Unlike many other stories on this website, the story of finding Pvt. Joseph Patrick Henderson took on its own life. For the first seven years of the project, we could not confirm that, as indicated in 1st Lt. Jacques Merrifield’s final report on the 192nd Tank Battalion, a Pvt. Henderson was a member of the 192nd.
It was in 2006, that we received our first confirmation that “Mule” Henderson, as he was called, had been a member of the battalion. A couple of years later, we received an interview that Field Reed, a Kentucky National Guardsman, had given. In the interview, Reed told how he and “Mule” Henderson delivered supplies to the tanks. Reed believed that Henderson was from Georgia or another southern state. So the search for Pvt. Henderson continued.
We worked under the assumption that he was from the South. On several occasions, we thought that we had found Pvt. Henderson only to find that we were wrong and that the man was a member of another unit. On one occasion, we actually had found him, but because of the assumption that he was from the South, we dismissed our finding as wrong. The mystery of who Pvt. Henderson was continued to haunt us.
Thanks to Tuller Merrifield, the daughter of Jacques Merrifield, the mystery of “who was Pvt. Henderson” was solved. Tuller sent us her father’s journal which he had compiled while he was a Prisoner of War. It was from this journal that the final U.S. Army report on the 192nd Tank Battalion was written. In the journal, Merrifield had written that Pvt. Henderson had originally been a member of the 31st Infantry. We knew that the situation on Bataan was “fluid” so Henderson becoming a member of the tank battalion was a possibility. Merrifield also indicated that Henderson died on Palawan Island,
With this information, we were able to search the Palawan Massacre Roster and found that there were two Hendersons who had been killed by the Japanese on the island. The roster indicated that one of the Hendersons was a U.S. Marine, while the other Henderson had no unit indicated on his file. So, we now believed that Pvt. Joseph P. Henderson was “Mule” Henderson of the 192nd.
We next checked the NARA POW on-line files and found additional information on Pvt. Joseph P. Henderson. Karl Rowe had provided NARA with a roster of the members of 31st Infantry, but Pvt. Joseph P. Henderson was not listed on the roster. In addition, the burial card from Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery indicated that Joseph P. Henderson was a tank battalion member. We had finally found Pvt. Mule Henderson.
Pvt. Joseph P. Henderson was the son of Mrs. Emma Henderson and was born in California on February 8, 1916, and lived at 1247 West 109th Street in Los Angeles. It is known he had one brother, Robert. He completed three years of high school before enlisting in the Army.
In 1940, Joseph was stationed at the Presidio, Monterey County, California, as a member of E Company, 11th Cavalry. From August 4 to 29, 1940, the unit took part in maneuvers at Fort Lewis, Washington. He reenlisted at Fort Riley, Kansas, on September 11, 1941, and it appears he was assigned to the 31st Infantry and sent to the Philippine Islands.
During the Battle of Bataan, Joseph joined the 192nd Tank Battalion from the 31st Infantry Regiment. For another unknown reason, he was put in B Company. How and why he did this is not known. He was nicknamed “Mule” by the other members of the 192nd. As indicated earlier, he supplied the tank crews with food, gasoline, and ammunition.
According to Field Reed, it was while attempting to deliver supplies to A Company, that Mule and he witnessed the death of Capt. Walter Write near Urdaneta on December 24, 1941. According to Reed, when they found the tanks, Write was lying on a tank. He had been mortally wounded from a landmine exploding in his hands while he was planting it.
Mule became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. He took part in the death march from Mareveles to San Fernando. There, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as “Forty or Eights” since they could hold 40 men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car. Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas. From this barrio, Mule walked the last miles to Camp O’Donnell.
The camp 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 Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies to 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 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. To get out of the camp, the POWs volunteered to go out on work details. While Mule was a POW there, a detail to rebuild bridges was sent out. Mule, with Field Reed, volunteered to go out on the detail on May 10, 1942.
A Japanese guard, on the detail, liked to abuse the POWs. One day, Mule and Reed used their bamboo poles as weapons and killed the guard. After the guard was dead, they dumped his body into the river. When the Japanese came looking for the guard, the two POWs said that he had been with them earlier in the day, but he had left sometime earlier.
While he was out on the detail, his mother received a communique from the War Department.
“Dear Mrs. E. Henderson:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private Joseph P. Henderson, 06,576,589, 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 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”
When the detail ended, Mule was sent to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Pangatian. The camp had opened on June 1, and those POWs who had been considered healthy at Camp O’Donnell had been sent there on June 1.
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.
It was in July 1942, that his mother received another letter from the War Department. The following is an excerpt of the letter.
“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 Joseph P. Hendersom 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.”
On August 2, 1942, the POWs arrived at Puerto Princess on Palawan Island to build an airfield while ten POWs worked as mechanics at a Japanese garage repairing trucks. The POW camp was designated 10-A and they occupied the old Constabulary barracks. Since the quarters had fallen apart, the POWs spent the next week attempting to make the barracks livable. Food for the POWs was wormy rice and a cup of soup. Those who were sick had their rations cut in half.
When work was started on the airfield, the Japanese expected the prisoners to build it with picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows. Since they were clearing a jungle, trees had to be removed. This was done by the POWs taking turns chopping down the trees. It took the POWs about a year to clear the area for the airfield. The work was so hard that POWs were returned to Manila and new POWs arrived on a regular basis.
At some point, Mule was selected to be sent to Palawan Island where the POWs were building an airfield. Since the Japanese refused to use construction equipment, the POWs did this with picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows. The POWs were taken to Puerto Princess were the men had been divided into two detachments of 150 men each. The POWs referred to these detachments as A Company and B Company. Joseph and the other new arrivals replaced men who had been returned to Cabanatuan.
It was in late February or early March 1943, that his mother received word that he was a Prisoner of War. His mother received this telegram from the War Department.
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE JOSEPH P HENDERSON IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST MARSHALL GENERAL=
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL=”
Within days of receiving the first message, they received a second message:
“Mrs. Emma Henderson
5454 Imperial Highway
“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:
“Pvt. Joseph P. Henderson, 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”
He was publicly listed as a POW on April 3, 1945.
During July 1943, two POWs escaped from the camp, on Palawan, and were recaptured by the Japanese Secret Police is known as the Kempei-tai. The men were beaten with clubs and swords and had judo used on them. The Japanese put the men on a truck which made its way toward a beach. According to Filipino civilians, they heard four shots. Later, some of the POWs saw the men’s graves.
On October 3, seven POWs were punished by the Japanese. They were beaten, clubbed and hit with swords, and had judo used on them before they were suspended above the ground and beaten again. Mule, being a member of B Company, remained on Palawan the rest of the time he was a POW. An American B-24 bombed Palawan on October 19, 1944. During the attack, planes at the airfield were damaged and two ships were sunk. Nine days later, American planes returned and bombed the airfield destroying 60 planes. The POWs had to hide their joy and silently cheered the air raid.
After the island was raided by American bombers in late October, the Japanese ordered the POWs to dig three trenches for air raid shelters. Each trench had to be able to hold 50 men, and only one man could enter or leave the trench at a time.
An American convoy was spotted by Japanese planes on December 12, and the Japanese believed that Palawan would be invaded in mid-December by the advancing American forces. The fact was the convoy was heading to Island of Mindoro just south of Luzon. The POWs were unaware that the Japanese command at the airfield had received this message on the evening of December 13th. “At the time of the enemy landing, if the prisoners of war are harboring an enemy feeling, dispose of them at the appropriate time.”
On December 13, two Japanese officers told the POWs that they were going to work early the next day. They went to work, but at noon they were returned to the POW compound. On Thursday, December 14, 1944, the POWs went to work as usual, but they were recalled to their barracks early. They knew that something was going on. They were ordered into the trenches when two American planes were spotted. When nothing happened, the POWs left the trenches. At 2:00 PM, the Japanese sounded the air raid siren and the POWs were ordered into three tranches. They were told a large air raid was about to take place.
The first POWs killed were in trench A. The Japanese ordered the POWs to remain down. They next threw a lit torch into the trench and then two buckets of gasoline which exploded. The Japanese had set up machine guns at the end of the trenches, so those who tried to escape were shot. POWs begged to be shot in the head, but the Japanese shot or bayoneted them in their stomachs. The entire time they did this they laughed.
The Japanese proceeded to set the other two trenches on fire. This was done to prevent the POWs from being liberated by advancing American forces. Eighteen POWs were successful at escaping, but only eleven survived the massacre by swimming to another island. The other men were hunted down and killed by the Japanese.
When the 186th Infantry Regiment of the 41st Infantry Division arrived at Puerto Princesa, they already knew what they would find. In the backyard of the Philippines Constabulary Building, they found the three mounds where the murdered POWs were buried. His family did not learn of his death until September 12, 1945. WHEN the families of men who died in the massacre received this letter or a form of it:
“Mrs. Emma Henderson
5355 West 120th Street
“It is with deep regret that I am writing to confirm the recent telegram informing you of the death of your son, Private Joseph P. Henderson 06,576,589, infantry, who was previously reported a prisoner of war.
“Pvt. Joseph P. Henderson was in the brutal massacre of 150 members of the U.S. army, navy, and marine corps in a gigantic gasoline bonfire on December 14, 1944, at Puerto Princess prison camp, Palawan, in the Philippine Islands.
“This group of prisoners was attacked without warning by their Japanese guards who attempted to massacre the prisoners to the last man. Ten prisoners succeeded in escaping and these were the only survivors. It had now been officially established by reports received by the war department that all the remaining prisoners perished as a result of this ruthless attack.
“Edward F. Witsell, acting adjutant general of the army“
After the war, the remains of 123 of the 140 POWs who died on Palawan Island were disinterred and reburied at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery on February 14, 1952. This location was selected since it meant the majority of families would have approximately the same distance to travel to visit the grave. Pvt. Joseph P. Henderson shares his grave with 132 POWs who were murdered on Palawan Island.
Any additional information on Pvt. Joseph P. Henderson is appreciated.