POW  Recalls Adventures

By Dave Moller

Credit: Quan & Staff Writer, davem@theunion.com

 Harold “Gunner” Ferrell lost an eye to friendly fire and many friends to combat and Japanese prisons during World War II.

So it’s little surprise the 97-year-old still wears a U.S. Marine Corps cap, and wakes up each morning at the Highgate Retirement Village in Grass Valley thinking God has another purpose for him that day.

            Ferrell has plenty of purpose when he landed in the Philippines in November of 1941 just days before Pearl Harbor.  War was already apparent and when it broke out December 7, he went straight into initial fighting at Corregidor. 
“We got word from the general and Washington, D.C.,” Ferrell remembered this week as he prepared for a quiet Veterans Day. 
“If you can hold ‘em six months, that will be good.”

            The Marines managed and diverted Japanese attention from a planned invasion of Australia.  The Japanese overran and captured them in early May, but Ferrell’s good luck had already begun running with the bad. On May 5, Ferrell and another man discovered a large Japanese unit had landed.  When he went back to his company commander to report it, the captain wanted to personally attack the Japanese with an American patrol. Ferrell told him he should stay at headquarters and let him lead the raid.  The captain insisted and as wiped out with his raiders. Even though he was imprisoned in the next few days and would be for the rest of the war, Ferrell already figured he was on a roll to survival.

“If I had done what I planned, I would have taken a boat over to Bataan, (from Corregidor) but I didn’t.”

            The nearby Bataan Peninsula turned into a nightmare for American and Filipino troops, and 10,000 of them died in the famous Death March to prison camp.  Ferrell figured he might have been one of them.
Once captured, most of the men looked up to him because he had been a Marine since 1928 and was like a grandfather to the other men although he was only 31.  Transferred to a prison camp in Cabanatuan, Ferrell quickly learned to use his job running the mess hall to shore up sick and starving prisoners.

            By filtering the stricken men into the mess work, Ferrell could get them the food and strength they needed.  Once a man was OK, another one needing nutrition took his place.
 “At the 4th Marine convention in 2001, several Marines told me that this program saved their lives,” said son Davis Ferrell, a former Nevada County probation officer who recently moved his father here.

            In December of 1944, Ferrell was placed aboard the Japanese vessel, the Orouko Maru for shipment to another prison camp.  Just 500 yards offshore American planes sank the ship and Ferrell swam to shore.  About 300 Americans died in the attack.

            The prisoners were then marched to another camp and eventually loaded onto the Enoura Maru, bound for Formosa.  Once anchored in the harbor there, Ferrell’s ship came under U.S. attack again. Two bombs fell directly on the forward hold where Ferrell was. Shrapnel took out his right eye, a piece of his nose and today, he still carries a piece of shrapnel in his cheek. That led to yet another boat ride, this time to a hospital in Japan.  It was one of three called “The Hellships,” by veterans, because they often had no food or water and stood shoulder to shoulder in their own waste.

When the hellship landed, Ferrell found out he was one of the 700 surviving prisoners out of 2,000 placed on the boats.

Upon liberation, the Japanese doctor who ran the hospital presented his sword to Ferrell.  His son Davis retains it.

Ferrell spent the next year recovering in a Naval hospital in the United States.  He managed an officer’s club for the Marines in San Diego after the war and then opted for civilian life.

In 1950, he bought a farm in Los Molinas.  In 1961, he moved to Red Bluff and became an appraiser.  He later moved to Sacramento where he did appraisals with the state.

            According to Davis Ferrell, his father did 50 pushups and 50 sit-ups until he was 90.

            “I can’t do that anymore,” his dad said with a smile this week.  “But I’m fortunate.  I guess the Lord’s not ready for me.” 

            Asked if he would advise young men to join the Marines, Ferrell was quick to answer.

            “It depends.  Some young men can take it, and some can’t.”


Addendum: Harold's Obituary:

As Harold would have said, God took him home on December 21.  He died while napping in his favorite chair in his apartment at Highgate Senior Living.
Harold was born in Hallsville, Texas on January 7, 1908.  He was the oldest son of Frank and Ivy Taylor Ferrell.  He had 5 brothers who all preceded him in death.  He attended Baylor University on a football scholarship.  He joined the Marine Corps in 1928.  For the next 7 years, he played on the all-Marine football and basketball team.
Harold married Ruth Davis Meredith in 1935.  They had 3 sons, Davis, James, and Jeffery.  She died of cancer in 1980.  She was the love of his life. 

Harold was a Marine Gunner, warrant officer, on Corregidor at the beginning of World War II.  He was in a Japanese prison camp from May 1942 until after the war.  While at Cabanatuan, he was in charge of one of the mess halls.  He developed and implemented a plan that secretly brought starving prisoners in and fed them until they were healthy enough to return to the general population.   In December of 1944, he began a journey that took over 3 months and 3 ships being transported to Japan.  The first 2 ships were sunk and he lost his right eye and a portion of his nose on one of them.  From Fukuoka Camp 17 Harold was transferred to Manchuria where he stayed interned until after the end of the war.

From 1950 until 1957, Harold farmed in Tehama County.  In 1957, he became an appraiser.  He retired from the State of California at the age of 70. Harold enjoyed traveling, dancing and fishing but more than anything else, he loved people.

He is survived by his sons and daughter-in-laws Dave and Dett, Jim and Marie and Jeff and Sharon.  He had 7 grandchildren Shaun and his wife Kathy, Matt, Brian, James, Rose, Elizabeth, and Vivian and 2 great grandchildren Ian and Savannah.   Memorial services were held January 7, 2006 at  Trinity Episcopal Church in Nevada City.

Credit: Quan February-March 2006

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