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About Kearby L. Watson

About the author: Kearby Lee Watson ( — October 24, 1944), commissioned Private in the US Army (Ordnance Department. 440th Ordnance Company (Aviation), 19th Bombardment Group (Heavy), V Bomber Command), POW in the Philippines, perished on the  Arisan Maru en route to Japan.  The article in which his diary was reprinted mentions that,

He enlisted in the military and was sent to the Philippines in October 1941. He was there when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and almost concurrently invaded the Philippines… On May 6, 1942, General Jonathan Wainwright surrendered, and ordered all U. S. personnel in the Philippines to cease resistance. Fighting continued for some time thereafter, however, on Mindanao, where Kearby Watson was stationed. Later that May, the government notified Watson’s parents, who lived in Columbus, that he was missing and might have been captured. A year later, the Red Cross confirmed that Watson was still alive in one of the Japanese prisoner-of-war camps that had been established in the Philippines to hold the over 100,000 Filipino and American soldiers taken prisoner, including the 54,000 survivors of the infamous Bataan death march. For the next few years, Watson’s family depended on the Red Cross for information, and to try to somehow deliver to him letters and packages… As the Americans closed in on the islands, the Japanese began evacuating the prisoners in the hope of using them as bargaining tools when the inevitable negotiations to bring about the end of the war arrived. The Japanese only had room on the transports for the healthiest men, so they left the sick and infirm to be rescued by the Americans. To his tremendous bad fortune, Watson was healthy enough to secure a seat on a transport. He and about 1775 other prisoners set sail for Manila on October 11, 1944. Thirteen days later, on the same day that MacArthur returned to the Philippines, the transport was torpedoed and sunk by a United States submarine some 200 miles from China in the South China Sea. Four of the prisoners reached China in a small boat; four others were picked up by the Japanese. The rest, Watson among them, were killed.

The Japanese did not release the names of the prisoners who had been on the ship until the war was nearly over, on June 16, 1945. With the news of Watson’s death shortly thereafter, his family’s three long years of hoping came to an end.

See the Colorado County Citizen, March 22, 1945:


Watsons Hear Indirectly of Son From Jap Prison Escapee

Eight from the county were present at the meeting of next of kin of Prisoners of War and civilian internees of the Houston area in the Music Hall at 810 Bagby, Houston, last Sunday. The meeting was sponsored by the Red Cross and the Army Air Forces. Those going were Mrs. Leo Steiner, Columbus representing the Colorado county chapter American Red Cross, and Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Watson and Mrs. Robert Watson, Columbus, parents and sister-in-law of Pvt. Kearby Lee Watson, prisoner of Japan; Mrs. K. L. Wallace Columbus, sister of Second Lt. Thurman R. Matthews, prisoner of Japan; Charles Wicke, Bernardo, father of Pvt. John M. Wicke, prisoner of Germany; Mrs. Josephine Vallentine[sic], Weimar, mother of First Lt. John T. Vallentine[sic], prisoner of Germany, and Tom Rutledge, Weimar, brother of T/C Delno J. Rutledge, prisoner of Germany. Following talks by repatriated and escaped prisoners of war from both Germany and Japan was a period in which relatives were invited to ask questions concerning those of their families who are captive.

Cpl. Willard E. Hall, who was with the army ground forces when Bataan surrendered, who spent 32 months as a prisoner of the Japs at Camp No. 1, Cabanatuan, and at Camp No. 2, Davao, in the Philippines and who escaped when a transport in which the Japs were taking prisoners from the islands to Japan was torpedoed in September, 1944, brought word to the Watsons of their son, Kearby. Kearby has been held by the Japs since the fall of Mindanao three years ago. He told of Kearby’s removal from the camp in Davao to the Japanese mainland in June, 1944, and reported that Kearby was in good health when he left the islands. Other more direct word came from Kearby about two weeks ago when a typewritten card bearing address of Philippine Islands was received by Miss Lillian Dobecka of Houston. The signature “Kearby” was also typed and the card told of his being in good health.

About the diary: Published as an appendix in “Supreme Sacrifice: Colorado County’s World War II Dead” by Joe C . Fling in the Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 5, Number 3, September, 1995, part of the collection entitled: Texas Cultures Online and was provided by Nesbitt Memorial Library to The Portal to Texas History, a digital repository hosted by the UNT Libraries. The entries cover the period from August 16, 1942 to October 3, 1944.

In the article in which the diary was reprinted, the following appears:

Many of the prisoners, including Watson, had kept diaries on scraps of paper that they had hidden on their persons. Before they embarked on the evacuation transport, many of them buried their diaries, along with other personal effects, in the yard of the prison chapel. When American troops liberated the camp, they recovered the buried articles. Watson’s diary was sent to his parents, and published in two installments in the Colorado County Citizen.

In addition, as an introduction to the diary itself, reprinted as Appendix III of the article,

The sporadic diary of Kearby Watson, kept while he was a prisoner of war of the Japanese during World War II, was originally printed in the August 9 and August 16, 1945 issues of the Colorado County Citizen. The newspaper inserted titles, and apparently paragraph breaks, and, most probably, made a few typographical errors, all of which have been eliminated herein. The last entry, with its uncanny prescience, raises suspicions about its authenticity.