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William Goode, Prisoner of War during WWII
By Lois Zook Wauson
Friday, March 18, 2011
Rated "PG" by the Author.
I do not remember my Uncle William Goode. He was in the Philippines when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.He had gone there in 1939, when I was 7 years old. He became a prisoner of war. Pictured is William Goode and his wife Edna in 1934. This is their wedding picture.
Hell ships were unmarked Japanese freighters used to transport American POWs during WWII. Because these ships were unmarked, Allied forces frequently targeted and torpedoed them. We had no way of knowing that our troops were packed like sardines in the holds of these freighters with no chance of escape, if the ship were hit. The result was that thousands of Allied troops lost their lives. America's finest young men who had already endured many months of torture in disease ridden POW camps without decent food or water, were being transported to Japan, China, Manchuria, Korea, etc. where they would work as slave laborers for the Japanese war effort.
William Goode, my uncle died in the South Pacific during World War II. He was working for Civil Service and was in the Philippines when Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Our family ever heard from him again.
His youngest sister Clare, still lives in Georgia, and a few years ago she and I talked a lot of William and I asked her if anyone ever found out what happened to him. She was the only person I ever knew who had seemed to know anything about his “missing” in action. I always thought he was killed at Pearl Harbor. But that was not true .
Clare never gave up looking for him, even though she was only 9 years old when he left Texas in 1939. It was one of those family mysteries that never seemed to get solved. They never heard from him again after he went to the Philippines. To this day, they haven’t. But Clare found out the truth of his disappearance.
Clare: “You see this friend of ours in Ocilla, Georgia, was in the Bataan Death March. And I got the names of a lot of them that was sent to Correigedor and that is how I got enough information I could send to Washington, to go with what I had to see what they could send to me to further my knowledge of it. There was this Colonel and he had written this book called “Some Survive”. And he was on one of these “hellships” that they had put these prisoners on, and they were going to Japan for hard labor. Almost all the prisoners of war lost their lives on those “hellships”.
Lois: “Okay, let’s see. Now he was in Bataan, and the Japanese were coming. He wasn’t on the Bataan Death March? They took him to Correigador? How did he get there”?
Clare: “I don’t know. I don’t think he was on that march. I don’t know if they took him on a boat, or if they had to swim over there or what.”
Lois: “What did he do in Correigador?”
Clare: “A medical staff of about 40 caring for 500 or 600 patients was allowed to stay at the hospital until the fall of Corregidor. Then they were taken to Bilibid.”
Clare: “When the Japanese took Correigador, a lot of these nurses and maintenance people, they kept them on the island, until they could evacuate. They kept them there so they could attend to the sick and wounded.”
Clare: “Well, among other things, William helped build this tunnel, with lights and everything, to a hospital there. And they were still fighting in Correigador, they were still bombing and shooting and ….and they would be sent out on the ambulance wagon to pick up soldiers that were wounded or killed.”
Clare: “I talked to one of the nurses, who knew William in Correigador, and she remembers this one particular trip they were sent out on and the planes were coming so close, shooting, that they abandoned the ambulance. They started running across this field and they looked back and they could see where the bullets were hitting the ground behind them! Well, they got to this little cottage that some people had abandoned, I guess to save their selves. And she said when they went in, that all that was in there were this old piano and a stool. They hid there awhile and finally when the shooting slacked off, she said that William went over to the piano, and tried to play it, and couldn’t make no music out of it. So she told him to let her try, and she couldn’t make the thing play either. The keys wouldn’t move. So they took the top off and found all this china stuffed in there. I guess the people had planned on coming back to get that china.”
Clare: “Well, when it was safe to leave, they loaded the piano up on the ambulance and took it back to the hospital, and that piano was their entertainment at the hospital. That was the only light hearted thing she told me about.”
Clare: “William was one of the last ones to leave, when the U. S. took Correigador, because he was one of those who were helping to take care of the wounded. When he left there, they took him to Bilibid Prison Camp in Manila. He was there a long time.”
Lois: “So he was in the service all those years. He was in Bataan, and then he went to Correigador, then to the Bilibid Prisoner of War Camp?”
Clare: “Yes, then he left Corriegador, and he went to Bilibid. From there they sent him Cabanatuan, another Japanese Prison Camp. It was one of those that was tagged a “hell camp”. Then he was sent BACK to Bilibid. That is where he had malaria real bad. That was where the Japanese heard that the Americans were going to liberate that prison camp. So they were getting all the able bodied men out to be sent to the hard labor camp in Japan. They took them on these “hellships” to Japan.”
Clare: “I corresponded with one of the men who had been in that camp. He remembered that William had malaria real bad. I asked him, “They still would take him to work in the hard prison camp in Japan?” He said, “Hon, even if they had a pulse, and was standing, they had to go!”
Lois: “Was that the last anyone heard of William?
Clare: “I think so. The ones that they took out of the prison camp, the “able bodied prisoners”, and put on these ships, what they really were put on were cargo ships for cattle! Those ships were called the “hellships”, and they were built for 500 head of cattle. And they put about 1600 men and women on these ships. And this man, Sam Caldwell that gave me all the information, said that he was on the ship that was behind the one that my brother was on. On the way there, the ships were attacked by American planes and bombed and shot at. I said to him, “I heard there were only about five or six survivors?”
Clare: “And he said, “Well, those were the ones on my ship. American planes were bombing all the ships, and I was one of those five or six that survived, but I don’t know about your brother. I don’t see how he survived. He was on one of the other ships. I think all the prisoners lost their life on those ships.”
Maybe some day we will hear the rest of the story. And maybe some day we can fill in all the gaps to William Goode’s life. There are so many things that no one knows about those years.
William Goode and his wife, Edna, divorced while he was in the South Pacific. He left a son who never saw his father again. He was my cousin, but I never knew him. I heard he died several years ago. I wonder if he left any children. They need to know about their grandfather who gave his life for his country. But, you know, divorce will do that in families. It is sad. We lose contact with people.
William’s mother, Lavonia Goode, who was my grandmother, died while he was a prisoner of war all those years. Before she died, she always talked about how he would come home again and she never gave up hope. His sisters and brothers never gave up either, and just knew that he would come back from the War. Even as late as the 1950’s and 1960’s, before anyone knew the truth, my mother who was very close to William, always talked about how she felt one day he would come walking in the door. She kept his portrait on the wall all those years. You know, he looks a lot like our son, Derek.
My mother died in 1994 and William’s portrait finally came down off the wall. I am not sure who has it now. If William has a granddaughter or grandson out there somewhere, perhaps they would appreciate it. They never knew their grandfather. He was a hero. He survived Bataan, Correigador and Bilibid and Cabanatuan, and then lost his life on one of the “hell ships”.
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Lois Zook Wauson