Pfc. George Everett Chumley
Pfc. George E. Chumley was
born on May 24, 1921, to Wiley Chumley & Lola
Taylor-Chumley. He was known as "Everett" to
his family. It is known he had two sisters
and a brother and grew up on Greenville Street in
Harrodsburg, Kentucky. He worked as a
waiter at a restaurant.
Sometime in the late 1930s, George joined the Kentucky National Guard as a member of the 38th Tank Company headquartered in an armory in Harrodsburg. He was called to federal service when the tank company became D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
George spent nearly a year training at Fort
Knox, Kentucky, where he qualified as a tank
driver and later became a tank commander.
that D Company was attached to the 194th Tank Battalion. The official transfer of the company to the battalion never took place as expected.
George recalled that the morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were at their tanks around the perimeter of Clark Field. American planes were in the sky. Around noon, the planes landed and lined up along the edge of the airfield. According to George the all clear signal was given and everyone went to lunch.
George was in the Non-Commission Officers Canteen when planes appeared over Clark Field. He eating chicken and looking out a window, and as he looked at the airfield, bombs began to explode. As the bombs got closer to where he was, he went out and hid behind a tree. When he got up, he saw that everything was a mess.
George saw several dead bodies. Many of the bodies had been burnt. He stated that the worse thing that they had to deal with after the attack was the smell coming from the burnt bodies. It was so bad that he was unable to eat for a week.
When the tanks were given orders to pull out, they soon discovered that without air cover it was unsafe to move during the day. The tanks were moved at night to prevent them from being attacked by Japanese planes.
George felt that driving a tank at night was never safe, but something that a tank driver learned to do. One reason doing this was unsafe was that the tank crews never knew what lay ahead.
Not every moment was hectic. During calm moments the tankers would turn on the tank's radio and listen to Tokyo Rose. Doing this violated a standing order that they had received not to listen to enemy broadcasts. George said that they ignored the propaganda she broadcast, but they enjoyed the music. In many cases, she played the latest songs.
George believed that anyone who said that they were not afraid was lying. He believed that everyone was always afraid. With time, what happened was that the person got to the point that he didn't care. George felt that part of the reason for this was that the soldiers were always hungry, sweaty, nervous, tired and thirsty.
On his last day in a tank, George was driving along a mountain road. In the turret, was a young lieutenant who was pretty nervous in George's opinion. George stated that a tank driver drives the tank according to where the commander touches the driver with his foot. If the commander taps the driver on the right shoulder, the driver turned the tank to the right. The same for the left shoulder. There were a series of signals like this.
George said that this young lieutenant kicked him pretty hard in the shoulder causing him to make a hard turn. The result was one track hung out over the edge of the road. The tank was stuck with no hope of moving it. Knowing the Japanese were approaching, the tankers destroyed the tank and made their way on foot. As they walked they saw the tank hit by enemy fire and go over the cliff.
George was walking with another member of the tank crew when they were spotted by a Japanese plane. As the plane came in to attack them, he dove to one side of the road. The other tanker dove to the other side of the road. The plane released a bomb which hit near George. After it was clear, George got up and went to find the other tank crew member. He discovered that the bomb the plane had dropped had blown the man to bits. George could not find anything of the man.
By himself, George made his way to a pygmy village. The villagers fed him and hid him from the enemy. When it was safe, he made his way south. At one point, he saw 150 Filipinos laying in a field. He thought they were resting. He made his way into the field and discovered that they were dead. Not too long after this incident, George caught up to his company.
George recalled that on Christmas Day his Christmas Dinner consisted of a can of pork and beans and a coconut that a Filipino boy climbed a tree to get. He shared both with another tanker.
For the next four months, George took part in many of the major engagements against the Japanese. On April 8, 1942, he and other members of D Company learned that they were suppose to surrender the next morning. He and a number of other tankers made the decision that they would attempt to escape to Corregidor.
After, arriving there, George spent a great deal of time in Middleside Barracks, hiding under a pool table during air raids. He decided it was safer to be in a tunnel on the island. When George was given the opportunity to go to Fort Drum, he jumped at the chance. There, they fought on for another month until the island was surrendered on May 6, 1942. He returned to Corregidor and was held on the beach for two weeks.
George and the other Prisoners of War had heard of the march made by the Filipinos and Americans made on Bataan. When they were taken by barge to an area near Manila, they feared that they would have the same thing done to them. They marched ten miles through Manila toward Bilibid Prison.
After being held at Bilibid for several days, George and the other prisoners were taken to a railroad station. There, they were packed into boxcars and taken to Cabanatuan.
At Cabanatuan, George worked at the camp farm. The food was suppose to go to the prisoners but much of it went to the Japanese. George recalled that the Japanese did not like the POWs talking to each other. If they caught a man taking when they were suppose to be working, the Japanese would tie the man to an aunt hill and let the red aunts bite the man.
George also said that if a POW was caught
stealing the Japanese would put the man into a
four by four box until he died. Knowing
this was the punishment, the POWs came up with
their own punishment. When a member of
George's barracks was caught stealing, he was
made to run a belt-line. It may have
seemed harsh, but at least the man was still
alive when he had finished.
As his time as a POW went on, George began to
wonder if his effort to stay alive was worth
it. Because the diet in the camp was so
bad, he lost his vision, so another POW led him
to medical records kept at the camp, George
was hospitalized in the camp hospital on
July 7, 1942. The records do not say
when he was discharged. George
said that he got his vision back after he was
given cod oil that the Filipinos outside the
camp smuggled into the camp. Ironically,
the man who had helped George, when he was
blind, lost his eyesight and never got it back.
It should be mentioned that George's family
did not learn he was a Prisoner of War until
March 31, 1943.
Recalling the food fed to the POWs, he said, "Food was terrible - I remember we even ate dogs sometimes - and the Japs had that 'blood brother' system."
George was selected to be sent to Japan on one of the first ships of POWs sent there. The ship that George was on was the Clyde Maru. The ship left Manila on July 23, 1943, but instead of heading to Formosa, it went to Santa Cruz, Zambales. There, it loaded manganese ore. After three days in port, it sailed for Formosa arriving there on July 28th.
On August 5th, the ship sailed as part of a nine ship convoy. The convoy arrived at Moji, Japan, on August 7, 1943. During the trip to Japan several of the ships in the convoy had been sunk by American submarines. After a two day train ride George was held at Fukuoka Camp #17.
The barracks the POWs were assigned were 120 feet long by 20 feet wide. Each barracks was divided into ten rooms. Four to six POWs slept in a room. The rooms each had a light. This was to enable the Japanese guards to count the POWs.
The POWs in the camp were used to extract coal from a coal mine that had been condemned because it had become unsafe. The POWs worked six days a week for twelve hours a day. They worked bent over since they were much taller then the Japanese who worked in the mine.
Conditions in the mine varied. One area was referred to as the "hotbox" because of its high temperatures. Another was called by various names, all obscene, because it was extremely cold. In some areas of the mine, water leaked into the mine from the bay it extended under.
George believed that one of the major problems between that Japanese and Americans was that they did not understand each other. The Japanese army allowed physical punishment. The lowest ranking Japanese soldiers could be hit by those soldiers who outranked them.
These soldiers with the lowest ranks took great pleasure at hitting the POWs because the POWs were the only ones that they could hit. In one incident, George had a small Japanese private hit him in the face with a board while George stood at attention. The result of this was that George's nose was broken. The thing that bothered George was that he had no idea why he had been hit.
In a second incident, George was made to do
pushups in the snow until he collapsed from
exhaustion. The Japanese then beat
him. George was the only prisoner made to
do this. Again, he had no idea why he was being
punished. He concluded that the reason was
that since the Japanese guards had the power to
do this to him, they did.
George and the other POWs worked in the coal mine. Since it was unsafe, the men lived with the knowledge that any of them could be killed at any time. Another member of D Company, Heze Sallee, died in the mine when the section of the mine he was working in collapsed.
While working in the mine, George broke his foot in a mining accident. In reality, his foot was almost cut off. Despite his injury, George had to walk two miles from the mine back to the camp to receive treatment from a Japanese doctor.
Life in the camp was extremely hard, especially during the winter. The POWs had only straw mats to sleep on and a couple of military blankets. At night, the wind come up through the floorboards of the barracks and through the mats. George said that working in the mine actually became one of the few places where the POWs were warm. They were warm enough to work only in G-strings.
Being superstitious, the Japanese made the POWs stop at a Shinto Shrine before they entered the mine. The POWs had to bow, clap their hands three times, and say a prayer to the mine gods to keep them safe. One day when the POWs left the mine, they found that while they had been working American bombers had leveled the shrine. He and the other POWs never had to stop there again.
To get out of working in the mine, prisoners paid other POWs to break their arms. The payment usually was several bowls of rice. He was asked on several occasions by other prisoners to break their arms. Of this, he said, "We worked about 1000 feet underground seven days a week, 12 hours a day. Every fourth Sunday, we got a day off. Food was terrible -- I remember we ate dogs sometimes -- and the Japs had the blood brother system...."
One day, George accidentally brushed a guard
with a sledge hammer while working in the
mine. The Japanese guard grabbed his belt
to slam him against the wall. "I got mad and grabbed him
in a headlock. I really put the
pressure on him." None of the other POWs came
to help him. That was the rule, "If you got in trouble,
you had to go it on your own. The
other guards finally got me loose.
I knew I was a goner. They would
shoot you for attacking a Jap."
But that night
nothing happened, because a Japanese
foreman had spoken to the guard. "Nobody ever mentioned
When he got the package, it had already been gone through by the Japanese. They kept what they wanted which included the shoes. The shoes were the one thing that he needed since his had worn out and the Japanese refused to give him new ones.
During his time in the camp, George received very little news on the war. George said that the one piece of news that the Japanese did tell the POWs was that President Roosevelt had died. He believed that the Japanese hoped that the POWs would become depressed hearing of it.
George was in camp the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. When the POWs saw the mushroom cloud, they had no idea what they were looking at. They went to work and the Japanese workers were talking about the incident.
George and the other POWs came out of the mine and found that the next shift of POWs were not waiting to go to work. That night, the POWs were made to stand at attention for two hours. They all had their blankets because they believed they were going to be moved. Instead, they were returned to their barracks.
The next day, when it was their turn to go to work, they were told it was a holiday, and they had the day off. George knew something was up because they had never had a holiday off before this.
Finally, the POWs were gathered in the camp and told that Japan and the United States were now friends. They were also told to stay in the camp. Although they were told to stay in the camp, four men left the camp and took a train to Osaka. There, they met American troops.
Before the four left the camp, they found a warehouse which was full of Red Cross packages that the Japanese had kept from the POWs. The POWs distributed the packages among themselves.
When asked if he thought that using the atomic bomb was wrong, George said the bomb saved his life and the lives of the other POWs. Expecting an American invasion of Japan, the Japanese had received orders to kill all the POWs. The Japanese had already dug out the machine-gun placements to be used to execute the POWs.
After liberation, George was returned to
the Philippines. In late September he was
boarded onto the U.S.S. General R. L. Howze
which arrived at San Francisco on October 16,
1945. George returned to Harrodsburg and
was discharged, from the army, on May 2,
1946. He married, Lonnie East, and moved
to Nicholasville, Kentucky. He worked as a
plumber and was a partner in the company of
Cannon & Chumley Plumbing.
George E. Chumley worked as a plumber and passed away on May 21, 1988, in Nicholasville, Kentucky. He was buried at Blue Grass Memorial Gardens in Nicholasville.