UNITED STATES ARMY
(As related by his nephew, Joseph Reynolds)
This banner headline of the Baltimore News American of May 31, 1943, announced the fate of Captain Peter Reynolds, United States Army:
PETE REYNOLDS REPORTED PRISONER OF JAPS
The story continued:
“Capt. Pete Reynolds, U.S.A., a former stellar Johns Hopkins athlete, reported missing after the fall of Bataan, is a war prisoner of the Japanese, according to word received by his mother, Mrs. Catherine A. Reynolds.”
Up until then Pete’s fate had been unknown to his parents, his wife and children.
Pete Reynolds was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He grew up a city kid. His family owned a grocery store in Southwest Baltimore. Pete was a natural athlete and a born leader which would serve him well in his young life. In high school at Mt. Saint Joseph, he excelled in his studies as well as in sports. Many years later, in 1997, he would be voted, posthumously, into the Sports Hall of Fame at that school. This honor emphasized leadership and character, as well as athletic achievement, which were natural for Pete.
After Pete was graduated from Mt. Saint Joseph in 1929, he was accepted to Johns Hopkins University where he entered the engineering program and continued in football and lacrosse. The aforementioned article in the News American stated: Reynolds, when at Hopkins, was the university’s brightest football and lacrosse star.
During World War II, American and Filipino troops in the Philippine Islands were woefully unprepared when the Japanese stormed the islands as a well-trained and battle-hardened Army. The American troops were equipped, in too many cases, with World War I armament and ammunition which was as pitiful as their readiness for war.
The American and Filipino troops were able to hold out for four months, inflicting devastation upon the Japanese who were trained to fight and die. As time wore on, the allied casualty rate became unsustainable and disease was taking even more troops out of the battle. The troops were down to one day of rations and, in many cases, were fighting hand to hand. As a result, it became the sad but necessary duty of General Edward King to surrender to the Japanese.
Where was Peter Reynolds in all of this? We simply do not know as there are no records that document his actions. It is safe to assume that Pete, being the natural leader he was and being physically fit, escaped the surrender and continued on as he could. The tradition in the family had Captain Reynolds sending radio messages out of the Philippine Islands for some time. Finally, the messages stopped. Later the family learned he was a prisoner of the Japanese Army.
Survivors of the Bataan Death March later told his wife that Pete had endured the horrific march of death, and survived. The incredible horror of that march is without equal in the history of American prisoners of war:
Thousands of soldiers were forced to march for days in extreme heat…without food or water, on a journey of over 85 miles… Men struggling to march were shot, bayoneted, decapitated and run over for no reason other than they wanted water. (The Japanese) showed no mercy.
The slaughter of prisoners and death from disease continued after the march. American and Filipino troops, now in prisoner of war camps, died at an alarming rate. In the first two months, over 1,600 more American troops were victims of Japanese cruelty or disease. The Filipinos saw a death rate that approached 500 men a day. (Source: www.history.acusd.edu)
We know that Pete Reynolds lived through all of this horror because he was able to send no less than 3 post cards home to his family. The post card that survives in the family archives must have been directed through the Red Cross into the United States and was sent to his mother; the other two were reported to have been sent to Pete’s wife. The card sent to his mother was a preprinted card that allowed several typed lines. Several more responses to questions could be made by underlining the card with the selection that fit the POW’s situation. There was no handwriting or signature on the card; nothing to indicate that the card was actually sent by Peter. One must have faith in something, and there is no doubt that the family had faith in Pete’s ability to survive the war.
The card Pete sent was headed: IMPERIAL JAPANESE ARMY. Just beneath was the following information:
1. I am interned at – THE PHILLIPINE MILITARY PRISION #1
2. My health is – excellent; good; fair; poor
3. I am – uninjured; sick in hospital; under treatment; not under treatment
4. I am – improving; not improving; better; well
5. Please see that – SOME PHOTOGRAPHS ARE SENT TO ME OF THE FAMILY
6. (Re: family); SEE THAT JANE AND THE KIDS ARE TAKEN CARE OF
7. Please give my best; (TO ALL) MY FRIENDS
Peter had survived the worse that the Japanese had thrown at him but it may have been wearing him down by now. This is mere speculation based on his instructions in item 6. Was that the wish of a husband and father who was naturally worried about his family? Or was it instructions from a condemned man? We will never know.
The second part of Pete’s journey in Japanese captivity began with his boarding what became known as “Hell Ships” (Source: www.harrisonheritage.com). The Japanese Army was shipping prisoners into different parts of the Empire, including the home islands, where the men were used as slave labor. Later, a survivor of the Hell Ships and Japanese slavery would say, in part:
Then came the infamous Hell-Ships. If ever there was a place called “HELL”, it was those ships. Men died in places such as Japan, Manchuria, Korea, and China working as slave laborers in coal mines, steel mills, or building hydro-electric dams. Cremated at those sites, a good number of them were never returned home.
The Hell-Ships were Japanese rusted freighters not identified by the Japanese as a POW transports. The Allies were unaware of the cargo the freighters carried back to Japan–men shackled and bound in abysmal conditions.
The following is taken, in part, from papers from a Hell-Ship:
REGULATIONS FOR PRISIONERS
Commander of P.O.W. Escort
Navy of the Great Japanese Navy
The prisoners disobeying the following orders will be punished with immediate death:
a. Those disobeying orders to instructions
b. Those showing a motion to antagonism by raising a sign of opposition.
c. Those disobeying the regulations by individualism egoism, thinking only of yourself or rushing for your own good.
d. Those talking without permission and raising loud voices.
e. Those walking and moving without orders.
f. Those who carry unnecessary baggage in disembarking.
g. Those resisting mutually.
h. Those touching the boats material, wires, lights, tools, switches, etc.
i. Those showing action of running away from the room or boat.
j. Those climbing the ladder without permission.
k. Those taking more meal than given him.
l. Those using more than blankets.
The directive continues at length. Summary execution could be meted out by any guard or crew member who did not like the way you looked.
We do not know for sure what happened to Pete in the days after his capture. We know he initially avoided capture, but was finally taken into the Japanese P.O.W. system to Philippine Military Prison #1, and that he endured the Death March, and then died on a prison ship bound for Japan. From an undated newspaper clipping we learn the following:
Capt. Peter W. Reynolds Dies on Prison Ship
Capt. Peter W. (Pete) Reynolds, former Johns Hopkins football and lacrosse star and later head coach of football at Mount St. Joseph’s has been listed by the Japanese Government as having died aboard a transport carrying American prisoners of war from the Philippines to Japan last October.
Mrs. Reynolds, . . . said today that she has been officially notified by the War Department of her husband’s death.
Captain Reynolds, 33, a reserve officer prior to the war, was called to active duty in January 1941. He was sent overseas in October of that year and was wounded at Clark Field on December 7, 1941.
In the Philippines he took part in a number of important battles and was among the soldiers who made a last stand on Bataan. He was awarded the Purple Heart.
Star in Other Sports
In addition to playing football and lacrosse, Captain Reynolds was a basketball, soccer, tennis, golf, and track participant at Johns Hopkins.
While he was held prisoner following the fall of Bataan, Mrs. Reynolds frequently heard from her husband. She received three cards from him early this year, although all were written before October.
Today, little is known about Captain Peter Reynolds and his battle with his nation’s enemies and his ultimate sacrifice. Few know that this brave man was killed by a torpedo from an allied submarine.
There is an award presented by the Johns Hopkins University to a lacrosse player in the name of Pete and another alumnus, John I. Turnbull, two lacrosse stars exhibiting the special merits embodied in the award. Turnbull and Reynolds both participated in the Olympic Games in Los Angeles when lacrosse was a trial sport. From the web page of the Johns Hopkins University is, in part, the following:
Perhaps the most longstanding tradition of Hopkins lacrosse is the annual tribute to the team’s war dead, in which two flags with gold stars are attached to the goals before the first home game. There they are displayed at every home game throughout the year.
The tradition got its start at the opening game of the 1919 season, when team Captain Herb Baxley hung a flag having three gold stars, each one representing a former Hopkins lacrosse player who had died in World War I.
A second flag with seven stars was added after World War II… (www.jhu.edu)
And. of course, one of those seven gold stars is for Peter W. Reynolds, Captain, United States Army.
~J. LEE HARLOWE