Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release from captivity
James Lennartson picture

James Lennartson


Funeral in March, 1948 (Actual death was Feb. 26, 1943


Friends and family gathered in the Soldier's Circle of Lake View Cemetery with both grief and pride in their tears today to bring home Sgt. James E. Lennartson.  They stood in silent vigilance as Sergeant Lennartson's mother accepted with great pride and honor the cornered flag that had draped her 25 year old son's casket.  With the sound of a bugle echoing across the countryside and "Old-Glory" flying at half-mast a true American hero was laid to rest in his hometown of Jamestown, NY.  Lennartson  had enlisted in the army in 1939 and served in the Pacific Theater on the Philippine islands.  In the early fighting of the war he was wounded three times.  Although he escaped initial capture he was eventually caught and then transported by an overloaded hellship to Manchuria and the infamous work camp at Mukden.

He succumbed to pneumonia on February 26th, 1943 after months of inhumane conditions where the POWs life had no real value to his captor and Geneva accords were just words.  He was awarded for his unflinching valor with the Philippine defense ribbon with one bronze star, the American defense ribbon with one bronze star, the Presidential unit citation with two oak leaf clusters.  He was also given the Asiatic/Pacific Ribbon with two bronze stars, the purple heart with three oak leaf clusters, and the good conduct Medal.

The picture of James Lennartson was taken while he was in the 3rd Pursuit Squadron, 24th Pursuit Group, USAAF lba field.  He was a survivor of the Bataan Death March, the Tottori Maru hellship, and then died at Mukden POW Camp on February 26, 1943.  He was POW #1486.
Surviving him (at the time of the funeral) were his mother and a brother, A. Leo Lennartson, Rochester and a grandfather, E.L. Hoofring, Asheville.  Rev. Ira Livingston of Jamestown and Rev. Miller of Wincote, PA officiated the services.  James Lennartson had been active in the Westminster Presbyterian Church--

This is a condensed version of newspaper articles from Jamestown, NY paper created by West Liberty University Student Philip Hardwick

 Below is a research paper written by Shawn Lennartson about his great-uncle

 James Eric Lennartson

b. April 11, 1918- d. February 26,1943

August 25,1939-February 26,1943

SN 6 976 681

United States Army Air Corp


 Shawn A. Lennartson

September 10, 2011


“We’re the Battling Bastards of Bataan"

No mamma, no papa, no Uncle Sam

No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces

No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces

And nobody gives a damn!

(Frank Hewlett 1942)

  I’ve completed  genealogical research on my great uncle, James Eric Lennartson, who served in the United States Army Air Corp in World War II.  It is an intriguing and tragic story.  The forces on the Philippine Islands were, as William Bartsch’s book title says, “Doomed At the Start.”
One gets a bit disgusted when he lays his life on the line for our lousy, out-of date
Air Corp…Well, we all hope [war] comes soon, because we are doomed at the start.    (Bartsch, 1995, dedication page.)

                          2nd Lt. Max Loux, 20th Pursuit Squadron, Clark Field, Philippines
                         To his sister
                         November 23, 1941

The atrocities of war, the valiant fighting of American forces that had no hope of re-supply (the Pacific fleet was destroyed at Pearl Harbor Dec 7, 1941) and a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO on July 12, 1973 all add up to much intrigue and tragedy.  Roger Mansell of the POW Research Center said the only thing that is for sure is that James Eric Lennartson died in Hoten-Mukden, Manchuria POW camp on February 26, 1943, POW #1486; plot 6, grave 9.  He is listed in the War Department records of New York, Chautauqua County as a DNB status—death non-battle.  

Most of the other facts are lost in history as most veterans are now deceased.  If it were not for William Bartsch, the history of the pursuit pilots in the Philippines would be lost too.  Mr. Bartsch confirmed via emails that James was in the 3rd Pursuit squadron, 24th Pursuit group on Iba field on December 8th, 1941.

 On December 8th, the 3rd Pursuit was wiped out by the Japanese. They lost about 45 of 160 men and 16 of 18 fighters. (Knox, 1981, p.16.) The 3rd Pursuit fighters were landing to refuel just as the Japanese began to attack reports Sgt. Tyson of the 3rd Pursuit. (Knox, 1981, p.27.)   Many plane less officers and enlisted men evacuated to Nichols field, arriving December 10th, just as the Japanese were conducting a midday bombing. (Bartsch, 1995, p.155) Some of the 3rd Pursuit walked from Iba Field over the Zambalee mountains and took five days to reach Nichols field. (Bartsch, 1995 p. 155) December 12 found the 3rd Pursuit ordered into de la Salle College in Manila for reorganization. (Bartsch, 1995 p.156.)  On Dec 18th the 3rd Pursuit Squadron was ordered to Tanauan, forty miles southwest of Manila. (Bartsch, 1995, p.175) There they constructed a new airfield for P40’s and B-17’s that was completed December 22 and the squadron expected B-17’s on the 23rd.  However by the evening of the 23rd, the plans changed and no B-17’s arrived at Tanauan.  (Bartsch, 1995, p.187)  

On December 24th, the 3rd Pursuit at Tanauan received orders to evacuate as the Japanese had landed on Lamon Bay. The story spread that the Japanese were but 3 miles away when they were actually about 25 miles away. (Bartsch, 1995 p. 192)  

 On Christmas Eve the 3rd Pursuit got word the Japanese landed east of Iba field in Lamon Bay and some of the squadron traveled to Manila. (Knox, 1981. p. 34) The next morning [Christmas Day] in Manila they boarded an inter-island steamer [the Antonia] and headed for Bataan. When we got there [Sgt Tyson reports] they said “Here you are boys, You’re in the infantry now!” (Knox, 1981 p.34) 

 The modern day 3rd Pursuit Squadron is based at Moody AFB, Georgia and was originally organized as the 3rd Aero Squadron on December 1, 1916. It was demobilized on Jan 2, 1919.  It was re-designated and consolidated in 1924 with a unit organized as the 3rd Aero Squadron on 13 May 1919 at Mitchell Field, NY. They flew the DH-4. The unit was assigned to the Philippine Department on 18 August 1919 and the 1st Observation Group on 10 March 1920.  It was re-designated as the 3rd Squadron on 14 March 1921 and as the 3rd Pursuit Squadron on 25 January 1923.  The consolidated unit was re-designated as the 3rd Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) on 6 December 1939. That was four months after Jimmy’s enlistment. My dad had said that my uncle signed up in 1939 because his step brother(my grandfather) could not find work for him, nor could Jimmy (Sherwood Lennartson, June 23rd 2011) My dad reported to me that he told the  Army Air Corp he was a good artist so on the trip to the  Philippines in 1939 on the USS Grant(most likely) they had him painting latrines.  Sherwood , also remembers that Jimmy made professional grade balsa wood model airplanes. ( 06/23/2011 dg-adbc convention Pittsburgh Pa.)He also reported that  Jimmy developed a love of airplanes because the Curtis airplane factory (producing the p-40)was in Buffalo NY, near to Jamestown, NY. In my hometown of Beaver PA, Curtis also made airplane propellers during WWII prior to Westinghouse owning the plant. The 3rd pursuit squadron was reassigned to the 24th Pursuit Group on October 1, 1941 and saw combat in the Philippines from December 8, 1941 to May 1, 1942.  A ground echelon unit fought as infantry unit on Bataan (the Battle of Points) from18 January 1942-April 1942. Jimmy was wounded three times during his tour of duty.  The 3rd Pursuit operated the P-26, P-35 and P-40 aircraft. Herb Ellis, Squadron Operations Officer said the P-40E Kittyhawk had “all the flight characteristics of a streamlined safe.” (Bartsch, 1995, p.25) 

The P-40 was designed to be a ground support aircraft, not a fighter interceptor airplane.  The Zero could out maneuver the Kittyhawk in a dogfight so the pilots would have to attack from altitude.  The 3rd Pursuit Squadron carried on as an active unit from the fall of the Philippines to 2 April 1946 when it was deactivated. ( 

 James endured the Bataan Death March, several prison/concentration camps (Camp O’Donnell, then Cabanatuan in June 1942 and Bilibid (Manila) in October, 1942.) in the Philippines, made his way to Mindanao, I think from volunteering for a work detail along with Captain Dyess to Davoa, Mindanoa and escaped into the mountains.  Captain Dyess’ prison camp volunteer work detail left for Mindanoa on October 26, 1942.  A thousand man detail left Cabanatuan on Oct 24, 1942 to which Capt Dyess and 2nd Lt. Hadley Watson were in going to Davao. (Knox, 1981, p.222)  Ten prisoners escaped from Davoa, Mindanao on April 4, 1943. (Knox 1981 p. 269)

The Jamestown Post-Journal reports that he was turned in to the Japanese on Mindanao.  Mr. Mansell says that he was most likely on the Tottori Maru, which was loaded on 6 October and departed 8 October 1942. The dates do not match with Captain. Dyess’ journey to Davoa work camp.   Jimmy could not have been with Captain Dyess.  Perhaps the newspaper is inaccurate.                                                                                                       

With the lack of military records, I cannot verify the accuracy of the Jamestown Post Journal claims. Some possibilities are that somehow Jimmy left with a pilot before Bataan fell. Some pursuit pilots evacuated to Mindanao. This I think is not likely.  A second possibility is that he escaped from the Bataan Death March, as I read some did, and fought as a guerilla in Luzon. Mr. Mansell says in an email that,

“A number of men did, indeed, flee from the march and escaped down to Mindanao. A number of the men caught on the southern island were brought up to Manila for transfer to Japan. He certainly could have been one of them.”

            (Mansell, 2003, email June 11,

Sherwood Lennartson told me while at the 2011 Descendants Group-American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor convention that Mr. Pfenning told the family that Jimmy had been turned in by a Filipino after having escaped the Death march. When and how he escaped and how he was turned in is uncertain and not verifiable at this time.

In emails with my uncle Roger, he remembers Tech. Sgt. Elmer Pfenning debriefing the Lennartson family, after Uncle Jimmy’s internment, on March 25, 1948.  Mr. Pfenning said that without Uncle Jimmy’s help he would not have survived the death march.  Uncle Roger also reports that he was debriefed by Sgt. Pfenning that they both completed the Bataan Death March.   Mr. Pfenning, SN 6910508 is listed as being in Cabanatuan in October 1944, ok , and at POW Camp 601 Fukuoka POW camp #10 Futase Kyushu Island 34-131.  The Social security death index lists Mr. Pfenning dying in 1976 in Florida at the age of 58.

 The third possibility is, like Mr.Tenney, he escaped from a work detail early on in Cabanatuan or Camp O’Donnell, before the Japanese instituted the 10 man rule, and fled into the hills of Luzon.  Joe Petak escaped from Cabanatuan camp #3 in July of 1942. Petak was recaptured and placed aboard the Tottorri Maru. (Petak 1991, p.87) Escapes were not possible after the Japanese set up the ten-man rule.  That is, anyone caught escaping would result in ten other prisoner’s deaths whose POW number was five below and five above the escapee. Jimmy may have been given up by an informant and turned over to the Japanese.  Readings in the book Ghost Soldiers suggest that the reward was a ball of rice. That may sound trivial but the Philippines endured famine like conditions due to the Japanese rule.  It is my belief, (given Uncle Roger’s account of  the debriefing by Sgt Pfenning who stated that both he and Jimmy survived the death march) that the Mindanao story in the Jamestown Post Journal was an error.  As of this writing, I cannot place Uncle Jimmy on Mindanao before his trip on the hell ship, Totorri Maru.  Captain Dyess was rescued by a U.S. Submarine on July 23, 1943 off the Philippines and later died on December 22, 1943 in the U.S. during a P-38 mechanical malfunction while landing in Burbank, California.( James was most likely aboard the Tottori Maru “Hell Ship” that departed Manila on 8 October 1942 and arrived in Pusan, Korea on 9 November 1942. (Mansell, email June 10, 2003 The Tottori Maru had approximately 31 officers and 1,930 enlisted ranks. 32 men perished while in transit. (Mansell, email June 11, 2003)  The National Archives records do not have a particular POW ship listed for Jimmy. This is due to the fact that many of the Japanese POW record card codes for the prison ships could not be deciphered.  A ship’s log of the USS Wahoo reports a torpedo run on the Tottori Maru in February and March of 1943 and further readings from the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor website state that the ship zig-zagged in the South China Sea and was fired upon by Dutch submarines on its month long journey to Korea as well as American submarines near the mouth of Manila bay. Petak puts the torpedo attack at the northern tip of Luzon, not near the mouth of manila bay. Petak reports the Tottori Maru was attacked on the morning of October 9, 1942 between 0815 and 0830 The ship made a hard turn with the torpedoes 200 yards out and barley escaped destruction.  (Petak 1991 p.133-4) The Tottorri Maru stopped at Formosa, (Taiwan) the port of Tiekow. (Petak, 1991, p.135) After a few days the ship left the port only again to return due to the rumor of American submarines patrolling around Formosa. (Taiwan) (Petak, 1991 p.141) At Pusan, Korea the POW’s were taken by railroad to Mukden, Manchuria.  The officers, including General Wainwright, were in a separate camp (Hsein) from the noncoms and enlisted men.  Jimmy was at camp Hoten. The book Death March interviews seven American infantry and Air Corp. personnel that were in Cabanatuan and later ended up in Hoten-Mukden POW camp. 

 “ The men that occupied this camp were in the detail that left Cabanatuan in late summer of 1942. A group of thirty-one officers and 1,962 enlisted men left Manila on Oct 8, 1942 on the Tottori Maru.   During the first winter approximately 200died [Uncle Jimmy being one of them]  of malnutrition, exposure, and the poor condition they were in  when they left Cabanatuan.”  (Knox, 1981, p. 367)

The change from tropical climate to bitter arctic cold and the starvation diet probably was what contributed to his contracting pneumonia and he died on Feb 26, 1943.  Uncle Roger’s email of August 15, 2003 reports that Uncle Jimmy would box and wrestle the Japanese but the Japanese would not treat his wounds. This also contributed to his contracting pneumonia. 183 POW’s died in Hoten camp.  Jimmy’s medals included the Philippine Defense Ribbon with one Bronze Star, the American Defense Ribbon with one Bronze Star, the Presidential Unit Citation with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Asiatic-Pacific Ribbon with two Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart with three Oak Leaf Clusters and the Good Conduct Medal. (Jamestown Post Journal, March 25, 1948) The National Personnel Records Center lists the WWII Victory medal and the WWII service Lapel Button.   The whereabouts of these medals are unknown.  Uncle Roger reports seeing the Purple Heart medal and another that he didn’t recognize at the re-internment funeral service March 25, 1948.  As of Sept 2011, I am also aware that Uncle Jimmy is eligible for the Combat Infantry Badge from his service  in the 17th provisional infantry at the Battle of Points and the World War II POW medal. ( Robert Johnson phone call Sept 2011) He entered the U.S. Army Air Corp. on August 25, 1939 in Jamestown, N.Y.  From my readings, my speculation is that he trained at some point at Fort Sam Houston, Texas and Denver, Colorado. (See of Rice and Men and the 3rd FTS website)  Sherwood Lennartson reports hearing of him transiting thru the Panama Canal at some point between 1939 and 1941. During the 2011 DG-ADBC convention I found a thanksgiving day menu and list of the 3rd Pursuit squadron personnel dated 1939. That lists James Lennartson and Elmer Pfenning as Privates. In the book titled When men must live it has accounts of the USS Grant transporting troops from New York, NY to the Philippines via the Panama canal during this time period. I now assume that, as other verbal reports tell me that men were trained on the Philippines, that Jimmy went fairly quick to the Philippines for basic training in 1939 and found himself having Thanksgiving dinner there in November 1939.  Ex-pow Joe Vater (803 engineers) reported in a verbal interview at the 2009 convention in San Antonio, TX that he had no rifle training before the battle began on the Philippines.  James served as an airplane mechanic.  He is listed on a duty roster in October of 1941 as Sergeant. (Bartsch email correspondence)  Woody McBride was a staff sergeant in his squadron and cannot be located today. (Bartsch emails)  Captain Herbert Ellis’ widow responded and said he had died last year. (2002) Captain Ellis was the former commander of the 3rd Pursuit squadron. Jimmy’s war buddy Elmer E. Pfenning of Denver, Co is deceased. The commander of the 24th pursuit group was Brigadier General Orrin L. Grover.  He assumed command of the 24th group at Clark Field in July of 1941 and on May 2, 1942 was appointed director of Pursuit of the Fifth Air Force in Australia. He retired August 30, 1957 and died January 13, 1969. ( 

      Jimmy’s fate was sealed the day he signed up. I know that sounds drastic but in hindsight that is true.  The American foreign policy was one of neutrality and isolation.  Our equipment was outdated, our intelligence of the Japanese capabilities was not taken seriously and the war plans for the Philippines was, from the 1930’s, a defensive one.  The pilots were told that the Japanese couldn’t see well enough to shoot and that their planes were much inferior to ours. War Plan Orange (WPO-3) was carried out by General MacArthur with the forces withdrawing to the Bataan peninsula. The Philippine Army was only beginning to be battle trained-- maybe one unit was “combat” ready.  MacArthur had thought that he could take an offensive strategy at first and this action resulted in a hasty withdrawal to Bataan.  Many supplies were left behind that could have already been in Bataan had MacArthur not assumed an offensive posture.  The 3rd Pursuit Squadron at Tanauan, upon hearing of the order to transfer to Bataan, literally left everything as they thought the Japanese were within a few miles of them.  And with the Pacific fleet destroyed at Pearl Harbor, the plan to re-supply was all but lost. Operation Plumb was one re supply attempt.  The plan with the fleet intact would have taken 6 months to implement.  With the Allies deciding upon a Germany first policy, the troops fate was sealed tight.  The fall of the Philippines in hindsight is a foregone conclusion.   The Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor could have kept fighting if they had not run out of food. 

    All of those who fought so valiantly in the Philippines are heroes.  Their country abandoned them, they were starved, and had no real hope of re-supply.  General King surrendered only because the forces on Bataan would have been slaughtered out right the next day. They were no longer able to be an effective fighting force.   Had he known what was to come perhaps they would have fought to the death.  15% of the casualties from WWII came from the Philippine campaign in 1941-2.   General Homma and the Japanese High Command thought the Philippines would be conquered in two months. The Japanese were not in control of the Philippines until the end of May, 1942.

     I salute you Jimmy. You served your country with honor and distinction.  Because of his fighting in the Philippines, he and his fellow countrymen delayed the Japanese advances in the Pacific by six months and saved Australia from invasion.  Thank you! 

For the Mukden POW camp memorial 

James Eric Lennartson

 Philippine Defense Ribbon with one bronze star; The American Defense Ribbon with one bronze star; The Presidential Unit Citation with two oak leaf clusters;  the Asiatic-Pacific Ribbon with two bronze stars;  the Purple Heart with three oak leaf clusters;  the Good Conduct medal ; the WWII Victory medal.

Born:  April 11, 1918 Died:  Feb 26, 1943

Service dates: August 25th 1939 - Feb 26th 1943

SN 6 976 681

United States Army Air Corp, Sergeant,  3rd Pursuit Squadron, 24th Pursuit Group

Hoten- Mukden POW  camp,  POW # 1486, plot 9 grave 6

Uncle Jimmy, as he was known by his family, entered military service due to the Great Depression .

He grew up and lived Jamestown, New York.   He could not find employment even with his step brother’s help so he entered the US Army Air Corp.  His training base is unknown but several sources point to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, or Denver, Colorado. (See the book of Rice and Men and the 3rd FTS website)  As of June 2011 It is known that Uncle Jimmy was in the Philippines at Nichols field for thanksgiving 1939. The unit he was assigned to, the 3rd Pursuit Squadron, was originally organized as the 3rd Aero Squadron on 12/ 1/1916. Just four months after his enlistment, it was consolidated and re-designated as the 3rd Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) on Dec 6, 1939.  

Jimmy’s nephew, Sherwood Lennartson, remembers receiving mail from him and postcards upon his deployment and transit thru the Panama Canal  in 1939.  I have a silk aviator’s scarf that was sent to my father by Uncle Jimmy.  Jimmy was an aircraft mechanic and once was asked if he wanted to be a pilot.  He replied, “Heck no, all they do is fly around and crash.”

On Dec 8th, 1941 Uncle Jimmy was on Iba field and the 3rd pursuit suffered heavy losses.  Forty five of 160 men and 16 of 18 fighters were lost. (Knox 1981 p. 16.),

Uncle Jimmy served on Bataan as an infantryman and engaged the Japanese in the Battle of Points. Upon the surrender of US Forces he endured the Bataan Death March. Tracing back from his arrival at Mukden POW Camp in Manchuria and the POW ship Tottori Maru,  that would place him in Cabanatuan POW camp in October of 1942. Another nephew, Roger Lennartson remembers Tech Sgt Elmer Pfenning debriefing the family after Uncle Jimmy’s re-internment on March 25, 1948. Mr. Pfenning told the family that without Uncle Jimmy’s help Sgt. Pfenning would not have survived the march.  Sgt. Pfenning is listed in Cabanatuan in October 1944 as being okay and at POW camp 601 Fukuoka camp #10 Futase Kyushu Island 34-131. Roger Lennartson  reported to me that Uncle Jimmy would box and wrestle the Japanese.  Uncle Roger remembers that it was July 4th 1943 when he picked up the phone at grandmother’ s house. It was the War Department. He handed the phone to Jimmy’s brother ( my grandfather) A. Leo Lennartson and they were informed of Uncle Jimmy’s death.  To this day he remembers that as if it were yesterday.   Shawn Lennartson July 4th 2009. Updated Sept  10 2011