I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase, “Collectors are the custodians of history”, and it is true, especially when dealing with military-related items. Some historical items hold such power that even non-collectors and non-history buffs can easily recognize their significance such as an Iwo Jima medal grouping or a battle-worn “doughboy” helmet or a captured enemy flag inscribed with the names of the US unit members who captured it. However, it isn’t just these things that can hold such power and tell a potent story. Sometimes, it can be a simple thing like a battered postcard.
On a trip to a small antique store a few days ago, I was digging through a booth that had quite a few paper items like photos, stereo-cards, etc. One heavily-battered, yellow postcard caught my eye, and I recognized it to be a PW postcard. Given I collect war-related postal items (among other things) and given how rare PW things are, I was immediately interested in it. Seeing Japanese symbols on it and a US censor stamp, I initially thought that it belonged to a Japanese soldier in a stateside US PW camp. Upon closer inspection, however, I saw that it was NOT from a Japanese soldier but from an AMERICAN soldier being held by the Japanese. I have never come across such an item before in my collecting, so I purchased it and took it home to see if I could find anything about the soldier via the University of Google. I learned the following about the letter sender (a sergeant named Troy) and his brother Clyde: (Note that I pieced this together from a variety of free online sources including period newspapers, Roger Mansell’s POW website, and other places.)
Troy and Clyde (both originally from Carlisle, Pennsylvania) were in the Army and were both stationed in the Philippines during the outbreak of WW2. They were at Corregidor when it fell to the Japanese and were initially reported missing in the chaos by Pennsylvanian newspapers, but both turned up later in Japanese custody. Troy, who was a sergeant and a member of the Medical Department, was first sent to Japanese Prisoner of War Camp #1 (Cabanatuan) for the remainder of 1942, and it was here I believe the listed postcard I found was mailed. He was transferred on January 31, 1943 to Japanese Prisoner of War Camp #3 (Bilibad). At both places (as described in the 1-24-47 issue of the “Harrisburg Telegraph”), he aided fellow prisoners as best he could under horrible conditions and various disease outbreaks.
As for the eventual fate of the brothers, Clyde was loaded on a Japanese ship, the Oryoku Maru, in December of 1944. The ship was attacked by US planes, but the assault was stopped after the pilots realized that there were prisoners on board. The ship was later sunk after all prisoners were safely off the vessel. Clyde was then loaded onto the Enoura Maru and, while the ship was docked at Formosa, was killed in a US bombing attack on the ship. As for what happened to Troy, according to Roger Mansell’s website, he was executed at Bilibad in January, 1945. There is no reason given as to why this happened. Neither of the brothers’ bodies was positively identified. After the war, Troy’s mother was given posthumous medals for Troy’s service which included the Bronze Star. (Presumably, she would have also been awarded posthumous medals for her other son’s service as well.)
Moving to the postcard itself, as could be expected, the content is sparse. Furthermore, I seriously doubt the sergeant’s health was good given the mistreatment Japanese troops inflicted on US PW’s. Of course, the Japanese wouldn’t permit any prisoner to tell the truth of the conditions in the PW camps. Also, it’s possible that Troy himself might not have told the truth of what his health was really like to avoid worrying the folks back home. I am unsure of the identity of the woman to whom Troy wrote. It wasn’t his mother or a sister. Perhaps she was a childhood friend or a neighbor. Whoever she was, though, she had to be someone of great importance to him to warrant a letter from a Japanese prison camp. I am unsure how many other postcards he sent. Sources vary on how many cards the Japanese would permit prisoners to send, but it likely wasn’t too many. Even then, it’s unlikely that they all made it stateside. It is indeed sobering to think that the postcard that I held might have been the last piece of correspondence sent by this hero.
Below is the postcard, both front and back. It is a simple yet potent reminder of a soldier who never made it home.