Search News

Cannon News

27th SOW’s POW and MIA Heritage

  • Published
  • By Commentary by Mr. Steve Frank
  • 27th Special Operations Wing

As the 27th Special Operations Wing honors American Prisoners of War and those still Missing in Action with a variety of events throughout the week, it is appropriate to remember and acknowledge the sacrifice of the wing during the Second World War. 

The personnel of the 27th Bombardment Group (Light) had been deployed to the Philippines just prior to the Japanese attacks in December, 1941.  Unfortunately, the Group’s aircraft had not arrived and never would, resulting in the men being reconfigured to fight the invading Japanese as the 2nd Battalion Provisional Infantry Regiment.  The former pilots, mechanics and support personnel fought competently and courageously on the Bataan peninsula for four months until they were ordered to surrender following the collapse of the perimeter, thus beginning a harrowing 3.5-year ordeal.

The almost 1,100 men of the 27th Group, along with the attached 48th Material Squadron and 454th Ordnance Company began their captivity by enduring the 60 mile Bataan Death March, where they suffered extreme physical abuse and deprivation at the hands of their captors.

Sergeant James Gautier of the 27th recalled the guards “paraded…around taunting us and trying to terrorize us.” 

Of the 70,000 troops that went into captivity, the Army Center for Military History estimates that almost 650 Americans and up to 10,000 Filipinos died before ever reaching a prison camp.

The March was only the beginning for the men of the 27th, who were forced to serve their captors as slave laborers, transport drivers, and a variety of other roles.  Many POWs were transferred in packed rail cars to camps throughout the Philippines, while others were transported to Manchuria, Korea, and Japan via unmarked “hell ships,” where the men were not only subject to overcrowding and neglect, but also Allied air and submarine attacks. 

Capt. Jay Harrelson, a pilot assigned to the 27th, remembered how he and his fellow prisoners were packed into the hull of the Oryoku Maru and the hatch was closed. 

“We had no water, and soon we all had difficulty breathing,” he said. “Men started to go crazy, they were suffocating.”

The one thing all the prisoners had in common was living with constant harassment, arbitrary executions, and malnutrition.

The only solace many of the men received was from their fellow prisoners and the medical staff among them, one of whom was Capt. Elack Schultz of the 27th, who resorted to performing major surgery without medicine or medical instruments on those in need.

Following the Japanese surrender in Sept. 1945, veterans of the 27th estimate that only 30 percent of their number survived captivity. 

During the many outstanding POW and MIA opportunities and ceremonies hosted by the Wing this week, please take a moment to reflect on the heritage and sacrifices made by our predecessors in the 27th more than seven decades ago.