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Private First Class Walter Hurelle, in Battery "L" of the 60th Air Defense Artillery Regiment on Corregidor and WWII Japanese Prisoner of War

Walters 1940 postcard from Nevada

Walter wrote on a post card to his mother from Nevada in June 1940 "Have a very good job. It is pretty hot. Around 110.".
Working at the Nevada mine

In 1940, Walter worked in the Nevada Desert near Death Valley at a mine with the Gray Eagle Mining Company. Driving a Caterpillar bulldozer, Walter titled the photo "Me and The Cat." "Wally and Grace up at the mine" was written on the back of the third photo.


A Hard Road                                                                                 April 29, 2022

In the late 1800’s after the U.S. awakened the self isolated Japanese feudal nation to American trade, a group of militant and nationalist young samurai were inspired by industrial and political revolution. As a result, Japanese competition with the West intensified in the form of a large army, navy and a thirst for massive expansion. Japan soon invaded Manchuria in 1931 and then China in 1937 following their secret memorandum, The Tanaka Memorial, a blueprint for military conquest which outlined the principles of bold expansion, even describing their eventual conquering of Europe. But Hitler had already started the invasion, overrunning Europe in 1940, so Japan signed a Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy which granted them free reign in the Far East.

Walter Hurelle's WWII registration card

On October 16, 1940, Walter, along with his brother registered for the fight in WWII. At the time he was mining with the at the Ivanhoe District with The Governor Mercury Mines Inc.

As relations between the U.S. and Japan worsened, President Roosevelt resorted to freezing all Japanese assets in the U.S. and established a commercial blockade of Japan in July of 1940. At the same time, as the Nazi blitzkrieg was sweeping through Europe and bombs were falling on London, two brothers, farm boys from Wisconsin signed their WWII registration cards from separate states on the same day, October 16, 1940. One brother in Wisconsin, Willard Hurelle, would enter into training in Louisiana and eventually the European Theater. The other, Walter Hurelle, signed up in Nevada, after working for the Governor Mercury Mines Incorporated. In a February 5, 1941 letter to his parents he wrote "I’ve been thinking it over ever since Oct. 16. I think I did the right thing. I would be drafted for one year any way. This way I can get a lot more good training. I know I’m going to like it fine." In a later letter, he suggested that if Willard was going to enlist he should "go in for aviation mechanics. He could make that O.K. I’m going to try and study diesel engineering when I get to where I’m going." He would soon enter into the Pacific Theater fight.

Japanese economic and political aspirations chaffed at the encircling American blockade and a plan was hatched, with designs on crippling the United States Pacific fleet, specifically the battleships at Pearl Harbor. While the Japanese implemented their strategy for Pacific settlement, Walter left Fort McDowell on Angel Island in the San Franciso Bay in May, on board the U.S.A.T. Republic, an Army transport bound for the very same, Pearl Harbor.

Post card of U. S. A. T. ship military transport at Honolulu Hawaii

Walter sent a postcard to his brother Pete of ship that transported him to Honolulu, Hawaii, then the Phillippines, the U.S.A.T. "Republic."

Docked for only a day at Honolulu with a quarantined crew, a postcard dated April 7, 1941 had the "Republic" pictured and on the opposite side Walter wrote his brother, Willard "Am sending you a picture of the boat I am on. Sure is a big boat. Am having a fine trip. This is really something new to me." He included a couple of pictures too, one of the ship filled harbor and another of the side of the boat from the dock. Later, Walter wrote his parents on April 21st while crossing the Pacific Ocean. "We will arrive at Manila Tues. morning." He continued "I’ll sure be glad when I can get off this tub. 23 days is quite a boat ride."

Arriving April 23 on Corregidor, Walter began to receive his military training at his Pacific post in Battery L of the 60th CA AA (Coast Artillery Regiment Antiaircraft) as part of the harbor defenses of Manilla and Subic bays while his brother Willard was living in tent house training with the 121st Infantry, 32nd Division, running maneuvers in the forest at Camp Livingston U.S. Military Reservation in Louisiana.

According to the written historical account by Major G. H. Crawford, 60th CA, "The recruits who arrived on April 23 had undergone a period of intensive basic training prior to the reorganization of the Regiment, and upon June 1 were in shape to take up the specialized work pertaining to their particular arm. The period June 1 - September 1 was spent in gunners instruction and examinations and in camouflage of war positions." (p.293) He continued, "The month of September and the first 15 days of October were spent in rifle marksmanship, small arms firing, M.G. (machine gun) instruction and throughout this period steady work was kept up on the camouflage and preparation of war positions and repair of damage done by the heavy rains of the rainy season. On October 17 training in M.G. firing at towed sleeves (moving targets) was begun. Preliminary training with Cal. .30 M.G. was continued throughout the remainder of October and all of November."

1941 Photos of side of USAT and photo of Pearl Harbor Hawaii

Two of the photos Walter took from the dock at Pearl Harbor on April 7, 1941 during his long boat ride to the Philippines.

As the new recruits completed their course of .30 caliber training, ominous news was sent to command at Corregidor. According to U.S. Army Major General George F. Moore, commanding officer at Ft, Mills, Corregidor, "Late in the evening of 28 November 1941 I received a message from General MacArthur in Manila to the effect that negotiations with Japan were breaking down and that I was to take such measures as I saw fit to insure the readiness of the command to meet any eventuality." (p.23)

At the same time across the ocean, as the U.S. was breaking Japanese secret codes in November, military intelligence was not heeding the numerous warnings of attack, one even from the American Ambassador in Tokyo with an earlier communication of a "surprise attack" on Pearl Harbor. American military, with short sighted overconfidence watched Japanese bombers destroy six battleships and a crowded Hickam Air Field at Pearl Harbor on December 7th. A day later, the Americans entered the war on December 8th, 1941. The Japanese plan continued to unfold, not only with attacks at Pearl Harbor, but with simultaneous attacks against Hong Kong, Malaya, and the Philippines.  

Japan’s strategy was ambitious and simple. After disabling the Americans with a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces would swiftly overrun southeast Asia and then build an impenetrable defense perimeter around their exploits.  

The Japanese advance continued their sweep of the Pacific islands overwhelming three American outposts including Guam, Wake Island and the Philippines.

Just ten hours after Pearl Harbor, Japanese bombers once again struck another major air base, this time Clark field, north of the capitol city of Manilla in the Philippines. And once again, with ample warning of air raids, most of the entire fleet of American B-17s were destroyed on the ground. Bombing runs on other fields virtually destroyed American air power.

Map of Corregidor with Battery details
Detailed Japanese maps with topography from WWII accompany a basic map of Corregidor. Details from 60th Batter L soldiers have been added.

The small, tadpole-shaped island of Corregidor in Manilla Bay measured about 3.5 mi (5.6 km) long and 1.5 mi (2.4 km) across at its head. Its widest and most elevated area was known as Topside and held most of the fort's approximately 56 coastal artillery pieces and installations. Known as Fort Mills, the fortifications were originally constructed in 1904 to 1910. They were reinforced with concrete walls, floors and overhead arches furnishing a maze of bombproof shelters for the hospital, headquarters, repair shops and storerooms as well as a east-west double-track electric tramway and fresh air blowers.

Walter Hurelle on the dock Hawaii 1941

Just a year after the Nevada desert in 1941, Walter was off to WWII training in the Philippines. According to his letter he sent to his parents in Columbus from Honolulu, Hawaii en route to the Philippines, Walter was able to stand on the dock and take some photos of the ship, however they could not go into town because they were under quarantine.

As these antiquated facilities were being strengthened, Private First Class Walter Hurelle, in Battery "L" of the 60th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, part of USAFFE's Harbor Defenses of Manila and Subic Bays helped to prepare the defenses before the Japanese attack. On December 8th Major Moore records "For eight days all units on the fortified islands had been at battle stations, "prepared for any emergency." He also reported they "added double sea and air surveillance against surprise dawn attack" and established aid stations.

Later on that same December 8 morning, at 6:02 a.m. Major Moore received a communication from headquarters: "A state of war exists between the United States and Japan. Govern yourself accordingly." That afternoon at 1:15 the antiaircraft batteries including the 60th, were firing on three medium bombers, severely damaging one. (p.24 Philippines Nat. Arc.)

Just a couple of days later on December 10, Japanese troops, with little fear of an American Air Force resistance, began to swarm the islands converging on on the city of Manilla where they had hoped to destroy the Americans.

Meanwhile, on the island bay defenses, typed and hand written reports from declassified documents continue to describe the conflict from Fort Mills on Corregidor:

"Our first move in preparation for actual hostilities was made on November 27, 1941, when, due to reports of enemy aircraft over Luzon our alert system was strengthened and the following day we took the field." (p. 294) "The period November 28 - December 8 was spent in further improvement of positions and in preparations for "housekeeping" in the field." (p. 295 Philippines Nat. Arc.)

1941-2 Map of Bataan and Corregidor

1941-2 map of Bataan and Corregidor showing troop movements, various airfields, cities and topography. (from American Hertiage Picture History of World War II - p.166).

After December 8, "There were no friendly planes in the air. In fact, no friendly aviation participated in the defense of the fortified islands at any time during the operations against them" (p. 32) and on the day of December 8, "Battery M was ordered to Manilla to take part in that AA defense and the defense positions thus vacated on the island were filled by thinning the defenses of the sectors assigned Batteries "K’ and "L". The movement of "M" to Manilla and shifting of the sections was carried out quite smoothly and by night all the defense was again integrated." (p.296) Fifteen sections and platoons of Battery I, K and L took up their positions around their guns.  Battery L had a platoon in the landing field, one section at Breakwater Point, another at Geary Point (Command Post on the south Shore road), one at Lubang point and at the M/S Incinerator. (p.296)

As raids continued out of range of Corregidor, the M-60th encountered enemy action in the port area of Manila where "heavy explosions were heard (p. 25) as the "exodus of merchant vessels continued all day under Navy supervision." (p. 26) "Battery "M" in Manilla encountered bombing and straffing of the dock area resulting in three seriously injured and two killed with two enemy light planes shot down. (p.297)

MacArthur at Corrigedor tunnels

Generals MacArthur and Sutherland walk out of main entrance to the Corregidor tunnels. (Life Magazine - April 13, 1942)

In late December "a large flight of enemy bombers approached Corregidor at medium altitude, and all MG sections went into action. The planes were not proper targets for MG’s and no damage to the enemy was inflicted, however the MG personnel did derive a benefit from being given an opportunity to "let off steam," and for many to become acquainted with a .50 cal gun in action." (p. 296)

On December 26, 19 days after Pearl Harbor, General Douglas MacArthur, the Far East commander cleared the city of Manilla, declaring it an open city. The Japanese rolled thorough unopposed, however, their plan to push the Americans into Manilla and destroy them was initially thwarted. General MacArthur evaded their advance by retreating into the Bataan Peninsula where its swamps, jungles and mountains made ideal defenses. Some of Corrigedor’s forces covered their withdrawal into the peninsula.

As the Japanese focused their attention away from the fortified island, training continued. On December 29, Battery M returned with "considerable A.P. ammunition and M.G. spare parts as well as air cooled .50 cal guns, all of which was salvaged from Nichols field after the Air Corps had abandoned it."

60th L Battery reports
Numerous declassified and detailed accounts report on Battery "L" as well as the many other 60th Batteries. The pages referenced in the text correspond to the written pages from documents in the Philippine Archives Collection

While the batteries were organizing, the first major air raid occurred, lasting about three hours over Corregidor with high and low altitude bombers of which ten of the eighteen light bombers were shot down. "This was the one and only low altitude attack made up until the last ten days before surrender." (p. 297)

"All AA firing batteries at Fort Mills, Fort Hughes and on the southern tip of Bataan participated in the action and shot down 13 enemy planes - 9 medium bombers and 4 strafing planes." The effectiveness of our AA fire resulted in the enemy raising his bombing altitudes to about 28,000 feet. Total casualties were 20 killed and about 80 wounded". - (p. 32)

Topside barracks befor and after

Before and after bombing on the topside barracks (photos from Ebay listings).

"Of the many reports received at the headquarters, all have testified to the superior behavior of our anti-aircraft personnel under heavy bombing attack. It is a proud record of soldierly action and a high caliber of discipline under fire which these officers and men have made in this first serious combat action of the war in the Harbor Defenses." (p. 34)

"On January 2, 1942 a high altitude "sneak raid" was made from above medium altitude broken clouds." During this raid, the command post of Battery "L" at Geary Point received a direct hit, killing Captain Hamilton, (p. 297) Cpl. Raymond Jackson, PFC B. K. Jones and Privates Le Grande and Lt. Heikes, all part of the battery Communication Section. "It also buried alive" 1st Sgt Benjamin Harrison and PFC Lee R. Roland and PFC Theodore Hoffman, but due to the fast action of several soldiers from nearby positions, they were dug out and survived. Captain Kenneth L. Boggs from the 1st Batalion took command of the Battery replacing Captain Hamilton. (p. 329)   

On January 12, "the Incinerator position was nearly wiped out by enemy bombing. There were no casualties however, and none of our ordinance equipment was destroyed except a few boxes of ammunition. Our kitchen and tentags as well as most of the personal equipment of the men at this position was almost completely destroyed. At this time we decided to move our machine guns from the Incinerator position…"(p. 322)

"During the next two and half months the Batallion engaged targets of opportunity, lone planes which came within range on scouting missions or for purposes of harassing the island. Some of these were destroyed and some driven off without apparent damage. During the high altitude raids of January and early February much damage was done to communications and gun positions, but damage to material was slight or negligible. Casualties were very light." (p. 297)

American Headquarters buried deep in the volcanic rock of the island of Corregidor

American Headquaters buried deep in the volcanic rock on Corregidor (Life Magazine - April 13, 1942)

Later, in February the Battery L position at the M/S Incinerator took fire from the nearby Cavite Island captured by the Japanese, however there was no loss of life or damage. "On March 24 heavy high altitude bombing attacks commenced again with the attendant damage to positions and communications. Casualties were again light and morale remained very good." (p.298)

On the Bataan peninsula, the Army withstood a fighting retreat for months in the face of hunger, sickness and a shortage of virtually everything. MacArthur, under orders from President Roosevelt, escaped from the bay island of Corregidor and the USAFFE headquarters on March 12, under the cover of darkness. Commanding from Australia, MacArthur ordered for those on Bataan "If food fails you will prepare and execute an attack upon the enemy." Lt. General Jonathan M. Wainwright was then placed in command of Fort Mills.  

Over three months after the initial Japanese invasion, the American and Philippine armies on Bataan executed an attack on the Japanese on April 4, 1942, as they began to break through their defenses. Unfortunately, in a weakened state, the men could not form a strong offense. To prevent a slaughter, they surrendered on the 9th. Defenders on the island of Corregidor kept up the fight.  

After the surrender at Bataan, the Japanese then turned their attention to Corregidor.  Bombardment by high-angle artillery and aircraft gradually destroyed the utility of almost all of Corregidor's big guns, which had no overhead protection except for magazines and generators.

According to a declassified massage, On April 9, 1942 General King sent a surrender flag to the Japanese Commander without approval from Lt. General Jonathan M. Wainwright. He states "Physical exhaustion and sickness due to long period of insufficient food is the real cause of this terrible disaster...I endeavor to hold Corregidor."

According to a declassified message, On April 9, 1942 General King sent a surrender flag to the Japanese Commander without approval from Lt. General Jonathan M. Wainwright. He states "Physical exhaustion and sickness due to long period of insufficient food is the real cause of this terrible disaster...I endeavor to hold Corregidor." From the Franklin Library Digital Collection

"With the fall of Bataan on April 9 pressure against Corregidor increased greatly and all positions on the N an W sides of the island suffered greatly from shell fire. Movement during daylight hours was practically suicidal." On April 28 a heavy concentration of fire (150 and 240mm) was placed on the Pow Pow gun and it was destroyed. Lt. Freidline and three members of the crew were killed and all others injured." (p. 298-9) According to a declassified message, On April 9, 1942 General King sent a surrender flag to the Japanese Commander without approval from Lt. General Jonathan M. Wainwright. He also states "Physical exhaustion and sickness due to long period of insufficient food is the real cause of this terrible disaster...I endeavor to hold Corregidor."

By this time, the supplies on Corregidor were also low and Americans were rationing their food and drinking water was distributed only twice a day. Furthermore, the non-stop bombing hampered the distribution of rations. With hunger running through the base, Cavalry horses killed by bombing would be dragged to the mess hall and consumed. With lack of a proper diet, the men weakened, night vision suffered and tempers flared. Fort Mills Fort contained 13,193 individuals (p. 131) and had enough food for only 7,000. The 60th made up 2,033 of those hungry Americans.

Fort Mills surrenders

Topside barracks view from the hospital (Photo from Ebay listing)

"First bombs hit the station hospital. Others hit AA gun batteries, Topside Cine, Officers Club, Topside and Middleside Barracks, Topside water tank, Officers quarters, 60th CA garage, ships in Corregidor Bay and the Navy gasoline storage dump at the tail of the island. It is estimated that more than 60 tons of bombs were dropped on Corregidor during the attack." (p. 32) Later reports cite that Japanese aircraft flew 614 missions and dropped 1,701 bombs totaling some 365 tons of explosive.

The destruction must have been mind numbing as dirt and dust drifted down through the concrete slabs in the bunkers as 500 lb. and 1000 lb. bombs were dropped creating craters 40 to 50 feet across disrupting power and water lines. Emergency power plants were installed and water well pumps were fixed, blown up, repaired, repeat.  Power, water and communication lines destroyed, fixed, blown up, repeat.    

The large guns were hit and casualties taken yet "moral was good and leadership excellent for as soon as one position was destroyed new ones would be started and the guns repaired. No one spoke of giving up." (p. 299)

More low altitude attacks occurred and communication lines were cut, yet despite this, more planes were shot down. "I battery shot down at least two, K battery one and on the last day of hostilities I saw two shot down by the guns of either K or L, both being in action." (p. 299) It was estimated that on May 4 alone, more than 16,000 shells hit Corregidor.

Fort Mills Register of 60th Battery "L" - April 30, 1942

Monthly Rosters of Fort Mills taken "At Midnight April 30, 1942" show long lists of fighting men including one Private First Class number 7. Hurelle, Walter E. 18043764. Specl. 5 cl. From Philippine Archives Collection

At this time, on May 4, a Colonel Constant Irwin carried a complete roster of all Army, Navy and Marine personnel still alive in the Philippines onto a patrolling submarine returning to Australia. The sub also evacuated 25 other officers, nurses, cargo, records, orders, and even the last bags of mail. Declassified records of Monthly Rosters of Fort Mills taken "At Midnight April 30, 1942" show long lists of fighting men including one Private First Class number 7. Hurelle, Walter E. 18043764. Specl. 5 cl.  

On May 5, the bombardment continued as Japanese troops began their bloody siege of the island. The initial assault of 790 Japanese soldiers from landing craft and barges struck the beach at North Point and Cavalry Point after the intense shelling. Americans and Fillipino defenders struck back with artillery of their own slaughtering the Japanese. Soldiers nearby described the scene as "a spectacle that confounded the imagination, surpassing in grim horror anything we had ever seen before."

Despite being hampered by the strong currents around the island and oil from sunken ships, swarms of Japanese infantry continued to land and launch their 50mm grenade launchers eventually pushing back the defenders from the beach. The second battalion of 785 Japanese landing east of North Point were also cut down by machine guns, hand grenades and rifle fire. Yet survivors managed to meet up with members of the first assault and move inland, capturing Denver Battery on the 2nd day, May 6 at 1:30 a.m.

Malinta Hill where instnse fighting occured

Malinta Hill overlooked Denver Battery and the Japanese assault. (photo from Ebay listing)

Not willing to give an inch, the Americans launched a counterattack on the Denver Battery with intense fighting between the Marines and Japanese. By 4:30, three hours after the Japanese capture of the bunker, 500 additional Marines, sailors and soldiers reinforcing the attack were being picked off by snipers who had slipped behind the front lines. An hour later, to make matters worse, another 880 Japanese joined the fight. The Marines held fast, but by 9:30 a.m., three offloaded Japanese tanks were advancing towards the battery. The Marines were forced to withdraw a few yards away from the Malinta tunnel entrance where about 1,000 wounded men lay.

Commanding officer Lt. General Jonathan M. Wainwright knew more Japanese would land that night. Sensing the impending doom if the Japanese captured the tunnel he decided to give up one day of freedom in exchange for several thousand lives. At about 1:30 p.m. on May 6, 1942 the Corregidor garrison was surrendered.

Fort Mills surrenders

Surrender of Fort Mills on Corregidor (Photo from National Archives and Records Administration)

Unfortunately, after the surrender, the island’s thousands of military personnel became prisoners of war and were shipped off to Japanese prison camps where many endured miserable conditions and starvation or were shipped-off to the Japanese home islands as slave labor.

Army and Navy nurses, known as the "Angels of Bataan" attended to the wounded American forces at Corregidor for several weeks until they were sent to the Santo Tomas Internment Camp also known as the Manilla Internment Camp, the largest of several camps in the Philippines which housed close to 3,200 people from January 1942 to February, 1945. About 4,000 of the 11,000 American and Filipino POW’s from Corregidor were marched through the streets of Manila to the hell hole of Fort Santiago, a Spanish fort originally built in 1571 where approximately 600 American prisoners died from suffocation or hunger while being held in the tight cells in the forts prisons, dungeons, storage rooms and gunpowder magazines. The remaining prisoners boarded trains to various prison camps.

All this after the surrender of the Bataan peninsula and the Bataan death march where more than 60,000 Filipino and 15,000 American prisoners were forced to walk over 60 miles to Camp O’Donnell under terrifying conditions. Several hundred would die every day from abuse, starvation, injuries, sickness, being shot, run over or worse. Later, the march was deemed a Japanese War Crime by an Allied military commission.

Life Mafazine cover 1942

Willard, Walter's brother, while stationed at Camp Livingston in Louisiana, sees Walter in a propaganda photo in the magazine "Life" September 14, 1942 edition.

Private First Class Walter Hurelle would survive the massive bombing raids and the Japanese assault on Corregidor and then the surrender. He would endure the prisoner transfers and POW camps and finally survive the 1,000 plus mile journey northwards from Manilla to Shanghai, China where he was eventually photographed for Japanese propaganda. Five months after the fall of Corregidor, editors for Life magazine would copy photos from a Japanese propaganda magazine mockingly titled "Freedom" and place them in their September 14, 1942 Issue with the caption "American and English prisoners in Shanghai concentration camp pose for the official photograph by a Japanese photographer. Japs are proud of American prisoners." Prisoner photos were published in numerous propaganda magazines at the time with fictional articles of how well the military was treating their prisoners and suggesting "Americans were actually opposed to fighting Japan."

Life Magazine - Japanese prisoner of war photo

Walter is standing in the middle row, second from the left with prisoners from England and the U.S.

An avid reader of Life Magazine, Willard Hurelle, still training at Camp Livingston for combat in Europe, would see the photo of his imprisoned brother as a POW in a Shanghai, China prison camp.

Life Magazine - Japanese prisoner of war photo closup of Walter Hurelle

Walter Hurelle comparison photos from Life magazine, newspaper obituary and studio portrait in Wisconsin. Same hairline, same nose, mouth line, brow ridge. Different photos from different lines of evidence lead to the same eventual and unfortunate outcome. Did the ARMY ever know where his true location was when he was a POW?

Yet, a different line of evidence shows Army records extracted from the National Archives in Maryland (Excel file), has Pfc Hurelle, Walter E, Serial number 18043764 being housed at the Palawan Camp (confusing, because Palawan is also another island POW camp not on the island of Luzon) in the Billibid Prison in Manilla. Unfortunately, almost every man captured at Corregidor passed through this camp. Over two years later, Walter was transferred on October 1, 1944 aboard the "hell ship" Hokusen Maru enroute to Japan. The record states he died on October 13, 1944, twelve days later on the way to Taiwan. At least 36 men died on the trip, one of the longest hell ship voyages of the war.

According to ship records "On October 1, 1944 approximately 1,100 POWs boarded the Hokusen Maru at Pier 7 in Manila. They suffered in the holds until October 3rd before the Hokusen Maru joined a convoy and departed Manila. The convoy was attacked by submarines on two different occasions and the Hokusen Maru was one of only four ships left in the convoy to arrive at Hong Kong on October 11th. The Hokusen Maru remained in Hong Kong harbor (where it survived some air attacks) until October 21st when it sailed for Formosa. It arrived at Takao, Formosa on October 24, 1944."

Hokusen Maru

American POWs were transferred to Japan aboard the "hell ship" Hokusen Maru.

If the Army records are correct, then the man in the Life magazine photo was another unfortunate soul. Despite which ever records are correct, all the stories for Walter end the same.

Under terrible conditions, the Philippine Islands POW’s suffered and died from starvation, dysentery and malaria. Disturbing photos show the starving and emaciated men at Billibid. On the Asian mainland, POW camp conditions were no better.

Twenty internment and POW camps were used by Japanese troops in China holding around 14,000 people. Shanghai had 12 camps where hunger and malnutrition, more than anything else, made conditions more severe. Once again, conditions were miserable with sickness, poor housing, poor sanitation, lack of clothing and the stresses of being imprisoned. The largest POW camp was at Shanghai High School at the Longmen Building, known as Longhua Internment Camp, which held 1,756 foreign captives from 11 countries between 1943 and 1945.

On a unpresidented scale, "Japan held both civilians and prisoners of war in 176 camps in its own country and 500 in occupied territories during the war. Japan was also responsible for the deaths of as many as 30 million Asians, including Chinese" according to researchers.

In an undated Wisconsin newspaper clipping titled: "Reported Dead - Columbus Soldier’s Death Is Revealed - Cpl. Hurelle Was Japanese Prisoner" Walter is reported to have "died of heat exposure on Oct. 13, 1944, while on a Japanese vessel enroute to the Japanese home islands." If true, he survived almost another two and half years after the fall of Corregidor.

Walter Hurelle obituary
private vs corporal chevrons
Walter's obituary and private vs corporal chevrons.

The article also states he was a Corporal and a "gun commander of a Coast Artillery gun unit in the Philippines" which is incorrect according to the declassified rosters complied "At Midnight April 30, 1942." The man pictured in the newspaper photo has one chevron of a Private and definitely looks like Walter. A Corporal in Battery "L" named Robert Hubbard had an Army serial number of 18043774, one digit different than Walter’s which was 18043764. Recent records searches confirm that Walter with serial number 18043764, with the rank of "Enlisted Man" and a length of service of 3 years, was injured in line of duty and died as the result of a "Causative Agent: Heat, Excessive, Exhaustive Effects." Further details list a MIA Place: Hong Kong, a MIA Place Alias: China Seas and finally a Death Date of October 13, 1944. Unfortunately, records are scarce and incomplete, questionable and give little information to follow Walter’s trail.

The article also stated "Following the surrender, Mr. and Mrs. Hurelle had no word of their son until December, 1942 when a brother accidentally discovered his picture among a group of American and British soldiers in a Shanghai prisoner of war camp." It continued, "The War Department has regularly reported him missing in action since that time and the Hurelle’s, though they had no word from him, knew him to be a prisoner of war and hoped that he was still alive."

Finally, In a typed letter dated December 20, 1945, Walter’s family in Wisconsin received the official news of his death from the Office of the Commander-in-Chief at the General Headquarters of the United States Army Forces.

Dear Mrs. Hurelle:

MacArthur Condolence Letter to Mrs. Hurelle

My deepest sympathy goes to you in the death of your son, Private First Class Walter E. Hurelle, while a prisoner of war of the enemy.

You may have some consolation in the memory that he, along with his comrades-in-arms who died on Bataan and Corregidor and in prison camps, gave his life for his country. It was largely their magnificent courage and sacrifices which stopped the enemy in the Philippines and gave us time to arm ourselves for our return to the Philippines and the final defeat of Japan. Their names will be enshrined in our country’s glory forever.

In your son’s death I have lost a gallant comrade and mourn with you.

Very faithfully,
Douglas MacArthur


With thousands of condolence letters being sent to families around the world, such death and destruction seems insane and senseless. However, the fighting in the Philippines bought precious time and according to MacArthur "gave us time to arm ourselves for our return to the Philippines and the final defeat of Japan." MacArthur used the 40 days from Bataan and Corregidor to prepare Australia as an operational base and organize for its defense. Furthermore, according to U.S. Army Major General George F. Moore "The Japanese had been forced to defeat a field army, to spend five months softening the defenses of the fortified islands, and to make a costly landing on Corregidor, in order to capture a few outdated sea-coast batteries. These batteries had denied the entrance to Manilla Bay to the enemy throughout this period and thus had prevented him from completing and exploiting, to the fullest extent, his conquest of the Philippines."  (p. 86)

The cold, written outcomes ring hollow, even a bit pathetic, including MacArthur’s condolence letter which is frustratingly short on details. The final days of Walter’s whereabouts are defined by a few brief military records. There are voluminous accounts from the many survivors of the Japanese POW camps and detailed records of accounts at military bases, but Private First Class Hurelle’s final difficult, days are hidden. What is certain, is that Walter’s road through life started with a loving family on a Wisconsin farm and led to wandering, exploration, hard work, camaraderie and finally violence, extreme hardship, suffering and death. Perhaps the lesson is use your time wisely. May he rest in peace.

Walter's written letter envelope to his mother 1941

Walter's letter envelope to his mother from Angel Island California.


Walter E Hurelle NAME - HURELLE WALTER E. RANK - CPL Corporal SERVICE NUMBER - 18043764 ARM OR SERVICE - CAC Coast Artillery Corps SOURCE 1 M - Center for Research Allied POWs Under the Japanese by Roger Mansell SUBORDINATE UNIT - L Btry - L Battery ASSIGNED UNIT - 60th CA Regt (AA) - 60th Coast Artillery Regiment (AntiAircraft) PARENT UNIT- HDM&SB - Habor Defenses of Manila and Subic Bays

More military records:

Walter E Hurelle
Army Serial Number: 18043764
Enlistment Date: 31 Jan 1941
Army Branch: Coast Artillery Corps Branch: Army
Race or Ethnicity: White
Residence: Columbia County, Wisconsin
Enlistment Term: Enlistment for the Philippine Department
Source of Army Personnel: Civil Life
Army Component: Regular Army (including Officers, Nurses, Warrant Officers, and Enlisted Men)
Level of Education: 1 year of high school Occupation: Semiskilled chauffeurs and drivers, bus, taxi, truck, and tractor
Marital Status: Single, without dependents
Birth Date: 1909
Birth Place: Wisconsin
Source Box Number: 0271 Source Film Reel Number: 2.128
Conflict Period: World War II
Served for: United States of America

Full Name: Hurelle, Walter E
Race: Unknown
Admission Age: 35
Admission Date: Oct 1944
Admission Type of Injury: Injury, non-battle
Military Service Number: 18043764
Rank: Enlisted Man
Branch: Coast Artillery, General or Unspecified
Length of Service: 3 Year(s), 0 Month(s)
Injured in Line of Duty: In line of duty
Medical Diagnosis: First Location: Unknown, code not applicable; Causative Agent: Heat, Excessive, Exhaustive Effects of
Discharge Type: Died
Discharge Date: Oct 1944
Conflict Period: World War II
Served for: United States of America

Full Name: Hurelle, Walter Elmer
Series Title: Unaccounted-for Remains, Group B, 1941-1975
Birth date: 26 Nov 1909
Residence Place: Wisconsin
Conflict: World War II
Death date: 13 Oct 1944
Death Country: China
Branch: United States Army
Mia Place: Hong Kong
Mia Place Alias: China Seas
Source Id: 80069
Conflict Period: World War II
Served for: United States of America

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