Bataan Death March still vivid for Graham Man

By Louise Huscusson Stewart, Graham Star reporter


     While Americans watched with joy as Army prisoner of war Jessica Lynch was rescued by elite troops on April 13, 2003, Graham's oldest POW recalled an ordeal from which there was no rescue until war ended. Wayne Carringer was a POW for nearly 3 and a half years, enduring starvation, beatings, torture, solitary confinement, humiliation, illness without medical treatment and slave labor in a Japanese coal mine. During those years his weight dropped from 145 pounds to 75 pounds, a stature that Wayne said earned him the name "ghost soldier", after his release.
     Carringer, who left Graham County in September of 1939 to enlist in the Army, had been stationed  in the Philippines only 16 days when Pearl harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941. Shortly after Pearl harbor he was sent from Manila to Bataan, a peninsula across the bay from the capitol city . On April 9, 1942, Bataan was taken over by the Japanese. American and Filipino soldiers fought bravely with equipment and weapons left over form World War I. Bataan had no antiaircraft batteries.
     What became known as the Bataan Death March began on April 9 at Mariveles at the tip of Bataan. Thousands and thousands of soldiers were marched up to as much as 65 miles in extreme heat. Carringer recalls Filipino civilians who came to the troops aid being shot or bayoneted, as were any men who gave out along the march. Fellow Graham County resident Jacob Cornsilk, was sickened on the Death March and died a year later, in a POW camp. 
     "Officers wearing gold West Pint rings got their fingers chopped off, or if they refused, they were killed because the Japanese wanted their gold", Wayne recalled.
     At the end of the march, at the town of San Fernando, prisoners were loaded onto a narrow-gauge railroad, 100 soldiers into a 240 square foot boxcar.
     At the end of the line was Camp O'Donnell, a place Carringer recalls as a death factory. There he would spent an entire year. At the end of the year, he was loaded onto a ship and taken to Omatu, Japan to work in the Mitsubishi coal mines.
     "The POW's worked in groups of ten", Carringer said, and the guards told us that if one tried to escape, the other nine would die". Carringer and his fellow prisoners were fed a bow of rice and cabbage leaf soup twice a day. Once, when sick, Carringer was put in "Zero Ward", where prisoners were sent to die.
"I remember we were lucky heading to Japan because there was a "clear path" at that time" (meaning few attacks on the hellships early on, tho not the case later in the years to come). "When we arrived in Moji they put us on a train. Then we had to walk awhile. Japanese civilians; women and children threw rocks at us".

Carringer recalls the end of the war. "Once when I was waiting outside to go to work in the mines, I heard a plane overhead. I looked to the sky and saw a B-29 Bomber. Moments later I heard a blast and the the mushroom cloud rising to the sky." That mushroom cloud was the August 9, 1945 blast of the nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. He said the Japanese would not allow the prisoners to talk, but the Americans all looked at each other in the knowledge that they would be going home soon. When he emerged from captivity, Carringer learned he had become a "ghost solider" in more ways than one.  The federal government had listed him as missing, then dead. A memorial service had even been conducted in his honor at the Graham County Courthouse. Wayne stated that he had lost one of his dog tags, but does not recall how. That may have led to his being declared dead. That or the fact that the Japanese did not keep accurate records of the prisoners.
     Carringer did have to send six months in a hospital in Swannanoa. Upon arriving in North Carolina, his family finally got to visit him, but it was with the sad news of family deaths. His mother had died in 1945, a brother in an accident in the Fontana Dam construction and another brother of a ruptured appendix. 
     After being discharged from the Army, he received his back army pay; $99. per month pay, $1.50 per day slave labor pay and $1 per day for food rations. With this money he bought four acres of land, on which now stand a Trailer Park and a Wendy's restaurant.
     Despite the deprivations he has lived through this highly decorated "ghost soldier" is not bitter.
     "I thank God for giving me the courage and strength to endure the torture, the beatings and the humiliation to come home to the greatest country in the world".

Note: phone interview with Linda - While discussing liberation, Wayne told of how he was one of the first men to leave camp rather than wait for rescue. When George Weller came into camp announcing the end of the war as a fact, Wayne and 5 other men left Camp 17.

Wes Browning, Bob (Robert) Harp, Drolan Chandler, and Lee (Wayne thinks it was William Lee). The fifth man's name Wayne cannot recall. But he remembers clearly POW's arrival in Manila where they were cared for before being sent home. The food, "to fatten us up so no one (back home) would see us look so bad" and being told "we would get four shots and the fourth one will not hurt. The fourth one was a "shot"...of whiskey!" Wayne can still laugh at that incident.

      Click on pictures for full view           

Link to Oral History Project Interview of Wayne (very interesting interview of Wayne's POW experiences)

Link to News Article 2004 featuring Wayne    Link to News Article 2007

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