This month we pause to say thank you to the thousands of veterans who live and work among us, full of memories of their years in the military. We are free today because you served yesterday. We honor each of you.
Some veterans have the dubious distinction of having spent time as prisoners of war. They are America’s heroes, part of a very special fraternity. One such hero is Owen Boothroyd, now 93 years young, living in retirement in Florida. He and his wife, Anna, are members of Southside Baptist Church in Sebring.
Chaplain John Murdoch, director of Regular Baptist Chaplaincy Ministries, recently talked to Owen about his time in the military.
Owen served on the USS Canopus during World War II, when it was assigned to Manila, Philippines. Ten hours after the attack at Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy, a similar attack was carried out at Manila Bay. As at Pearl Harbor, American aircraft were severely damaged in the initial Japanese attack. Because of the loss of their air cover, most of the American Asiatic Fleet in the Philippines set sail for the Indonesian island of Java a few days later.
One of the ships that stayed behind was the aging Canopus, a tender to a submarine squadron. For the next four months, its men worked day and night to repair ships damaged in the daily air raids as well as to keep its submarines at sea. But the Japanese army could not be held off forever. As Japanese victory appeared imminent in April, the Canopus was ordered scuttled in the bay off Bataan, to deny its use to the enemy.
The 548 surviving crewmen of the Canopus were evacuated to Corregidor and served with the Marines, “[fighting] gallantly during the final battle for the island fortress,” notes togetherweserved.com. “Nearly all Canopus crewmen were captured at the fall of Corregidor and spent the rest of the war in Japanese POW camps in the Philippines and the Asia mainland.”
When prompted to share his experiences in the war, Owen’s thoughts mostly go to ways that God protected him. After they were captured by the Japanese, Owen was put on a ship to Japan, and spared the infamous Bataan Death March. On board ship, most of the men were confined below deck, but Owen was one of several tasked with carrying food and water down to the other prisoners. At the POW camps in Japan, God protected him from the beatings that many of the prisoners suffered.
The work detail was mostly at train stations, loading flat cars and repairing train engines. Some of the men discovered that the locks on the warehouses could be easily picked, and accessed extra rice. The guards were aware of the “rice parade” but oblivious to how the men got it. Eventually American air raids prompted a move from one POW camp to another. Owen says that during the air raids the POWs helped the elderly and children find shelter. And once a bomb came through the roof of Owen’s confinement barracks and landed on a bed without exploding.
Owen’s 15 or 16 medals include a purple heart and a bronze star. He has already given about half of them to his grandson. He says he can’t remember what most of them are for. Like so many other veterans, he remains quiet and modest about his service to our country. When Chaplain Murdoch asks him if there is anything he would like to add to the conversation, he says simply, “The Lord’s been good to me.”