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Corregidor and the Hell Camps


Shortly after bombing Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded the Philippines. Allied forces put up a stiff resistance, but slowly retreated to the Bataan Peninsula. In February 1942, General MacArthur left for Australia, leaving Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright in command.


The Bataan peninsula fell on April 9th, but 7,000 troops made it to Corregidor, where they held out for another 27 days. Cut off, outnumbered and starving, the Allies surrendered on this date in 1942. They had stopped a Japanese invasion of Australia, but the price was high. Some 79,500 soldiers at Bataan laid down their arms; 72,000 were part of the infamous Bataan Death March, during which at least 650 Americans died of thirst, starvation, disease and/or military atrocities.


North Dakotans later learned that 82 of their own were taken prisoner on Corregidor by the Japanese, with many dying in captivity. Among those who made it home was Colonel Harold “Johnnie” Johnson, from Grafton. Johnson later became a 4-star general and the Army Chief of Staff under President Lyndon Johnson.


Colonel Johnson had been imprisoned in an unfinished camp that was inadequate for housing its 90,000 prisoners. The side-by-side sleeping quarters consisted of two feet of space on bamboo racks. Almost everyone was sick from tropical diseases. There was little shelter from the sun, and thousands depended on one poorly working tap for drinking water. Food consisted of small intermittent servings of rice.


Another of the North Dakotans, Lieutenant Ted Spaulding of Sherwood, was transferred from the Philippines to a camp in Japan, which wasn't as bad.

In writing of the experience, he recalled joking at the time saying, "Hell, this isn’t bad. I spent the first nineteen years of my life in Sherwood (ND) before I came here."

He told stories of life in Sherwood to a few of his friends. Spaulding said, "They didn’t believe me when I told them that I had pulled a sled around town, delivering milk (probably frozen) when it was 48 below zero, even 54 below on rare days. Then they heard all about the fistfights in the pool hall, pitching hay in 110-degree weather and even more unbelievable stories.”


Ted's Japanese prison camp was liberated on September 2nd, 1945. And you can bet he was happy to see Sherwood again. In 1946, he married Ardes Holmberg in nearby Mohall.


Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm


Sources: Lewis Sorley, Honorable Warrior: General Harold K. John and the Ethics of Command, 1998; Ted & Ardes Spaulding, Itchy Feet, 1999

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