Sgt. Shelby Gerald Embry was born on October 25, 1920, in Brooklyn, Butler County, Kentucky, to James O. & Lillie L. Embry. He had four sisters and a brother. By 1930, he was living in at the Christian Church Widows and Orphans’ Home in Louisville, Kentucky, with his sister. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1937.
In 1941, Shelby was in the U.S. Army and training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, as a member of the 19th Ordnance Battalion. At some point, A Company of the battalion was separated from the battalion and designated 17th Ordnance Company. During the summer of 1941, the company trained on the tanks of the 192nd Tank Battalion.
On August 15, 1941, the company received orders for duty in the Philippines because of an event that happened during the summer. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots, whose plane was 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, and had a large radio transmitter on it. The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. By the time the planes landed that evening, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next morning, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore. Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
In the late summer, 17th Ordnance was sent to San Francisco and was ferried to Ft. MacDowell on Angel Island on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe. The members of the company were given physicals and inoculated by the company’s medical detachment. They boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge and the ship sailed on Monday, September 8, at 9:00 P.M. The ship arrived Saturday, September 13th at 7:00 A.M. and the men were allowed ashore but had to return to ship before it sailed at 5:00 P.M. The ship took a southerly route and was joined by the U.S.S. Astoria and an unknown destroyer. On several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon and the Astoria took off to intercept the unknown ship. Each time the ship was from a neutral country.
The morning of September 26 at 7:00 A.M., the ship entered Manila Bay. The soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M. later that day and were taken by buses to Ft. Stotsenburg. 17th Ordnance, with the maintenance section of the 194th Tank Battalion, remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks of the 194th.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen Edward P. King who told them that he had only learned of their arrival days earlier. They lived in tents at the fort until their barracks were completed on November 15.
For the next few months, the company members familiarized themselves with the M3 Stuart tank. The morning of December 8, 1941, the members of the company were told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor just hours earlier. They remained in their bivouac and continued to work on the tanks of the Provisional Tank Group.
The morning of December 8, 1941, the members of the company were told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor just hours earlier. They remained in their bivouac and continued to work on the tanks of the Provisional Tank Group. At 12:45, planes appeared over Clark Airfield and bombed the airfield. Japanese Zeros followed and strafed the buildings. When the attack was over, there were wounded and dead everywhere.
Although Shelby never took part in combat against the Japanese, he and the rest of 17th Ordnance had an almost impossible job of keeping the 104 tanks of the tank group operating. At times this meant making their own replacement parts or scavenging parts from tanks which had been knocked out of action.
It is known that the company set up operations in an ordnance depot building on Bataan that had been emptied of its supplies. The company is known to have improvised anti-personnel shells for the tanks since they only had armor-piercing shells.
On April 9, 1942, the members of the company, became POWs when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. They took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando. At Cabcaben, the POWs were ordered to sit in front of Japanese artillery which was firing on Corregidor. When shells from Corregidor began to land among the POWs, he and the other men attempted to find cover. During the artillery exchange, all of the Japanese guns were knocked out.
At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. One hundred men were put into each car which was known as “forty or eights” since each one could hold forty men or eight horses. At Capas, the living POWs climbed out of the cars while the bodies of the dead fell to the ground.
Camp O’Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base. The Japanese pressed the camp 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 cleaned area, and the area they had lain in was scraped 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.
In May 1942, his family received this letter from the War Department.
“According to War Department records you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Sgt. Shelby G. Embry, who according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“We deeply regret that it is impossible for us to give you more information. 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 of other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese government has indicated its intentions of conforming to the terms of the Geneva convention with respects 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 the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is hoped that the Japanese government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At this time you will be notified by this office in the event his name (Shelby G. Embry) is contained in the list of prisoners of war.”
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, the 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.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. While on these details they 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. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. It is known that while he was a POW in the camp, the Japanese organized a work detail to the Port Area of Manila.
On June 13, the Japanese selected 200 POWs for the work detail. The POWs were used as stevedores to load and unload ships. At first, the POWs were first housed in a warehouse which was poorly lit and ventilated. The bathroom and kitchen facilities were also poor. The Japanese finally housed the POWs in the Port Terminal Building across the street from Pier 7. Once this was done, more 200 more POWs were added to the detail in December. The POWs committed sabotage whenever it was possible. The detail was disbanded on July 15, 1944.
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, Sgt. Shelby G. Embry 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.”
Most of the POWs were boarded onto the Nissyo Maru the same day, Shelby was in the small detachment who remained behind at Manila and continued to work on the docks. He was then sent to Bilibid Prison.
On August 25, 1944, Shelby’s name appeared on a list of POWs being transferred to Japan. The POWs were taken to Pier7 and boarded on the Noto Maru and spent two days in the hold. The ship sailed on August 27 and spent the night in Subic Bay. The next day, the 30th, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving there on August 30. The same day it sailed for Keelung, Formosa, again arriving the same day. After being joined by other ships, it arrived in Japan on September 4. When the Japanese opened the hatch to the hold, they shouted that the bodies of the dead should be passed above the POWs heads so that they could be removed. To the surprise of the Japanese, no one had died.
In Japan, he was sent to Sendai #6, which was also known as Hanawa, where 500 POWs worked in the copper mine owned by Mitsubishi and under company supervision. The camp was approximately 200 feet wide by 350 feet long and had a 12-foot high wooden fence around it and was located at 4,000 feet. The POWs were housed in wooden barracks, with 30-foot ceilings, and two tiers of bunks, against each long wall, with straw matting and a mattress stuffed with straw for sleeping. They also had a 4″ by 4″ by 8″ block of wood for a pillow.
The floors of the barracks were packed dirt with a center aisle. There were covered walkways, without sides, that connected the barracks. To heat the barracks, there was a small potbelly stove. If they were lucky, the Japanese gave them enough wood for an hour’s heat. The POWs – who worked in the foundry – stole coal knowing that if they were caught they would be beaten. The barracks were not insulated and the heavy snow – which was as deep as 10 feet – served as insulation.
Other buildings in the camp were two buildings that served as a hospital for the POWs and an “L” shaped building that was the kitchen and POW bath. The latrines were three low buildings, and there was one building that served as the camp office. The POWs spent several days setting up the camp.
In the camp, 500 POWs worked in the copper mine owned by Mitsubishi Mining Company and worked under company supervision. The POWs woke up at 5 A.M. and ate breakfast which was a small bowl of rice, barley or millet, and watery soup. Meals for the POWs were brought to the barracks, in buckets, and the POWs ate at tables in the barracks. After breakfast, at 5:30, roll call was taken and the POWs and the POWs left the camp. They arrived at the mine at 7 A.M., had a half-hour lunch, and worked until 5:00 P.M. before returning to camp, usually after dark, and had supper. Afterward, they went to bed.
The clothing issued to the POWs was a combination of Japanese clothing, made of thin cloth and shoes, and captured American clothing. For the winter the POWs received a uniform made of burlap and long socks. Those who needed shoes were issued Japanese canvas shoes with webbing between two toes. They also received grass shoe covers so they could get through the snow.
Work details were set up for POWs who were machinists, electricians, mechanics. Those who did not have these skills were assigned to working at a foundry or mining. The POWs worked in a copper mine owned by Mitsubishi. Each day, the POWs were marched up the side of a mountain to the top and then down into the mine. To their amazement, their guards always seemed to be waiting for them. It turned out there was a tunnel into the mine which the guards used so they did not have to climb the mountain.
Each detail had a “honcho” who was employed by Mitsubishi and supervised the POWs. They carried a large stick which they used on the POWs when they felt they were not working hard enough. The POWs believed these supervisors wanted to work them to death. At the mine, the POWs were divided among drillers, car loaders, and car pushers, with the miners having the worst job. The work in the mine was dirty, dangerous, and difficult. Each miner was furnished a carbide headlamp as his only lighting. The mine had been abandoned because it had become too expensive to extract the copper, but Mitsubishi believed it could make it profitable with the slave labor provided by the POWs.
A quota was set but the Japanese and the Japanese were always raising the quota. The number of carloads mined by the men was never enough. The POWs were beaten for not working hard enough or fast enough. Many shafts of the mine were so low that the miners had to crawl through to get to the ore. Some shafts had standing water with threats of sudden flooding. Lighting was poor and most areas were not even shored up to prevent cave-ins. Accidents were frequent and many POWs were hurt. There was no gas detecting equipment and there was always the danger of setting off an explosion from the open burning carbide headlamps.
The POWs were beaten for not working hard enough or fast enough. Many shafts of the mine were so low that the miners had to crawl through to get to the ore. Some shafts had standing water with threats of sudden flooding.
Mitsubishi expected the Japanese Army to supply a certain number of POWs to work in the mine each day so men too sick to work were sent to work. The sick had to be carried between two healthier POWs to the mine. Since the Japanese found that the sick were too ill to work, the company came up with work for them to do in the camp like making nails or rope. If a POW still could not work, his rations were cut in half.
While working in the mine from November 1944 until August 15, 1945, the POWs were abused by the civilian foreman, Hichiro Tsuchiya, who was known to the POWs as “Patches.” Tsuchiya used any excuse to abuse the POWs. He was known to hit the POWs for no reason in their faces and to also use a wooden club or pick axehandle. He also used a sledgehammer to hit the POWs on their heads. His parents received a postcard from him in January 1945.
In the camp, the Japanese withheld the Red Cross packages from the POWs and took the canned meats, canned fruit, canned milk, and cheese for themselves. Blankets and clothing intended for the POWs were used by the guards. If a POW violated a rule, the grain ration, for all the POWs, was reduced by 20 percent. At one point, 49 POWs were lined up – because one POW had broken a rule – and beaten with leather belts.
It is known that in February 1945, Shelby and two other POWs were caught with tobacco and cigarettes that they had stolen from the Japanese storeroom. The three men were hit with fists and kicked by a Japanese guard for fifteen minutes. The POWs had their overcoats and shoes taken away and were put in the guardhouse. The assistant camp commander brought them their coats and night and took them from the men before the commandant returned in the morning. He convinced the commandant to release the men after three days in the guardhouse. Postwar trial records, from after the war, show that physical abuse of the prisoners was a common occurrence at the camp.
On August 14, 1945, the POWs did not have to go to work. They were also told the August 16th and 17th were Japanese holidays and that they would have the days off. In the years previous years, the POWs had never had a day off for any Japanese holidays. The POWs had the next two days off also. Finally, on August 20th, the camp commander told the POWs the war was over.
American Naval planes found the camp and dropped notes stating they needed to stay clear of an area so that a food drop could take place. On August 28th, the B-29s dropped food, clothing, and medicine to the POWs. The POWs remained in the camp until September 13th, when they were taken to Hanawa and taken by train to Shiogama near Sendai.
The POWs were taken aboard the U.S.S. Relief and processed. They were returned to Manila for treatment. They finally returned to the United States, on the S.S. Klipfontein which sailed on October 9. 1945, arriving at Seattle, Washington, on October 28, 1945. Shelby returned to Kentucky and married Ida Nell. His official residence was 2130 Garland Avenue, Louisville, Kentucky.
Shelby was discharged from the military but reenlisted. This time he joined the Army Air Corps and later the Air Force. He was stationed at Godman Air Force Base at Ft. Knox before returning to the Philippines and was being stationed at Clark Field in May of 1950. While returning to the airbase from a fiesta at a barrio the night of April 21, 1951, Shelby and five other soldiers were killed when their vehicle was attacked by communist Huks outside of Manila.
On June 5, 1951, S/Sgt. Shelby G. Embry was buried at Zachery Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky, in Section C, Site 459.