the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. 
    After arriving at Ft. Stostenburg, soldiers were assigned to the headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group. James was one of these soldiers.  What he did as a member of the the unit is not known.

   
The morning of December 8, 1941, the tank group received the news about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  The 192nd and 194th Tank Battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.  HQ Company remained in the tank group's bivouac.  At approximately 12:45 in the afternoon, planes approached the airfield from the north and began bombing and strafing the airfield.
    For the next four months the tank group fought to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines. 
It was April 8th, when the news of a possible surrender began to spread among the soldiers.  James like many others took the news as being free from the constant shelling and air raids.  At the time, the Provisional Tank Group's headquarters was near Limay.  Corregidor had no idea that the barrio was still in American hands and was shelling the area.  That night, he watched as ammunition dumps were destroyed.  There was a loud thud and flames shot into the sky.

    On April 10th, the Japanese arrived and ordered the HQ personnel onto the road.  If a prisoner fell, he was kicked in his stomach and hit in the head with a rifle butt.  If he still did not get up, the Japanese guard determined that the man was exhausted.

    When the trail the POWs were on reached the main road,  the first thing the Japanese did was separated the officers from the enlisted men.  The Prisoners of War were then left in the sun for the rest of the day.  That night they were ordered north.  The march was difficult in the dark since they could not see where they were walking.  Whenever they slipped, they knew they had stepped on the remains of a dead soldier.

    At one point, the soldiers saw Filipino civilians who were making their way down the road.  He could not believe how thin they were.  Yes, he and the other soldiers had been hungry, but these people had starved.

    The POWs made their way north against the flow of Japanese troops who were moving south.  At Limay on April 11th, they were put into a school yard and told that the officers would be driven to the POW camp.     The enlisted members of the tank group walked the entire way to the barrio of Orani.

    At 6:30 that evening, they resumed the march.  Men recalled that this part of the march was different because were marched at a faster pace.  The guards also seemed to be nervous about something.  This time they made the POWs make their way to Hormosa.  There, the road went from gravel to concrete.  The POWs found that this change of surface made the march easier.  When the POWs were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lay down were jabbed with bayonets. 

    The POWs continued the march.  For the first time in months, it began to rain, which to the POW felt great.  At 4:30 PM on April 13th, James arrived at San Fernando.  The POWs were once again put into a pin.   At 4:00 in the morning, the Japanese woke the POWs and marched them to the train station.  They were packed into small wooden boxcars and rode the train to Capas arriving there at 9:00 AM.  There, they disembarked from the cars and walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.

    At the San Fernando train station, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane.  The cars could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car.  Those POWs who died remained standing until the living left the car at Capas.  The POWs walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell. 
    Upon arrival in the camp, the POWs were greeted by the camp commandant and told they were not Prisoners of War but captives and would be treated as captives.  The camp itself was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base and put into use as a POW camp by the Japanese.  There was only one water faucet for the entire camp and men literally died for a drink of water.  Disease ran wild among the POWs with as many as 50 POWs dying each day.  The burial detail worked endlessly to bury the dead.

    The death rate got so bad among the POWs that the Japanese opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.  It is not known if James was sent to the camp when it opened or arrived at the camp after returning from a work detail.  It is not known if he remained in the camp until he was selected to be sent to another Japanese occupied territory. 
    On Monday, October 5, 1942, the POWs left Cabanatuan and taken by trucks to Pier 7 in Manila. They were housed in a warehouse before boarding the Tottori Maru on October 7th.  500 POWs were put into the forward hold while most of the other POWs were put into the rear hold.  Those who could not fit remained on deck.  The ship sailed on October 8th at 10:00 A.M. and passed Corregidor at noon.  The POWs were fed three loaves of bread which equaled one American loaf of bread.  The bread was suppose to last two days.
    An American submarine fired two torpedoes at the ship but both missed because the captain successfully maneuvered the ship to avoid them.  The ship also passed a mine that had been laid by the submarine before arriving at Takao, Formosa, on October 11th.  After remaining in port for four days, the ship sailed on October 16th at 7:30 A.M. but returned at 10:30P.M.  It sailed again on October 18th arriving, the same day, at the Pecadores Islands north of Formosa and dropped its anchor at 4:00 P.M.  It remained anchored off the islands until October 27th when it returned to Takao.  The POWs were taken ashore on October 28th and bathed with a fire hose before returning to the ship.  The ship also was hosed down.
    On October 30th, the ship sailed again for Makou, Formosa, arriving on the same day at 5:00 P.M.  It sailed again on October 31st as part of a seven ship convoy.  On November 5th, the ships were attacked by an American submarine resulting in one ship being sunk.  The other ships scattered with the Tottori Maru arriving at Fusan, Korea, on November 7th.  The POWs disembarked on November 8th and were issued new clothing and fur-lined overcoats.  They were then marched to the train station and rode a train, for two days, to Mukden, Manchuria, arriving there on November 11th.  Those too ill to continue the trip remained behind at Fusan.  The sick who died were cremated and their ashes were sent to Mukden in white wooden boxes.
    After arriving at Mukden, James was hospitalized at the POW compound.  According to the final report on the 192nd Tank Battalion, written by 1st Lt. Jacques Merrifeld, Pvt. James C.Henson Jr. died on Tuesday, December 22, 1942, from beriberi and dysentery.  Other military records give his date of death as December 20, 1942. 
    Due to the extreme cold during the winter, the bodies of the dead were stored in storage house in the camp until spring came and they could be buried.  James was buried in Plot A, Group 5 in the camp cemetery.  His parents did not learn of his death until September 12, 1945, after the camp was liberated.
    In 1948, the remains of Pvt. James C. Henson Jr. were returned to Washington County, Alabama, and buried at Washington County Cemetery.  After he had died, he was posthumously promoted to Private First Class.


 


 

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