Part one of a two part series
John Jack Draper, United States Marine, and resident of Morgan recently passed away joining the ranks of the many heroes President Ronald Reagan classified as the “Greatest Generation,” whose ranks are diminishing at a rapid rate.
Draper was awarded many medals of which his son said were: WWII Pacific Theater - Korean Conflict; POW 3 ½ years; Several Purple Heart Medals and others. The movie, “The Great Raid,” was the John Jack Draper story.
Jack was born May 18, 1921 to John W. Draper Sr. and Bernice Ashbaugh in the town of Storrs in Carbon County, Utah. After the death of his father, Jack being only 15 years-old, sacrificed much of his school days helping his mother rear the Draper family. He took a job driving truck hauling coal from Carbon Co., to Salt Lake City for several years. He said, “I did get my degree, but it took a few years to do it. I went every chance I had and luckily I had some teachers that were very nice and assisted me to get my high school diploma.”
When Jack was laid off driving trucks, a friend suggested that they join the Marines. They both made applications to do so, but Jack was the only one that showed up to join. He was directly put on a train and sent to San Diego for basic training. By 1939, he was shipped to Shanghai, China, on the USS Henderson nicknamed “Hendy Marou.” The trip was lengthy, stopping at every island between U.S. and Philippine Islands.
In China he served in an infantry squad for several months. His truck driving experience turned out to be an asset when he was assigned to drive a truck for the guard. His vehicle was an old WWI, 1925, ton and half truck. The bed was reinforced with two sides of material where 6 - 8 inches of sand was inserted between. A machine gun was placed on top. This was necessary for safety because the Japanese were causing a great deal of trouble before the war began.
In November of 1941 the trouble with the Japanese became much more intense. Jack and his entire regiment were shipped from Shanghai to the Philippines where they took up quarters in a small town there. Jack and another fellow took lessons to learn Chinese. After being sent to the Philippines his friend was the first man to die in their unit. He had been assigned to board the main deck of the ship to make sure the crew didn’t try to make a run and get away. But the deck was bombed hitting this soldier and killed him immediately. His body was never found. On their second day in the Philippines, a bomb destroyed all their equipment and personal effects.
A few weeks later, Pearl Harbor was attacked secretly by the fearless and confident Japanese military. President Roosevelt immediately declared war. Jack’s unit was transferred to nearby Corregidor Island by General McArthur. Jack saw General McArthur every day because their unit was so close to his home. Jack’s respect for Gen. McArthur was diminished when he evacuated on a submarine with his family and left all the female nurses on the island to fend for themselves.
Corregidor was an island of the Philippines located at the entrance to Manila Bay, it was heavily fortified and was the first line of defense. Corregidor was bombed constantly from 1941 - 1942. This island was the last stronghold of the Luzon Island and was an area the Japanese military attacked murderously to secure as quickly as possible. They began heavy bombardment with all sorts of heavy armament. Upon General McArthur’s sudden departure, Lt. General Jonathan M. Wainwright was sent to command and try to fortify Corregidor and Manila Bay.
The unit was divided and many were transferred to Bataan, another rocky peninsula of the Luzon Island near the Subic Bay. This group was cut off from the Allies by heavy Japanese bombardment without weapons, food or medical supplies. Most perished in the “Bataan Death March” as they were herded in box cars and shipped 20 miles, then marched 7 more miles to their final destination of Camp O’Donnell.
Jack described in his own words of the devastation of Corregidor where he remained after the division:
“The Japanese bombed us every day….we lived in a foxhole that we built ourselves….because of my experience in the coal mine back home, I built myself a tunnel in one little side canyon from on top. It was about six feet long and about three or four feet wide and six feet deep. I slept in that thing up until one or two weeks before we surrendered. Because many of the U.S. military that were separated from our unit were sent to Bataan, one sailor swam across the mile length to Corregidor. He was tired, awful tired …I hadn’t quite finished the foxhole, but when he came he had to have a place to stay so I gave it to him. I moved down into the little tunnel I had built. I reinforced it like a little mine back in Utah. The next day that soldier was killed when the bombers finally hit my foxhole and he was in it instead of me. Somebody took care of me.”
He continued saying, “In the daytime we were quite safe and we had a lot of barges and things that had been hit and sank close to the shoreline. The water wasn’t too deep…..we salvaged as much lumber as we could get to prepare our foxholes to prepare our units to hold the Japanese back. We kept ourselves busy. One time they hit an area where my defense post was. It was where they used to have a 155 Houser artillery unit station.
There was a storage area below the ground level with nine feet of dirt and cement above it. Inside this area there was still a lot of artillery used for the guns that were there. We used to go into this safer area for protection. One day the first Sergeant sent word for me to come into the office. While I was gone, the artillery started firing and I was stuck there.
When I came back to where I had originally been the bombing had gone through all nine feet of dirt and cement and one shell exploded inside and killed seven or eight men. I was the only one that survived it, making two times my life was spared.”