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James Clark Hughes

James Clark HughesBorn: March 15, 1888, Topeka, Kansas. Married: Mabel Patten Renwick, November 3, 1908, Kansas City, Missouri. Married: Helen Lindsay. Died: February 26, 1964, California.

Hughes’ story is both common and exceptional.  He was born in Topeka in 1888. The timing of his birth, the influence of his military father, and the impact of world politics shaped his life. He began his service as a member of the Kansas National Guard and was sent to the Texas border with the American Expeditionary Forces in 1916.  As a member of the U.S. Army he served from 1917 to 1948 and fought in both world wars. He left many detailed records of his time in service.  He photographed battlefields and towns in Europe, recorded his daily survival as a Japanese Prisoner of War (POW), and saved many belongings from the wars that were later donated to this museum.  In essence, he captured his life.

Born on March 15, 1888, to James White Frierson and Mary Adeline (Clark) Hughes, James C. Hughes also had two sisters. James’ birthplace was the family home at 235 Greenwood, Potwin, which at this time was its own city.  Today it is a few streets in west central Topeka still lined with Victorian-era homes. 

Hughes was destined to have a military career. His father, James White Frierson Hughes, joined the Kansas National Guard in 1884 and rose to the rank of major general. He was adjutant general of Kansas from 1905 – 1909. Ancestors on both sides his father’s family served in the military with distinction dating back to 1776 when his great-great grandfather and seven brothers fought in the Revolutionary War.  It is reasonable to assume that James joined the Kansas National guard as soon as he was eligible to emulate his father and gain his approval.

Young James C. Hughes attended Potwin and Clay schools and Washburn Academy; a high school associated with what is today Washburn University, Topeka.  The same month he graduated, June 1905, he enlisted in the Kansas National Guard as a trumpeter.  In his efforts for a career in the military Hughes applied but was not selected to both the army and navy academies.  Instead, he spent two years attending Kansas State Agricultural College in Manhattan (now Kansas State University).  While there Hughes took part in the early version of what would become the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and was the captain of the college’s rifle team.

Sergeant Hughes as a Kansas National Guard bugler, 1905Sergeant Hughes as a Kansas National Guard bugler, 1905

After two years of college, Hughes found work with the railroad and utility companies before settling in at the Topeka telephone company.  On November 3, 1908 he married Mabel Patten Renwick in Kansas City.  They lived in Topeka and began their family that would eventually include two sons and two daughters.  He continued to serve and rise in rank in the Kansas National Guard.

The Hughes family portrait taken in 1918 when James was in Europe. The children from left to right: Betty born 1914; Peggy born 1916; Bill born 1918; and James Renwick born 1911.The Hughes family portrait taken in 1918 when James was in Europe. The children from left to right: Betty born 1914; Peggy born 1916; Bill born 1918; and James Renwick born 1911.

On November 3, 1908, James married Mabel Patten Renwick in Kansas City. They lived at 418 Taylor, Topeka, before and during World War I. Around 1916 James Hughes became interested in photography.  He began documenting his family, used his skills while on assignment in Europe in World War I, and continued throughout his life. By 1918 Hughes’ family included four young children. James Renwick born 1911; Betty born 1914; Peggy born 1916; and Bill born 1918.  James Renwick and his little brother Bill would follow in the Hughes’ family tradition of military service; both would graduate from West Point.

In the 19th century, the National Guard was made up of civilian soldiers who occasionally received military training.  Unfortunately, lack of funding was often a problem and the militias did not always get that training. In 1903 federal funding substantially increased for the National Guard.  By World War I, the guard was much closer to the Guard that exists today in terms of military training and organizational structure. Since its beginning, however, the National Guard has had two primary duties.  They are called into service during state emergencies and in times of national crisis.  Father and son would each have the opportunity to meet one of these obligations.

Colonel James W.F. Hughes had the distinction of being commander of the Kansas National Guard at a momentous time in Kansas politics—during the Legislative War of 1893.  In 1892 the Populists, a major third party, won the most Kansas elections. The votes for some members of the House of Representatives were disputed. Populist Governor Lewelling believed the Populist legislators won the elections and recognized their leadership as the one in control. The Republican leadership challenged this decision.  Both political parties elected officers and took their seats in the House. This uneasy arrangement came to blows on February 15, 1893.

The Governor called Hughes to bring National Guard troops to the Capitol to maintain order.  Hughes refused believing the Governor’s order was unlawful; he argued the matter should be settled by the Supreme Court and not the militia even though it was the Governor’s prerogative to do so. The governor called in other troops and court martialed the commander. After a three-day standoff, Governor Lewelling negotiated an agreement that amounted to a Populist surrender. Eventually, the Kansas Supreme Court decided in favor of the Republican House, and the Populists conceded.

J.W.F. Hughes court martial trial lasted for 24 days and resulted in a guilty verdict. Hughes was relieved of his command on September 25, 1893, as colonel of the Third Regiment, Kansas National Guard. In 1895 Republican Governor Edmund Morrill reinstated Hughes (also a Republican) to the rank of brigadier general and major general of the Kansas National Guard. Young James C. Hughes was only five years old at the time of the Legislative War of 1893 but it left a profound impression. 

In 1916 the Kansas National Guard was called into service on the Texas border.  This time, it was the son, James C. Hughes as a member of Field Artillery Battery A, who was in uniform.  On March 9, 1916, the Mexican revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa led a military force into Columbus, New Mexico. Eighteen Americans were killed, eight were wounded, the town was burned, and Villa’s men took supplies back into Mexico.  Villa led the attack in retaliation for American support of the Mexican government.  This resulted in the United States’ leading the Punitive Expedition into Mexico to capture Villa. 

Regular army troops commanded by General John J. Pershing crossed into Mexico after Villa, clashing with both Villa’s men and government forces.  National Guard regiments, including those from Kansas, were called to the border for additional support.  For his efforts Hughes received a letter of commendation recommending him to command his own battery in the National Guard.  Villa himself was never caught, and the matter was settled before war broke out between the two countries.  In 1917 there was a larger war raging in Europe and on April 6 the United States joined the Allied Nations in an effort to defeat Germany.

In Topeka, like cities across the country, patriotic parades were used for military recruitment.  Captain James C. Hughes, on the horse in front, parades with Field Artillery Battery A of the Kansas National Guard down Kansas Avenue.

In Topeka, like cities across the country, patriotic parades were used for military recruitment.  Captain James C. Hughes, on the horse in front, parades with Field Artillery Battery A of the Kansas National Guard down Kansas Avenue.

The war in Europe began on June 28, 1914, when a Serbian nationalist assassinated the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife. This incident triggered war among European nations bound by alliances. The United States tried to remain neutral.  Great Britain and the other Allied nations needed American goods and supplies.  German submarines cruised the Atlantic Ocean torpedoing merchant ships to starve the Allies. Sinking American ships was one of the major reasons that eventually drove the United States to war.

On April 6, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany.  It took a year and the draft to build and place a large army in France. Eventually the war effort included three million U.S. soldiers.  The United States Army organized the 35th Division from 9,000 Kansas National Guard troops and 14,000 Missouri National Guard troops. Today it is headquartered at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  Captain Hughes and the 130th Field Artillery were assigned to the Division. The Second Battalion, 130th Field Artillery Regiment, is currently headquartered in Hiawatha.

Camp Doniphan, Oklahoma was established to train and integrate National Guard units for service in the U.S. Army. Located adjacent to Fort Sill, it specialized in artillery training.   Captain Hughes arrived in July 1917 with the first recruits and his camera.  His Kodak Autographic Camera was unique in that it allowed for writing on one side of the negative without exposing the image. A slot opened on the pack of the camera, and with a provided stylus, the photographer could label and date the picture.  Hughes consistently documented his photographs.

Hughes took the camera with him when deployed to Europe. Technically, Captain Hughes was not supposed to have a camera, but officers were known to get away with such infractions. To his credit, he appears to have avoided taking pictures of active battle scenes, which may have resulted in a court-martial.  At this time cameras were popular but not abundant.  For a soldier to take photographs of Europe during and immediately after the War is unusual; for the 600 images to survive one hundred years is incredible.

Hughes returned home to Topeka before leaving for Europe.  For unknown reasons, he initiated an emergency divorce from Mabel. He was 29 years old and may have felt the strain of four young children and dissatisfaction with an uninspiring job at the telephone company.  His father’s status and the family’s history of military service probably weighed heavily on him as well.  Upon his return from Europe in 1919, however, he and Mabel remarried.

Field artillery battery training at Camp Doniphan, OklahomaField artillery battery training at Camp Doniphan, Oklahoma

On June 1, 1918, Captain Hughes with the 35th Division, 13th Field Artillery, arrived in Liverpool, England.  He landed at Le Havre, France, nine days later. From there the troops received additional instruction on the use of French 155 mm guns at Coetquidan, France.  By the end of July Hughes’ battalion was on the move, stopping in a different town almost daily before engaging in the Battle of St. Mihiel and then the Battle of Meuse-Argonne in September 1918.  This would be the final major Allied offensive in the war.  The battle line stretched across the entire Western Front and lasted until the Armistice on November 11, 1918.  It was the largest and deadliest battle in United States military history.  More than 26,000 American soldiers perished.

Captain Hughes spent seven months in Europe after the war as part of the army of occupation.  There was time for sightseeing and he used it to practice his photography skills. Most of the 600 photographs he took in Europe are from this time period between November 1918 and June 1919 when he was shipped home.  He boarded the U.S.S. Zeelandia at Brest Harbor, France.  Hughes steamed into New York City harbor on July 31, 1919, and photographed of the Statue of Liberty, or as he referred to it as the “Goddess of Liberty.”  From there he made his way home to Mabel and the children waiting for him in Topeka.

Fellow soldiers recover German signs. Deckel Zu means “cover or lid to” and Chlorkalk means “Chlorine gas,” Les Eparges, France, January 12, 1919. Fellow soldiers recover German signs. Deckel Zu means ?cover or lid to? and Chlorkalk means ?Chlorine gas,? Les Eparges, France, January 12, 1919.
German prisoners at Nubecourt, France.  1919. German prisoners at Nubecourt, France.  1919.
Workers piling spent cases and shells in France, February 20, 1919. Workers piling spent cases and shells in France, February 20, 1919
Devastation due to bombing or shelling at Boureilles, France, January 31, 1919. Devastation due to bombing or shelling at Boureilles, France, January 31, 1919.
Captain Hughes flanked by men in his regiment in Varennes, France, February 20, 1919. Captain Hughes flanked by men in his regiment in Varennes, France, February 20, 1919.

World War I was to be “the war to end all wars.”  The United States army downsized dramatically.  Hughes was able to make a career in the military but was transferred frequently and was stationed from coast to coast.  Much of his time was spent training and recruiting men for the army reserves.  By 1941 he was a Lieutenant Colonel stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  On October 4, 1941, he was sent to the Philippines to help secure the area against possible Japanese aggression.  In less than seven months his life would make a dramatic turn for the worse; he became a Japanese prisoner of war. 

On December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan carried out a surprise attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  Across the dateline, where it was already December 8, Japanese planes bombed air fields in the Philippines.  At President Roosevelt’s urgent request, Congress declared war against Japan. 

European powers had already been at war for two years.  France and England declared war on Nazi Germany after its invasion of Poland in 1939.  Eventually the United States, Russia, and China would join with France and England to form the Allied Powers against the Axis Powers of Germany, Italy and Japan.  After only 23 years the United States was once again involved in a global conflict. In the end more than 60 million people would die, most of them civilians.

Before the war the U. S. controlled the Philippines and operated a number of important military bases there.  The Japanese viewed the Philippines and all the lands of Asia to be their rightful property.  Colonel Hughes arrived in Manilla on October 23, 1941.  He was part of the 10,000 U.S. troops sent to prepare for invasion.  He didn’t have long to wait.

As commanding officer for the 11th Field Artillery Battalion, Philippine Army, Hughes engaged the Japanese forces from December 8, 1941, to April 9, 1942. He was under the command of Brigadier General William E. Brougher.  From the start Hughes’ field artillery unit was in a state of flux.  Officers and enlisted men were assigned and then transferred.  Most were Philippine soldiers, many without proper training and about 25 percent without uniforms.  Equipment was not easy to come by either. 

The U.S. and Filipino forces fought bravely but were continually driven back by the superior Japanese forces and eventually confined to the Bataan peninsula.  During the retreat, the troops were poorly supplied; they were on half rations and starving. On April 9 Major General Edward King surrendered 75,000 United States and Filipino troops; it was the largest American surrender in history. Colonel Hughes and his soldiers were among them.  His whereabouts were unknown to his family for the next nine months.

All soldiers captured at Bataan went to Prisoner of War Camp O’Donnell.  As a high ranking officer, Hughes was given civilities not bestowed on lower ranking soldiers.  Senior officers were transported in cars and busses and did not have to endure the sixty mile trek that became known as the “Bataan Death March.”  Those who fell behind on the march were beaten, shot, or beheaded. Under these unspeakable conditions thousands died. 

On May 6, 1942, Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright surrendered Corregidor and joined his troops at Camp O’Donnell.  For most of the war, Colonel Hughes was confined in the same POW camps as Generals Wainwright, Brougher, and King. Colonel Hughes was 54 years old when captured, roughly the average age of senior officers at this time.  He wore a beard his entire time as a POW.

It is believed this photograph was taken shortly after his release in September 1945.It is believed this photograph was taken shortly after his release in September 1945.

Colonel Hughes left a detailed record of his POW experiences in five notebooks dating from April 1943 to October 1945. He made a daily record starting one year after capture and it managed to survive the war.  The Japanese did not approve of journals or diaries, even for senior officers, and were subject to confiscation.  Hughes had his diary seized several times. For this reason, POWs had to censor what they wrote.  They could not express their true feelings towards their captors or living conditions without harsh repercussions.  

April 9, 1943 Its high time I started a diary. Not only is it quite the proper thing for a prisoner of war - or a military man during a war - or anyone at all during the occurrence of epoch making events but it serves several purposes.  It becomes a sort of continuous letter to the family - just in case something happens to me and I don’t get back - it serves as an historical record of uneventful events - and it helps very materially to pass the time away.  I hadn’t started one previously, mostly because I didn’t think I would be able to ever get it home - but its certainly worth a try….

Hughes’ diary is filled with non-threatening details of his daily routine. He wrote about food (or lack of it), capture, work, sickness, boredom, disease, moving to new camps, fellow soldiers, receiving letters and Red Cross boxes, and the occasional camp entertainment.  His journals also contain wishful rumors about an end to the war.

August 17, 1943 …The general conviction in the camp appears to be growing, that another year will surely bring an end to it all.  It may be wishful thinking and some of the pessimists insist on at least two more years - but the optimists, of whom I have always been one - are very much in the majority.

At times he wrote of despair.  For a senior officer, there could be no greater mental punishment than to be out of the action.

May 9, 1943 …I spend my life-and draw good pay-preparing to be useful in a war-and here-the greatest war of all history is going on-and I don’t even know really what is going on-…My whole lifes work apparently utterly wasted.

Colonel Hughes was held at six camps during his 41 months as a Japanese Prisoner of War.  Fortunately, living and eating conditions got better at each successive camp. 

April 11, 1944   Conditions in this start of the third year are certainly improved over what they were both one year ago and two years ago.

While improved, they were still insufficient and lacked flavor and nutrition.

Senior officers (colonels and generals) were treated better than enlisted men or lower ranking officers due to the 1929 Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Still as a POW they were hungry, confined, poorly housed, forced to do manual labor, and humiliated.  Their very survival was in the hands of their enemy. One in three POWs in Japanese camps would die in confinement.  In Germany it was one in 25.

September 16, 1943 …Tho we have been cautioned that just because we might get better treatment, not to get cocky-we are still PWs and will be punished severly-even to death for violation of rules.

Camp O’Donnell

All soldiers captured at Bataan went to Camp O’Donnell, the first and worst POW camp that Colonel Hughes had to endure. Hughes arrived on April 11, 1942, and would come down with the first of many cases of malaria at this camp. Soldiers arrived at camp with nothing but the clothes on their back. 

April 13, 1943 …A year ago today I was settling down in ODonnell, a veritable Hell hole.  The bahia where I lived was about 40 ft from the hospital*. The camp was built to house the 71st Filipino Division - and never completed.  The water situation was very bad.  …. It was necessary to carry water from the river several miles away, by fatigue details- about 90% of the time, just to keep the kitchens going with enough water to cook the rice…the usual gasoline tin slung between two men to get it 500 yds down to the kitchens.  Total cooking equipment two KAWA (a big wok)per kitchen.  And at ODonnell, they were feeding 600 officers out of 2 kitchens. 

Apl 22 [1943] Just about a year ago today that I came down with malaria in the hellhole. The hospital area of Odonnel. No quinine at the dispensary of course-but fortunately I was bunking next to Doc Touissant who managed to get me a few tablets from some ones private stock. I took 15 or 20 grains the first day, 10 the 2nd 5 the 3rd and then instead of continuing with the 3 or 4 tablets I had left I gave ‘em to Maj Fleager who came down with it-and had no quinine.

*Troops called the hospital “St. Peter’s Ward.” Without medical supplies, it was really a place the sickest men went to die; and they did at the rate of 300 men a day.

Tarlac POW Camp

Hughes arrived at Camp Tarlac on May 10, 1942, and would spend four months there.  It was 20 miles away from Camp O’Donnell.  The Japanese began to consolidate and separate senior officers to disrupt military discipline.  They were also made to work.

August 3, 1943 Back to the grass pulling at 8 AM grass is tough even the goats wont eat it.  Ended the morning with 2 squads moving 6000 brick half a block by carrying. Inspection rehearsal at 1 PM followed by police of the rooms, including floor scrubbing.

August 30, 1943 .…went out to work at 830 AM and swung a Kuwa [hoe]til 1130 with one 15 min. break-and again from 3 to 5 PM – hands are blistered on the palms-and back is sunburned a bit.  It was blistering hot-on the hill where we were clearing out long tough grass and under brush…. 

Karenko POW Camp

On August 17, 1942, many officers were moved from the Philippines to Camp Karenko on Formosa, now called Taiwan.  Colonel Hughes recalled Karenko in a May 17, 1943, diary entry.  The first six months were certainly hell-but the past three it hasn’t been bad at all.  Bad is relativeHistorical accounts record beatings, over work, poor diet, and few medical supplies. 

August 17, 1943  One year ago today we marched into the Karenko prison camp, Taiwan #4.  Its been a long year in many ways.  The last word I had from you [referring to his wife, Mabel] was a year and nine months ago - so many things might have happened to all of you I love in that time.  I try not to think about it, and succeed fairly well.  In fact I try not to think aboutanything  - Im just existing these days - living from day to day checking each one off on my calendar - one day closer to release - whenever that may be.

August 18, 1943 …”Scarface” [prisoners gave the guards nicknames]who spit at me in acknowledgement of my salute a week or so ago-when he was on guard-didn’t acknowledge my salute today-but answered me with “good evening”!! …

Colonel Hughes kept track of each day of his confinement with a homemade calendar.Colonel Hughes kept track of each day of his confinement with a homemade calendar.

Shirakawa POW Camp

In June 1943 the Japanese transferred more than 300 POWs from Karenko to another camp on Formosa.  At Camp Shirakawa they were forced to work and kept on a starvation diet. The recreation area, where POWs could walk and read, was nick-named “Yasume Park.” Yasume or Yasumi means “a break, a rest.” This privilege was taken away during hard times. Colonel Hughes spent 16 months here, the longest time at any one POW camp.  Upon arrival at camp, Colonel Hughes was greeted with bad news.  At this camp, like the others, he was required to learn some Japanese.

June 16, 1943 ….Turned out for new camp C.O. [Commanding Officer] who is the old Capt we had from Aug to March at Karenko during the reign of terror.

June 18, 1943 2 bananas glad theyve started again. -Bango (call off) really Tenko (roll call) out doors for reveille.  We count in Japanese itchi, ni, san, shi (you) go, roku, shiahi (nana), hatchi, koo, ju - ju - itch - etc - also all cmds [commands] are given in Japanese Kiwotsulie (Attention) Kire (Salute) Kashira, Naka (Eyes, center) Migi (Right) or (Hidari left) or Migi (etc) Narae (Right Dress). as well as phrases we have to learn such as Ijo ari masen (every thing is OK) …. Morning roll call ends with 15 min. phys exercise.

Cheng Chai Tun POW Camp

On October 9, 1944, the officers were once again moved to a new camp; this one in Manchuria, China.  Part of the trip involved the steamship Oryoku Maru, which was one of the “hell ships” named for their deplorable conditions.  The Oryoku Maru operated just two more months before it was sunk by American bombers killing 200 Allied POWs onboard. This was an ongoing problem as the war turned against the Japanese. Colonel Hughes’ expected four day voyage took almost 20 days partly due to threatened and real air raids.

October 10, 1944 Below decks all day. Heat intense and no air circulation in the lower compartments – tho there is a blower system for the room as a whole – the double decking installed for doubling the capacity for troop carrying – prevents any air reaching the cubby hole where I lay sweating

October 12, 1944 Three waves of planes between 10 AM and 2:30 PM staged an air raid …. one bomb apparently falling on or near the R.R. station and only a hundred or two yards from this boat. …

October 15, 1944 When we asked for an opportunity to bathe, were told by the fat Nipponese interpreter the “Nipponese soldiers do not bathe”!!

October 18, 1944 No bath – three men passed out – heat and confinement.

October 25, 1944 Much colder – … boat drill – or something more serious that brought all the nipponese passengers up on deck in their life preservers – which have never been issued or even apparently considered for us. ….

Colonel Hughes spent a lot of time in his new camp in Manchuria being cold.  He had gone from the extreme heat of the tropics to subzero temperatures.  He used his diary to remember a better time in Topeka, Kansas. 

May 1, 1945 Whatta “May Day”.  It’s a far cry from the soft air and Spring joyousness of carefree afternoon on Washburn College [now Washburn University] campus and the chill atmosphere both figuratively and literally of this place….

Hoten POW Camp

After six months, Cheng Chia Tun was closed and the prisoners moved for the final time. Colonel Hughes and 315 senior officers spent their last three months as a POW at Camp Hoten.  At the time of liberation there were 1,671 American, British, and Dutch prisoners in this camp; most were enlisted men.  They were liberated by Russian troops in August 1945.

Clothing was hard to come by in POW camps. Prisoners were infrequently issued new clothes, but they also traded with other POWs, received items in rare Red Cross boxes, or occasionally purchased them from the Post Exchange (PX). While in camps in the Philippines and Taiwan, it was so hot that POWs wore loin cloths or shorts.  When they were moved to Manchuria in the winter, the prisoners received heavy clothing but never enough to keep them warm.

The Life of a POW Under the Japanese In Caricature by Colonel Malcolm Vaughn Fortier. Colonel Malcolm Fortier was captured at Bataan along with Colonel Hughes.  They shared the same POW camps.  Fortier recorded his experiences through caricature drawings. He had to be careful what he drew just like Hughes had to be guarded about what he wrote.  Many of the events Fortier recorded are described in Hughes? diary.The Life of a POW Under the Japanese In Caricature by Colonel Malcolm Vaughn Fortier. Colonel Malcolm Fortier was captured at Bataan along with Colonel Hughes.  They shared the same POW camps.  Fortier recorded his experiences through caricature drawings. He had to be careful what he drew just like Hughes had to be guarded about what he wrote.  Many of the events Fortier recorded are described in Hughes’ diary.


Colonel Hughes? winter ?blues?Colonel Hughes’ winter “blues”

Colonel Hughes was issued these blue pants at Camp Tarlac in 1943 and wore them through the end of the war.  Inside the waistband he recorded his Camp Tarlac POW number 23.

June 11, 1943 ….my winter “blues” Jap made …-these trou [trousers]completely wrecked-but patched with everything I could find from scraps cut off the bottoms to gunny sacks the latter scarce but forming the framework of the trou that’s the only thing holding em together….

Hughes regretted being captured in light weight shoes that wore out even with careful tending.  Prisoners typically wore sandals because they had limited access to their shoes.


One pair of Colonel Hughes? clogsOne pair of Colonel Hughes’ clogs

May 28, 1943 ….In Tarlac …. I also got a pair of wooden clogs, altogether too small for me - I cut the straps and let them out with string but the wooden part is for a Filipinos foot & too small for me.  I used them while taking a bath to reduce the danger of Athletes foot.  The day we arrive in Karenko our leather shoes were turned in locked up and are only available during daylight or certain occasions.  We were issued a large wooden clog that have been my principal outdoor wear ever since.

The Japanese feared escapes but that was never really an option in POW camps.  Americans stood out in Asia and were easily recaptured, then tortured and executed. Every POW received an identification badge to help guards keep track of them.  When Hughes and other POWs arrived at Camp Cheng Chai Tun in Manchuria they knew the drill.

November 14, 1944 We stood outside, in front of barracks, 2 ¼ hours, while being harangued and made again to sign Non-Escape pledge; many developed pneumonia and all severe colds.

November 15, 1944 Issued a new PW number – certainly hope it’s the last – I am tired of trying to keep my clothing and junk marked up to date – I was #23 in Tarlac, #56 in Karenko, which I kept in Shirakawa, though my Taiwan number that was used occasionally was #73 and now I am #1660 which is undoubtedly a district number but will also be my local number.”

The soldiers were already starving from five months of fighting on half rations when they surrendered at Bataan.  For the next four years food, and the lack of it, was always on a POW’s mind. Before they could eat, soldiers captured at Bataan had to scrounge for things as basic as a bowl and a cup.  Colonel Hughes left a grim record of how he acquired some of his utensils.

June 10, 1943 …the canteenI took from under the stiff outstretched hand of a thin [American] soldier who had died during the night half under the porch of the ODonnell hospital.  I couldn’t sterilize the bamboo “spoon” I first used.  I couldn’t even get enough soap and water to wash it properly-but the canteen I boiled by getting some water in it and putting it in one of the scarce cooking fires. The cup belonged to Col Berry CAC who died at Tarlac. So my cup and my canteen both came from dead men.

Colonel Hughes? cup  Colonel Hughes’ cup 


The quality of food varied at the camps but it was always monotonous and lacked nutrition.  The raw rice could include maggots, rat droppings, rocks, and whatever else was swept off the floor during bagging and processing. POWs were regularly served a thin soup called lugao that sometimes contained vegetables or even a small bit of meat.  All POWs lost weight due to the starvation diets.  Colonel Hughes weighed 177 pounds before the war.  At his lowest he weighed only 125 pounds.

Prisoners could receive a little more rice if they worked, the serving aptly called “work rice;” sometimes it came in a ball.  Officers were not supposed to work by rules of the Geneva Convention but they were forced to.  Some of it was strenuous and took its toll, especially when you consider most of the men were over fifty.

May 4, 1943 …We get of course, two “dishes” each and every meal, no more, no less, breakfast, dinner and supper.  A bowl of rice about 300 c.c. and a bowl of soup about 400 cc of that.-which varies in consistency from quite watery to very occasionally quite thick…

August 15, 1943 …How many people in the states could realize that for over a thousand consecutive meals Ive had nothing but rice and soup….

November 11, 1943 Twenty five years ago today the First world war ended!  This is a sad way to celebrate the anniversary.  I spent the afternoon weeding tender sprouts.  The work rice was very light.

Malaria and dysentery ravaged all POW camps. Colonel Hughes endured multiple bouts of malaria and terrible pain from chronic tooth problems. 

December 16, 1944Lost upper left #3 tooth this evening making two stubs together broken off at the gums which entirely bars any chewing at all on the left side….

December 27, 1944  ….Oh whoa is me! My number four upper right tooth which had a gold crown on it broke at the gum line!! Thats three of them now with not even good sized stumps to chew against - #s3 & 4 left and #4 right uppers gone with nothing but roots and jagged short stumps left…

Delivery of letters and Red Cross boxes were always met with great delight.  The Red Cross sent materials to all POW camps; not just to officers. It was a very special day when Hughes received his first personal Red Cross box and news from home.

December 24, 1943  Just think-a box-the first word in over two years-and it arrives the day before Christmas!!!  It couldn’t possibly have selected a more appropriate date for itself…I was just finishing breakfast when …the interpreter handed me a package from home. …  It had been opened, of course, and each item carefully examined, even to looking under the labels. …

February 24,1944 …Another Red Cross box-identical with the one that came Xmas eve …  I gave away one cake of soap and the big shaving brush already, to Bob Hoffman. Two packs of razor blades and a tooth brush to [General] Brougher-(He gave me a tooth brush at Odonnel almost two years ago) …

Camp Hoten

Barracks varied from camp to camp as did the beds.  During Hughes’ 41 months of confinement he slept on everything from the floor to metal cots, bamboo beds, and wooden bunk beds.  At Camp Hoten, prisoners were quartered in brick buildings. A U.S. government report completed after the war described the barracks in detail.

….The barracks had wooden floors and were divided into sections,….The length of each bunk was about 20 feet and six to seven men slept alongside of each other on straw mattresses.  Little shelves were built back of each bed for prisoners to put their personal items….

July 21, 1945 Everyone ordered to sleep with head to the aisle instead of the wall, I have fixed up a nail with my coat hanging on it & then hooked over to another wall, so that the light doesn’t shine in my face to wake me up at all hours of the night when the guards turn it on in going thru the barracks….

By spring 1945 Hughes made almost daily entries in his diary about impending release.  Finally the years of suffering came to an end.  American parachute troops brought the word of Japanese surrender.  Russian soldiers arrived two days later to liberate the camp.  Sadly, one fellow officer died on the last day of captivity/first day of freedom.

August 15, 1945 Floyd Marshall died this noon.  He has looked like a skeleton ever since I knew him.

August 17, 1945 The "aviators" noted in the entry yesterday were on the parachutes, seen to descend about ten oclock in the morning …. It appears it was Maj Hennessy - CAC, Maj Ltd Marr. Med Corps and some radio non-coms, a Chinese and a Nip interpreters with a radio set ­- medicines - cigarette - emergency rations etc…..

August 20, 1945 [The Russians] landed at the field north of us and about 730 in the midst of what may be the farewell concert and sing song, three Russian officers arrived at the camp - one was a General. They addressed the PW's thru an interpreter - told us we were now free….

Although free, it would take Hughes three months to reach the United States.  During this time he learned of his father’s death and the safe release of his son (James Renwick) from a German POW camp. Hughes traveled by ship to Manilla and then to Hawaii and finally reached San Francisco.

September 13, 1945 What a relief to be on the Relief [hospital ship]— with American routine — and food and everything.  Oranges for bkfast — ham and eggs — a “ships service” where I can buy cigars — tho they are limited to 3 per man.  Shaved off my beard today – first time without a beard since about Feb 1942.

October 15, 1945 SAN FRANSCISO - about 930 AM Rosy [Hughes’ son-in-law in the Navy] down to meet me - Took me to see Peg & Holly [his daughter and granddaughter]

His final diary entry on October 19, 1945, he recorded going to the hospital in Van Nuys, California, for a physical and 10 days leave.  And there it ended.  He stopped writing about his life and started living it.

On April 1, 1946, Hughes was made a full colonel in the U.S. Army and awarded the Legion of Merit.  He retired on March 30, 1948, and lived in California with Mabel until her death in 1960.  He then married Helen Lindsey. Colonel Hughes died on February 26, 1964, and is buried with Mabel at Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Colonel Hughes in his California home, circa 1960Colonel Hughes in his California home, circa 1960

—Let us never forget the courage, honor, and sacrifice of our nation’s soldiers.


While cleaning the house of her husband’s grandmother after she passed away, Michelle Kaufman found small binders containing about 1,500 negatives.  Unknowingly, she had discovered the photographs taken by Colonel James C. Hughes before, during, and after World War I used in the article and the exhibit.

Entry: Hughes, James Clark

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 2016

Date Modified: January 2020

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.