Cpl. John Bird Reynolds
Cpl. John B. Reynolds was born on August 11, 1911, in Martin County, Kentucky, to William J. Reynolds and Rebecca Mayo-Reynolds. He was raised with his four sisters and three brothers in Floyd County, Kentucky. He was known as "Bud" to his family. John was a high school graduate and had completed three years of college. He worked as a truck driver for the State of Kentucky Highway Department. It also known he was divorced.
John enlisted in the U.S. Army on October 14, 1940, and was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for his basic training. It was there he received training as a medic and was assigned to the 192nd Tank Battalion's medical detachment.
In the September
1941, the 192nd was sent to Louisiana to take
part in maneuvers. The medical detachment
did not take part in the maneuvers, but they did
treat the injuries of the battalion's members
and sake bites. It was after the maneuvers
that the battalion learned they were being sent
The morning of December 8th, the officers of the tank battalions were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The tanks of the battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against paratroopers. The medics remained behind.
At 12:45 in the afternoon, Japanese planes bombed the airfield destroying the Army Air Force. John and the other medics treated the wounded. When the 192nd received its orders to move out, the medics went with.
It is known that John was
with Capt. Alvin
Poweleit and Sgt.
Howard Massey performing their duties when
they encountered a Japanese patrol. The
three soldiers were in a stream bed when
they heard a twig snap. Carefully,
they made their way back to their truck
and hid in the brush.
On April 9, 1942, the medical detachment were given the order to surrender. They remained in their bivouac for two days until they received orders from the Japanese to report to Mariveles. The medics made their way to Mariveles, at the southern tip of Bataan, were they started the death march.
John made his way north from Mariveles along the east side of Bataan. The first five miles of the march was uphill, which made it even more difficult since they were weak from being undernourished and suffering from dysentery and malaria.
At San Fernando, the POWs were put into small wooden boxcars known as forty or eights. The cars could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese put 100 POWs into each car. Those who died remained standing until they living left the cars at Capas. From there, they walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army training base. There was only one water spigot for the entire camp. To get a drink, the POWs had to stand in line for hours. Disease in the camp ran wild with as many as fifty POWs dying each day.
It was at this time a work detail left the camp to rebuild the bridges that had been destroyed during the withdraw into Bataan. The detail was under the command of Lt. Col. Ted Wickord of the the 192nd. Wickord selected as many members of his own battalion and the 194th Tank Battalion to go out on it. John was selected for the detail because he was a medic.
The first bridge the POWs rebuilt was at Calauan. There, the POWs were amazed by the concern shown for them by the Filipino people. The townspeople arranged for their doctor and nurses to care for the POWs and give them medication. They also arranged for the POWs to attend a meal in their honor.
The next bridge John and the other POWs were sent to build was in Candelaria. Once again, the people of the town did what ever they could to help the Americans. An order of Roman Catholic sisters, who had been recently freed from custody, invited Lt. Col. Wickord and twelve POWs for a dinner. Wickord picked the twelve sickest looking POWs. Jim must have looked like he needed a good meal, because he was one of the twelve men selected by Wickord.
After nine months, the bridge building detail ended, John was sent to "Camp One" at Cabanatuan where he worked as a medic. At Camp One, the prisoners ate rice and lived in crude huts. If a prisoner was late or missed a detail, that POW was made to kneel on a ladder with a pole placed behind the knees to cut circulation. The prisoner stayed like this until he fell over. At this time the death rate in the camp was 100 POWs a day.
It is not known if John went out on any other details. He most likely worked in the camp hospital since he was a medic. It is known that late in 1944, he was sent to Bilibid Prison near Manila for transport to Japan or another occupied territory.
On December 12,
1944, the POWs heard rumors that a detail
was being sent out. The POWs went
through what was a farce of an
inspection. They were told
cigarettes, soap, and salt would be
issued. The POWs were also told that
they would also receive a meal to eat and
one to take with them. The Japanese
stated they would leave by 7:00 in the
morning, so the lights were left on all
night. At 4:00 a.m. the morning of
December 13th, John and the other POWs
The prisoners had just eaten when they heard the sound of guns. At first, they thought the gun crews were just drilling since they had not heard any planes. It was only when the first bomb hit that they knew it was no drill. The POWs heard the change in the planes' engines sound as they began their dive toward the ships in the convoy. Explosions were taking place all around the POWs. Bullets from the planes ricocheted in to the hold causing many casualties. In all, the POWs would have to sweat out five air raids. The one result of the raid was no evening meal.
At four-thirty in the afternoon, the ship experienced its worse attack. It was hit at least three times, by bombs, on its bridge and stern. Most of the POWs were wounded by ricocheting bullets or shrapnel from explosions. Bombs that exploded near the ship sent turrets of water over it. Bullets from the fighters hit the metal hull plates at an angle that prevent most from penetrating the hull. Somewhere on the ship a fire had started but was put out after several hours.
After the first raid, the ship was left alone by "playing possum" in the water. The fighters went after the other ships in the convoy. The moaning and muttering of men who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night. That night 25 POWs died in the hold. POWs were reported as drinking urine and howling. The ship reached Subic Bay at 2:30 in the morning. It was a suitable landing place.
Sometime after midnight, the POWs heard noise on deck as women and children were unloaded. During the night, the medics in the ship's hold were ordered out by a Japanese officer to tend to the Japanese wounded. One of the medics recalled that the dead, dying and wounded were everywhere.
The ship steamed in closer to the beach and its anchor was dropped. The POWs were told, at 4:00 in the morning, that they would be disembarked after daybreak. It was December 15th. The POWs sat in the hold four hours after daybreak when the sound of planes was heard. When the U.S. Navy planes resumed their attack, the attacks came in waves. The POWs would live through three more attacks. During one attack, a bomb came through the side of the ship blowing a large hole in the aft hold and resulting in the deaths of many POWs. The POWs noted that attack was heavier then the day before.
At 8:00 AM, a Japanese guard yelled to the POWs, "All go home; Speedo!" He also shouted that the wounded would be the first evacuated. As the POWs were abandoning ship, the planes returned. The pilots of the planes had no idea that the ship was carrying prisoners. It was not until the pilots saw the POWs climbing out of the ship's holds that they realized it was a prison ship and stopped the attack.
In the hold the POWs crowded together. Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling. After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started. A Catholic priest, Fr. Duffy, began praying, "Father forgive them. They know not what they do."
When the attack resumed, the ship bounced in the water from the explosions. The POWs in the holds lived through seventeen attacks from American planes before sunset. Overall, six bombs hit the ship. One hit the stern of the ship killing many.
About a half hour later, the ship's stern started to really burn. John made his way on deck and went over the side and swam to shore near Olongapo, Subic Bay, Luzon. As he swam to shore, which was about 300 to 400 yards away, the Japanese soldiers fired on the POWs to keep them in the water so they would not escape. As they swam to shore, four American planes flew over them at a low altitude. The POWs frantically waved to them hoping to prevent them from strafing. The planes veered off and returned flying lower over the POWs. This time, they dipped their wings to acknowledged they knew they were Americans. Once on shore, the POWs were herded onto tennis courts at the Olongapo Naval Station at Subic Bay. It was noted by the POWs when they reached shore that much of the ship's stern was blown away.
While the POWs were at Olongapo, a Japanese officer, Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart, that those too badly wounded to continue the trip would be returned to Bilibid. Fifteen men were selected and loaded onto a truck. They were taken into the mountains and never seen again. What was learned is that these men were taken to a cemetery and shot. They were buried at a cemetery nearby. The remainder of the POWs remained on the tennis courts for five or six days. During that time, they were given water but not fed.
The POWs remained on the tennis court for nine days. During their time on the courts, American planes attacked the area around them. The men watched as the fighter bombers came in vertically releasing bombs as they pulled out of the dives. On several occasions, the planes dove right at the POWs, dropped their bombs, and pulled out. The bombs drifted over the POWs and landed away from them exploding on contact.
Since the POWs had no place to hide, they watched and enjoyed the show. They believed that the pilots knew they were Americans but had no way of knowing if this was true. But what is known is that not one bomb was dropped on them even though they could be seen from the planes.
The evening of December 16th, the Japanese brought 50 kilo bags of rice for the POWs. About half of the rice had fallen out of the bags because of holes. Each POW was given three spoons of raw rice, and a quarter of a spoon of salt.
At about 8:00 AM on the morning of December 22nd, 22 trucks arrived at the tennis court. Rumors flew on where they were going to be taken. At about 4:00 PM, a Taiwanese guard told the POWs, in broken English,"No go Cabanatuan. Go Manila; maybe Bilibid." The guard knew as little as the POWs.
On December 21st, the POWs were taken by truck to San Fernando, Pampanga, arriving there about four or five in the afternoon. Once there, they were put in a movie theater. Since it was dark, the POWs saw as a dungeon.
During their time at San Fernando, Pampanga, the POWs lived through several air raids. The reason for the air raids was the barrio was military headquarters for the area. Most of the civilians had been moved out of the barrio. Many of the Americans began to believe they had been taken there so that they would be killed by their own countrymen.
December 23rd, at about 10:00 PM, the Japanese interpreter came and spoke to the ranking American officer about moving the POWs. The Japanese loaded the seriously ill POWs into a truck. Those remaining behind believed they were taken to Bilibid. The remaining POWs were moved to a trade school building in the barrio.
After 10:00 AM on December 24th, the POWs were taken to the train station. The POWs saw that the station had been hit by bombings and that the cars they were to board had bullet holes in them from strafing. 180 to 200 were packed into steel boxcars with four guards. The doors of the boxcars were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible. Ten to fifteen POWs rode on the roofs of the cars along with two guards. The guards told these POWs that it was okay to wave to the American planes.
On December 25th, the POWs disembarked at San Fernando, La Union, at 2:00 AM and disembarked. They walked two kilometers to a school yard on the southern outskirts of the barrio. From December 25th until the 26th. The POWs were held in a school house. The morning of December 26th, the POWs were marched to a beach. During this time the prisoners were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water. The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater. Many of those men died.
The remaining prisoners at San Fernando, La Union, where they boarded onto another "Hell Ship" the Enoura Maru. On this ship, the POWs were held in three different holds. The ship had been used to haul cattle. The POWs were held in the same stalls that the cattle had been held in. In the lower hold, the POWs were lined up in companies 108 men. Each man had four feet of space. Men who attempted to get fresh air by climbing the ladders were shot by the guards.
The daily routine for the POWs on the ship was to have six men climb out of the hold. Once on deck, they would use ropes to pull up the dead and also pull up the human waste in buckets. Afterwards, the men on deck would lower ten buckets containing rice, soup, and tea.
During the night of December 30th, the POWs heard the sound of depth charges exploding in the water. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on December 31st and docked around 11:30 AM. After arriving at Takao, Formosa, each POW received a six inch long, 3/4 inch wide piece hardtack to eat. This was the first bread they had since receiving crackers in their Red Cross packages in 1942. During the time in the harbor, the POWs received little water. From January 1st through the 5th, the POWs received one meal and day and very little water. This resulted in the death rate among the POWs to rise. On January 6th, the POWs began to receive two meals a day.
The Enoura Maru also came under attack by American planes the morning of January 9th. The POWs were receiving their first meal of the day, when the sound of ship's machineguns was heard. The explosions of bombs falling closer and closer to the ship was also heard. The waves created from the explosions rocked the ship.
One bomb that hit the ship exploded in the corner of the forward hold killing 285 prisoners. The surviving POWs remained in in the hold for three days with the dead. The stench from the dead filled the air. On January 11th a work detail was formed and about half the dead were removed from the hold. The dead were unloaded from the ship, and a POW detail of twenty men took the corpses to a large furnace where they were cremated. These men reported that 150 POWs had been cremated. Their ashes were buried in a large urn. Later in the day, the survivors of the forward hold were moved into another hold.
About 1000 POWs were transferred to the Brazil Maru on Saturday, January 13th. The ship sailed at dawn on the 14th as part of a convoy. Sometime afternoon, the POWs received their first meal of a quarter cup of red rice for each POW. The POWs found the first night on the ship was extremely cold. What made it worse was that most of the POWs had dysentery. During the trip, the POWs received two meals a day which consisted of each man receiving a third of a cup of rice and eight teaspoons of tea.
During this part of the trip, as many as 30 POWs died each day. The ship also towed one or two other ships which had been damaged. Of the original 1619 men that boarded the Oryoku Maru, only 459 of the POWs had survived the trip to Japan. When the ship reached Moji, John was sent to Kokura Military Hospital. He died there on February 16, 1945, from dysentery. His remains were cremated and given to the camp commandant.
After the war, his ashes were returned to his parents. They buried his ashes at Frazier Cemetery, Martin County, Kentucky. The American Legion Post in Martin, Kentucky, is named in his honor.