PFC George Everett Chumley was born on May 24, 1921, to Wiley Chumley & Lola Taylor-Chumley, and 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. On November 25, 1940, the tank company was called to federal service as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. The company boarded 10 trucks in Harrodsburg on November 28th and its tanks were loaded onto a flatcar and taken by train to Ft. Knox. The company left Harrodsburg at 12:30 P.M. arriving about four hours later at 4:30 P.M.
After arriving, they spent the first six weeks in primary training. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; weeks 7, 8, and 9 were spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons, and the cleaning of weapons.
The First Sergeant, Edwin Rue, was given the job – on December 26th – of picking men to be transferred from the company to the soon to be formed Hq Company. Many of the men picked to be transferred to the company – from all the battalion’s companies – received promotions and because of their ratings received higher pay.
D Company moved into its barracks in December 1941. The barracks were adjacent to the Roosevelt Ridge Training Area. The men assigned to the Hq Company still lived with the D Company since their barracks were unfinished. 25 men lived on each floor of the barracks. The bunks were set up along the walls and alternated so that the head of one bunk was next to the foot of another bunk allowing for more bunks to be placed in the least amount of space allowing for 50 men to sleep on each floor. The first sergeant, staff sergeant, and master sergeant had their own rooms. There was also a supply room, an orderly room – where the cooks could sleep during the day – and a clubroom. The company shared its mess hall with A Company until that company’s mess hall was finished.
The one problem they had was that the barracks had four, two-way speakers in it. One speaker was in the main room of each floor of the barracks, one was in the first sergeant’s office, and one was in the captain’s office. Since by flipping a switch the speaker became a microphone, the men watched what they said. The men assigned to Hq Company moved into their own barracks by February. The guardsmen were housed away from the regular army troops in the newly built barracks. Newspapers from the time state that the barracks were air-conditioned.
The biggest problem facing the unit was the lack of equipment. Many of the tanks were castoffs from the regular army or pulled from the junkyard at Ft. Knox and rebuilt by the tank companies. The tanks were also restricted in where they could be driven and very little training was done with the infantry. The companies received new trucks and motorcycles in the Spring of 1941.
The men received training under the direction of the 69th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division. This was true for the tank crews and reconnaissance units who trained with the regiment’s tanks and reconnaissance units and later trained with their own companies.
A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics from 8:00 to 8:30. Afterward, the tankers went to various schools within the company. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics. At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. The classes lasted for 13 weeks. All classes the tankers attended were under the command of the 1st Armored Division.
At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After they ate they stood in line to wash their mess kits since they had no mess hall. About January 12, 1941, their mess hall opened and they ate off real plates with forks and knives. They also no longer had to wash their own plates since that job fell on the men assigned to Kitchen Police. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played.
During February, four composite tank detachments made of men from all the companies of the battalion left Ft. Knox – on different dates – on problematic moves at 9:00 A.M. The detachments consisted of three motorcycles, two scout cars, sixteen tanks, one ambulance, and supply, fuel and kitchen trucks. The route was difficult and chosen so that the men could become acquainted with their equipment. They also had to watch out for simulated enemy planes. Bridges were avoided whenever it was possible to ford the water. They received their rations from a food truck.
In late March 1941, the entire battalion was moved to new barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks had bathing and washing facilities in them and a day room. The new kitchens had larger gas ranges, automatic gas heaters, large pantries, and mess halls. One reason for this move was the men from selective service were permanently joining the battalion.
On June 14th and 16th, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of Hq Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of Hq Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16th. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers.
Each tank company traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The detachments traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox through Lebanon, New Haven, and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln.
In the late summer of 1940, he took part in maneuvers in Louisiana, from September 1st through 30th. The entire battalion was loaded onto trucks and sent in a convoy to Louisiana while the tanks and wheeled vehicles were sent by train.
During the maneuvers that tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack and in support of infantry. Many of the men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.”
It was after these maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox as they had expected. On the side of a hill, the battalion learned it was being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, the tankers had figured out that PLUM stood for the Philippines, Luzon, Manila. Those men 29 years old, or older, were allowed to resign from federal service and were replaced by men of the 753rd Tank Battalion, and the battalion received the tanks of the 753rd. The decision to send the battalion to the Philippines was made on August 15, 1941.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in 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 for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day when another squadron of planes was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up. A fishing boat with a tarp covering something on its deck was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, Ithe fishing boat was not intercepted. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The battalion’s new tanks came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and were loaded onto flat cars, on different trains. The soldiers also put cosmoline on anything that they thought would rust. Over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they were given physicals, by the battalion’s medical detachment, and men found 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 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. They 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 5, 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. On Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, 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, but two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters carrying scrap metal.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, 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, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He made sure that they had Thanksgiving Dinner – which consisted of stew thrown into their mess kits – before he left to have his own dinner.
D Company was scheduled to be transferred to the 194th Tank Battalion so when they arrived at the fort, they moved into their nearly finished barracks. The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their on the tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool,” meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to do the work on the tanks. The tankers followed the example of the 194th Tank Battalion and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms everywhere; including going to the PX.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the China Sea. On Monday, December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern portion of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern portion. At all times, two members of each tank and half-track remained with their vehicles. Meals were served to the tankers from food trucks.
After arriving in the Philippines, the process was begun to transfer D Company to the 194th Tank Battalion, which had left for the Philippines minus one company. B Company of the battalion was sent to Alaska while the remaining companies, of the battalion, were sent to the Philippines. The medical clerk for the192nd spent weeks organizing records to be handed over to the 194th.
On December 1, the tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. The 194th, with D Company, was assigned northern part of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern half of the airfield. Two members of each tank crew remained with the tanks at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
George recalled that on the morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were at their tanks around the perimeter of Clark Field. They had been told of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the companies half-tracks were moved to the airfield. That morning, American planes were in the sky. Around noon, the planes landed and lined up, in a straight line, outside the mess hall to be refueled. 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 was eating chicken and looking out a window. 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. He saw several dead bodies and 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 bodies, which 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 exploded 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 and he 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 supposed 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.
His parents received the first two letters from the War Department. The first arrived in May 1942.
“Dear Mrs. L. Chumley:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Private First Class George E. Chumley, 20,523,452, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter. In the last days before the surrender of Bataan, there were casualties which were not reported to the War Department. Conceivably the same is true of the surrender of Corregidor and possibly other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect to the interchange of information regarding prisoners of war. At some future date, this Government will receive through Geneva a list of persons who have been taken prisoners of war. Until that time the War Department cannot give you positive information.
“The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war. In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired. At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.
“Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months; to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held; to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress. The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records. Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.
“Very Truly yours
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General”
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 approximately two weeks, when he and the other prisoners were taken by barge to a point off Luzon. They jumped off the barge and swam to shore. Onshore, they were marched to Bilibid Prison and remained there several days. From there, they were marched to a railroad station, packed into boxcars, and taken to Cabanatuan.
Being captured on Corregidor meant he was held at Camp Three. The POWs in the camp were in better shape than the men who had been captured on Bataan and being held at Camp One. When the camp closed, the POWs from Camp Three were sent to Camp One.
To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. Since the POWs were underfed, many became ill and died of malnutrition.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each morning, as the POWs stood at attention and roll call was taken, the Japanese guards hit them across their heads. After arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
The barracks used by the POWs were built to hold 50 POWs, but the Japanese put from 60 to 120 POWs in each one. There no shower facilities and the POWs slept on bamboo strips. In addition, no bedding, covers, or mosquito netting was provided which resulted in many becoming ill.
The camp hospital was made up of 30 wards. One ward had been missed when the wards were being counted so it was given the name of “Zero Ward.” The ward became the place were POWs who were going to die were sent. The Japanese were so terrified by it, that they put a fence up around it and would not go near the building. Most of the POWs who died there died because their bodies were too malnourished to fight the diseases they had.
At Cabanatuan, George worked at the camp farm. The food was supposed 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 supposed to be working, the Japanese would tie the man to an aunt hill and let the red ants 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.
Recalling his time as a POW, George said, “They don’t look at things like we do. I guess they treated their own prisoners or outcasts like they treated us.”
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 around. According 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 which had been smuggled into the camp. Ironically, the man who had helped George, when he was blind, lost his eyesight and never got it back.
In July 1942, the family received a second letter. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Private First Class George E. Chumley had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
In January 1943, George was sent out on a work detail to Lipa Batangas. The POWs built runways and revetments at Lipa Airfield and a farm. Not long after arriving at Lipa, on January 12, 1943, George was sent to the hospital ward at Bilibid Prison suffering from exophthalmia, the dryness of the cornea of the eye, which is caused by a lack of Vitamin A. He was discharged on April 12, 1943.
On March 31, 1943, his name appeared on a list – released by the War Department – of men known to be Japanese Prisoners of War. George’s family did not learn he was a Prisoner of War weeks earlier.
REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE FIRST CLASS GEORGE E CHUMLEY IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL.
Within days of receiving the first message, his wife received the following letter:
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“PFC George E. Chumley, U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
“Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
“Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
“Howard F. Bresee
“Chief Information Bureau
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 which left Manila on July 23, 1943. Instead of heading to Formosa, it went to Santa Cruz, Zambales, where it loaded manganese ore. After three days in port, the ship sailed for Formosa arriving there on July 28.
On August 5, 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 #17.
At the camp, the POWs worked in a condemned coal mine where each team of POWs was expected to load three cars of coal a day. The POWs worked 12-hour workdays with the constant threat of rocks falling on them. Those POWs who the Japanese believed were not working hard enough were beaten. The POWs worked in three shifts with a 30-minute lunch and one day off every ten days.
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.
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 sledgehammer 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 it.”
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.
The camp was surrounded by a 12-foot wooden fence that had three heavy gauge electrified wires attached to it. The first wire was attached at six feet with the others higher up. The POWs lived in 33 one-story barracks 120 feet long and 16 feet wide and divided into ten rooms. Officers slept four men to a room while enlisted men slept from four to six men in a room. Each room was lit by a 15-watt bulb, and at the end of each building was a latrine with three stools and a urinal. The POWs slept on beds, that was 5 feet 8 inches long by 2½ feet wide, made of a tissue paper and cotton batting covered with a cotton pad. Three heavy cotton blankets were issued to each POW plus a comfortable made of tissue paper, scrap rags, and scrap cotton.
Life at Fukuoka #17 was hard and there were prisoners who would steal from other prisoners. To prevent this from happening, the POWs would “buddy-up” with each other. Another problem in the camp was that POWs traded their food rations for cigarettes. POWs who did this were referred to as “future corpses.” The situation got so bad that the Japanese finally stepped in and stopped it.
A meal consisted of rice and vegetable soup three times a day. Those POWs working in the mine received 700 grams a day, while camp workers received 450 grams a day. Officers, since they were not required to work, received 300 grams a day. Those working in the mine received three buns every second day since they did not return to camp for lunch. The meals were cooked in the camp kitchen which was manned by 15 POWs. Seven of the POWs were professional cooks. The kitchen had 11 cauldrons, 2 electric baking ovens, 2 kitchen ranges, 4 storerooms, and an icebox.
To supplement their diets, the prisoners also ate dog meat, radishes, potato greens, and seaweed. As they entered the mess hall, they would say their POW number to a POW at a wooden board. He would take a nail and place it in the hole in front of the man’s number. After all the POWs had been fed, the board was cleared for the next meal.
There were also bathing rooms in the camp with two bathing tanks that were 30 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 4 feet deep. The tubs were heated with very hot water. The POWs working in the mine bathed during the winter after cleaning themselves before entering the tubs. They did not bathe during the summer months to prevent skin diseases.
The camp hospital was a building of ten rooms that could each hold 30 men. There was an isolation ward for 15 POWs usually men suffering from tuberculosis. The POW doctors had little to no medicines or medical supplies to treat the ill. Dental treatment consisted of removing teeth without anesthesia.
In addition, the sick were forced to work. The Japanese camp doctor allowed the sick, who could walk, to be sent into the mine. 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. Those POWs working in the mine were given more Red Cross supplies than the other POWs.
Corporal punishment was an everyday occurrence at the camp. The guards beat the POWs for the 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 in 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 returned the shirts anonymously, and the POWs received their meal at 10:00 P.M.
The Japanese interpreter in the camp refused to perform his duties resulting in the POWs receiving beatings because they could not explain the situation. He also would inform the guards of any alleged violations of camp rules which resulted in the POWs being severely beaten. This happened frequently at the mine with the interpreter usually the person responsible. He also, for no reason, slapped and beat the POWs.
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.
On another occasion, George was working mine the mine when he accidentally brushed a guard with the sledgehammer he was using. The guard grabbed his belt to slam George against the wall.
George stated, “I got mad and grabbed him in a headlock. I really put the pressure on him.” None of the other POWs attempted to help him. “If you got into trouble, you had to go it alone.” It simply was how the things were in the camp. “The other guards finally got me loose. I knew I was a goner. They would shoot you for attacking a Jap.”
To George’s amazement, nothing ever happened. He believed it was because a Japanese foreman had spoken to the guard after the incident. George never knew what the foreman said, but what happened never came up again.
At Fukuoka #17, the POWs very seldom got mail. During his time there, George received one letter and one package from home. The letter was from his sister-in-law, and the package was from his mother. In the package was a note saying that his mother was sending him razor blades, a comb, vitamin pills, tobacco, rolling papers, swimming trunks, and shoes. The reason she sent the swimming trunks was that the Japanese claimed that the POWs swam at the beach every day.
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 he 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 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. The POWs who saw the bomb explode described the day as being sunny, but that the flash from the bomb actually brightened the sky. They watched as a cloud, with every color of the rainbow, rose above Nagasaki, and that what looked like fog covered the ground. To them, it seemed as if the city had vanished.
They 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 people died within days. They also told of a detachment of Japanese soldiers having been sent into Nagasaki, to find survivors, and how its members suffered the same fate.
George and the other POWs came out of the mine and 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. 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. 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. 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, the POWs 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. 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 Nagasaki, where they boarded a ship and were returned to the Philippines.
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.
George was liberated on September 13, by a POW Recovery Team and on September 18, 1945, at 7:09 A.M., left the camp with the other POWs still there and taken to Nagasaki. By ship, George was returned to the Philippines.
In late September he was boarded onto the U.S.S. General R. L. Howze. The ship 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.
Recalling his time as a POW, George said, “I guess cruelty to the underdog is their way of life. I don’t resent it now, but I sure didn’t like it then. But I don’t think they were mistreating us by their standards. That’s the funny thing.”
George E. Chumley worked as a plumber and passed away on May 21, 1988, in Nicholasville, Kentucky, and was buried at Blue Grass Memorial Gardens in Nicholasville.