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Norman with his wife Mary and his grandchildren

Return to the states, November 1945 ID picture at Yokkaichi, November 1944

Last Name: `
First Name Middle Initial:
Nick Name:
Street:  109 GROVE AVE City & State: SUFFOLK, VA E-Mail: 
Zip: 23434 Phone:  (757) 539-4971 Spouse: MARY JEAN
Conflict: WW11 Service Branch: Army Air Corp Unit: 91 BS 27 BG(L)
Theater: ETO Where Captured: PHILIPPINES Date Captured: 04/09/42
Camps Held In: ODONNELL DAVAO CAB. YOKKAICHI TOYAMA How Long Interned: 1245 days
liberated / repatriated: liberated Date Liberated: 09/05/45 Age at Capture: 22

Military Bio:

I was born on September 9, 1916 in Suffolk, Virginia to Margaret Louise Hobbs Matthews and Edward Eugene Matthews. I had two brothers and one sister. I attended Suffolk City elementary, junior and senior high schools and was active in the Boy Scouts, eventually advancing to become an Eagle Scout. After school I worked as a carpenter until June 2, 1941 when on the advice of my Uncle George Hobbs (my Uncle George was adamant about me NOT enlisting in the infantry) as the war was raging in Europe, I enlisted in the Army Air Corps. I went to basic training at Bolling A.F.B., Washington, D.C.

I was deployed in August of 1941 to Savannah, GA and assigned to the 27th Bombardment Group, 91st Bombardment Squadron. I left Savannah for Manila on October 25, 1941 and arrived in the Philippines on November 1, 1941 just twenty days before WW II started. Upon our arrival in the Philippines we discovered that there were no airplanes assigned to us. Subsequently I was assigned to the 2nd Air Corp Provisional Infantry. The 2nd Air Corp Provisional Infantry fought the Japs for 90 days on the front lines with obsolete WW I equipment. On April 9th, 1942, General King surrendered the troops of the 2nd Air Corp to the Japs. I immediately started on the Bataan Death March from Mariveles to O’Donnell prison camp. The march was approximately 80 kilometers and during the march about 600 American soldiers were killed, shot, bayoneted, beaten and stabbed by the Japs.

I arrived at O’Donnell maybe eight days later, time was lost/forgotten from this point on. I was immediately placed on detail back to the Bataan Peninsula to work for the Japs. My work consisted of salvaging ammunition and war materials while the ground war continued between the Americans and the Japs on Corregidor Island. I was in a constant line of fire between the Japs and the Americans. I stayed on the detail for approximately 35 days and then was returned to O’Donnell. From there I was transferred to Cabanatuan Prison Camp, Philippine Islands. My next memory is of the death of my oldest brother, Edward E. Matthews, Jr. Edward was also in the 9lst Bomb Squadron. My brother died of malnutrition caused by the inhumane conditions enforced on all American prisoners by he Japs. By the time my brother died, about 60 to 80 men were dying a day. At times we were forced to dig shallow mass graves to lay those brave men to rest. My brother, Edward, is buried in one of those mass graves in the Philippines.

On October 18, 1942, I volunteered for a detail going to Davao, Philippines Island to work as a carpenter. Our sole mission was to “reopen” a prison camp, a dilapidated US/Phillipine prison. My duties included working in the rice fields, general farm work and the butchering of animals. We were constantly beaten and humiliated by the Jap Army. We were never fed an adequate diet nor did we receive any medical treatment. At this point the slightest illness was a possible death sentence. On June 8, 1944 we boarded a “hell ship” bound for Japan. We were forced to change ships in Cebu, P.I. Arriving some time around July 1, 1944 in Manila, I stayed in Bilibid Prison. I then boarded yet another “ship” the Canadian Inventor bound for the land of the rising sun, Japan. We arrived at Moji, Japan September 5, 1944 after approximately 67 days at sea. During this time no food, water or medical treatment was given to the American prisoners. We were also under torpedo attack by U.S. submarines. Upon my arrival at Moji I was transferred to Yokkaichi prison camp. We were forced to work at a copper refinery. Again, laborious work with no food or water nor any heat in the barracks. There were neither blankets nor any material to keep warm with during the cold months. On December 8, 1944 a tremendous earthquake destroyed the copper refinery. Was this God answering my prayers? We were immediately taken to Toyama prison camp where I worked in a steel mill. The conditions were far worse here than I could have ever imagined. During the last two weeks of the war there was no food, we were starving to death. I ate grass to sustain my existence.

We were repatriated on September 5, 1945 to the U.S. Army Forces. On September 9, 1945 we were transported in airplanes by the United States government to Manila. I celebrated my 29th birthday on that day!

I arrived at Madigan General Hospital in Spokane, Washington. This was the first United States soil I had seen in four and one-half years. After the initial physical assessment in Washington, I was sent to McGuire Hospital in Richmond, VA. I was going to be 60 miles away from my home, Suffolk, VA. During this time of recuperation I was given a myriad of medical and psychological tests to determine my physical and of course my mental health. A military review board told me that due to the beatings and severe malnutrition I had endured at the hands of the Japs I would live no more than fifteen years and would have countless physical limitations. I re-enlisted in the U.S. Air Force upon receiving this news. I decided if I was going to be sick with countless physical limitations that I would let the Air Force take care of me and pay for it!

I arrived at my boyhood home, Suffolk, VA, in November of 1945-fat as a hog. I ate whatever I could get my hands on…and still do. I continued my military career with duty stations in Cleveland, Ohio, Mitchell Field, NY, Langley AFB, VA, Clark AFB, Philippines, Taiwan, China, Panama and Itazuke AFB, Japan. I retired in 1968 as a Fire Protection Superintendent, from the U.S. Air Force as a Senior Master Sergeant with 27 years of service.

I now live in Suffolk, VA. I have been married to a wonderful woman for twenty-three years and have two daughters, one grandson, Daniel Joseph, one granddaughter, Jordan Ellen, and a stepson. I cherish my life. I have my vices; Scotch and deep sea fishing…and I enjoy them both to the fullest.

After many long battles with the U.S. Government I was eventually given a 100% disability from the U.S. Government. I gloat on the fact that I proved that medical military board oh so very wrong. I am still full of life and enjoying the fact that I have lived well past the fifteen-year life expectancy that I was given in 1945!

My Message to Future Generations:

Message to come..

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