Winston, Junior Lee – Served 16 months on Palawan

Cass County Star-Gazette April 27 2006
By Bill Beard

Winston, Junior LeeJunior Lee Winston has no vivid memory of December 7, 1941. ‘I’d just turned 15 and usually spent winter weekends hunting if I wasn’t busy on my Uncle Everett Workman’s farm. I knew about the war in Europe, but I didn’t worry too much. I was young. I didn’t really know what to think except I knew the Japanese attack wasn’t good news for the boys a few years older.’

Hunting and farm work; those were the two activities that dominated the young life of the oldest child of Edward and Dorothy Workman Winston. Edward farmed near Sheldon’s Grove, Illinois when Junior was born on October 27, 1926. The family included sister Beverly and brothers Pack and Bill. However, the impact of the depression determined that Junior’s priorities were to be work or education.

Junior recalled. “I graduated from the eighth grade in 1940, but never attended high school. I went to live with Uncle Everett and work on his farm. We used horses in the fields. My uncle, Aunt Pearl and I each milked two cows per day. In 1941,I also took on another job at Harold Briney’s business. He sold farm implements and cars, had a garage and ran a grocery store. I lost that job because someone turned me in for being underage. I was 14 and you had to be 16. I had to quit, but from then on I was 16.’

In the spring and summer of 42 Junior worked as a farm hand for Willie Hughes and Herschel Briney on their farms near Sheldon’s Grove. But, in the Fall of 1942, he obtained a new job.
“I got hired to help construct Camp Ellis. I hauled concrete in wheelbarrows through spring of 1943, until the job was done, That fall I landed a job keeping machines clean at Rozell’s Milk and Ice Cream plant in Peoria. I worked there until the summer of 44, when I enlisted in the Navy.”

Tragedy struck the Winston family that summer. At 8 p.m. on August 1944. the Adjutant General in Washington. D.C. wired Junior’s grandmother, Cora B. Winston in Astoria, Illinois that, “The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your son Private First Class Merle V. Winston was killed in action on July 25, 1944 in France.”

Junior’s Uncle Merle entered the Army on July 18, 1942 and was sent to France on April 25, 1944. The Allies landed at Normandy on June 6 and broke through the West Wall the same day. Yet the Allied command had failed to adequately consider the tactical problems of fighting in the hedgerow country. By July 25 the huge Allied invasion force had only advanced to the point they were supposed to have reached by June 11. Stymied, Gen. Omar Bradley planned and executed Operation Cobra. The campaign to break out from the Normandy landing area was a great success that led to the race across France to liberate Paris and oust the Nazis from northwestern France. However, the first two days of the breakout were disastrous.

Heavy bombers were to be used to support the initial efforts to punch a hole in the German line. The Air Force and Gen. Bradley argued over the distance between the bombing targets and Allied troops. Air commanders recommended 3,000 yards; Bradley, not wanting to give up any of the costly ground the men had gained, insisted on withdrawing only 800 yards from the enemy. A compromise of 1,200 to 1.400 yards was reached,

Poor weather had delayed the attack originally set for July 18. On July 24, heavy bombers from the 8th Air Force took off, but, again, poor conditions forced cancellation. Not all the planes received the recall order and about 335 B-17s, many hindered by low visibility, dropped 685 tons of bombs. Some hit American positions. Over 100 soldiers were killed and approximately 500 wounded by the friendly fire. General Lesley J. McNair died in the mishap.

The next day, at 9:40 am., the bombing resumed, In clear weather, over 3,300 tons of explosives were dropped. Again. American positions were hit, in part because the wind blew smoke from the bombs back over their lines. Subsequent waves of bombers dropped their deadly cargo into the smoke rather than correctly determining the targets. Junior’s Uncle Merle died during the assault, one of 111 killed and 490 wounded. A distraught Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower vowed never again to use high altitude heavy bombers to support troops fighting in such close quarters.

Junior’s father Edward, was 36-years-old at the time of his brother’s death, and too old for the draft, For whatever reason — guilt, revenge or simply coincidence — Edward decided to join the fight. Though only 17 in August 1944. a few months shy of his 18th birthday, Junior decided he should enter the armed forces, not his father who needed to remain on the farm to support the family. He remembered:
“I talked mother and father into signing the papers to let me enlist in the Navy. I did want to join the Navy.”

Junior became a sailor on September 23, 1944, and spent six weeks in basic training at Great Lakes Naval Center in Chicago. “It was mostly calisthenics, target practice, firefighting exercises and various safety courses. Most of it didn’t amount to much except the firefighting and safety. I received a one week leave, then, in November 1944, took a troop train to Camp McGoo in California. We were there three weeks waiting to be shipped overseas. I killed time on a work detail. In December we went to Port Hueneme in Oxnard, just north of Los Angeles. and on February 1, 1945 we boarded a lone troop ship bound for Pearl Harbor. I hadn’t considered seasickness when I enlisted, didn’t vomit like some of those poor guys who just hung over the rail, but I did get a little queasy. We zig-zagged all the way, and only encountered one storm. It wasn’t too bad.”

The sight of the Japanese attack four years earlier taught Junior a lesson. “I now knew what war looked like. The sight of only the USS Arizona’s superstructure above the water, which still had a rainbow sheen because of the leaking oil, is one I’ll always remember. I wanted to see so much of Hawaii, but we only had a one day liberty. And I almost spent that on the Ship because three or four of us were approached by the Shore Police and told to go back to the Ship because we weren’t in the proper uniform. I don’t remember which, blues or whites, but it was the wrong uniform. We snuck around until we found a movie theater and ducked inside. That’s not what I wanted to see, but we were afraid of getting busted.”

Junior saw more battle damage on the way to the Philippines. He said, “In some harbor we saw a big aircraft carrier that had been hit by a kamikaze plane. You could tell where it had exploded near the control tower, but it was still afloat.”

In early March, Junior arrived at Puerto Princess. Palawan, the fifth largest of the Philippine islands that stretched 275 miles within a small archipelago of about 1,769 islands between the Sulu and South China Seas, approximately 363 miles southwest of Manila. American forces had seized the island from the Japanese at the end of February 1945.

In Chinese, Pa Lau Yu means “land of beautiful harbors,” but the most popular name origin is the Spanish Paragua, a reference to the island’s resemblance to a closed umbrella.

Puerto Princess, on a sheltered bay on Palawan’s east coast, had an excellent natural and deep harbor capable of accommodating any size ship. The town also had an airfield used by the 13th Air Force that had been constructed by the Japanese using the forced labor of American prisoners of war who were later killed.

Junior heard about the “Palawan Massacre” but didn’t believe it until presented with convincing evidence after war. The Schuyler farm hand couldn’t comprehend human beings treating others of their kind in such barbaric manner. But the incident reinforced President Truman’s determination to ignore Secretary of Henry L. Stimson’s advice to eliminate the unconditional surrender clause of the Potsdam Declaration which dissolved the emperor’s position,. Stimson reasoned the defeated Japanese would surrender if the emperor were retained, making an invasion of the home islands unnecessary.

However, news of the Palawan Massacre reached the U.S. after a few escaped to tell their grisly story according to historian Donald Miller, The incident, combined news of the blood bath at Iwo Jima which ended on March 25 and ongoing horrors of Okinawa, which raged from April 1 to June “inflamed anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States.” A May 29, 1945 Gallup poll “showed the American public overwhelmingly opposed retaining the Emperor, whom they saw as a Hitler-like figure who encouraged Japanese aggression. A third of those polled wanted him executed as a war criminal. Only 7 percent favored retaining him as figurehead.” Truman recognized the validity of then Secretary of State Jimmy Byrnes warning that giving into Stimson “would mean the crucifixion of the President.”

The incident as described in George Duncan’s ‘Massacres And Atrocities of World War II”:
“One hundred and fifty American prisoner war were incarcerated in a POW enclosure situated on top of the cliffs overlooking the Bay of Puerto Prince. While working on the construction of an airfield they were made to three trenches 150 feet long and 4 feet 6 inches deep within the camp. They were told the trenches were raid shelters and practice drills carried out. The shelters were small and cramped, the prisoners sitting bunched up with their knees under their chins. When an American convoy was sighted heading for Mindoro an air-raid alarm was sounded. The Japanese guards, thinking the island was about to be invaded, herded prisoners into the covered trenches and then proceeded to pour buckets of petrol into the entrances foIlowed by a lighted torch to ignite the gasoline. As the prisoners stormed the exits, their clothes on fire, they were mown down by light machine-gun or bayoneted, shot or clubbed.

“Dozens managed to through the barbed wire fence tumble down the fifty foot high cliff to the water’s edge only to be shot al a Japanese manned landing barge which was patrolling the shore. Only five survived by swimming across bay and reaching the safety of a Filipino guerrilla camp. One prisoner, who tried to swim the bay, was captured and brought back to beach. There, he suffered the agony of having petrol poured on his foot and set alight. His screams delighted the guards who then deliberately set fire to his other foot while at the same time prodding and stabbing his body with bayonets until he collapsed. His body was then doused with petro and cremated. His remains, and bodies of the other dead on beach, were then buried in the sand. US forces captured Puerto Princesa on February 28, 1945, and weeks later discovered 79 skeletons within the enclosure, They were given a proper burial by the men of the 601 Quartermaster Company. In all, 145 Americans had died”

Though he may not have believed the massacre story, Junior saw plenty of evidence of war upon arriving. He explained, “We landed in early March 1945, just a week or so after our forces had taken the island. I ended up staying for 16 months, The cement runway was full of bomb craters, over 200 of them, but the 13th Air Force and 8th Army engineers went to work. While they repaired the strip, my outfit, ACORN 47, which meant air, construction. ordnance, radio and navigation, set up camp in tents and began building a base.”

Within 20 days of the initial landing, the 1897th Engineer Aviation Battalion had reconstructed the 4,000 feet long runway, upon which the first American aircraft landed on

March 20. Junior noted, “The 13th Air Force set up camp next to the airstrip. We were off to the side in a wooded area next to the ocean. There were still Jap stragglers in the hills, but the Filipino guerrillas took care of them within about two weeks. They’d bring in the heads to collect a bounty. There was one report of a sniper. It didn’t affect me. and could just have been a rumor.”

Junior felt lost the first few days: “The day after we set up the camp, some of the older guys started their jobs at the airstrip. But the rest of us, fresh out of boot camp, waited while the officers figured what to do with us. One of the guys knew he’d be on a PT boat and said he’d try to get meon. The next morning he said he couldn’t because I didn’t have a high school education. They did need a truck driver, and an officer asked me

The 13th Air Force set up
camp next to the air strip. We were off to the side in a wooded area next to the ocean. There were still Jap stragglers in the hills, but the Filipino guerrillas took care of them within about two weeks. They’d bring in the heads to collect a bounty There was one report of a sniper It didn’t affect me, and could just have been a rumor”

if I’d ever driven one. I said, ‘Yes, on the farm: That lasted for two or three days once the supplies started coming in, driving fifteen miles from the base to the port, loading then returning. Soon they needed help unloading the ships. For three or four weeks operated a Caterpillar tractor boom, what we called a cherry picker. Once we started getting heavier stuff in large crates, I used a regular track crane that could handle six tons. We were really busy unloading the ocean transport and taking the supplies by truck to a huge storehouse, about 200 feet long, in the woods next to the base. When I wasn’t operating the crane, I was cleaning parts as a mechanic’s helper. It seemed like the longer we stayed, the more stuff broke down. There was nothing but sand, that didn’t help, but parts just wore out from use—jeeps, trucks and the tractors pulling the airplanes around. Twice the head mechanic and I had to go to the airstrip and replace the cleated rubber track on the plane pulling tractors. That was quite a job — took us all day.”

Junior survived two air raids, but only remembers one. He said, “I couldn’t believe the first one — slept right through it. Two or three Jap planes strafed the airfield at night. The next morning I woke up and found some of the guys digging foxholes. I asked what they were doing. They said preparing for the next air raid. I said, ‘When was the first one?’ ‘Last night’ I scoffed it off and didn’t dig one. Two nights later the Japs came back. I had no hole so I dived under a truck. Tracers going up from the antiaircraft fire actually looked like they were coming down. I was plenty scared then, They were strafing the strip about 400 yards away and caused very little damage, but that was close enough for me. I dug a foxhole the next day.”

The fighters and bombers at Puerto Princesa Airfield were too far away to fly missions over Japan, but they fought against the remaining outposts in the Philippines and Borneo and sunk shipping in the South China Sea. Though losses were minimal as the remnants of the once potent Japanese navy and air force were concentrating on defending Okinawa, Junior witnessed one tragic accident at Puerto Princesa Airfield. He recalled, “A bomber crashed at the end of the runway. For a reason I can’t remember, two guys and I were driving nearby in a jeep. We got there before the rescue or ambulance crews. One guy got out alive as he either was thrown or crawled out from the plane. He hollered for help and we were able to give him aid until the medics arrived. The rest of the bomber crew burned with the plane.”

Unloading supplies could be dangerous work, Junior explained, “We usually piled the big crates four high. One day a stack fell over and one man was pinned underneath. Four of us raced over and lifted the crate off him. He was busted up pretty good but lived. Later we tried to lift the crate again because we couldn’t and were surprised we’d been able to move it in the first place. We could barely budge the thing. I guess our adrenaline was flowing in order to help the man.”

Junior compared his schedule on Palawan to having “a regular job. After the two strafing episodes and sniper rumor we weren’t in any real danger. After the first month we moved into Quonset type huts. I worked until 4 or 5 p.m., ate chow —we had good food, hot, not C or K rations. Puerto Princesa had not been shot up too bad, but it wasn’t much of a town. We’d go to the base cantina in the evening and drink a few beers. After the war ended we saw two USO shows, a rendition of ‘Oklahoma’ and a big band concert. There wasn’t much to do — drink some beer and swim in the ocean —that’s about it. Twice I had a meal with a Filipino family in a little village further down the island from the base. The first time about ten of us enjoyed chicken and rice while sitting in a screened pavilion. That was very good. The second time we were served fish with the eyes still on it, It got dark and we all worried about eating those eyes. That wasn’t so good.’~

Junior remained on Palawan until May 1946. He took a plane to Manila and endured a 13 day layover at Subic Bay before boarding a ship to San Francisco. After crossing the country by train, he received his discharge at Great Lakes on June 10, 1946. Junior remembered, “I came home and ran a drag line for Fred Curry cleaning drainage ditches in the Coal Creek District. Then I worked 34 years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, running a drag line while we rebuilt levees and maintained locks and dams. I sure was glad I didn’t get on that PT boat. By learning how to run the cherry picker and track crane I was able to come home and get a good job to support my wife and raise our family.”

On February 17, 1949, Junior married Elsie Konetzny. who also grew up around Sheldon’s Grove. They have three sons. Steve. Mike and Marty. and lost a daughter, Carla, in infancy. Junior and Elsie enjoy spending time with their four grandchildren and great-grandson.
About the war, Junior said. “It was a good experience. I wish I would have paid more attention to the tragic events that occurred around me at Palawan, especially the Japs murdering our POW5. I first didn’t believe it until I got home…it’s made me think about what men are capable of.”

2 Comments to “Winston, Junior Lee – Served 16 months on Palawan”

  1. Gerald Engellenner Says:

    I was in Acorn 47 at McGoo and my component (H13-A) was transferred out to another unit the day before 47 was shipped out.  I often wondered where the group ended up.  Thanks to google, I now know. 
    Great bunch of guys.  We were all teen-agers then.

  2. Robert Grover Says:

    My father, John,  was in ACORN 47 on Palawan, too.  He had several stories from that time and talked about the strafing and a sniper or two as well.  He was a Motor Machinist Mate 2nd Class and was amazed at how often the brass bushings in Jeep suspensions needed replacing.  If anyone is still following this article, I am sorry to add that John passed away just a little over a week ago.  In fact (curiously) it was about 20 minutes after the time of Mr. Engellenner’s posting.  I’ve been looking through the many photos he had of Palawan – including one of the SULUVIEW theater.  Did Junior go over on the Army Transport Ship called “The Sea Witch”, like my dad did?  He said the food on board was terrible – he always hated SPAM after that experience.