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 to join the battalion and was assigned to HQ Company. It appears he was demoted from a private first class to private.
The reason the battalion was being sent overseas was because of an event that happened during the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island. When the squadron landed he reported what he had seen. The next morning another squadron was sent to the area and found the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was poor, no ship was in the area to intercept the boat. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Traveling west over different train routes, the battalion arrived in San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Angel Island and given physicals and inoculations. The members of the medical detachment administered the physicals to the soldiers of the tank companies. Men with minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line. On Saturday, November 15th, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons which had the grease put on them to prevent them from rusting at sea. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts as they prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
The morning of December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the tankers learned about the attack. That morning, they were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against paratroopers. The medics remained behind in the bivouac. At 12:45 P.M., the Japanese attacked the airfield. During the attack, the medics took cover since they had no weapons.
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. Gen. Edward King facing the reality that only about 25% of his troops were healthy enough to fight and most likely would last one more day. It was at this time that he decided to send his staff officers to negotiate terms of surrender since he wanted to avoid the slaughter of 6000 wounded and sick troops and 40000 civilians. At 10:30, these orders were given : "You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word 'CRASH', all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished."
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.
A list with the names of 800 POWs to be transferred was posted at the camp. They gathered at 2:00 A.M. on October 6, 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.
Before boarding the ship on October 7, the prisoners were divided into two groups. One group was placed in the holds while the other group remained on deck. The conditions on the ship, for those in the holds, were indescribable, and those POWs those on deck were better off. This situation was made worse by the fact that for the first two weeks of the voyage the prisoners were not fed, which resulted in many of the POWs dying during the trip.
The ship did not sail until the next day at 10:00 A.M. and passed the ruins of 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. The first day, the POWs were given three small loaves of bread for meals - which equaled one American loaf of bread - the loaves were suppose to last two days, but most men ate them in one meal. The men did ration their water. The ship was at sea, when two torpedoes fired at by an American submarine 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 11. Since most were sick with something, the line to use the latrines went around the ship. The American doctors had no medicine to help the sick, and some were seen as benefiting off the sick. It was at this time that the POWs on the ship, from Mindanao, were moved to a second hold putting 500 POWs in each hold.
On October 14, food stuffs were loaded onto the ship, and each POW got two candy bags of hard tack and one meal of rice and soup each day. The ship sailed on October 16 at 7:30 A.M. but turned around at 3:30 P.M. arriving back at Takao at 10:30 P.M. It was believed the ship had turned around because American submarines were in the area.
The ship sailed again on October 18 and arrived at the Pescadores Islands at 5:00 P.M.. There it dropped anchor off the Island of Makou, Pescadores Islands, where it remained anchored until October 27 when it returned to Takao. During this time the quality of food deteriorated and was barely edible. Two POWs also died and their bodies were thrown into the sea at 4:00 P.M. The ship sailed again on October 27 and returned to Takao the same day. While it was docked food stuffs were again loaded onto the ship.
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 and remained there until the ship sailed on October 29. At 5:00 P.M. it again arrived at Makou, Pescadores Islands. During this time the POWs were fed two meals of day of rice and soup. The ship sailed on October 31, 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 3, three more POWs died. On November 5, one of the ships was sunk by an American submarine and the other ships scattered.
The Tottori Maru arrived at Fusan on November 7, but the 1300 POWs leaving the ship did not disembark until November 8 and were issued new clothes and a fur lined overcoat. 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 ashes 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 three day trip to Mukden, Manchuria, arriving there on November 11. 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.