Pvt. Hugh Jackson Leonard
| Pvt. Hugh J.
Leonard was born on December 31, 1915, in Mercer
County, Kentucky, to Bessie E. Walston-Leonard and
Jackson H. Leonard. He was one of the
couple's three sons. With his brothers, he
grew up in Perryville, Kentucky. Like many
young men of his time, he enlisted in the Kentucky
National Guard. Most likely he was
attempting earn some extra money to help his
On November 25, 1940, Hugh's tank company was
sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for a year of
training. They had been designated D
Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. At the end
of August 1941, the battalion was sent to
Louisiana to take part in maneuvers. It
was after the maneuvers, at Camp Polk, on the side
of a hill, the battalion
learned that they were being
sent overseas as part of
Operation PLUM. Within
hours, many of the soldiers
had figured out that PLUM
was an acronym for
Hugh lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield on December 8, 1941. The attack took place just ten hours after Pearl Harbor had been bombed. He spent the next four months fighting to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines.
It is known if Hugh became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. He took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando. There, he and the other POWs were packed 100 men a car into little wooden boxcars that could hold forty men. The men who died during the trip fell out when the living left the cars. Leonard walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino army base. There was only one water faucet for the entire camp. Conditions in the camp were so bad that as many as fifty men died each day. The detail to the bury the dead worked 24 hours a day.
The Japanese opened a new camp to at Cabanatuan in an attempt to relieve the conditions at Camp O'Donnell. Hugh was sent to this camp when it opened. On July 1, 1942, he was selected to go out on a work detail to Davao, Mindanao. Hugh was taken to Manila to the Port Area of Manila for transport. The POWs boarded the Interisland Steamer. The ship sailed Davao, Mindanao, arriving there on July 9th. The POWs were taken to a camp about 36 miles from Manila.
At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide. A four foot wide aisle ran down the center of each barracks. In each barracks, were eighteen bays. Twelve POWs shared a bay. 216 POWs lived in each barracks. Four cages were later put in a bay. Each cage held two POWs.
The camp discipline was poor. The American commanding officer changed frequently. The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers. Soon, the enlisted men spoke anyway they wanted to, to the officers. The situation improved because all majority of POWs realized that discipline was needed to survive.
At first, the work details were not guarded. The POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the crops. The sick POWs made baskets. In April 1943, the POWs working conditions varied. Those working the rice fields received the worst treatment. They were beaten for not meeting quotas, misunderstandings between the POWs and guards, and a translator who could not be trusted to tell the truth.
On June 6, 1944, some of the POWs were sent to Manila, while the remainder of the men remained on the island until August 19, 1944. Several weeks earlier, the POWs had seen their first American plane in two and one half years. The plane flew over the airfield they were working at and dropped four bombs at the far end of the runway.
Over the next two weeks the atmosphere at the airfield changed. The Japanese posted guards with bayonets on their rifles by the POW barracks as air raids became daily. The Japanese camouflaged the airfield and hid their planes in revetments. The POWs heard rumors that the Americans had landed at Palau.
During this time, the POWs rations were cut to a single cup of rice a day. The POWs were now so hungry that they raided the Japanese garbage pile for remnants of vegetables. Many ate the weeds that grew inside the camp until it was bare.
Air raids soon were nightly events. Japanese planes flying out of the airfield were loaded with bombs and carried extra gasoline tanks. Finally, all work on the airfield was stopped.
On that day, the POWs were lined up by fours. The outside men had rope tied to their wrists to prevent escape. They were marched shoeless to the Tabunco Pier and arrived at noon. They were packed into the two holds of the Erie Maru. 400 POWs were in the first hold while the remaining 350 POWs were put in the second hold. In addition, several tons of Japanese baggage were packed into the hold. Around six that evening, the ship sailed.
As the ship made its way north it swayed in the waves. Many of the prisoners became seasick. They retched when they tried to throw up since there was no food in their stomachs. The next day, the POWs heard the sound of a plane. An American plane flew over the ship. Moments later bombs exploded near the ship. The sound of machinegun fire was heard by the POWs. The Japanese once again tied down the hatch covers cutting off the air. Over the next three days, there were several more alerts. Each time the hatch covers were battened down leaving the POWs in darkness.
On August 24th, the ship arrived in Zamboanga where it waited for ten days until the Shinyo Maru arrived. The POWs were not allowed out of the holds and the conditions in the ship's holds were terrible. The holds were hot and steamy and the floors were covered with human waste. In addition, the longer the POWs were in the holds the stench became worse. During this time, the POWs were allowed on deck and sprayed with salt water.
It should be noted that the United States had intercepted the order from Japanese command sending the Shinyo Maru to Zamboanga. Someone misinterpreted the order as saying the ship would be transporting "750 troops" instead of "750 prisoners of war" to Manila. The U.S.S. Paddle was sent to the area to intercept the ship.
On September 4th, the POWs were transferred onto the Shinyo Maru. 250 POWs were put iu the ship's smaller hold, while the 500 POWs were its larger hold. That night, bombs from American planes landed alongside of the ship rocking an shaking it. The POWs prayed for the ship would be hit.
The ship sailed on September 5th at 2:00 a.m. Before the ship sailed, the hatch covers were secured so that the POWs could not lift them from below. The ship headed north in a zigzag pattern in an attempt to avoid submarines. The POWs were no longer allowed on deck. Their lips and throats were covered with dust from cement that had previously been hauled by the ship. For the next two days the ship made good time. It was at this time that the Japanese guards threatened to kill the POWs if the ship came under attack by American planes. The ship was now part of a convoy designated as C-076. Since the POWs had not heard any air raid alerts, they assumed that they were safe.
At 7:37 p.m., on September 7th, the U.S.S Paddle spotted the convoy off the west coast of Mindanao at Sindangan Point. It fired two torpedoes at the ship. The first torpedo hit the ship in its main hold. Moments later, a second torpedo hit the ship. There was a gapping hole in the ship's side. Those POWs still alive saw the bodies of the dead floating in the water as the hold filled with water.
Those POWs who were still alive found that the hatch cover had been blown off the hold by the explosion. As the water level rose, they were able to climb out. Seven Japanese officers were on the bridge with rifles. As the POWs emerged from the hold, they picked them off. The lucky POWs made it through their fire and dove into the water.
The POWs in the smaller hold were also wounded from the torpedo hits. But, the hold remained dry. Many of these POWs also were able to make it onto the deck and attempted to swim to shore. As they swam, they were fired upon by the same seven Japanese officers.
According to the POWs in the water, the Shinyo Maru began to capsize. There was a tremendous crushing sound and the ship seemed to bend upward in the middle> The ship split in two and sunk into the sea.
Japanese seaplanes dropped depth charges in an attempt to sink the American submarine. When they spotted the POWs in the water, they strafed them. They stopped when they realized that there were Japanese in the water too. The good thing about the depth charges was that they kept sharks away from the POWs.
A Japanese tanker that had been hit by torpedoes spilled oil and gasoline into the water. The ship ran aground. The Japanese quickly set up machineguns and fired on the POWs. Boats from the other ships in the convoy attempted to hunt down the POWs swimming in the water. If they found a man, they shot him. What saved many lives was that with dusk it became harder for the Japanese to see them.
The Japanese announced to the Americans that if they surrendered that they would be treated with compassion. About 30 men gave up after hearing this. According to one man who escaped after surrendering, the POWs had their hands tied to the ship's rail, and the Japanese shot each POW in the back of the head. They then pushed the bodies overboard.
According to the POWs in the water, the Shinyo Maru began to capsize. There was a tremendous crushing sound and the ship seemed to bend upward in the middle. It than sank into the water. Of the 750 POWs who were boarded onto the ship, 82 POWs escaped. One man died on shore while the remainder were rescued by Filipino guerillas and returned to U.S. Forces in October 1944. Pvt. Hugh Leonard was not one of these men.
It is not known if Hugh died when the Shinyo Maru was hit by the two torpedoes or if he was shot while attempting to escape the ship. What is known is that Pvt. Hugh Leonard died in the sinking of the Shinyo Maru on Thursday, September 7, 1944.
Since Pvt. Hugh J. Leonard was lost at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila.