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"THE LETTER "
_________________
Jim Mullaney



 

 

"I, mistakenly, surmised that as the years passed these memories would fade into oblivion as so many others have, but this event seems to be indelible."

 

The Letter
by James M. Mullaney

 

When Darlyne Jaynes of Eugene Oregon wrote  to the International Travel News about her trip to the Philippines, her intention was to share her profound experience of touring Corregidor Island. She did not know that a fellow subscriber had profound experiences of his own on Corregidor some fifty years earlier. After contacting her by telephone he sent a letter he had been meaning to send to someone, somewhere for some time.

                                                                                                                          

 

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J A M E S   M .    M U L L A N E Y
1913 LEWISTON DRIVE LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY 40216
PHONE 502 447 5955

JULY 12. 1995

Royal and Darlyne Jaynes
16061 Best Lane
Apartment 4
Eugene Oregon 97401

 

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Jaynes,

This letter is something I've intended to write for many years but could never quite get around to putting it all in perspective. Secondly, I'm a procrastinator. Thirdly, I was and am in doubt as to whom I should address this unusual but true story.

I don't want my note to dwell on personal war experiences any more than is necessary to present accurately what took place on Corregidor Island in February 1945.

On February 16th of that year the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team made a parachute drop onto Corregidor at 08:45. I was a member of this unit and jumped with the first wave. We landed on "Topside" where the barracks, the golf course, theatre, and officers' quarters were located. Prior to the assault we were informed there would be about nine hundred Japanese on the island. It didn't take long to realize that there were at least five to six thousand. About eight hundred paratroopers made the 08:45 drop. The next drop was scheduled four hours later.

I suppose in modern day military parlance this could be described as a fluid situation. At any rate that is what this writer was doing on Corregidor.

After eight days of heavy fighting on the tiny island (about three and a half miles long and a half mile wide at Topside to a few yards wide at the tail end) we finally moved around Malinta Hill and advanced toward the overgrown air strip called Kindley Field. It was at Kindley Field where my story took place.

We had captured the strip and were conducting patrols to clear out the caves and tunnels just west of there near Cavalry Point. In our earlier briefings we were informed that this is where the Japs had landed in April 1942 during their assault on the fortress that led to General Wainwright’s surrender. As we moved through the tall weeds cautiously toward the bay we discovered many skeletons - I remember fifteen or twenty - all Japanese. The enemy had not taken the trouble to bury their dead. Just left them there to rot in the tropic heat or make a few good meals for the ubiquitous rats.

These bodies laid in a semi circle. I found one body facing the others in the semi circle from a distance of about twenty feet. It was an American...

The uniform he wore had weathered the tropics much better than his body. The shoes and leggings were still in place around bones. The pants were frayed and brittle but still covered the backside and lower spine. The wool shirt was torn. His helmet (World War One type) was cocked over his skull and cheek bones. He had all his teeth and the helmet strap gripped them lightly. He was in a prone position.

His .03 rifle was under his right arm bones with the forefinger bone of the right hand inside the trigger guard. There was no ammo in the rifle or nearby.

I imagined for a moment how he had fought to the end. It was obvious that this brave man had killed many of the enemy and battled courageously in a hopeless situation. With due respect I gently moved the helmet strap and looked at his dog tags.

His name was Skelton. I couldn’t be sure of the first name but it looked like "John".. His home town was Eugene, Oregon.

I've often thought that I should write to the mayor, if Eugene has one, or some official about this incident but then I was worried that these details would possibly hurt his family or friends. I, mistakenly, surmised that as the years passed these memories would fade into oblivion as so many others have, but this event seems to be indelible.

As I write to you people I am hoping that "John" Skelton can in some way be remembered in your thoughts and prayers. If any of his family or friends can be located let them know what a soldier he was. Show them this correspondence and tell them that here in Louisville, Kentucky is one person who never met John Skelton but will never forget him.....

 

James M. Mullaney

 

   
 

 

 

Darlyne did as James requested. After calling all eight of the Skeltons listed in the local phone directory, she was put in touch with the Skelton family genealogist in Cottage Grove, Oregon (Beth Habian, International Travel News December 1995)

"When I started inquiring if she was from the family of a young man killed in the Philippines during World War 11" Darlyne later wrote, "she answered unhesitatingly, "That would be Johnny!" She then contacted Lucille Bowman, John Skelton's sister. (Beth Habian, International Travel News December 1995)

 

SKELTON FAMILY NEWSLETTER-

03 March 1996

JOHN HUNDLEY SKELTON (1918-1942)

"...The last word that Johnny's sister, Annie Lucille (nee Skelton) Bowman, heard from her brother was a letter he mailed before sailing from Fresno. Lacking information to the contrary, in 1945 the U.S. Army declared John Hundley Skelton dead. 'All these years, we wondered what really happened,' Lucille Bowman says. 'If he'd survived Corregidor, he would have been on the Bataan Death March. 1 I always felt sure that if he was a prisoner, he wouldn't have been one for long. He wouldn't think it was right, and he wouldn't put up with it, and they would have killed him.' " 

 

 

 

Royal and Darlyne passed the letter along to Joanne and Harry Skelton, cousins of John Hundley Skelton, and ....they immediately contacted Johnny's sister, Lucille Bowman.

The story was picked up in August 21, 1995 by Eric Mortensen writing for  Eugene, Oregon's  The Register-Guard.

 

FAMILY FINALLY LEARNS JOHNNY'S LAST CHAPTER

by Eric Mortensen

It is strange to read Johnny Skelton’s letters. They are so full of life – just ordinary life with all its promise – that it’s tough to think he never came home.

Well, I’m in the ___________ Army

He wrote that on Aug 24, 1941, aboard what he described as a "G-D-mn" train bound for infantry training at Camp Wolters, Texas. The attack on Pearl Harbour was less than four months away. Johnny Skelton’s fate was about to become a 53-year mystery.

Well, I am in Texas now. It is hotter than the devil.

Johnny Skelton wrote that on Aug 30, 1941. He’d been drafted into the Army and didn’t mind going. He’d worked in a mill after dropping out of Santa Clara High School north of Eugene, but America was still coming out of the Depression and jobs were shaky.

I think I have a steady job with the government now. I have just about decided to join the regular Army and go to the islands.

He wrote that on Sept. 6, 1941, after discovering career soldiers were a breed apart from the stumbling draftees he was stuck with. ‘They have what they call the ‘awkward squad’ for guys who are so dumb they can’t tell their right foot from their left", he wrote to his sister, Lucille Bowman, and her husband, Clifton.

"They make them carry about a 10 pound rock in their left hand so they can tell them apart", he wrote. " That’s the honest to God truth."

Johnny Skelton figured he could join the regular Army, go to the Philippines and maybe make sergeant in six to eight months. He enjoyed the regimentation, the officers were "sure enough swell guys," and he expected to qualify as an expert rifleman.

He'd always been one to plan ahead and take care of things. He was the oldest of the Skelton children and looked after Lucille, Tom, Helen and Aura.

Lucille recalls picking cherries with him when she was young. When she got tired and cranky he'd tell her, "Lucille, it's OK If you want to take a little nap over there."

"When I woke up, I'd see my bucket had more cherries in it than when I went to sleep," she says.

"He'd always worry about the rest of us kids first," she says. "He took being the oldest very seriously."

Well, kids, how are you making it? I hear you have been doing pretty well. They say you have named him John. . . is that right?

Johnny Skelton wrote that on Oct. 1, 1941. Lucille Bowman had given birth to a son and named him after her brother, who was in Fresno, Calif., waiting to ship out to the Philippines.

The war In Europe had been raging for two years and Japan was on the march in Asia. The United States was not yet at war, but it was in the wind.

U.S. troops stationed in the Pacific were ill-equipped. They still wore World War I-style helmets and carried bolt-action Springfield rifles. They wore leather leggings and wool uniforms.

Johnny Skelton wrote that it would take at least 28 days to reach the Philippines by boat.

"It is going to be a good adventure," he wrote. "When I get to the Philippines I will write you kids more and send you pictures and souvenirs.

Pass this letter around to the other kids and tell everybody to drop a line sometime. I have went about 6,000 miles since I saw you kids last. have several thousand more to go.

Well, I wish you luck.

Your brother, Johnny

(P.S) Be sure and take good care of the young one.

That was the last Lucille Bowman heard from her brother.

The Japanese fell upon Pearl Harbor and, in rapid fashion, knocked out U.S. and Filipino forces in the Philippines. Corregidor, a twosquare-mile rock island at the entrance to Manila Bay, was the last outpost to fall.   U.S. and Filipino soldiers there surrendered in May 1942.

PFC John Skelton was listed as missing.

After about three years, the Army declared him dead.

"All these years, we wondered what really happened," Lucille Bowman says. "If he'd survived Corregidor, he would have been on the Bataan Death March.*** I always felt sure that if he was a prisoner, he wouldn't have been one for long. He wouldn't think it was right, and he wouldn't put up with it, and they would have killed him."

U.S. troops didn't return to Corregidor until February 1945, when they retook it in the "island hopping" campaign that led to the Japanese homeland.

The first Americans to return were Army paratroopers who landed on what was called the "top side" of the island. They spent several days battling their way to an airfield, blowing up caves filled with Japanese defenders.

Among the paratroopers was 1st Lt. James Mullaney.

During a break in the fighting, Mullaney spotted the skeletal remains of 15 to 20 Japanese who had fallen in a rough semi-circle. About 20 feet away, facing them, was the skeleton of a lone American.

"The uniform he wore had weathered the tropics much better than his body," Mullaney was moved to write five decades later. "The shoes and leggings were still in place around bones. The pants were frayed and brittle but still covered tile backside and lower spine. The wool shirt was torn."

The man's helmet, a World War I type, was cocked over his skull and cheek bones. His Springfield .03 rifle lay under his right arm, and the bone of his forefinger was inside the trigger guard. There was no ammunition left in the rifle.

"It scared me somewhat," Mullaney says by telephone from his home in Louisville, Ky. "I was afraid it might be my brother. It was one chance in 10,000, but he was in the Philippines. We knew he'd been on Bataan."

Mullaney gently moved the man's helmet strap and looked at his dogtags. The last name was "Skelton." The first name looked like "John." His hometown, included on dogtags at the lime, was listed as "Eugene, Oregon."

The scene haunted Mullaney for years. He marveled at how the man had apparently battled courageously to the end. And his brother -whom he later learned had been captured and died a prisoner in Japan - was named John, too.

Fifty years flew by.

Royal and Darlyne Jaynes of Eugene took a 103-day trip to countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. It included a stop on Corregidor, and Darlyne Jaynes wrote an article about the island for International Travel News, a monthly magazine. As fate would have it, James Mullaney subscribes. He saw the article, learned the author was from Eugene and contacted Jaynes. He followed up on July 12 with the letter he'd been meaning to send, somewhere, to someone, for years.

As I write to you people I am hoping that John Shelton can in some way be remembered in your thoughts and prayers.  If any of his family or friends can be located, let them know what a soldier he was.  Show them this correspondence and tell them that here in Louisville, Kentucky, is one person who never met John Shelton but will never forget him.

Darlyne Jaynes contacted a Skelton relative in Cottage Grove, who in turn contacted Lucille Bowman in Eugene.  And Lucille, 75, closed the book on an old hurt. "It means we finally know what happened to Johnny," she says. "If you wonder about something for 50 years, you come up with about 15 different things that could have happened. We just knew he was gone, that's all.

"He was protecting his country and his people. To me, that sounds like something Johnny would have done."

On the counter of the mobile home she and her husband share is a cardboard box containing the U.S. flag the Army sent the family after Johnny died. Lucille's father passed it down to her, and she intends to give it to her grandson, an Army veteran.

His name is John too.

 

 

 

Following the Register Guard publication, Lucille received many good wishes from people that had known her brother. One call was from a young lady who said, "I didn't know Johnny, but grew up with his picture hanging in our living room.  So when I saw the picture in the paper, I knew it was him [sic.]." She went on to say that her folks who knew him all his life, held him as an example for them.  Everyone who knew him had good things to say. Lucille recently said of her older brother: "Johnny was very happy with military duty. He was always proud of his country and it was his nature to be willing to help anyone who needed it."

In December 1995, the Louisville Courier Journal rier Journal ran the story.  This also provoked a warm response. Copies were distributed to members of the Mullaney family.  It was through the efforts of Thomas E. Peoples of Sacramento, California, a nephew of James Mullaney,   that the incident was brought to the attention of Lt. Gen. Kicklighter,  who was at that time the director of activities related to the 50th Anniversary of World War II.

 

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DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY OF THE ARMY
101 ARMY PENTAGON
WASHINGTON DC 20310-0101

 

February 13, 1966

MEMORANDUM FOR Executive Officer, 41st Infantry Brigade

SUBJECT: Private First Class (PFC) John Skelton
Commemoration

"An investigation of records at the Army Archives in St. Louis, revealed that PFC John Skelton had been awarded the Bronze Star 2 and Purple Heart for his actions on Corregidor, but the medals had never been posthumously awarded to his family. It also was learned that he had not been awarded the Combat Infantry Badge, which he also had earned. Plans are underway for a formal presentation ceremony in Eugene this spring. The medals, accompanied by a certificate of appreciation signed by the Secretary of Defense, will be presented to the family of John Hundley Skelton."

 
   

 

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Members of the Pentagon, the community,
and the family of

JOHN H. SKELTON

Request the honor of your presence

for a memorial and awards ceremony

to be given in his honor

for his outstanding performance in World War II

at the National Guard Armory
2515 Centennial Boulevard
Eugene, Oregon
(across from Autzen Stadium)

Monday March 11th, 1996
at 2:00 p.m.

 

Light lunch & refreshments will be served
immediately following the ceremony

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Please RSVP immediately,
in order to estimate how many to expect
 

   

 

Present at the memorial dedication were Major General Raymond F. Rees, Oregon National Guard Adjutant General, James B. Thayer, Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army, Brigadeer General Alexander Burgin, Commander of the 41st Enhanced Infantry, Chaplain Terry M. Larkin, James M. Mullaney, author of the letter, the Mullaney family, and over 150 Skelton family members, friends, and media representatives.  Beneath a red, white and blue banner the brother and sister of the forever-young man were presented with the Combat Infantry and Expert Rifleman badges, the Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and a Campaign Medal for the Philippine and Pacific Theater.

 

 

                                                                                                                          

COMMENTARY:   "The Mullaney-Jaynes Letter" and the text of the Mortensen newspaper article are reproduced in their entirety, as submitted.  Other entries have been extracted by the editor from the originals.  

Al McGrew recalls that  shortly following the incarceration of the US and Filipino prisoners in the 92nd Garage area, the Japanese spent several days sending work parties of prisoners throughout the eastern end of the island for the purpose of locating and disposing of all bodies.   US bodies were buried.  Japanese bodies were cremated after a hand was removed and cremated separately (for return to Japan). Al believes that the prospects of locating any number of bodies after almost three years is unlikely.  "The termites there were voracious, and they would eat almost anything - wood, clothing, leather."  He also states that wool O.D. shirts were not, to his experience,  used as uniforms, except during the 'hazing' of new Coastal Artillery recruits during their 'boot camp' training.  He recalls fellow recruits fainting like ten-pins when required to stand in the sun - to the quiet amusement of the old hands witnessing the scene.

The author stands by the accuracy of the original letter, "down even to the punctuation."

Ed

2001 Jim Mullaney

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NOTES

1. A popular misconception. The Bataan Death March occurred and ended prior to the surrender of Corregidor. <<Back>>

2.  All US troops on Corregidor throughout the siege became entitled to a Bronze Star <<Back>><Back>><Back>>