Major Havelock David Nelson
Major Havelock D. Nelson was born in March 27, 1898, to Horatio H. Nelson & Nora B. Brewer-Nelson in Canton, Ohio. With his two sisters and two brothers, he grew up in Canton and Springfield, Ohio. He attended Wittenberg College and the University of Cincinnati for his masters degree. While there, he played football. He was known as "Harvey" to his family and friends.
Nelson joined the U. S. Marine Corps, as an enlisted man, on June 16,
1917, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was sent to France where he was a member of 97th Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine
Regiment. He took part in battles from May 1918, until Germany surrendered on November 11, 1918. He
returned to the United States and was discharged on August 13, 1919.
On December 1, 1925, Nelson joined the Ohio National Guard.
He also married to Kathleen Bouchette-Jones on May 25, 1927, and they became the parents of two
children; Kate and Leslie. To support his family, he worked as a investment analyst at Fifth/Third Union Trust
Nelson entered federal service in the U. S. Army on February 7, 1941, and was assigned to
HQ Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, as the company's commanding officer.
After training for nearly a year, the battalion was sent to Louisiana, during the late summer of 1941, to take
part in maneuvers. It was after these maneuvers, at Camp Polk, that the battalion learned they were being sent
The 192nd was boarded onto the
U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. 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.
Maj. Nelson lived through the bombing of Clark Airfield on December 8, 1941. At first, the Americans believed that the planes were coming to reinforce them. It was when the bombs began exploding that the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese. Cecil VanDiver, a cook with D Company, wanted to see what was going on, so he stood up. As he stood there watching, the trees around him began exploding and showering him with red wood. Nelson, seeing VanDiver, ordered him to take cover. VanDiver later said that Nelson most likely saved his life.
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
Nelson and the other POWs were held at Mariveles for one day before being loaded onto small wooden boxcars. The cars had room for forty men or eight horses. The Japanese crammed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. As the prisoners disembarked the cars at Capas, those who had died in the cars fell to the floors. At Capas, Japanese soldiers were offering the POWs Japanese money so the POWs could buy food. By this time, the POWs knew this was a trick and that American caught with the money would be killed.
After leaving the boxcars, the POWs had to walk approximately ten miles to Camp O'Donnell. According to letters kept by Major John Morley, Nelson fell and could not get up. He was kicked in his stomach and hit in his head by a Japanese guard. When Nelson would not get up, the guard determined he was to exhausted to continue, and he was allowed to lay on the ground until he could continue the march.
Morley and Capt. Malcolm Fowler, 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts, carried Nelson the rest of the way to Camp O'Donnell. Arriving at the camp. the two men placed Nelson under a hut with his field bag. It was the last time John ever saw Nelson.
According to the research done by his family, there are two versions of what happened to Nelson. In the first version w hen the POWs arrived at Camp O'Donnell, they were ordered to form ranks and were searched once again. Any prisoner found with an item that was Japanese was ordered to go to another area and create ranks there. During the search, Nelson was found to be carrying a Japanese coin and sent to the second formation. The POWs sent to this formation were later shot and buried in the camp cemetery. At this point, there are various versions of what happened.
It should be noted that Lt. Jack Merrifield was present when Nelson reached
Camp O'Donnell. According to Merrifield, the Japanese went through Nelson's baggage and found a
Japanese battle flag. This fact was confirmed by Capt. Alvin Poweleit. After finding the flag, he was
separated from the other POWs - with anyone else found to have Japanese items - and held is a separate area of the
The Japanese executed any American found with Japanese "war prizes." According to
Capt. Alvin Poweleit, the 192nd's chief medical officer, Nelson, with three other men, was shot.
After being shot several times, Nelson did not die. Poweleit reported that the Japanese buried him, but that
he crawled out of the grave. He was helped by friendly Filipinos and turned over to guerrillas. He
spent nineteen months with the guerrillas before coming down with dysentery and dying.
According to the report written by Brigadier General James Weaver, after being shot, Nelson and the bodies of the other men were taken to the camp's cemetery and put in a grave. Since it was raining, the Japanese made the decision not to cover the bodies with dirt.
After the Japanese had left the cemetery, Nelson revived, crawled from the grave, and made it into the jungle where he was found by American guerrillas. The commanding officer of the guerrillas was Lt. James Hart of the 194th Tank Battalion.
In another story, Grover Brummett, HQ Company, 192nd, stated that upon reaching Camp O'Donnell, Nelson collapsed. Brummett believed Nelson had died of a heart attack and was taken to the camp cemetery where, as it turned out, he was buried alive in a slit trench. In this version, Nelson and another POW escaped and went into the mountains. During this time, he was cared for by a Mr. Ocampo.
Nelson's daughter, Kate, would travel to the Philippines after the war and meet the man who cared for her father. After almost two months of suffering, Maj. Havelock D. Nelson died from his wounds on Monday, June 15, 1942. After the war, Major Havelock Nelson was listed as a guerrilla in Zambales during the opening months of 1942.
Major Havelock D. Nelson was buried in Plot N, Row 18, Grave 176, at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and Legion of Merit. On June 14, 2007, an inactive American legion post was reestablished as the Havelock D. Nelson American Legion Post in West Chester, Ohio. Although he may never had known it, he was held in high regard by his men.