"Tribute To A True Hero"



To the uncle of Joseph
Bill McDonald, CW3 USA RET
Korea and VN
Retired County Chaplain
Andrew County Missouri

Arkansas, recognition memorial on the court house lawn. They have a large granite, headstone shaped memorial with all the names on it. I found that his name was missing and with the help of the county and the VFW and American Legion and they had his name cut in the stone. They asked me to be the principal speaker and I accepted, though it was tough. They had all these white haired Legionaires with their M1s and Flags, all in the American Legion uniform. The third grade was there to sing America the Beautiful and God Bless America , several speakers spoke, and my emotions were rampant. But the hardest thing for me to do, which God layed upon me was the poem I read at the end of the program. I have added it at the end of this printing, Bill, your brother in arms and in Christ. Lest we forget. Bill McDonald, CW3, USA Ret., Korea and VN Nephew of Joseph Paul, Thank you so much for your kindness and thoughtfulness. Bill.

I would like to thank Bill for all the information about Joseph and his family without it. I could never have created this memorial.

"Hell Ships"

Japanese prisoner of war transports.

You are in hell!!

Aboard a Japanese prisoner
of war ship during World War II.

8 OCT 1916~24 OCT 1944
A Defender Of
The Philippine Islands
7 DEC 1941~6 MAY 1942

Purple Heart

Prisoner Of War

Combat Action

American Defense

American Campaign

Campaign Medal

World War II
Victory Medal

Philippine Presidential
UnitCitation Ribbon

Defense Medal

Independence Medal


Joseph D. Nelson was born on a "rock" farm in Combs, Madison County, Arkansas, October 8, 1916. His father was Joseph E. Nelson and his mother was the former Ethel Jamison, of Oklahoma. She was a small woman, part Cherokee, and there were two sisters ages 2 and 4.

He grew up to be 5' 5 1/2 inches tall, 6 inches taller than his mother and two sisters, and he weighed 121 pounds. His mother and sisters weighed less than 100 pounds when they were adults. His oldest sister was my mother. Clara Elizabeth (Nelson) McDonald. She met my father at John Brown School, where they fell in love and left school and went to Tulsa and were married there. Ethel and Joseph were divorced prior to 1920 and she went off to Tahlequah and married a man named Davis and had one son named Jack. The family migrated to the San Diego in California and they found work in the ship building there.

When WW II came along, Joseph answered the call to duty and joined the Army, from all I can find, on Jan 6, 1940. Odd that January 6 is his dads birthday and mine. The next place we find him is the Southwest Pacific Area, in a Beleaguered status from December 8, 1941, to and including May 6, 1942, and a missing in action status on and subsequent to February 10, 1942 when the international Red Cross informed the Department of Army that he was a Prisoner of War, and that status was terminated on 16 June 1945 when evidence concidered to be sufficient to establishe the fact of death on October 14, 1944 was recieved by the Secretary of War.Who just happened to be my cousin, Frank Pace, Jr, on my father's side. Now, I have said all that to say this.

My uncle Joseph Nelson, a Madison County son, went through hell on earth.  And his family did as well. If you can imagine what they went through from December to after June 16, 1945, not knowing anything about their son and brother The Army notified his younger sister Velma, as he had listed her as next of kin, and my mother was there when the phone call came in. It devistated them, as you can imagine. The younger sister went into shock and never fully recovered. My mother fell into a trauma of hatred for the Army and the Japanese Army to such an extent that she was discharged from the army and joined the Red Cross as a uniformed participant. Her Flying Tigers. It was so distressing that no one in the family ever brought up the subject.

Joseph was an Infantry man, wounded, and serving as a clerk in the 2nd General Hospital when he was captured. He was a POW in various camps in the Philipines, the last one being in Manila, I believe. He was in the infamous Bataan Death March. The last Prison Camp he was in, the prisoners were dieing from malnutrition.They had to bury their own dead. One prisoner relates that they had to carry the litters on their shoulders as their arms were not strong enough to hold them. They did not even soon simply scraped dirt over them and the next rain would uncover them.. The count was up to as many as 80 per day at the end. There was a staff of Chaplains there who had better treatment as they were useful to the Japanese in that they could keep peace amongst the prisoners. These Chaplains took over the duty of burying the dead. They are to be commended. There were three aboard the Arisan Maru, the ship that our own submarine sank, which my uncle was on.

The International Red Cross had extablished rules of war which required all nations to show the red flag on any transport vehicle of prisoners, but the Japanese merchant ships refused to comply with that rule. The ship was hit slightly aft of mid ships and folded slightly. The prisoners were in the front of the ship and it took 2 to 3 hours to sink. When the Crew abandoned ship, they cast off all were the only way for the prisoners to climb out of he hold or get back into it. But some prisoners that were atop managed to get most out, but many could not swim.

There were about 8 US prisoners atop doing cleanup duty and a couple of civilians and one or two Australians. Out of 1805 prisoners, 7 Americans escaped alive and 2 managed to make it to Formosa and freedom. the rest were recaptured. 5 managed to reach China in a boat. These figures vary from one report to another, so it is not cut in stone.

There were other Japanese ships in the area and they refused to rescue any of the prisoners that swam up to their ships. A few were picked up by Japanese Navy and sent to Formosa. There was one ship that took on a few, but I am not aware of it being more than 5 men. I would be terribly negligent if I didn't mention the inspirational dedication of Father Tom, a Catholic Chaplain, who is a hero in the archives of history. He had time to go round to every prisoner offering absolution, or seeking the prayer of salvation, from every prisoner there. It gives me a great peace of mind knowing this, as a dying man will very quickly call on God, as we all know. I shall read this final story with Joseph in mind.

Rest in peace Private Joseph Nelson, United States Army, Prisoner of War, Killed in Action, World War II, Purple Heart.


Bill McDonald, CW3 USA RET, Korea and VN
Retired County Chaplain, Andrew County Missouri

The Final Inspection

The soldier stood and faced God
Which must always come to pass.
He hoped his shoes were shining
Just as brightly as his brass.

"Step forward now, you soldier,
How shall I deal with you?
Have you always turned the other cheek?
To my church have you been true?"

The soldier squared his shoulders
and said, "No Lord, I guess I ain't
Because those of us who carry guns
Can't always be a saint.

I've had to work most Sundays
And at times my talk was tough,
And sometimes I've been violent
Because the world is awfully rough.

But, I never took a penny
That wasn't mine to keep
Though I worked a lot of overtime
When the bills got too steep.

And I never passed a cry for help,
Though at times I shook with fear,
And sometimes, God forgive me,
I've wept unmanly tears.

I know I don't deserve a place
Among the people here,
They never wanted me around
Except to calm their fears.

If you've a place for me here, Lord,
It needn't be so grand,
I never expected or had too much,
But if you don't, I'll understand."

There was a silence all around the throne,
Where the saints had often trod,
As the soldier waited quietly,
For the judgement of his God.

"Step forward now, you soldier,
You've borne your burdens well,
Walk peacefully on Heaven's streets,
You've served your time in Hell."

Requiescat in pace!

May they rest in Peace!

TThis Web Page was created by and
is maintained by Paul D. Henriott
web page reworked 27 September 2012