Local WWII Hero Wolf Remembers Days As POW
The Ste. Genevieve Herald
August 6, 2003
There is a hero living right here in Ste. Genevieve – an everyday
Corporal Joseph William Wolf, who
currently resides at Riverview Manor Nursing Home, was a prisoner of
war for 3 1/2 years during World War II.
Wolf, a native of St. Mary, was
drafted into the military at the age of 26 to fight in WWII.
After completing basic training at
Camp Grant, Illinois, he was stationed for two months in California.
Then he boarded a ship for the Philippines where he was stationed in
Manila at Sternberg Hospital in the medical corps.
Everything was business as usual
until December 7, 1941 – when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and
brought the United States into the war.
Shortly thereafter, the Japanese
overran Sternberg Hospital capturing Wolf and his unit.
According to Wolf, his time as a POW
"was no picnic." While he was held captive in the woods, some
of his unit escaped to the mountains. However, most remained
The guards gave each prisoner a
number – Wolf received No. 1743 – which was placed on a board and
then put around his neck for a photo.
The numbers were only spoken in
Japanese instead of English, a method meant to demean him and refer
to him and other POWs as a "thing" and not a person.
During his captivity, Wolf remembered
being beaten and treated harshly while he was forced to work on a
sweet potato farm. In the mornings, he was fed one cup of rice
as soup and then one cup of steamed rice in the evening.
After approximately 18 months, Wolf
and the other prisoners were transferred to another area. The
new prison camp was enclosed with barbed wire where he again endured
further beatings, repeated torturing, brainwashing attempts and
sever mental anguish.
He shared how he did not know the
month, date or time, which led to his disorientation.
After approximately one year, Wolf
and 1,500 other prisoners were placed on "Hellships" to Japan.
After two of those ships were sunk by American submarines, 350
surviving prisoners were placed on a third ship that finally reached
They were transferred to a train
(where windows had been painted dark so they could not see the
countryside) and taken to a POW camp at Omuta, Japan, about 25-30
miles from Nagasaki.
This is where Wolf was forced to work
in the coal mine and the mess hall. He suffered a dramatic
change in climate when he was moved from the balmy sunny conditions
of the Philippines to the cold, snowy Japanese mainland.
Wolf endured further malnutrition,
malaria, beriberi and "could never keep warm."
During this period, Wolf stated he
felt forgotten and hopeless.
"Without Willie (will power) I never
would have made it," Wolf said.
If there was a bright moment during
his captivity, it was when he found a young German Shepard dog while
he worked on kitchen detail.
Wolf fed and cared for the puppy for
almost a year before his fellow American POW officers found out
about the dog, set a trap, caught him and then ate the puppy.
Another upswing for the prisoners was
when they learned of the Japanese guards had been raised in
California. This guard, who was vacationing in Japan when he
was accosted and forced into the Japanese military, boosted the
morale of the POWs by providing updates on the war.
After 1,243 days as a POW, Wolf’s
captivity came to an abrupt end with the bombing of Nagasaki.
Wolf witnessed the planes flying
over, then came the clouds of dark smoke.
"After the bombing, all the Japanese
guards just dropped their weapons and left the POW campground," he
stated. "We, the prisoners, laid around and rested, knowing
help would arrive soon."
According to Wolf a reporter from
Chicago actually led them out of the POW camp.
"Our ordeal was finally over and we
were going home," Wolf said.
We thank Cpl. Wolf for serving during
this period of time and making a great sacrifice for our country.
Wolf served with commitment and heroic endurance. He should be
remembered and applauded as "a true American hero."
Melvin Frelix is the St. Mary postmaster and is an avid American