William L. Eldridge, born May 24-1922
William Eldridge was born in Vernal, Utah May 24, 1922. He joined the army in Feb. 1941. At Fort Douglas he told the Recruiting Office that he wanted to go to someplace tropical and was told the Philippine Islands had openings. He went to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay where he received some training in close order drill. Bill was loaded on the USS Republic for transport to the Philippines.
Once at Fort McKinley Bill learned he would be with the 31st Infantry, "M" Company, 3rd Battalion. He became skilled in the use of 30 and 50 caliber machine guns, 60MM and 80MM mortars, a rifle with a bayonet, and a 45-caliber pistol. He moved to Estado Mayor in Manila, which overlooked the Pasig River.
After Pearl Harbor was attacked, he went to Nichols Field as part of the perimeter defense. After the Japanese bombed the airfield Bill was sent to Bataan where they set up a command post at the entrance of the peninsula. For four months his life was filled with retreating, digging in and fighting, all the while being shelled and bombed. The Army reduced rations and most of the men were sick with malaria and dysentery. In April shrapnel hit him in his left leg and the next morning he found he was being watched by ten Japanese who had a tank nearby. They took Bill and his companions to a large field where other prisoners were being held. Bill suffered his first attack of malaria and then had to start on the Bataan Death March. His memory of most of the march was sketchy as he was so sick.
At O'Donnell, he ended up in the Zero Ward, where he actually began to recover and was able to go on to Cabanatuan where he worked on various details, such as farming and moving buildings. In July of 1943 he went to Moji Japan via the hellship the Clyde Maru. After disembarking from the ship, Bill ordered a train to Omuta, Japan and joined Fukuoka POW Camp No. 17. They were sent to the coal mines to work 12 hours a day.
In the mess hall one dark morning, Bill stepped in a ditch and re-injured his leg. He was sent to the dispensary and they tried to graft his legs with pieces from his inner thigh, but they did not take, although Bill had rubbed the bandage hoping the wounds would not heal and he would not have to back to the mines.
Not much later in mid-August they heard an American plane fly over them heading towards Nagasaki. They saw the mushroom cloud, but had no way of knowing this was the atomic bomb. Two days later, no Japanese were to be found in the camp.
After his return to the United States, Bill had an operation on his leg and he was discharged with full disability. In 1948, he waived disability and reentered the Army. He first worked as a recruiter and then volunteered for duty in Korea. He stayed there for two hitches and then spent time in Japan, Germany and France, and other stations in the U.S., where he retired in 1963.
After retirement he moved to Citrus Heights, California.
For more information see his biography at Linda D. Vahl's Camp 17 Fukuoka Site.