March still vivid for Graham Man
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
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
"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
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.
Browning, Bob (Robert) Harp, Drolan Chandler, and Lee (Wayne thinks it was William Lee).
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