JAMES D. GAUTIER, JR.   M/Sgt. USAF (Ret.)

U.S. Army Air Corps, 1939-1960
Lt. Col. Civil Air Patrol, 1951 to present

 

                On the second of November, 1941, I shipped out to the Philippine Islands with the 27th Bombardment Group (L). We turned our aircraft over to the Savannah Air Base Group prior to departing Savannah, GA, and we were to receive new A-24 Dive Bombers, in crates, from the factory a few weeks after our arrival in the Philippines.
     When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, General Douglas MacArthur redesignated our group, the 27th Provisional Infantry Battalion, and sent the six squadrons of the 27th to the front lines in the jungles of Bataan, where we fought for 99 straight days.
The Japanese Army overran our positions on April 7, 1942. General Edward P. King, Commander of all forces on Bataan, surrendered his forces to General Homma, Commander of the Japanese forces on April 9, 1942.
     I survived the Bataan Death March where so many men died from hunger, thirst, malaria, and brutality. When a man could go no further and fell, he was bayoneted, shot, or beheaded. 
     I survived Camp O’Donnell, the first prison camp where 75 to 150 men died each day from starvation, dehydration, disease, and beatings by the Japanese guards. For two years I drove trucks for the Headquarters Japanese Forces, Northern Luzon, at Camp John Hay, Bagulo Mt. Province. The Japanese returned those of us who were driving their trucks to the Cabanatuan concentration camp in May, 1944.

     In June of 1944 the Japanese asked for volunteers to go to Japan. I did and was sent to Bilibid Prison in Manila to wait for a ship. The main reason I volunteered to go to Japan was my knowledge of the war in the South Pacific, gained through inoperative radio in the Japanese general’s car. One of the vehicles we maintained for the Japanese headquarters was the General’s captured American Packard.  There was a radio built into the back of the front seat that was inoperative. The general’s Japanese driver, who spoke good English, said that it could not be repaired. The Japanese did not know that one of the prisoners was a radio operator and mechanic.  Unknown to the general’s driver or the general, Cpl. Hamilton repaired the radio and installed a hidden switch. The prisoner assigned to the general’s car had to go out and preflight the car before daylight so it would be ready early if needed. He would tune in the short wave to KGEI in San Francisco and get the latest news of the South Pacific war. Consequently, we knew that the Americans were island hopping toward the Philippines. We felt that the Japanese would try to move the prisoners out of the Philippines ahead of the American forces, or would execute them rather than have them liberated by the Americans. This proved to be true and our ship was the last one to reach Japan without being attacked by aircraft or submarine. One ship, the Oryoku Maru, left Manila on December 13, 1944 with 1,619 prisoners, most being officers. It was attacked by navy planes and run aground in Subic Bay. The survivors were loaded on the Enoura Maru that was attacked in Takao harbor. The surviving prisoners were transferred to the Brazil Maru that made it to Moji, Kyushu Island, Japan.  Only 435 of the 1,619 prisoners survived the trip from Manila to Japan.

     On July 2nd, 621 men were loaded into the forward hold of a ship.  Horses had been offloaded and the hold had not been cleaned. The odor was stifling. It was eighteen days before the ship got underway. We were in the hold of this ship for 62 days. We lost many men who were thrown overboard when they died. We docked in Japan, Moji, Kyushu Island, on September 2nd.

     I was on with a group of men sent by train to Camp 17, at Omuta, a coal mining camp. We were brought up out of the mine one afternoon and returned to camp, without knowing why.  Each man was issued a Red Cross package, the first, although there was a warehouse full. The next morning there were no Japs in the camp. We could not figure out why. There was a 10 ft. solid board fence around the camp with a solid board gate. 

     About ten o’clock someone said that there were some Japs coming up the road. It was the Jap commander, his interpreter, and an American war correspondent. He called an assembly of all POW’s and told us that the war was over.  He told us that the Air Corps had dropped two atomic bombs, one on Hiroshima and one on Nagasaki, which wiped both cities off of the map, killing everyone within the cities. This prompted the Japanese to surrender. The correspondent said that he had landed with an Aviation Engineer unit at Kanoya and it took him three days to get to our camp by train. We were cautioned not to venture out of camp as the Japanese military were still under arms and it would be dangerous to leave camp. 

     Five of us figured that if the war correspondent came to Omuta by train, then we could go to Kanoya by train. So we kicked two boards off of the fence behind our quarters, went to the railroad station where they were loading Japanese soldiers into five coaches. We climbed up in the cab of the locomotive and told the engineer that we were going to Kanoya. He told the fireman to call the Kempeitai (military police). We told the fireman that if he did, we would throw him in the firebox. After the troops were loaded, the engineer said that he was going only seventy-five miles, then the railroad forked and he was taking the fork that went to where his orders stated. He said he was sorry, but Kanoya was on the other track. When we arrived at the fork in the road, we disconnected the coal car from the coaches and went to Kanoya.

     After being deloused, washed and powdered, we were taken to the mess tent where the cooks were lined up to take our order. Whatever we wanted, it was cooked.  While we were stuffing ourselves on food that had not seen in nearly four years, other soldiers were preparing our beds.  How wonderful it was to crawl in between two clean sheets with a soft pillow and white pillowcase.

      We were to be flown straight to Okinawa, however, I talked the pilot into flying over Camp 17.  The Engineer made a parachute out of the co-pilots bandana handkerchief; we wrote our names on a piece of paper with a note saying that we would see them in the States, and the Crew Chief threw it out over the camp. We were flying in a C47 and it took us all the way to Manila, PI, where we were processed back into the Army Air Corps.

     Two weeks later I was placed on a Navy cruiser and returned to San Francisco, CA. When I was weighed at the Aviation Engineer Unit at Kanoya, I weighed 96 pounds. I gained from 1 ½ to 3 pounds a day until I weighed 220 pounds. After 9 months convalescence leave, I reported to a replacement depot near San Antonio, TX for a duty assignment. After several weeks and no orders, I was told sarcastically not to bother them again, that when the orders were received I would be notified. Trying to control my temper, I asked the 1st Sergeant who was in command of the replacement depot. He wised off again and said, “I suppose that you want to see the general.”  And I said, “If it is a general in command, then that’s who I want to see!” He said that the general was located in the wall city downtown San Antonio. I thanked him and two other men who had been Japanese prisoners went with me to see the general.

     As I passed through the main entrance, I saw a sign, “Commanding Officer”, with an arrow pointing up some stairs. I parked and with two MP’s following trying to stop us, we went up the stairs and entered a large room staffed with two colonels, who, along with the MP’s, were making quite a fuss. One of the colonels called “Attention” and they all, the two colonels and the MP’s froze. I looked around to see why, and one of the large doors had opened and with just his head showing, the general asked, “What’s going on out here?” I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was our General from Bataan, "Skinny" Wainwright. He recognized our uniforms, opened the door and said, “Come on in here boys.”  He hugged each of us, closed the door, went to his desk, got out three glasses and poured us a drink.

     He was interested in where we were captured, what camps we were in, what kind of work the Japanese had us doing, and what ship we were on that took us to Japan. We visited for about two hours. He asked us what he could do for us. One boy, a Mexican American, wanted to go on duty at El Paso-Jaurez Bridge. General Wainwright made a phone call and then told him that he would be assigned to the bridge. The other boy wanted to be assigned to the recruiting service in Lafayette, LA.  The general made a phone call and then told him that he would be assigned to recruiting duty in Lafayette. I wanted to be assigned to duty at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. He told me that Keesler was not in his Corp area; however, he would see what he could do. He made several phone calls then told me that I would be assigned to Keesler AFB. He then told us that our orders would be available that day. We thanked him, wished him good health, saluted, shook hands, and went back to the replacement depot. We walked into the orderly room and the First Sergeant stood up and asked, “Just who the hell are you people?” I told him that we were just some soldiers that didn’t like to be kicked around. He gave us our orders and we left for our assignments.

 

            Why I am here today:

The prisoners did not know until the Japanese War Crimes took place that orders had been issued to the Japanese prison camp commanders
            that all prisoners would be executed on August 29, 1945.

We thank President Truman for giving us a reprieve from execution.

NOTE: James wrote (along with Robert L. Whitmore) the book "I Came Back From Bataan". Click here for photo of book

Addition to Biography: Obituary for MSGT. James Donovan Gautier Jr.

     Master Sergeant James Donovan Gautier Jr., age 88 of Ocean Springs, MS., died September 28, 2007 in Collins, MS.
     He was born February 28th, 1919 in Kreole, MS.
     Gautier served during World War II and the Korean Conflict in the US Air Force and retired after 21 years of dedicated service.
     During WWII he was capture and forced into labor as a POW for 3 ½ years. Gautier also survived the Bataan Death March.
     After returning to civilian life, Gautier became involved with the Civil Air Patrol and retired as a Lt. Commander.
     Later in life he co-authored a book, ”I Came Back From Bataan” with Robert Whitmore.

     He was a member of the First Methodist Church., Masonic Lodge, eastern star and V.F.W. Post 3373, as well as the American Legion of Pascagoula.   
     Gautier was preceded in death by his parents, James and Mattie Gautier.
     He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Mrs. Emmie Gautier, 2 sons and 2 daughter-in laws.
 

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