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, and his military records indicate that he had completed post-graduate work.  He was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he completed his basic training and assigned to A Company, 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, or had his name drawn, to join the battalion and was assigned to HQ Company.  It appears he was demoted from a private first class to private.
    Traveling west over different train routes, the battalion arrived in San Francisco and was ferried to Angel Island.  There, the men were given physicals and inoculated.  Some men failed their physicals and replace, while others, with minor medical problems, were
held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion, in the Philippines, at a later date. 
    On Monday, October 27, 1941, the soldiers boarded the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott, which
sailed from San Francisco for Hawaii, as part of a three ship convoy the same day.  They arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd, and the soldiers were given shore leave 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.  Another time, the smoke from another ship was seen in the distance.  The cruiser escorting the other two ships, revved its engines and its bow came out of the water.  It took off to intercept the unknown ship.  As it turned out, the ship belonged to a neutral country.  These two events, for many of the soldiers, were signs that they were being sent into harm's way.  When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables.  After doing this, the ships sailed, the next 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 duties he performed 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 a week earlier to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  The members of the Provisional Tank Group 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.
    The members of the Provisional Tank Group took cover since they had no weapons to use against planes.  When the attack was over, they saw the destruction that had been done.  The wounded and dead were everywhere.     
    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.  Many of the soldiers took the news as meaning they would be free from the constant shelling and air raids.  At the time, the Provisional Tank Group's Headquarters was near Limay and shelld from Corregidor were falling around it.  The soldiers on 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.  Usually, when one was torched, 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.  The men quickly learned what being a Japanese Prisoner of War meant.  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 and he was left on the ground to rest.
    When the trail the POWs were on reached the main road, the first thing the Japanese did was separate the officers from the enlisted men.  After this, the POWs were left sitting in the sun for the rest of the day.  That night they were ordered to make their way north out of Bataan.  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.  They could not believe how thin they were.  Yes, the 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 they 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, where 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, where they again were put into a pen.  After a stay in the pen, the POWs were organized into detachments of 100 men and marched to the train station.  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, but the Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car and closed the doors.  Those POWs who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas.  From there, the POWs walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
    Upon arrival in the camp, the POWs were greeted by the camp commandant and were told that 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 which had been a Filipino Army Base.  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.
    800 POWs gathered at 2:00 A.M. on October 6th, and were given rice coffee, lugow rice, and a big rice ball.  After eating and packing their kits, the POWs marched out of the camp at 2:30 A.M. and received two buns as they marched through the gate to the barrio of Cabanatuan which they reached at 6:00 A.M.  There, 50 men were boarded onto each of the small wooden boxcars waiting for them at about 9:00 A.M.  The trip to Manila lasted until 4:00 P.M. and because of the heat in the cars, many POWs passed out.
    From the train station, the men were marched to pier 7 in the Port Area of Manila.  Some of the Filipinos flashed the "V" for victory sign as they made their war to the pier.  The detachment arrived at 5:00 P.M and were tired and hungry.  The Japanese fed them rice and salted fish and let them eat as much as they wanted.  They also were allowed to wash.
    Almost  1800 POWs were boarded onto the Tottori Maru on October 7th, but the ship did not sail until 10:00 A.M. the next day and passed Corregidor at noon.  In addition, there were sick Japanese and soldiers on the ship.  That night some POWs slept in the holds, but a large number slept on the deck.  Each day, the POWs were given bread for meals which most ate in one meal, but the men rationed their water.  The ship was at sea, when torpedoes fired at by an American submarine but the torpedoes missed the ship.  The ship fired a couple of shots where it thought the sub was, but these also missed.  A while later, the ship passed a mine that had been laid by the submarine.  The POWs were fed bags of buns biscuits, with some candy, and received water daily.
    The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on October 11th. and were bathed on the dock.   They sailed again on October 16th at 7:30 A.M. but returned to Takao at 10:30 P.M. the same day because of a storm.  At this time, the POWs were receiving two bags of hardtack and a meal of rice and soup each day.  The ship sailed again on October 18th and arrived at the Pescadores Islands at 5:00 P.M., where it remained anchored off the islands for several days.
    During this time two POWs died, and their bodies were thrown into the sea.  The ship sailed again on October 27th and returned to Takao the same day.  The next day, the POWs were taken ashore and bathed with seawater at the same time the ship was cleaned.  They were again put into the holds and the ship sailed again on October 30th and arrived at Makou, Pescadores Islands.  The ship sailed on October 31st, as part of a seven ship convoy.  During this part of the voyage, it rode out a typhoon for five days on its way to Fusan, Korea.  On November 5th, one of the ships was sunk by an American submarine and the other ships scattered. 
    The Tottori Maru arrived at Fusan on November 7th, but the 1300 POWs leaving the ship did not disembark until the next day.  Those POWs who were too ill to continue the trip to Mukden, Manchuria, remained behind at Fusan.  Those who died were cremated and had their ashed placed in small white boxes which were sent to Mukden. 
    The POWs were given new clothes and a fur-lined overcoat before boarding a train for a two day trip to Mukden, arriving there on November 11th.  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 his death, he was posthumously promoted to Private First Class.


 


 

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