Billy Alvin Ayers
Cpl, 7th Materiel Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group, US Army Air Corps
Billy Alvin Ayers was born Oct. 23, 1923 in Marshall, TX, the youngest of five children. Billy’s mother Cora and father Walter Lee Ayers, who drew his own middle name from Robert E. Lee, named their son in honor of American aviator and military giant Billy Mitchell and WWI hero Alvin York.
With his father’s signature, the then 17-year-old enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in Dallas, TX May 31, 1941. He received basic training at March Field where he was assigned to the 44th Materiel Squadron. He was transferred to the 7th Materiel Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group to make up for “shortages” in the unit and along with about 350 men from the 19th’s ground echelon unit was transferred to the Philippines, arriving October 24, 1941. He celebrated his 18th birthday in Manila.
Billy was at Clark Field when the war started Dec. 8 and when his unit packed up and pulled out on Christmas Eve 1941. He was among those who moved men and equipment to the southern tip and there was formed into the Provisional Air Corps Regiment (Infantry) where he fought, patrolled and survived malnutrition, beri-beri, malaria and bombardment and ground attacks from the Japanese.
He was surrendered April 9, 1942 and from that point on his record and experiences mirror those of some 20,000 other Americans: Death March, O’Donnell and Cabanatuan where after helping bury members of his unit he himself became a patient in Zero Ward on his 19th birthday in October 1942. He remained at Zero Ward for almost half a year and was declared fit for duty on May 3, 1943 by a “special medical board.”
As fit for duty, he was one of 501 prisoners transferred to Bilibid Prison where they were held for subsequent transfer to Japan on July/August 1943 on board the Clyde Maru. Billy’s first “good luck” was to be onboard an early hell ship before the allies began sinking them. Along with 500 other Americans, he arrived in Moji, Japan in late August and became one of the “old 500” to open Fukuoka 17; the camp many believe was the worst in Japan.
Click here for Billy's Affidavit - Camp Conditions
Billy’s Irish temperament, red hair and general reluctance to do what the Japanese wanted often resulted in a series of slaps and sometimes even worse. He worked in the Mitsui coal mines as a slave laborer during the entire period he was at Fukuoka 17. Poor health and mine cave-ins ultimately led to a broken leg. He was in the camp hospital recovering from illness and the broken leg when the war ended.
Billy was first questioned after his rescue/recovery in early September 1945. He was one of the last to leave the camp. His camp testimony has not yet been located but it did lead to recorded testimony that was used in the Tokyo War Crimes trial and in the Court Martial of Lt. Edward N. Little (USN).
Click here for War Crimes Trials Affidavit. Click here for Affidavit Testimony document.
Billy said that the guideline for his testimony was “keep it brief and to the point.” He was also told, “We’ve heard all of the details before. Now we really need some actual examples with names and dates.” Billy’s notes, viewed in 1952 and 1953 when he applied for War Crime Commission compensation show that he continually rewrote or re-answered his testimony until it only filled one or two pages for each session. He also said that it was apparent early on that the person taking his testimony only wanted examples of events in which the prisoner ultimately died. Click here for details noted in Billy's War Crimes Affidavit.
After recovery from Fukuoka 17, he was flown to the Philippines where while at the recovery unit he was questioned again. The first official transcript shows up as session held at Madigan General Hospital in Washington State. His testimony was taken over a two day period and consistently revised to “keep it brief.” He again offered sworn testimony after returning to Texas. Billy’s testimony was reported in at least four newspapers at the time with a mention in a Drew Pearson column being the most widely circulated. The Stars and Stripes also mentioned his testimony in the Lt. Edward Little court martial.
Note: Billy Alvin Ayers’ comments and quotes are contained in interviews conducted by his nephew, James C. Burnett, over a 40-year period, as well as hand-written notes on his personal records and personal correspondence shared with his nephew during that time period. The term “official records” refers to those documents and records currently on file with one or more government agencies or through university libraries that house copies of these documents.
Billy Ayers was awarded the Purple Heart, Presidential Unit Citation with 2 Bronze Stars, American Defense Service Medal, and Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with 2 Bronze Stars, Philippine Defense Medal, with 1 Bronze Star, Prisoner of War Medal and the Good Conduct Medal. He also was awarded and received the Combat Infantry Badge.
Credit: Jim Burnett, nephew to Billy Ayers
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