By: Monica Smith
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
When Leroy Wilbur Wyse Jr. enlisted in the Army in 1941 he probably never imagined his family would erect a bronze plaque in his honor 75 years later. The kind hearted adventurer undoubtedly never imagined the suffering he would go through as a Prisoner of War either that he would later be admired and praised for.
Over the years, the Wyse family members have heard stories of their Uncle Junior. Normal recollections of his soft heart, love of animals, willingness to do for others when he had very little himself. As the years have went by, the family wanted to learn more of his later years including details of his time spent as a POW. Several family members have compiled research, clippings, recollections and personal belongings to better understand the magnitude of what he endured. Many details are graphic and hard to hear. But in that knowledge, a greater understanding is felt and the pride in what he fought through grows stronger. It is this pride that has led to an upcoming dedication.
Before you can honor a man, you need to know the man. Sadly, because of his death at age 27 on September 27, 1947, most of the family never knew him. Thankfully, saved artifacts and lots of time searching is changing all that and Junior’s story can now be almost fully told.
Born on May 21, 1920 in West Unity to Wilbur and Carrie (Schneider) Wyse, he was the ninth of twelve children. Serving his country wasn’t an unusual request as his brothers Galen, Russell and Bob also served in the war. Junior was under 21, and needed permission from his parents to do so. While the decision wasn’t an easy one, his determination won out and he enlisted in San Antonio, Texas in 1941 where he was stationed for about a month before being sent to Corregidor, an island in the South Pacific.
As a member of Battery C of the 60th Coastal Artillery Corp AA unit, his group had the task of maintaining harbor defense in the Philippines and Manila Bay. The island of Corregidor sits within the opening to Manila Bay and was an ideal defense position. A rocky area 4 miles long and a mile wide it housed the Malinta Tunnel constructed by the US Army Corp of Engineers. Finished in 1932 it was converted from a bomb shelter to a 1000 bed hospital in later years.
Very little correspondence was heard from Junior by his family so they were very surprised when on the way home from a family funeral they stopped to purchase a Life Magazine to lift the family spirits. In the April 13, 1942 edition of Life Magazine, a photo appeared of General McArthur and General Sutherland walking out of the main tunnel. Standing behind them was Junior!
Joy was short lived as Corregidor fell to the Japanese on May 6, 1942. As President Roosevelt was forced to have General McArthur retreat, those in Battery C were left behind while a plan was formed to retrieve them. Praying that the rules of war would be used by the Japanese and humane treatment of prisoners would be given, about May 14 Junior started life as a prisoner of war in the Cabanatuan Prison Camp in the Philippines.
In an ironic twist, Junior’s brother Galen was sent to the same area two years later to claim back the area lost by the Americans.
Unfortunately for Junior and the other men, Roosevelt’s prayer was not answered. Despite military laws, the men were subject to brutality, cruelty and starvation. With little protection from the elements and even less to eat, the men worked in the heat as slaves or used as hostages to force surrender of the remaining guerilla American forces in the Philippines.
After about a week, the prisoners were transported by a barge to Manila. When they reached shore, they were shoved into the water and then paraded through town as a means of humiliation. Tired, wet and hungry, the Japanese were showing others their might with the display.
From this point they were moved by train and then forced to march about 8 miles. Anyone falling from exhaustion was beaten. Anyone trying to escape was executed.
Junior’s main job as a slave during this time was to work in a rice field with two other men. He later recalled to his brother Bob that his job was to remove the weeds. The two men he worked with were disgusted and pulled the rice leaving the weeds while he did as he was told. The men were severely whipped for their disobedience by guards watching nearby.
Keeping up one’s strength wasn’t easy as a daily diet consisted of 16 ounces of rice and 4 ounces of top greens (a spinach like food) per day was issued. Once a week the men were issued 1 ounce of water buffalo. While in season, the men also received a slice of cucumber per day and 2 ounces of coconut per week.
Starvation was the greatest cause of death to the prisoners who suffered from ailments such as Beri-beri, Pellagra, Ariboflavinosis, Scurvy and Xerophthalmia.
Symptoms included red, cracked lips, enlarged tongue, night blindness, shooting pains in the feet and legs and cases of gangrene. The poor diet defeated their morale and willingness to fight back.
Junior was in this camp for about 18 months and wasn’t listed as missing until June of 1942. For months, the family didn’t know if he was dead or alive. In March of 1943 the family was notified he was a prisoner and a long awaited card was received from Junior stating the same in August of 1943.
In September of 1943, Junior was placed on a cattle boat known as a “Hell Ship”. The voyage lasted for days and the men were packed in so tight, they couldn’t move enough to sit down. They were offered no facilities, and a bucket would be lowered with a small amount of food. One of the men from the voyage recalls using the bucket to remove their waste and hoping it was rinsed before the next ration of food arrived. 15 deaths were recorded during this move.
Upon arrival in late November of 1943, Junior was sent to Sukurajima, Osaka to work in a prison camp in a ship yard. His job was to hammer in rivets. He later told the family that the Americans learned to loosen the rivets by hammering them after they had been put in. The Japanese thought they were stupid and made them redo the work, but it was the Americans way of slowing them down.
Life in this camp wasn’t much better. A fellow prisoner, a Constable from the Royal Naval Police, gave sworn testimony to poor conditions of not being protected from the elements from weather or air raids taking place, lack of adequate food and regular beatings. Little medical supplies were available to the men and a couple of the Japanese took pleasure in torturing the men by bashing them with bamboo sticks, making them stand at attention for hours or kneeling in readiness of execution to later strike them with the flat end of a sword.
In May of 1945, Junior was moved to the Akenobe prison camp where he remained until liberation. A US air raid destroyed the ship yards and he began working in the copper mines owned by Mitsubishi Mining. His name appears on a roster list of POW’s located in the mine. Brought in the mine during the day, he worked until allowed to leave at night.
In August of 1945, the first and then second atomic bomb was dropped allowing for the September rescue of Junior and the 296 other men who had been held prisoner.
Coincidentally, at this time, Junior’s brother Bob was in Osaka after the bombs dropped as part of the Army and had no idea how close he was to his brother’s location.
The sudden and actual ending of the war was surprising and the men were caught off guard a fellow prisoner later wrote. After another fellow prisoner from a British/Aussie troop recovered a “Union Jack” Flag from inside a pillow he’d managed to hang onto, the dilemma to the Americans of not having a flag as well was discussed. Scrounging up material for the stripes were found but alas, no blue was available until another fellow prisoner produced a bit of blue cloth he too had stashed.
Insisting the Americans use it, a crude flag was made. The next morning, the prisoners planned a flag raising service as the sun rose. The Aussie’s sang “God Save the King” and the American’s sang “The Star Spangled Banner”. It was a glorious moment for all the men.
In the next few months, Junior and the others made the slow trek to their homes. A letter was received from President Harry Truman that said:
To members of the United States Armed Forces being Repatriated in October 1945
It gives me special pleasure to welcome you back to your native shores, and to express, on behalf of the people of the United States, the joy we feel at your deliverance from the hands of the enemy. It is a source of profound satisfaction that our efforts to accomplish your return have been successful.
You have fought valiantly in foreign lands and suffered greatly. As your Commander in Chief, I take pride in your past achievements and express the thanks of a grateful Nation for your services in combat and your steadfastness while a prisoner of war.
May God grant each of you happiness and an early return to health.
Return to health was not to be had, sadly for Junior. He spent the next two years attempting to regain his former life with family and friends and was hospitalized several times for conditions that resulted to his time spent as a prisoner. On September 27, 1947, Junior was no longer a prisoner as he gained his place in Heaven.
Junior once noted that he felt two things kept him alive while a prisoner. The kindness of an old Japanese man who would shake his vegetable cart daily as he passed by to allow some items to fall that the prisoners would hide until safe to eat and the prayers and encouragement of a Catholic Priest who was with them.
Junior spoke very little of his treatment to his family. Many who were with him noted he was careful not to remove his shirt in front of others, especially his mother as he didn’t want her to see the scars of what he endured. A fellow prisoner once visited the family farm and spoke of he and Junior being forced to hold fellow prisoners down to be beheaded. A rare confession of this took place between Junior and his father and was never spoken of again. Junior was known to say he didn’t hold anything against the Japanese soldiers as they were doing what they were commanded to do just like the American soldiers were. His forgiveness is extraordinary.
The family gave him a proper funeral and said their final goodbyes and laid him to rest in the family plot at Floral Grove Cemetery. Since then, stories have been shared with family and recently the idea to erect a plaque came about.
It is with a great sense of pride that the family of Leroy Wilbur Wyse, Jr. invite you to a dedication and memorial service when the plaque is unveiled on August 21, 2016 at 2:30 pm. A service has been planned to share his story, pay respect and bring attention to those who have served and continue to serve our great nation. Taking place at the cemetery on County Road K in West Unity, Ohio, the event will include a procession with the American Legion Riders, proclamations, a short service as well as the firing squad and taps. All are welcome to attend and learn more about a hero who will be remembered by many who only know him through his story. Anyone wishing more information on Junior’s story or the dedication may email Steve Wyse at firstname.lastname@example.org
Monica Smith may be reached at
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