AFTERTHOUGHTS • Neighbor Remembers POW Collins

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“Irving Sailor Missing Three Years Arrived Home Friday Unannounced,” a headline in the Oct. 8, 1945 edition of The Hillsboro Journal proclaimed.

The sailor was Bill Collins, who had enlisted as a 17-year-old following Pearl Harbor and went on to be a career Navy man, and the newspaper clipping was provided by Schram City resident Alice McDice.

“He was my neighbor,” Mrs. McDice said of the subject of the 75-year-old newspaper clipping.  “He lived right behind me.”

The clippings tell the story of a young man who grew up in Irving, enlisted in the Navy, was once reported dead, but ended up serving more than three years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.  He weighed 110 pounds when liberated.

The Oct. 8, 1945, Journal story begins, “Seaman 1st Class Bill Collins, USNR, who has been lost to his relatives and friends since the fall of Corregidor in the spring of 1942, arrived without previous announcement at his home near Irving early Friday morning, Oct. 5.”

Corregidor, you may remember, was the last U.S. bastion in the Philippines to fall to the Japanese.  It was recaptured in 1945.

The newspaper story continues, “For some unaccountable reason, his mother, Mrs. Arthur Beasley, had received no message from the Navy Department to tell her that her son had been liberated from a Japanese prisoner of war camp on Sept. 13, and a cablegram which he had sent enroute home has never arrived.”

Imagine a mother’s surprise.  According to an earlier March 9, 1942, newspaper clipping, “Mrs. Arthur Beasley of Irving received a telegram Sunday, March 8, from the U.S. Navy, advising her that the Navy had declared her son, William Marion Collins, officially dead following Naval action in the Pacific.  Young Collins was stationed on a submarine tender when last heard from, and on Jan. 24, his mother received a wire from the Navy stating that her son was missing following a Naval engagement.”

His mother heard only one other message after that before his surprise return: that he was, indeed, a POW and had been transferred from the Philippines to mainland Japan.

According to the 1945 newspaper story, “In October 1944 Bill Collins was taken from the Philippines to Japan, and his existence, hard up to that time, became more miserable.  He survived the terrible trip to Japan, which he made crowded with from 700 to 800 other prisoners of war, into the 40x40 hold of a Japanese ship under terrible conditions.  During the 39 days of the trip only a little rice and water were given each man daily.

“When the ship docked in Japan, those who had lived through the harrowing experience were separated and taken to different labor camps.  At times, Bill Collins would meet again, when he was moved to a different camp, some of the prisoners of war whom he had seen on the ship.  Camp conditions and food were terrible.

“Seaman Collins, when liberated, was at a camp near Sendai, about 250 miles north of Tokyo, where he toiled for long hours in a lead ore mine.”

It continues, “After Japan surrendered to the Allies early in August, food packages were dropped by American planes for Sendai, Camp 33, and labor in the mine stopped on Aug. 15.  Prisoners were liberated by Americans on Sept. 13, and were flown back to the states, landing at Oakland, CA.  Seaman Collins cabled from Yokahama, Japan, but the message was not received by his relatives.”

He married Iris Hawley in 1963, and the couple moved to Schram City.  A Navy retiree, he passed at age 71 on April 6, 1995.

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