Military Order of the Purple Heart

Texas Capital Chapter 1919 Austin, Texas

 

BISHOP DAVIS (B.D.) McKENDREE
1919 - 2004


 

BISHOP DAVIS (B.D.) McKENDREE

Patriot, Chapter 1919

 (Army, WWII, Pacific) 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 waters.

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, B.D. McKendree 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 Japanese". 

B.D. McKendree 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 could. 

On October 1, 1944, B.D. McKendree 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 into it. 

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, B.D. 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 again".

After WWII, 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

B.D. McKendree 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.

BEVERLEY BIERY
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 band?

 

His anguished eyes look at his foes in pain.
Young he is, heart-bewildered and alone.

He is their brother, whom they say they hate,
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. 

 

--by Beverly Biery (now McKendree)

 

B. D. McKendree provided this Purple Heart story for publication in the July-August 2003 issue of PATRIOT BULLETIN.  B.D. passed away in June 2004.

On the Republic enroute to the

Philippines in 1941

McKendree is center, directly facing

This photograph was taken by a Japanese photographer before their release, but weeks after they had food, medicine and new uniforms air-dropped from carrier planes and B-29's.

NOTE: The faint "PW" marking on the roof, also a small black arror points to B.D. McKemdree

Back To Index