to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

3.8 Unique stories

In addition to the 29 Merchant Marines, who ended up at the Hintok area camps and the members of the USF-JAVA staff, there were a few other unique additions to the POW list.

A certain Harry Gray was a medic with the 1314th Med Grp. They were being evacuated from the Philippines in Jan 1942 aboard the USAT LIBERTY which was torpedoes by a Japanese submarine off the coast of Bali. Among the crew and passengers, there were no casualties. Somehow or other, PFC Gray managed to find his way to the east coast of Java (the next island to the west) and married up with the 131 while they were near Malang. He was assimilated into the Med detachment and transported to the TBR as part of the main body of POWs. He died of dysentery and Beri-beri in SEP 1943 at the 80 KILO camp.  What I failed to realize, until Frank Fujita pointed it out in his NoTXUniv interview (OH 59 pg11-14) is that the Liberty was in the same convoy as the Bloemfontein from Brisbane en route to Java.


Charles Mott

Charles Mott was technically a civilian. He was a volunteer member of the FLYING TIGERS squadron. He was shot down in northern Thailand and passed from unit to unit until he found himself at Ban Pong. He reportedly had been shot down over Tak Province (near the Burmese border) on 8 JAN 1942. After hospitalization in Bangkok he was sent to the Nong Pladuk POW camp where he joined forces with the RASC 62nd Truck and Motor Pool sending supplies along the TBR.

Little is documented about his POW experience beyond the fact that he was present. He had been a US NAVY pilot prior to the war (1937) and apparently resigned to join the Volunteer Squadron. He was said to be an avid chess player. He retired from the US NAVY as a CAPTAIN and is buried at Arlington Nat’l Cem.

Charlie resigned from the Navy in June, 1941 to volunteer for the AVG.  He was placed in charge of the largest group of AVG (125) which sailed aboard the Dutch ship Jaegersfontaine from San Francisco for Rangoon on July 10, 1941.  Upon arrival at Kyedaw Airfield, Toungoo, Burma he as assigned duties as Acting Group Adjutant and in this capacity assisted in the organization and assignment of personnel of the Group.  He was designated a Flight Leader and operations officer of the 2nd Squadron.  Charlie was relieved of Adjutant duties in Mid-September.  When the optical gunsights did not function, he took on the task of adapting and redesigning them resulting in a gunsight superior to the old “ring and ball” sights.
After the 2nd Squadron was deployed to Rangoon in late December, ’41, he flew experimental but ineffective missions against night attacks because close radar control was not available.
The AVG then seized the initiative by attacking Japanese airfields in Thailand.  While leading an attack on the airfield at Mesoht, Thailand, he was shot down by ground fire and captured, severely wounded.  He was the first allied pilot to be captured in Asia.  The Japanese let him recuperate from his wounds and tropical fevers and in July, 1942 put him in with British troops captured at Singapore [at Nong Pladuk camp].  For three years he experienced the conditions in POW camps along the River Kwai railway and was repatriated at the end of the war. 

Upon returning to the States, he was recommissioned into the regular Navy and completed a Naval Aviator career of Lt. through Captain, specializing in ordnance and guided missiles.  He retired from the Navy in 1963.
His Navy career included command of a four-engine squadron and operations officer of an attack carrier.  He was the planning officer in the 7th Fleet, responsible for the joint China (Taiwan) resupply Quemoy during the 1958 incident and was honored by the Chinese with the Cloud and Banner Medal.  In his last job he was responsible for the production of all U.S. Navy tactical guided missiles, torpedoes, mines, rockets and miscellaneous ammunition and expendable ordnance including electronic gear.

Lt(jg) Francis Weiler

When HOUSTON went down, a badly wounded Francis Weiler made it to shore. He was admitted to the hospital in Pandeglang, Java, on 15 March. Knowing that he did not have long to live, he gave his Naval Academy ring to a Dutch nurse in the hope that she could contact a U.S. naval officer and give it to him. She gave it to a Dutch doctor, and he, either willingly, or otherwise, gave it to a Japanese officer. Sadly, Lieutenant Weiler died of his wounds on 26 March 1942. His gravesite is unknown. He was the first US POW on Java to die.

Lt(jg) Francis Weiler

In early November 1942, Gordon Gayle (USNA class of’39), then a Marine captain, was involved in a firefight on Guadalcanal. Four Marine stretcher-bearers paused nearby and one of the Marines, knowing that Captain Gayle was an Academy gradu­ate, handed him a ring that had been taken off the hand of a dead Japanese soldier up on the lines. Captain Gayle promptly put the ring in his pocket and did not look at it until there was a break in the action. When he did examine it, he was sur­prised to see that it belonged to a classmate. He remembered Francis Weiler as being chairman of the class ring committee.

In the eight months since HOUSTON sank, Lieutenant Weiler’s ring traveled more than 3,000 miles from Pandeglang, Java, to Guadalcanal. Its journey was not yet over.

Captain Gayle intended to return the ring to Lieutenant Weiler’s family, but felt that his chances of survival were marginal, so he decided to send the ring through official channels. He gave the ring to a fellow officer in his command post. This officer, Captain Swisher, from artillery, was about to return to his unit back in Henderson Field. Gayle asked Swisher to give the ring to the division quartermaster, the usual staff agency to return such items to the United States. Captain Swisher never made it back to his unit at Henderson Field. The 164th U.S. Army Infantry Regiment was nearby and desperately needed forward observers, so Swisher’s orders were changed. Tragically, he took a direct hit from a mortar and died an hour later.

It is believed that upon learning of his change of orders, Captain Swisher gave the ring to a Private Charles Stimmel, a radio specialist HQ CO, of the 164th. Again tragedy struck. Private Stimmel was mortally wounded by shell fragments on 23 November 1942 and died within the hour. His best friend was with him when he was hit and Stimmel asked the friend to get his personal effects back to his fam­ily in North Dakota. Among those personal effects was Lieutenant Weiler’s class ring.

Private Stimmel’s father wrote to Dr. George Weiler, Francis Weiler’s father, on 1 March 1943, a year to the day that HOUSTON went down, explaining how he came into possession of Fran’s ring. The ring was then personally returned to George and Florence Weiler at their home in Germantown, Pennsylvania, by a Marine courier.

Fran’s brother, Rear Admiral James B. Weiler ’31, USN (Ret.), donated the ring to the Naval Academy Alumni Association in 1961. It is currently on display in the ring collection at Alumni House.

COL Albert Searle

COL Albert Searle was the highest ranking officer taken as a POW on Java. He was the Commander of the 26th Field Artillery Brigade operating under the 61st FA Brigade. When that command evacuated Searle remained on Java with a few of his men. They eventually affiliated themselves with the 2/131. Searle is said to have attempted to resist capture and assemble some men to continue the fight against the IJA invaders but within a few weeks, the IJA had such total control of the island that all were captured; likely turned in by locals.

After a brief stay at the Bicycle camp with the other US POWs, he was transferred to the senior officers camp in Mukden Manchuria.


In 1962 James Clavell published a novel entitled KING RAT*. Clavell had been a POW at Changi Prison in Singapore and it is thought that the main character Peter Marlowe was based on his experiences there. The King Rat was a notorious American Army Corporal whose true identity remained unknown, but was also thought to be factually based.

In his interview, PFC Cleon Stewart identifies his D Battery mate CPL Albert Lewis “Buttercup” Carpenter as being King Rat. Stewart admits to being a partner-in-crime with Carpenter early on in their incarceration at the Bicycle Camp, but says that Carpenter went “over the line” once they reached Changi. Stewart says that he distanced himself from Carpenter out of fear of his being caught by the Japanese for the black marketing enterprise he ran.

USMC Pvt John Wisecup offers a slightly different opinion. According to him, the Clavell character is an amalgamation of Carpenter, USS Houston SM1c Robert Martin and Merchant Marine Eddie MacArthur (SS Humphrey).

Per WIKIPEDIA*, “Trading with Korean guards, local Malay villagers, and other prisoners for food, clothing, information, and what few luxuries are available, King keeps himself and his fellow American prisoners alive. Senior officers come to him for help in selling their valuables to buy food, and other officers are secretly on his payroll.”

On his 1983, Arizona death certificate, his cause of death is listed as suicide.


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