Pvt. James William Durr was born on April 2, 1919, in Mercer County, Kentucky, to Ernest Durr and Grace Dnuny-Durr, and with his three sisters and brother, he grew up on Beaumont Road in Mercer County. He was known as “Jimmy” to his family and friends. He left school after the eighth grade and worked as a farmhand. At some point, he joined the Kentucky National Guard and was called Jimmy by the other members of his company.
In September 1940, the 38th Division’s Tank Company was re-designated D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. On November 25, they reported to the armory and prepared to go to Ft. Knox. They traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, arriving there on November 28, and with three other National Guard Tank Companies, formed the battalion.
In December 1941, the Army attempted to designate one of the letter companies Headquarters Company which none of the companies wanted to do since they would have to give up their tanks. Instead, the army allowed the creation of totally new HQ company by taking men from each company and filling out the battalion’s ranks with draftees. It was at that time that Jim was reassigned to the company. It is not known what job Jim performed with the company.
In August 1941, the battalion was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers. Headquarters Company performed administration duties and tank maintenance. At the end of the maneuvers, the tankers were ordered to Camp Polk without being given a reason why. They had expected to return to Ft. Knox.
On the side of a hill at Camp Polk, the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, many of the soldiers had figured out that PLUM was an acronym for Philippines, Luzon, Manila. It was at that time that married men and men 29 years old, or older, were given the opportunity to resign from federal service and were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion. This 753rd had been sent to the fort, but it had not taken part in the maneuvers. The M3A1 “Stuart” tanks, from the battalion, were also given to the 192nd.
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 a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds 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.
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 2 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, the transport, S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. 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.
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 20, 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 Gen. Edward P. King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field, but he had just learned of their arrival days earlier. He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to prevent them rusting while at sea. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts and prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
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 half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern half. At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles, and meals were brought to them by food trucks.
The morning of December 8, the tankers at the perimeter of Clark Field when they received word of the Japanese attack on Clark Field. All morning long, American planes filled the sky. At noon, every plane landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers believed the planes were American until what they described as “raindrops” appeared to fall from the planes. When bombs began exploding around them, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. HQ Company had just had lunch and could do little more than watch and seek shelter since they had no weapons to be used against planes.
For the next four months, HQ Company worked to keep the tank companies operational. The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ’s commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks.
During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company’s trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, “Our last supper.”
On April 11, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company’s encampment. Donald was now a Prisoner of War. A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans. They remained along the sides of the road for hours.
When the soldiers were ordered to move, they boarded trucks and drove to Mariveles. They were stopped outside the barrio and from there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited. As they sat and watched, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
Sitting, watching, and waiting the POWs wondered what the Japanese intended to do. It was at that time that a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the soldiers, got out of the car, and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. The sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, Jim’s group of POWs was moved to a schoolyard in Mariveles, where the POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours. The Japanese did not feed them or give them water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered. Shells from the two American forts began landing among the POWs. The POWs could do little since they had no place to hide, and some were killed. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move again and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march, the POWs received no water and little food. It took the members of HQ Company six days to reach San Fernando. Once there, the POWs were put into a bull pen that had a fence around it. In one corner was a slit trench to be used as a toilet by the POWs. The surface of the trench moved since it was covered in maggots. The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down.
During their time in the bullpen, the POWs watched the Japanese bury three POWs. Two were still alive. When one of the men attempted to climb out of the grave, he was hit in the head with a shovel and buried. At some point, the Japanese ordered the men to form ranks, and they were marched in detachments of 100 men to the train station.
At the train station, the POWs were put into small wooden boxcars and taken to Capas. The cars were known as “forty and eights,” because they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the cars. From Capas, Frank walked the last miles to Camp O’ Donnell.
Camp O’Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Pangatian.
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. The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens.
Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. The POWs were forced to work in the fields from 7:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening. Most of the food they grew went to the Japanese not them. Other POWs worked in rice paddies.
The POW barracks were built to house 50 POWs, but most held between 60 and 120 men. The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, covers, or mosquito netting. The result was many became ill.
Each morning, the POWs lined up for roll call. While they stood at attention, it wasn’t uncommon for them to be hit over the tops of their heads. In addition, one guard frequently kicked them in their shins with his hobnailed boots. 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. 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 camp hospital was composed of 30 wards. The ward for the sickest POWs was known as “Zero Ward,” which got its name because it had been missed when the wards were counted. The name soon meant the place where those who were extremely ill went to die. Each ward had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each. Each man had a two-foot-wide by six-foot-long area to lie in. The sickest men slept on the bottom tier since the platforms had holes cut in them so the sick could relieve themselves without having to leave the tier.
What is known about James’ time in the camp was that he was hospitalized on March 26, 1943. Why he was hospitalized and when he was discharged are not known. He remained in the camp until March 22, 1944, when he transferred to Bilibid Prison.
The POWs were taken to the Port Area of Manila and boarded the Taikoku Maru which sailed on March 23, 1944. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on March 27th and remained in the harbor until April 3rd when it sailed again. It arrived at Osaka, Japan, on April 9, 1944, and the POWs disembarked on April 10th and rode a train to Hitachi arriving on April 11.
In Japan, Jimmy was held at Hitachi #8, where he was given the POW #185. The POWs were used as slave labor in a copper mine owned by the Nippon Mining Company. When the POWs arrived at the camp, the commanding officer told them, to intimidate them, that they would never leave Japan. The Japanese practiced “collective punishment” in the camp. If one POW violated a rule all the POWs were required to stand at attention in the cold and snow. As they stood there, the Japanese would hit each POW in the face and club and kick them. They next made the POWs hit each other.
When the Red Cross came to the camp, the commanding officer told the POWs that anyone who complained about the treatment in the camp would be punished severely. The Japanese also pilfered the Red Cross packages taking canned meats, canned milk, chocolate, and cigarettes from them. They also withheld medication from the POWs. Red Cross clothing. like shoes, coats, and uniforms, was worn by the Japanese.
Punishments were given to the POWs usually involved standing at attention. They were often made to stand at attention in a manhole and had cold water poured on them when it was cold. They also were made to stand at attention and hold their arms out while holding two buckets filled with water. At other times, they were made to kneel on sharp pieces of wood for long periods of time or they were hung from iron bars. Some guards found it amusing to use jiu-jitsu on the POWs. He remained in this camp until August 14, 1944, when he was transferred.
The POWs were taken by train to Hitachi were they disembarked on March 11th, and taken to Tokyo #1-B. The POWs received a thin blanket that was made of cotton or wood fibers to use in wooden barracks that were poorly heated. The Red Cross blankets, or blankets the POWs brought to the camp, were confiscated and given to guards who had as many as eight blankets to cover themselves with at night. The barracks were also infested with lice, fleas, and rats.
Each barracks had four big rooms and two small bunks a the end of each building. There were 19 straw mats and 16 lockers in each barracks. When a window broke, it was not replaced allowing wind to blown into the barracks even though there was glass available. The sick slept often slept together on a mat for warmth.
In November 1944, the water pipe for the camp broke and the POWs went until March 1945, without water to wash their clothes or mess kits. When they could wash, they were given one-third of a bar of soap that was supposed to last them a month. The result was they were filthy and infested with lice and fleas. The latrines often overflowed which meant that maggots crawled on the ground around them. When the urinals overflowed, the urine overflowed into the POW barracks. Each POW received 30 sheets of toilet paper for one month.
Food for the POWs was poor, and the food that came in the Red Cross packages was appropriated by the Japanese for their own use. The same was true for Red Cross clothing and shoes.
Corporal punishment was administered by the guards for the slightest reason. The POWs were beaten, kick, hit with clubs, and suspended by their hands or feet. While they hung in the air, by their hands or feet, they were beaten. In November 1944, Jimmy was beaten because a POW threw water out the window of the barracks. The guard beat the POWs because he wanted to know who did it. In December 1944, he was a member of a group of POWs that violated a camp rule. He and the other POWs were punched, hit with butts of rifles, hit with bayonets, and forced to stand at attention while this was being done. They were strung up by their hands and hung in the air as they were beaten.
They were thrown in the guardhouse, without clothes or blankets, and fed one bowl of rice. Every day, Jimmy was brought out of the guardhouse, ordered to attention, and beaten until he passed out. This was repeated on a daily basis for three days until he was released from the guardhouse. He was again put in the guardhouse in January 1945, and beaten on a daily basis for two weeks. In March, he was once again in the guardhouse and beaten for a week, because the Japanese believed stole Red Cross package It is known that Jimmy was punished because he was a member of a group of POWs suspected of stealing Red Cross
The American medical staff had little to no medicine to treat the sick with since most of the Red Cross packages had been rifled through and about half of what was in the packages had been appropriated by the Japanese. Dr. Hisakichi Tokuda also would cancel the requests for certain drugs made by the POW doctors.
He was liberated in September 1945. When he was liberated, he weighed 98 pounds. He was taken to Okinawa and returned to the Philippines for medical treatment and to be “fattened up.” Jim was promoted to sergeant and returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Hugh Rodman arriving at San Francisco on October 3, 1945. After further medical treatment because of brain damage suffered from beatings while a POW, he was discharged from the Army on April 5, 1946.
It is known that Jim moved to Cincinnati and was married four times. He worked for a railroad and fought a battle with alcohol. On one occasion in June 1951 he was arrested for putting a gun to his former wife’s body and pulling the trigger. It turned out there was one bullet in the gun. He was again arrested by the police in April 1952, in a case of mistaken identity. He went on trial as an accomplice in a robbery that took place at a White Castle. He was acquitted of the charge.
In 1957, he was found guilty of spousal abuse and sentenced to six months in jail. During this time, he was also awaiting trial on the charge of manslaughter in the fatal beating of his mother while he was drunk. He was found guilty and sentenced to one to 20 years in prison.
It is known he resided in Cincinnati after his release until his death on November 25, 1975. He was buried at the Cemetery of Spring Grove in Section 139, Lot G, Space 73, in Cincinnati, Ohio.