DAVIS (B.D.) McKENDREE
Patriot, Chapter 1919
Article July-August 2003
This survivor of the brutal conditions of
the Japanese POW Camps in WWII never gave up his love of poetry, perhaps
that helped him to survive. It is also a great wonder that, late in the
war, he managed to survive three ocean trips on slow moving ships. In those
days the U.S. submarines torpedoed everything that moved in Japanese
Bishop Davis McKendree
was born in 1919 in the Texas Panhandle town of Vega, on the
historic highway “Route 66.” One of his McKendree ancestors had been the
first native-born American to become a bishop of the Methodist Episcopal
Church and that’s who he was named after. His family called him "Bish", and
more recently he has been called, B.D., primarily so that people do not
confuse his name for an actual church title. Growing up in the panhandle, he
witnessed the hard times of the great depression, the "dust bowl", and the
resulting "Grapes of Wrath" migrants traveling through on Route 66, headed
for California. B.D played high school football on the team that had 9
wins and only 2 losses in 1937, his senior year. The next spring, B.D.
graduated from Vega High School in May 1938. He then worked various jobs as
a cowboy, as a farm hand, and as a teenaged manager of the Western Lumber
and Hardware lumber yard in Erik, Oklahoma.
In February 1941,
enlisted for service in the 60th Coast Artillery (Anti-Aircraft) then
stationed on Corregidor Island, known as "the rock", in Manila Bay. He
sailed for the Philippines on the Army transport, Republic, arrived
on April 22, 1941, and was assigned to Battery I. He then went through
basic training and settled into the routine of life in the unit. B.D. says
that the last movie he remembered being shown to the troops before the war
began was “Gone With The Wind” and that it was something special.
The day after Pearl Harbor, Corregidor
defenders could see the Japanese planes and hear the bombing of Nichols
Field (where Patriot Art Rice was wounded), Nielson Field and Cavite Naval
Base, all near Manila. Bombing of Corregidor began on December 29th, and the
60th’s AA gunners shot down several planes in the days to come.
Artillery shelling of the island began on April 9th, after the fall of
Bataan, and B.D. was wounded during an especially heavy barrage on April
28th. After brief hospitalization in the Malinta tunnel, B.D. was back for
duty before the Japanese troops landed on Corregidor and the defense against
ground attack began. On the morning of May 7, 1942, B.D. McKendree was among
the men who came to attention and saluted as General Jonathan Wainwright
emerged from the Malinta tunnel entrance. Upon seeing his men, Wainwright
began to weep while continuing on his way to the surrender site to sign the
papers. Thus began the Americans "years of hell as prisoners of the
would remain in the Philippines for another two and one-half years, first in
Cabanatuan Prison Camp No. Three, then in Cabanatuan Camp No. One, and
finally to a newly constructed camp near Las Pinas. At times conditions were
so terrible that McKendree remembered there were 69 men that died in a
single day. B.D. contracted "cerebral malaria", became delirious, and when
he was taken away to the hospital his friends were certain that he was near
death. But, he survived and eventually returned to the prison barracks. The
men peeled labels off of cans and collected other scraps of paper to write
on. Men so inclined and talented, began to write poetry. The poetry began
to be passed around and B.D. started collecting it. Some had been written
before the war, some during the fighting, but it all began to surface in the
camps. B.D. saved the handwritten poems or made copies of all of it that he
On October 1, 1944,
and many other men from the Las Pinas camp were taken to the Manila docks
and, together with 250 British POWs, put on board a small freighter, the
Haro Maru. Horribly overcrowded in the tiny ship's hold, and without
facilities or ventilation in the stifling heat, many men died. The
prisoners were all packed in so tightly there was not enough space to carry
out the dead, so the bodies had to be passed overhead by the prisoners to
where they could be drawn up from the hold by the Japanese who then
unceremoniously dumped them overboard. Other ships in the convoy had been
sunk by U.S. submarines and the Haro Maru itself was targeted, but
was not sunk, because, so the prisoners thought, the little vessel was too
small to be worth expending a torpedo. Had the ship been hit, the prisoners
would not have stood a chance because their captors locked down the hatch
covers over the ship’s hold. Apparently this was intentionally done to
insure the prisoners could not survive if the ship were sunk. Eleven days
after leaving Manila the little freighter steamed into Hong Kong.
The ship left Hong Kong harbor for Formosa
on October 21, 1944 and reached there on November 2nd. The prisoners were
taken off and moved by train to a prison camp (an elementary school near "Endin")
for another two months. While there, B.D. fashioned a booklet out of the
paper from a discarded old cement sack and recopied all his collected poetry
On January 14, 1945 the prisoners sailed
from Formosa for the main island of Japan on a captured freighter, the
Melbourne Maru. Conditions were not as crowded on the Melbourne, B.D.
says that although austere, it felt like they were on a luxury liner
compared to the hellish conditions aboard their earlier vessels. They
arrived in Japan on the night of January 23rd. They were then moved by
train through Tokyo. Before they passed through the city the cars were
covered over in order to keep the prisoners from seeing the extent of the
devastation caused by bombing raids.
The train continued on to the far northern
part of Honshu Island to a mining camp near the town of Odati. Snow was on
the ground. It was the dead of winter, and a real shock for the prisoners
after years in a tropical climate. The camp barracks were without heat and
the men had inadequate clothing and bedding. There were many cold weather
injuries. They suffered greatly until springtime brought warmer weather. The
men worked the open pit mine with pick and shovel, forced labor, moving ore
buckets and rail ore cars by brute force. In April, they were told when
President Roosevelt died. Before long, they began to hear rumors that the
war would soon be over. B.D. continued to collect poetry.
On August 20, 1945, the camp commander
announced, “Japan and America have agreed to end the war,” and he asked the
men to remain in camp until Allied troops arrived. American carrier planes
located the camp on August 28th and soon started dropping crates of food,
medicine and new uniforms directly into the camp. Two prisoners were struck
and killed, and a carton of K-rations narrowly missed hitting B.D., but that
barely dampened the elation of the men. On September 11th local
police escorted them to the train station. The former prisoners were off to
the seaport of Sendai where they were met by U.S. Navy personnel and ferried
out to the hospital ship, Rescue. As they went aboard,
McKendree remembered back to the last movie he had seen and thought, "We
are back in good hands, and like Scarlett O'Hara, we will never go hungry
B.D. McKendree enrolled
in the University of Texas. He still had his booklet of poems written by his
fellow prisoners of war that he had assembled from the paper of a cement
sack while in the Japanese prison camps. A girl that he met on campus, named
Beverly Biery, shared a poem with him that she had written when she was
fifteen year old. Beverly had been inspired to write it upon seeing a photo
of POWs that appeared in one of the wartime issues of LIFE Magazine.
graduated with a degree in petroleum engineering in February 1952, and in
June 1952 he and Beverly were married. After his professional career of over
35 years, B.D. and Beverly retired in Austin, Texas, where they continue to
live. His original cement sack booklet of prison camp poetry was donated to
the Barker Texas History Center Archives at the university, but; for many
years Beverly, their two daughters and their son had urged him to publish
the poetry and the story of his wartime experiences. He finally did so. “Barbed
Wire and Rice” is a 200 page book published in 1995 by the Cornell
University East Asia Program, Cornell University.
As a University of Texas Co-ed. She gave this photo to B.D. McKendree
shortly before they became engaged
PRISONER OF WAR
Now on the pictured page, he comes to life
The terror-stricken brother of all men,
Brother of all, rejected by full half the world.
Will he go back again?
Back to the home and ways he knew and loved,
Back to the wide skies of his native land?
Can those who hold him captive realize
The home-sickness in this mute prisoner
His anguished eyes look at his foes in pain.
Young he is, heart-bewildered and alone.
He is their brother, whom they say they
But when he asks for bread, will they give stone?
The roar of battle no more pounds his ears.
He will, in time, forget his seething fright;
But sometimes, perhaps, like a little child,
He will awake in panic in the night.
Biery (now McKendree)