Bataan Project

Pvt. Shelby Johnson

Born: 11 November 1923 - Grayson County, Kentucky
Parents: Henderson & Bertha Johnson
Home: 701 Colorado Avenue, Louisville, Kentucky
    - U.S. Army
        - 6 January 1941 - Louisville, Kentucky
            - lied about his age to get into army
    - Fort Knox, Kentucky
        - drove an army staff car
    - 19th Ordnance Battalion
        - August 1941 - Maneuvers in Arkansas
            - drove officers - stayed in hotels
        - 17 Ordnance Company
            - 17 August 1941 - Company A reorganized as 17th Ordnance Company
                - received overseas orders the same day
                - took a reduction in rank from Tec 5 to private to go to the Philippines
Note: The decision for this move - which had been made on August 15, 1941 - was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance.  He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island which was hundred of miles away.  The island had a large radio transmitter.  The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
     When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.  The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat - with a tarp on its deck - which was seen making its way to shore.  Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Overseas Duty:
    - 4 September  1941
        - battalion traveled by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California
    - Arrived: 7:30 A.M. - 5 September 1941
        - ferried to Ft. McDowell, Angel Island on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe
        - given physicals and inoculations
        - men with medical conditions replaced
    - Ship: S.S. President Calvin Coolidge
        - Boarded: Monday - 8 September 1941 - 3:00 P.M.
        - Sailed: 9:00 P.M. - same day
        - Arrived: Honolulu, Hawaii - Saturday - 13 September 1941 - 7:00 A.M.
        - Sailed: 5:00 P.M. - same day
            - escorted by the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Astoria, and an unknown destroyer
                - smoke seen on horizon several times
                -  cruiser intercepted ships
        - 16 September 1941 - crossed International Date Line
            - date jumped to Thursday, 18 September 1941
        - Arrived: Manila - Friday - 26 September 1941
            - disembark ship - 3:00 P.M.
            - taken by bus to Fort Stostenburg
            - maintenance section with 17th ordnance remained behind to unload the tanks and attached turrets
                -27 September 1941 - job completed at 9:00 A.M.
    - Ft. Stotsenburg, Philippine Islands
        - lived in tents until barracks completed - 15 November 1941
    - Battle of Luzon
        - 8 December 1942 - 6 January 1942
            - 8 December 1941
                - in line at orderly room waiting to get his orders for the day when he heard the news about Pearl Harbor over the radio
                - company moved to a bamboo thicket and set up its machine shop trucks
                - in line for chow at a truck when the company heard a great roar
                    - 54 Japanese bombers
                    - Zeros came in to strafe
                        - ran 75 yards to a ravine for cover
                - lived through attack on base
            - member of tank wrecker crew
                - recovered disabled tanks
    - Battle of Bataan
        - 7 January 1942 - 9 April 1942
            - at one point he drove a wrecker for tanks
            - while towing a tank, he and Robert Houghland were strafed and bombed by three Japanese planes
                - jumped out of wrecker and took cover
            - The Japanese planes failed to hit the wrecker or tank
            - near the end he was assigned to a machine gun guarding a beach
Prisoner of War:
    - 9 April 1942
        - Death March
            - started march at Mariveles on the southern tip of Bataan
            - POWs ran past Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor
                - American Artillery returned fire
                    - knocked out three Japanese guns
             - Shelby had his canteen and cup
                 - when guards were not looking, he would use cup to get water to fill canteen
                 - Japanese guard spotted him and went after him
                 - Lloyd Grever warned him by yelling, "Shelby, watch the guard! "
                 - at that moment other POWs broke from the line to get sugarcane
                 - the guard forgot about Shelby and went after them
                 - Denver King gave purification tablets to Shelby for the water
                 - Shelby shared the water with his friends
            - San Fernando - POWs put into small wooden boxcars
                 - each boxcar could hold eight horses or forty men
                - Japanese packed 100 POWs into each boxcar
                - POWs who died remained standing
            - Capas - POWs leave boxcars - dead fall out of cars
POW Camps:
    - Philippine Islands:
        - Camp O'Donnell
            - 1 April 1942 - unfinished Filipino training base Japanese put into use as a POW camp
                - Japanese believed the camp could hold 15,000 to 20,000 POWs
            - POWs searched upon arrival at camp
                - those found with Japanese money were accused of looting
                - sent to guardhouse
                - over several days, gun shots heard southeast of the camp
                    - POWs who had money on them had been executed
            - Japanese took away any extra clothing from POWs as they entered the camp and refused to return it
                - since no water was available for wash clothing, the POWs threw soiled clothing away
                - clothing was taken from dead
                - few of the POWs in the camp hospital had clothing
            - POWs were not allowed to bathe
            - only one water spigot for entire camp
                - POWs waited 2½ hours to 8 hours to get a drink
                    - water frequently turned off by Japanese guards and next man in line waited as long as 4 hours for water to be turned on again
                    - mess kits could not be cleaned
                - POWs had to carry water 3 miles from a river to cook their meals
                - second water spigot installed a week after POWs arrived
            - slit trenches overflowed since many of the POWs had dysentery
                - flies were everywhere including in camp kitchens and food
            - camp hospital had no water, soap, or disinfectant
            - the senior POW doctor wrote a list of medicines he wanted to treat the sick and was told by the camp commandant, Capt. Yoshio
              Tsuneyoshi, never to write another letter
                - Tsuneyoshi said that all he wanted to know about the American POWs was their names and numbers when they died
                - refused to allow a truckload of medicine sent by the Archbishop of Manila into the camp
                - 95% of the medicine sent by Philippine Red Cross was taken by the Japanese for their own use
            - POWs in camp hospital lay on floor elbow to elbow
            - operations on POWs were performed with mess kit knives
            - only one medic out of six assigned to care for 50 sick POWs, in the hospital, was well enough to work
            - as many as 50 POWs died each day
                - each morning dead were found everywhere in the camp and stacked up under the hospital
                - ground under hospital was scrapped and cover with lime to clean it
                - the dead were moved to this area and the section where they had laid was scrapped and cover with lime
                - usually not buried for two or three days
            - work details: if a POW could walk, he was sent out on a work detail
                - POWs on burial detail often had dysentery and malaria
        - Japanese opened new POW camp to lower death rate
            - 1 June 1942 - POWs formed detachments of 100 men
                - POWs marched out gate and marched toward Capas
                    - Filipino people gave POWs small bundles of food
                        - the guards did not stop them
                - At Capas, the POWs were put into steel boxcars and rode them to Manila
                - train stopped at Calumpit and switched onto the line to Cabanatuan
                    - POWs disembark train at 6:00 P.M. and put into a school yard
                    - fed rice and onion soup   
        - Cabanatuan #1
            - original name - Camp Panagaian
                - Philippine Army Base built for 91st Philippine Army Division
                    - put into use by Japanese as a POW camp
                - actually three camps
                    - Camp 1: POWs from Camp O'Donnell sent there in attempt to lower death rate
                    - Camp 2:  two miles away
                        - all POWs moved from there because of a lack of water
                        - later used for Naval POWs
                    - Camp 3: six miles from Camp 2
                        - POWs from Corregidor and from hospitals sent there
                        - camp created to keep Corregidor POWs separated from Bataan POWs
                        - Corregidor POWs were in better shape
                            - January 1943 - POWs from Camp 3 consolidated into Camp 1
        - Camp Administration:
            - the Japanese left POWs to run the camp on their own
                - Japanese entered camp when they had a reason
                - POWs patrolled fence to prevent escapes
                    - Note: men who attempted to escape were recaptured
                    - Japanese beat them for days
                    - executed them
            - Blood Brother Rule
                - POWs put into groups of ten
                    - if one escaped the others would be executed
                    - housed in same barracks
                    - worked on details together
            - Barracks:
                - each barracks held 50 men
                    - often held between 60 and 120 men
                    - slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, covers, and mosquito netting
                        - diseases spread easily
                    - no showers
            - Morning Roll Call:
                - stood at attention
                    - frequently beaten over their heads for no reason
                - when POWs lined up for roll call, it was a common practice for Japanese guards, after the POWs lined up, to kick the POWs in
                  their shins with their hobnailed boots because they didn't like the way the POWs looked
            - Work Details:
                - Two main details
                    - the farm and airfield
                        - farm detail
                            - POWs cleared land and grew comotes, cassava, taro, sesame, and various greens
                            - Japanese took what was grown
                    - Guards:
                        - Big Speedo - spoke little English
                            - in charge of detail
                            - fair in treatment of POWs
                            - spoke little English
                                - to get POWs to work faster said, "speedo"
                        - Little Speedo
                            - fair in treatment of POWs
                        - Smiley
                            - always smiling
                            - could not be trusted
                            - meanest of guards
            - Airfield Detail:
                - Japanese built an airfield for fighters
                    - POWs cut grass, removed dirt, and leveled ground
                        - at first moved dirt in wheel barrows
                        - later pushed mining cars
                        - Air Raid
                            - in charge
                            - usually fair but unpredictable
                                - had to watch him
                        - Donald Duck
                            - always talking
                            - sounded like the cartoon character
                            - unpredictable - beat POWs
                            - POWs told him that Donald Duck was a big American movie star
                                - at some point, he saw a Donald Duck cartoon
                                - POWs stayed away from him when he came back to camp
                - Work Day: 7:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
                    - worked 6 days a week
                        - had Sunday off
            - Other Details:
                - work details sent out to cut wood for POW kitchens and plant rice
                    - they also were frequently hit with a pick handle, for no reason, as they counted off
                - POWs on the rice planting detail were punished by having their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on
                - the POWs had to go into a shed to get the tools, as they came out, they were hit on their heads
                - if the guards on the detail decided the POW wasn't doing what he should be doing, he was beaten
                - many POWs on details were able to smuggle in medicine, food, and tobacco into the camp
            - Burial Detail
                - POWs worked in teams of four
                    - carried 4 to 6 dead to cemetery at a time in liter
                    - a grave contained from 15 to 20 bodies 
            - daily POW meal
                - 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, sweet potato or corn
                 - rice was main staple, few vegetables or fruits
        - Camp Hospital:
            - 30 Wards
                - each ward could hold 40 men
                    - frequently had 100 men in each
               - two tiers of bunks
                   - sickest POWs on bottom tier
               - each POW had a 2 foot by 6 foot area to lie in
            - Zero Ward
              - given name because it had been missed when counting wards
              - became ward where those who were going to die were sent
              - fenced off from other wards
                  - Japanese guards would not go near it
                  - POWs sent there had little to no chance of surviving
                  - medical staff had little to no medicine to treat sick
                  - many deaths from disease caused by malnutrition

              - hospitalized - Wednesday - 10 June 1942 - malaria
              - Shelby was put in "Zero Ward" because it was believed he would die
                  - because he refused to die, he was selected to take an experimental Japanese drug for dysentery
                  - he recovered
              - discharged - Monday - 1 February 1943
              - went out on wood detail to collect wood for camp kitchen
            - Burial Detail
                - POWs worked in teams of four
                    - carried 4 to 6 dead to cemetery at a time in liter
                    - a grave contained from 15 to 20 bodies
        - Pasay School Detail
            - Nichols Field Detail - April 1944
                - Pasay School:
                    - 3 miles from Nichols Field
                    - POW housed in school rooms
                    - each room was 20 feet by 30 feet and accommodated 28 to 30 men
                     - men slept so close together, on thin mattresses, and could hardly turn over
                        - each POW had two small blankets
                        - room infested with bedbugs, ants, and mosquitoes
                - Latrines:
                    - two toilets for 500 men
                        - cans also were put in rooms
                    - 300 POWs shared seven showers
                    - 500 POWs shared  four showers
                        - waited in line for up to an hour to take a shower
                - Meals:
                    - main diet was boiled rice which was from sweepings of a warehouse floor
                        - nails, worms, dust, glass, bottle caps, were often in it
                        - POWs picked the rice to eat it
                            - each POW received 240 grams of rice
                            - later cut to 120 grams
                    - POWs grew squash, gourds, green beans, egg plant, and sweet potatoes
                        - did not meet their nutritional needs since they got scraps from Japanese mess
                        - meat was in a form of a fish used as fertilizer
                            - fish usually rotten
                    - POWs also received 250 pounds of potatoes each day for 500 POWs
                        - Japanese would let potatoes rot before giving them to POWs
                    - 80 pounds of flour given to POWs each week
                    - 20 pounds of meat a week for 800 POWs
                    - although they worked where fruit grew, the POWs were not allowed to eat any
                    - when Red Cross packages were given to POWs the Japanese cut the food rations by one fourth for 15 days
                    - beriberi spread among POWs because of diet
            - Clothing:
                - Philippine Red Cross gave clothing for POWs
                    - Japanese did not give it to them
                        - also kept Red Cross packages containing clothing
                - every 3 months, the Japanese gave 18 shirts and 18 trousers for 500 POWs
                    - there was enough clothing in a warehouse to furnish each POW with two sets of clothes including shoes
            - Work:
                - 1 September 1942 - work started on runway
                    - Reveille: 6:00 A.M.
                    - 6:15 A.M. - roll call taken
                    - breakfast: fish soup and rice
                    - roll call taken again
                        - both healthy and sick POWs were counted
                    - POWs marched a mile and half to airfield
                        - arrived at 8:30 A.M.
                    - Roll Call - after arriving at airfield
                    - tools handed out at tool shed
                    - Initially the POWs worked until 11:30 A.M. and did not work again until 1:30 P.M.
                        - work day ended at 4:15
                    - Japanese took roll call
                        - POWs arrived at school at about 5:50 P.M.
                        - roll call taken again
                        - rush to showers
                        - supper
                        - roll call again
                        - lights out at 9:00 P.M.
                        - work day got longer the longer the detail went on
            - Japanese wanted a runway 500 yards wide and approximately a mile long
                - runway would go through swamp ground southeastward and straight through the hills
                    - plans for runway came from Americans who had planned to build it with construction equipment
                    - Japanese had no plans to use construction equipment
                - POWs built runway with picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows
                    - most had dysentery, malaria, beriberi, diarrhea, and were malnourished
                - POWs worked under the 103rd Construction Unit by order of the Southern Third Fleet
                    - work was easy at first because the ground was almost level
                    - about 400 yards from start, the runway hit the foothills as tall as 80 feet had to be leveled with picks and
                    - work got harder
                    - literally removed the side of a mountain by hand
                    - called "The Cut"
                    - POWs worked barefooted on gravel, rocks, and sun baked mud and left bloody footprints
                        - many only had g-strings for clothing
                        - others worked nude
                    - dirt carried to  swamp in wheelbarrows and dumped as landfill to fill-in swampland
                    - Japanese bring in old mine cars and rail
                        - laid four sets of tracks
                        - four POWs assigned to each mine car to keep them moving
                    - POWs loaded mine cars with earth and two POWs pushed cars to dumping area
                        - car returned to loading area where two of the POWs had another load waiting
                        - all four of the POWs loaded minecar
                        - as tracks got longer, loading pushing, dumping, unloading took longer to do
                        - each track had a quota which had to be met before POWs before the POWs could stop working
            - Medical Supplies:
                - Japanese issued little of the Red Cross medical supplies that came into the camp
                - POW doctors said there was not enough medicine to cure an ailment but just enough to prolong the ailment
                    - there was a lack of quinine and carborine
                    - there was no emetine to cure amoebic dysentery
                - request for medicines were repeatedly turned down
                - operations performed without anesthetics or proper medical equipment
                - only 80 POWs were allowed to be on sick call each day
                    - Japanese determined which men were sick enough not to work
        - Cabanatuan
                - returned June 1944 - ill
                    - suffered from beriberi, pellagra, and amoebic dysentery while a POW
Hell Ship:
        - Canadian Inventor
            - Sailed: Manila - 4 July 1944
                - returned to Manila - boiler problems
            - Sailed: Manila - 16 July 1944
                - left behind by convoy - more boiler problems
            - Arrived: Takao, Formosa - 23 July 1944
                - salt loaded onto ship
            - Sailed: Takao - 4 August 1944
            - Arrived: Keelung, Formosa - 5 August 1944
                - additional boiler repairs
            - Sailed: Keeling - 17 August 1944
                - boiler problems continued
            - Arrived: Naha, Okinawa
            - Sailed: Naha, Okinawa
                - returned several times over six days
            - Arrived: Moji, Japan - 1 September 1944
    - Japan
        - Fukuoka #17
Note:  The barracks for the POWs at the camp were 20 feet wide by 120 feet long.  Each one was divided into ten rooms which were shared by four to six POWs each. 
    The POWs worked in a condemned coal mine.  They worked bent over since they were taller than the average Japanese miner.  At the mine, each prisoner was expected to load three cars of coal a day.  The POWs worked 12 hour work days in areas of the mine which had cracks in the ceiling indicating a cave-in might take place.  One was known as the "hotbox" because of its temperatures.  To get out of working, the POWs would intentionally have their arms broken by another POW.
    Daily meals consisted of seven spoonfuls of water and one fourth a cup of very poor quality watery rice a day.  To supplement their diets, the prisoners also ate dog meat, radishes, potato greens and seaweed.  To get a meal, when entering the food line, the POWs had to shout out there number, in Japanese, and another man would put a nail in a hole opposite the man's number on a board.  The nails remained in the board until all the POWs had been fed.
    Corporal punishment was an everyday occurrence at the camp.  The guards beat the POWs for slightest reason and continued until the POW was unconscious.  The man was then taken to the guardhouse and put in solitary confinement without food or water for a long period of time.
    On one occasion in November 1944, shirts had been stolen from a bundle, sent by the British Red Cross, from a building.  The Japanese ordered all the POWs to assemble and told them that they would not be fed until the shirts were returned.  The men who stole the shirts returned the shirts anonymously, and the POWs received their meal at 10:00 P.M.
    During the winter, the POWs, being punished, were made to stand at attention and had water thrown on them as they stood in the cold, or they were forced to knee on bamboo poles.  It is known that the POWs were made to stand in water and shocked with electrical current.  At some point, two POWs were tied to a post and left to die.  This was done they had violated a camp rule.
    Life at Fukuoka #17 was hard and there were prisoners who would steal from other prisoners, especially clothing.  To prevent this from happening, the POWs would "buddy up" with each other.  While one man was working in the mine, the POW who was not working would watch the possessions of the other man.
    In addition, the sick were forced to work.  The Japanese camp doctor allowed the sick, who could walk, to be sent into the mine.  Men who had one good arm were made to lift heavy loads.   He also took the Red Cross medical supplies meant for the POWs for his own use and failed to provide adequate medical treatment.  Food that came in the packages was eaten by the guards.
    During his time at the camp, he suffered from beriberi.  While he was there, the camp was hit by bombs from American planes.  The American section of the camp was badly damaged, so they moved in with the British and Dutch POWs.
    On August 9, 1945, some of the POWs saw the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki.  Those who saw it described that it was a sunny day and that the explosion still lit up the sky.  The pillar of smoke that rose from the bomb was described as having all the colors of the rainbow.  Afterwards, the POWs saw what they described as a fog blanketing Nagasaki which seemed to have vanished.
    The POWs went to work and talked to the Japanese civilians who spoke about how those, who had survived the blast, would touch their heads and pull out their hair.  They stated these Japanese died within days.  They also told of how they heard about a detachment of Japanese soldiers sent into Nagasaki to recover victims and how its members suffered the same fate.
   When the POWs came out of the mine, they found that the next shift of POWs was 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.  They 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.  They also found a warehouse with Red Cross packages and distributed the packages to the camp.  One day, George Weller, a reporter for the Chicago Daily News entered the camp.  He told the POWs that there were American troops on Honshu.  The camp was liberated on September 13, by a POW Recovery Team and on September 18, at 7:09 A.M., the POWs left the camp and were taken to the Dejima Docks at Nagasaki, where they boarded a ship and were returned to the Philippines.
Returned to United States:
Promoted: Corporal
     - U.S.S. General R. L. Howze
        - Sailed: Manila - 23 September 1945
        - Arrived: San Francisco - 16 October 1945
            - sent to Letterman General Hospital
            - spent six months in Fletcher General Hospital in Cambridge, Ohio 
Note:  Mother died while he was a POW
Discharged: 6 June 1946 - Camp Atterbury, Ohio
Note: One of the things Shelby did was to contact Lloyd Grever's sister and tell her of what he knew about Lloyd.
    - Bachelors of Science - 1950 - Western Kentucky State College
    - Masters of Science - Public Health - 1958 - University of North Carolina
Married: Doris Tomes
    - Doris passed away in 2012
Children: 1 daughter
Occupation: Operated Sheldor Farm Apple Orchard
Residence: Scottsville, Kentucky
Died: 11 September 2017
Buried: South Union Cemetery
Link to Library of Congress page on Shelby Johnson



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