Part two of a two-part series
The soldiers lived on two or three bowls of rice a day until it was almost gone. Only one ship got through at night to unload rice and got out before morning. The soldiers felt lucky to finally get just one bowl of rice once a day for the last two or three months. Because Corregidor was under attack from the sky and sea with no hope of reinforcements, the men fought on heroically, but were forced to surrender on May 6, 1942.
During one of the last and most terrible attacks, John Jack Draper was wounded when hit by shrapnel. It was after this bombardment that Lt. General Wainwright felt he could save many more lives by surrendering than trying to fight on. Jack was still in a hospital bed when the Japanese took over the island.
Jack respected Lt. General Wainwright’s judgment and describes how the surrender affected the soldiers:
“They came by and took my dad’s ring and watch that I treasured after my Dad’s death. I was wounded in my back, laying flat on my belly during the bombardment and they came and hit me on the back of my legs. They made me go to the hospital, I was in there for a week or 10 days. We were taken to Manila to the federal prison. In 1940 I saw it as a visitor, now I was a prisoner there. We weren’t interviewed, just looked at and if they didn’t like the looks of us, they just shot us.”
He continued saying, “We had so many bomb holes on the island and there was a tractor there. I was asked if I had any experience driving a tractor and I said, very little. They asked me to give it a try. While I was backfilling the bomb craters, all of sudden I said, ‘What am I doing this for? Why help the Japanese?’ So I drove the tractor right to the bottom of a hole and they couldn’t get it out. I crawled up the side of the crater and got out.
“We were in a squad of 10 men. If somebody did something wrong and got caught, they were hung up on a fence pole till they starved to death and died with no clothes on in the deep sun. Marine Major John Piesick asked me to follow the burial details and get the names of the men and any possible addresses and keep a log of the details. I did that until the time the Japanese selected the first men to go to Japan. I was on that list.”
They were taken to the western side of Japan, where the captives were assigned to work in a steel mill. Jack came across a water pump outside the barracks that had not worked for a long time. He repaired it and from then on, Jack was asked to be on camp detail and fix things.
During the three years Jack was in captivity in Japan, he learned to speak fluent Japanese. He had also learned to speak Chinese from his days in Shanghai. Jack relates:
“In our prison camp we were not supposed to know anything and were far out in the middle of nowhere on the west coast of the main island…but one man had made up a basic rough radio. When the emperor surrendered we knew because we could understand Japanese. The next morning a guard came in and broke a pole over my head. So my friend Mort got out of his bed and threw him out of the second floor window.”
Kind older Japanese people supplied bushels of all kinds of fruit and vegetables to U.S. soldiers to feast on before they began their journey home. The older people were kind to the soldiers, but the younger ones had been taught to hate the U.S. One man in Jack’s outfit tried bringing some medicine in to a Japanese man who was very ill. The soldier was shot right on the spot.
Jack tells about getting out of Japan:
“We released ourselves. Capt. Olsen had enough passenger train cars to haul us all back to the area where the ships were. I got so excited I forgot my notebook which contained the records of the men that had died. After all that time, I left it on the train. They let us have a bath and cooked steaks for us. We slept aboard in their hammocks and the Navy men slept outside. After being interviewed I was found fit and boarded a plane. The co-pilot asked if I would like to ride up in his seat. I replied that ‘I sure would.’ We flew to the Oakland, California, Naval Hospital. They gave us some money and we went to the PX – what a luxury. From there, I took a train to Salt Lake City, Utah. I had been away for six years.”
Jack stayed in the military for several more years and served two stints in Korea in 1951 and 1952, coming home in 1953.
He earned the highest rank an enlisted man could be, First Sergeant or Sergeant Major. He was always in administration and never involved with troops again. He was stationed with the Marine Corps airspace in California. Later, he served as First Sergeant of a helicopter squadron. He learned to fly helicopters and had opportunity to again go to the Philippines.
His final statement in the narrative for the Morgan County Historical Society Oral History Project was this:
“I have nothing against the Japanese people. I feel no animosity whatsoever. The Emperor, and especially ToJo, were the people who committed the crimes and caused the youngsters to have the hatred they had for the American people. The older [people] who knew who we were, never forgot. They helped me and all the other people around as much as they could. We are lucky to be home.”
This narrative was prepared for the Veterans of the Morgan American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars to be printed as a memorial and tribute to an honorable and worthy military hero.