Battle of Bataan -
Bella Vista Press presents Bataan - HomeBella Vista Press presents Bataan - Biography of James H. CowanBella Vista Press presents Bataan - MedalsBella Vista Press presents Bataan - Story

James Henry Cowan was born on September 26, 1920 at the Cowan Homestead located close to Japton, Arkansas, a small community way back up in the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas. Japton was one of those small settlements close to the War Eagle Creek area where most people made their living scratching out a farm on the rugged hillsides. James Henry was the seventh of eight children born to Henry Harvey and Mittie Sisemore Cowan. He was named after his grandfather, James Henry Cowan who had been born in Clarksville, Arkansas who removed to the less crowded country in the Ozarks to seek out his fortune. Henry being a common name in the Cowan family as well as many cousins and other assorted relatives, James Henry quickly became Hank and remained Hank until the day he died. 

Hank's early memories of childhood were good ones until his father had a fatal accident on January 1, 1925 when he was crushed by an overturned wagon. Henry's brother, William Riley Cowan, a doctor of much renown in both Arkansas and Oklahoma, was immediately sent for but Henry's injuries were too great and he passed on. This left his mother, Mittie, with Hank and his brothers Cavit and Tom and sister Mae. To say that life was extremely harsh and severe for a single mother with four mouths to feed in an era when women were usually only housewives is an understatement. Despite having four children Mittie was considered an eligible widow and was soon married to Jird Carter. For some reason Jird took a distinct dislike to Hank and commenced to make his life as miserable as possible. This experience would follow Hank throughout his life but it had one unintended result and that was to make him into a real fighter. There still was little money in the family and Hank can remember that if he wanted a toy he made it or whittled it. He was later to whittle some extraordinary things. 

He managed to get a rudimentary elementary education. When not in school his time was taken up with chores or exploring his mountainous home. He grew into a wiry and sturdy young man during this time and his hard labor toughened him for some of the ordeals he would suffer later. He was born just old enough to miss the annual hog drives that took place in that area of Arkansas but probably would have had a great deal of fun participating in them. If a person cares to know more about herding hogs, they can look at a copy of The Smith Clan of War Eagle Creek. It is quite a facinating story. To read more about this subject you can purchase the story by clicking on this link to contact Bella Vista Press:  Purchase the Story

In 1934 Mittie died and that left her two youngest children, Hank and Cavit, with only Jird Carter. Hank was barely 13 and was devastated by his motherís death. Jird didn't have any use for children and soon went his way. Hank's sisters had moved to California in order to seek a better living and it was his sister Sally Lucindy (Lucille) Gibson (later MacFarlane) and Maude Pennington that took the teenager in. Cavit, who was only ten, went to live with his uncle, Ulysses Cowan and his wife Laura, also in southern California.

Hank and Cavit soon settled into the life of the southern California town of Fallbrook. Fallbrook and the surrounding area was very much a rural area, not the built up area that it is today. The Depression was in full swing by that time and everything was either unobtainable or in short supply. All the children in the family did odd jobs and helped in any other way to contribute to the family well being. There were several times when Hank's sister, Mattie Swift and her husband Elmer (Tip), and their children moved in with the Pennington's to share expenses.  Hank spent much of his time with sister Maude and cousin Julia Eileen (Penny). Hank and Penny became inseparable and were more like brother and sister than cousins. Maude's husband, Matthew (Mack) Pennington, worked at any job that came along. At one time he was working on a ranch and was taking care of livestock that belonged to Leonard Sly, among others. The reader will note that Mr. Sly went on to become internationally famous as Roy Rogers.

In Fallbrook, Hank loved the outdoors and was able to go exploring all over the countryside with his friends from school. Many times he slept under the stars. In the summertime he usually had a bed on a screened in back porch at Maude's. Between Mack and sometimes Tip Swift, Mat's husband, there was always food on the table and Hank sometimes supplemented the fare with wildlife. No one ever went hungry but things were always tight. One of the best memories Hank had of his time with Maude was when he was sleeping on the back porch and heard a noise. It sounded as if someone had broken into the house and was stomping around. Hank grabbed the shotgun and proceeded into the kitchen ready to do the intruder bodily harm. Just about when he was going to pull the trigger Maude managed to get some more light on the subject and to everyone's chagrin there stood the biggest skunk that anyone had ever seen. Maude yelled at Hank not to shoot because if he killed the skunk in the house they would have had to move out and burn the place down. Eventually, they managed to usher the skunk out of the house and calm was restored. Hank was a little more cautious about poking the shotgun around in the dark after that.

Hank was a good outdoorsman.  He learned to hunt and shoot a .22.  He worked hard in the orange groves in the area for his spending money.  His whittling skill became honed to a fine degree.  He learned to work wood into just about any shape imagina table.  If he wanted a toy car, he whittled it.  Other toys were also done.  Later in life he whittled some fantastic walking sticks that he gave to his sons.  He took shop courses in high school eventually put together enough money for a 1932 Plymouth coupe.  Pictures show him with the car as proud as when they pinned the Bronze Star on him.

Maude and Lucille placed a high regard on education and made sure that Hank and the other children in the family always had their schooling. There was no shirking in this regard. Lucille was a good businesswoman and doted on the children in the family. There were many times when Lucille would provide the little extras, such as a dress for Penny, that the children would not have had otherwise. Hank was not the best student in the world but he made passing grades and Lucille was there to make sure that he graduated from high school. She would brook no interference with that goal and Hank became one of the first in the Cowan family to attain a high school diploma.

When Hank graduated from Fullerton High School on June 14, 1940 there were absolutely no jobs of any kind available. Hank was independent and didn't intend to stay with his sisters after he graduated so he joined Company K of the 185th Infantry of the California National Guard. At this late date the National Guard records have not been found but later information from a job application for Federal employment showed that he indeed had been in the National Guard. On August 5, 1940 he decided to join the Army Air Corps. This set in motion a chain of events that would push the young man of 20 years to the breaking point in the coming months and years.

After Basic Training at March Field in Riverside, California Hank was given a short leave to visit home with his sisters and cousins in Fullerton. By this time he had adopted the cigarette habit and most of his pictures show him with a cigarette in his hand. He was a striking figure in his Army Air Corps uniform. He had been promoted to Private First Class upon completion of Basic. Being in the Army did have its disadvantages however. He had to sell his prized 1932 Plymouth Coupe to his First Sergeant, Bob Merchant. After leave he was shipped to Kirtland Field in Albuquerque, New Mexico for training on the brand new Boeing B-17. 

He was assigned to Headquarters Squadron and was both a driver and an engine mechanic. After almost a year of training he had become a good mechanic and was well liked by everyone in the squadron. He became friends with Gordon "Smitty" Smith, Howard Gunn, and Amon "Little Tex" Blair. The three grew inseparable and Hank brought them home on leave several times to meet his family. With his friends he took leave of his family in August of 1941 and was transferred to San Francisco. He was marched around and around Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay and came to wish for any change. His wish was not long in coming to fruition. The whole 19th Bombardment Group was shipped to Clark Air Base in the Philippine Islands to deter the Japanese. The Japanese at this time had been brutally pillaging China and had designs on the rest of the South Pacific. The 19th was to protect United States' interests in the Commonwealth of the Philippines as well as deter the Japanese from moving further into the South Pacific or Southeast Asia.

By the time that Hank and his comrades arrived at Clark Air Base in November of 1941, the ominous clouds of war were gathering on the horizon. It was a widely held belief that the United States soldier could lick ten Japanese soldiers. They were portrayed as near sighted, buck-toothed, bandy legged, short and unkempt soldiers. From the top of the military command to the bottom, almost everyone figured that if the Japanese were foolish enough to attack the United States they would be trounced in short order. Hank and his buddies started to dig foxholes and prepare fortifications for the B-17s that had just arrived but it was a matter of too little, too late. It was also a matter of poor leadership from Field Marshal Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur had retired to the Philippines after an illustrious career and the Philippine government had made him a Field Marshal in charge of training the Filipino troops. It was the first time that a United States officer was an officer in another army while commanding American troops as MacArthur was after being recalled to active duty by President Roosevelt.

December 8, 1941 dawned hot and humid. Everyone was glued to the radio as the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor was broadcast. Everyone wanted to go bomb the no good Japs and put finish to their treachery but it was not to be. By the time the day was over most of the B-17s Hank and his buddies were so proud of lay in ruin and MacArthur's air arm had been reduced to a few obsolete fighters and bombers as well as the few B-17s that had escaped the attack. Everything else was in ruins. It was a let down that the men never forgot, and some never forgave. To this day there is controversy about just what was going on in MacArthur's headquarters. One of the officers of the 19th had gone to headquarters in Manila to get permission for a bombing raid on the Japanese held Formosa but by the time that MacArthur finally got around to giving permission the Japanese had gained the upper hand and had destroyed MacArthur's air arm on the ground.

Hank put pen to paper in 1970 and revised the story later in 1972 of what happened on December 8th, 1941 and his experiences that came after that. His story is much more eloquent than trying to recount it here in his biography. There are, however, some things that are worth mentioning. Hank's upbringing was to stand him in good stead in the trials and tribulations that he was to endure. His hard work in the fields during summer breaks from school and other part-time jobs toughened him as no other experience could have done. He later credited this facet of his childhood with carrying him through the worst things imaginable. His family had never been particularly religious but if there were ever people to be described as God fearing, it was the Cowan family. They knew the Bible and they had a healthy respect for their God and Lord. This bedrock of morality and ethics stood Hank in good stead in the horrors he was to endure during the Japanese Holocaust. Even the treatment from his stepfather was to contribute to his survival.

It is necessary to recount some of Hank's experiences so the reader can follow his life story. Hank was assigned to the 200th Coast Artillery, a New Mexico National Guard outfit after the B-17s were destroyed. He fought with them and withdrew with them to the peninsula of Bataan. Sometime during the fighting on Bataan he became ill with some type of rash that covered his body and he was sent to Field Hospital Number 1. When he went to rejoin the 200th they were no where to be seen so he went to the nearest Army Air Corps outfit and asked if he could join them. The commanding officer averred that he didn't have any problems with that and Hank was given a rifle and put on guard duty. He surrendered on April 9, 1942 and began another chapter of his life.

When he surrendered he had been on starvation rations. He and his buddies had a host of tropical diseases for which there had been no medicine. The rations were down to seven tins of salmon for 100 men when General Edward P. King surrendered the troops under his command on Bataan against strict orders from MacArthur to fight to the death. King thought that his troops had fought the good fight and had done just about anything that could humanly be asked of them. He was not about to allow a slaughter just because of some idiotic order from headquarters. General King told the Japanese that he had trucks and gasoline for his troops and would take the troops to anyplace that the Japanese designated but the Japanese were in no mood to allow anything but unconditional surrender, especially since the Americans had held their conquest of the islands at bay for more than four months costing them thousands of troops. 

Hank later said that if he had not been hardened by his tough childhood he probably would not have made it on the Death March. The Japanese counted the men off into groups of approximately 100 and put them on the road from Mariveles at the tip of Bataan to the railhead at San Fernando, some 65 miles in heat that was the fiercest on record. Discipline among the Japanese quickly broke down. If a man stumbled and fell, he was bayoneted. If he ran to one of the artesian wells along the road, he was bayoneted. If he dropped his pants because of the diarrhea that all the troops had, he was bayoneted or beheaded. The word soon went down the line to "go" in your pants or you would die. 

The Japanese did not follow General Homma's orders when they made the Americans and their Filipino allies start up the road to San Fernando. General Homma had specified that the surrendering troops were to be humanely treated and given food, water and medicine. There were even field hospitals that were supposed to be established. But Homma had made a fatal error. He figured on maybe 12,000 troops surrendering. When more than 78,000 Americans and Filipinos surrendered the whole system went to pieces. Homma didn't follow through on his orders and the brutality that the Japanese guards meted out on the March of Death earned him a death sentence at the War Crimes Trials at the end of the war. 

Hank was in a group that was treated badly. They were not allowed water and the only food they had was a handful of rice after several days of marching. Hank himself almost fell victim to the brutality of the Japanese when he decided to run out in the fields and grab a stalk of sugar cane to ease his thirst. A miracle occurred when one of the guards grabbed him and threw him back in the line of march instead of beheading him on the spot like so many others had been. At the end of the march and terrible ordeal by rail from San Fernando to Camp O'Donnell the men were interned at Camp O'Donnell which rivaled any death camp that Hitler could dream up. The conditions got so bad that the Japanese finally closed it and transferred what was left of the troops to another camp in the Philippines, Cabanatuan. Thousands of Americans and Filipinos died at Camp O'Donnell because of the inhumane treatment by the Japanese.

Although the treatment at Cabanatuan was better than at O'Donnell the men were systematically starved, beaten, and tortured. When the Japanese decided they needed some slave labor they increased the rations and used the men in the most terrible ways. Even when machinery was available the men were made to work by hand. They were forced to grub out a vegetable farm and supposedly the vegetables were to be the prisoners' but the Japanese took all the produce from the fields and beat or tortured to death anyone who tried to smuggle in anything from the fields. Hank survived only because of his ingenuity at hiding small vegetables in his oversized pants and huge hat.

One of the worst details that the Japanese had was at Nichols Field which is now Manila International Airport. The Japanese wanted to make Nichols Field the biggest air base in the Pacific with huge runways. The men were put to work digging out hillsides by hand and moving the dirt and rocks with small railway mining cars. The procedure for smoothing out the hills was to have the men dig at the base of the hill until the dirt collapsed and then load up the railway cars and haul it away. If anyone wasn't fast enough to get out of the way when the hillside collapsed he was buried alive. It is a known fact that there are many good Americans under the tarmac of Manila International.

Hank grew so weak from the starvation diet and constant beatings and disease that he finally fell in a heap. He got lucky because he was one of the five per day that the Japanese allowed to be taken to medical facilities, such as they were, at Bilibid Prison in Manila. Bilibid was an old Spanish prison that was covered with fungus. The Japanese released all the murderers and thieves from the prison and installed the Americans. Supposedly the men received medical care at Bilibid but whatever little medical care was given was minimal. It just looked a little better on the records if a man died at Bilibid rather than at Nichols Field. Even though the Japanese didn't provide much for the medical care of the men and they ignored the provisions of the Geneva Convention which they had signed but not ratified, they made the pitiful effort to cover their inhuman and barbaric treatment of the prisoners by making sure that if they died they died in a medical facility, Bilbid Prison.

Hank was eventually given some tinned milk that was smuggled into the prison and started to recover. When he had regained some strength he was sent back to Cabanatuan. The Japanese had been shipping men from Cabanatuan to Japan for slave labor. Hank got lucky. When the Japanese lined the men up for a draft for slave labor in late 1944 one of the guards pushed Hank out of line saying that he was too sick and therefore of no use to the Japanese. He evaded the Japanese Hell Ships in this manner and this, probably more than anything else, saved his life.

When Hank was finally rescued by the 6th Army Rangers of Lt. Col. Henry Mucci's command, he and his buddies were shadows of their former healthy selves. When they were rescued many of the men had fallen off to below 100 pounds. For an average  American male in his early 20's this was a disastrous weight. After being given all the rations they could eat and gaining some weight it appeared as if they had not suffered anything lasting.  They had regained all the lost weight, for the most part, and they looked hale and hearty both in mind and body.  The reality was otherwise.  Being a prisoner of war was to shorten Hank's life and the majority of his friends and comrades.  When a person does not feed his body or keep it well it wears out much faster than usual and is much more susceptible to disease and other problems.  Many of the problems the men brought home from the tropics and prison camp were unlike anything the doctors had ever seen and treatments were not readily available.

Hank lost so many of his friends in the Japanese Holocaust that he was ever after loath to talk about what he had been through.  It was just too painful and he always had the feeling that he should have been taken along with his buddies.  He especially felt bad about the death of his good friend Howard Gunn.  But Hank was a survivor.  He had made up his mind that he wasn't going to die and he made good on that promise to himself.  At one point he was down to 95 pounds from a normal of 160.  He suffered from just about every tropical disease known to man.  But he always had the strong basic character that had shaped him through his childhood and he was able to draw on that strength.  Hank's experiences in growing up helped him survive the most inhuman and barbaric treatment ever to be meted out to U.S. prisoners of war and enabled him to survive when so many others didn't.

Hank returned with his buddies to a hero's welcome in San Francisco. The city went wild. It was the biggest parade in the city's history. It was a strange parade because it consisted of Red Cross ambulances carrying the Bataan survivors. Some of the men were still so weak that they were unable to participate. The city threw open the doors of every establishment and gave the men just about anything that they wanted - for free. The city also gave each of the Bataan returnees a special medallion that was struck just for them. It is among one of the most cherished of Hank's possessions and occupies a prominent spot in the display case for his medals and awards.

Hank and his friends decided to go sightseeing and caught a streetcar. Soon all of the guys were paired off with a girl who had been riding the streetcar and describing the sights to the guys. Hank noticed a small brunette way in the back that didn't have a partner. He sat down beside her and instantly fell head over heels in love with Virginia Helen Croft, a local San Francisco girl. He relates that he really doesn't remember a whole lot about the sights after meeting Virginia and becoming enraptured with the beautiful brunette. He managed to get Virginia's telephone number before he went back to DeWitt General Hospital in Auburn, California where he had been posted for convalescent leave after going through repatriation at Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco. He was also close to his sisters, Lucille and Mat, who lived in Roseville, California.

When Lucille asked Hank about San Francisco he simply said that he was going to marry a girl that he had met. Wanting to see this girl who had captivated her brother's heart in one visit, Lucille drove Hank down to San Francisco to see Virginia. Within the week, Hank had proposed to Virginia and she had agreed to be his bride. The service personnel at the hospital were glad to participate in such a joyous occasion for the young Bataan hero. To top things off, Hank's best buddy, Gordon "Smitty" Smith, had found out that Hank was among the returning men from the Philippines and got in touch with him almost immediately after he was allowed visitors at Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco. Smitty had escaped Bataan and fled to the island of Mindanao where he joined the guerrillas and fought many battles. He radioed much needed information to MacArthur's forces when they invaded the Philippines. He was repatriated shortly before Hank came home. Not only did the two war heroes get together and enjoy each other's company and tell war stories, but Hank introduced Smitty to Virginia's friend, Bessie Kurtz, and Smitty and Bessie took off to Reno, Nevada for a secret marriage just before Hank's marriage to Virginia on April 25, 1945. Virginia had been known as "Ginny" for years and it now became Hank and Ginny.

Shortly after his marriage he celebrated the fall of Hitler's Germany along with his countrymen. However, he knew that the guys in Europe would soon be shipped to the Pacific to finish with Japan and he wondered what was to become of him. At his release he had been promoted to the rank of Corporal and throughout his convalescence the Army Air Corps had debriefed him extensively in preparation for the war crimes trials that were to be held after Japan surrendered. Hank was led to believe that a sergeant's stripes were to shortly be forthcoming and he seriously considered staying in the service after the war. He had enjoyed the service before the war and Ginny didn't have any objections. But when the stripes were not forthcoming he decided that he would try civilian life. On August 28, 1945 he was honorably discharged at Fort MacArthur, California.

Now, as a civilian, Hank wondered what to do. The army was discharging people as fast as they could ship them back to the United States and there was little housing and fewer jobs to be had. Hank took Ginny back to southern California where his sisters and brother lived and, because of the housing shortage, had to move in with Maude. It was far from an ideal situation, especially as the way to the bathroom was through Hank and Ginny's bedroom. That arrangement didn't last very long and Hank and Ginny moved into a thin walled duplex on Truslow Court in Buena Park while he looked for work. The proprietors of his duplex and several others in the vicinity treated the tenants to weekly drunken brawls. There was a running fight with the cockroaches and Ginny soon learned to cook with all the pots covered. When Ginny told Hank that there was an addition to the family on the way, Hank went house hunting until he found a little place next to the rail yards. It was noisy but it was home.

About that time he got hooked up with a gentleman by the name of H. D. Train. Train was a salesman par excellence' and was selling stainless steel cookware. There was a good market for it at this time and soon Train had Hank trained well. Ginny helped put on demonstration dinners until the pregnancy advanced and when Hank lost his partner to impending motherhood he cast about for something else to do that would bring in a steady income.

On February 26, 1946 Hank became a father for the first time. He looked at the babies in the nursery and even before the nurses held up the brand new baby boy Hank knew him. He looked just like him. They were two peas in a pod. In later years Robert Harvey, "Rob", named after both his grandfathers, put baby pictures of Hank and himself together and they were almost identical. 

Hank took advantage of the G.I. Bill and took up carpentry. He did an apprenticeship with several of the area contractors and was soon working out of the local union hall. However, the work was not continuous and he needed a steady paycheck to feed a family. This was especially true as Ginny was once again pregnant. On November 30, 1948 Rob was joined by a sister, Carolyn Ann. The labor had been hard and arduous for both Ginny and Hank, who had been reduced to wringing his hands in the waiting room. Ginny had never liked the doctors in Buena Park and Fullerton and she had extra cause not to like them this time. But in spite of everything Carolyn Ann arrived hale and hearty and the family settled down with its' new addition.

Needing a steady paycheck more than ever Hank took the test for the State of California and became an inspector at the Quarantine Station at Stateline, California. That was fine until the snows came. The housing shortages at Lake Tahoe were nothing to be laughed at as they had been in southern California. The converted Quonset huts that were the quarters provided by the State were not the best in the world. Although the Christmas Card in 1950 shows Rob and Carolyn in the snow with happy expressions, no one in the family was overjoyed with the winters at Stateline. So Hank moved on.

Hank's sisters Lucille and Mat lived in Roseville with their husbands George (Mac) MacFarlane and Elmer (Tip) Swift. Both worked for the railroad and had good jobs so Hank naturally gravitated to Roseville. He found work at the local Pacific Fruit and Express yard doing carpentry work on the boxcars but he could see that that particular job was not going to lead anywhere so once again he took a test. This time it was as a carpenter for the Federal Government at McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento. Hank had found a home. He stayed on that job until he had to retire in 1973. 

Hank had been brought up in the Church of Christ and Ginny in the Episcopalian faith. When his son and daughter became old enough for Sunday School he let Ginny take the children to the nearest church. Ginny made the rounds of several churches before settling on the newly founded Bethel Lutheran Church in Roseville. It was not long after that that Hank started going to church and after a few months was elected to the Church Council and began many years of dedicated service to the Lutheran Church. It provided stability and helped emotionally. Hank and Ginny became staunch Lutherans and both children were soon actively involved in church activities. They made many lifetime friends at Bethel Lutheran Church in Roseville.

Hank loved the outdoors and he and Tip went fishing during their free time at the local fishing holes. When Rob got old enough he was taken along but unfortunately didn't quite take to fishing. He was more content with a book than a fishing pole. Carolyn was another matter and whenever the family went camping it was Hank and Carolyn that went fishing while Ginny and Rob pursued other pleasures.

Early on, Grandpa Croft had decided that Robbie and Carolyn needed a dog. Hank wasnít overjoyed with the prospect but finally gave his assent and Penney, the fox terrier, came into the Cowan life. It became apparent to all that Penney and Hank tolerated each other and that was about all. Penney was to live 18 years and they both got used to having each other around. Rob was first and Ginny was second when it came to Penney. But Penney loved to camp. Penney went out in the boat and loved to watch everyone fish so that made it kind of O.K. with Hank. She was fiercely protective of the kids and was a real pleasure for everyone. 

But things could get strained. It came to a head when Hank decided to give up smoking. First he went to a pipe with the notion that maybe that was better than the cigarettes. When he visited Ginny's foster parents one time, Arthur, Ginny's foster Dad gave Hank some of his custom, crooked, Italian, specially whisky soaked cigars. Now these were fine cigars and were probably worth at least $1.50 each. He used to come home each night and light up. One night the living room got full of smoke and Ginny got up and left. Then Carolyn left along with Randall. Rob got up and left as a last resort because his favorite TV show was on. Now Penney always lay by Hank's chair and there was kind of an unspoken truce between them. Penney had extended her protectiveness to Hank and, although he didn't say much, he really liked having Penney next to him. When Penney got up and left the room, however, Hank went storming through the house, and with a few choice epithets threw the cigars out the door never to touch tobacco again. 

Hank had always loved cars and he was of the opinion that a car had to be traded in about every three years or so that you could get the full value out of it and the depreciation wouldn't make the car worthless after a few years. The one thing that Hank was really, really good at was bartering. It must have come from his days in the Philippines or from his childhood. But wherever it came from, all the car dealers in town knew Hank. In fact, one was known to remark that his name was not "Cowan" but "Cohen" (no offense to anyone intended).  Hank would go to all the principal car dealers in town when it was time to trade and play them off against each other until he got the best price he could possibly get. This would take anywhere from a week to a month. There was also one road in Roseville with the name of Rocky Ridge that definitely lived up to its name. Hank would take the demo cars out to Rocky Ridge to the chagrin of the salesman and put the car through its paces to find any rattles or other defects. Hank could not abide rattles and pursued them vigorously in the cars that he bought. When the final deal was made, all the car dealers in town breathed a sigh of relief for another three or four years until the process would start all over again. 

When Rob had turned eleven he had signed up at Troop One in Roseville. Ginny was concerned about some rumors floating around so she sent Hank down to the troop meeting. The man in charge asked if Hank would be interested in helping out and he averred that he wouldn't mind. That was the last time that gentleman was seen. Hank took to his new duties as Scoutmaster with great enthusiasm. With help from a knowledgeable fellow Scouter and strong support from the sponsoring organization, Hank turned Troop One into the best troop in town. He and Rob loved the outdoors and went camping monthly. He also took the troop to summer camp in the Sierras for a week every year. Troop One became THE premier troop in town and a friendly rivalry with Troop Eleven, the other top troop in town developed. The competition was fierce and Hank loved it. He trained his boys and provided many boys with a strong moral and ethical base. Many years later boys would come up to either Hank or Rob and tell them just how much his influence had helped them.

Life was good and there really wasn't too much more to ask for when an unexpected arrival made an appearance on February 15th, 1957. Randall James was born. He had his grandfather Cowan's red hair and fair complexion and made quite a contrast to Rob and Carolyn. The day Randall was born Rob called from school and woke Hank at home to find out if he had a brother or sister. The whole school and then the whole town shortly knew that Rob had a brother. Randall soon became Rob's best friend and they bunked in together, becoming fast friends. Hank really enjoyed his second son and was very pleased with the new addition.

In the late '60's and early '70's Hank wrestled with the whole problem concerning Viet Nam. He was incensed at the war protesters. There were a few stories about how the guys that had been captured in North Viet Nam were being treated and Hank decided to put his story down. He wanted to make sure that no one ever forgot what he and his comrades had gone through and he also wanted to make sure that people knew just what type of torture and horrors the guys in North Viet Nam were facing. Rob was in high school and flexing his wings and there were several disagreements concerning Viet Nam. Finally Ginny put a halt to the political discussions. Rob didn't find out until many years later that Hank was having terrible nightmares and was really sweating blood putting his story down as well as having trouble coping with the war news on the TV every night. With instant TV access, the horror of war was brought home every night and one can only imagine what the effect on Hank was. 

Through all this time Hank was bothered by nightmares and numerous medical problems that started to manifest themselves because of his experience in the Japanese prison camp.  It was to take the Veterans' Administration doctors, and other, many studies of ex-prisoners of war to finally arrive at the conclusion that prisoners of war needed to be treated differently.  In 1945 the doctors didn't know about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and many of the doctors thought that the ex-prisoners of war were, quite frankly, making things up. Many of the men suffered for years with unexplainable symptoms that none of the doctors seemed to know how to treat.  It would not be until some thirty or forty years later that the doctors would start treating the results of the torture and malnutrition adequately that the men had suffered at the hands of the Japanese.  It was a terrible thing that after all the men had gone through they had to suffer the rest of their lives because of their horrible treatment by the Japanese.

In 1969 the back injuries that had plagued him as a result of severe beatings at the hands of the Japanese became so painful that he had to have extensive back surgery. He was soon back on the job but his back was never the same. It finally caused so much pain that he was unable to continue working as a carpenter and was re-assigned to a desk job. This was a job that he was ill suited to for many reasons, not the least being the fact that sitting in a chair all day did not do his back condition any good.

Eventually the war injuries to his back caught up with him for good and he took a disability retirement from McClellan Air Force Base. He had been active in veterans' organizations before but now he really threw his all into some of them. Since his back was in bad shape he had to quit the active role in the Boy Scouts. However, he and Ginny started square dancing, partly for the socialization and partly for the back therapy. Between the Scouting and square dancing Hank made many new friends and traveled all over the country. He made top honors in the local Boy Scout council and took a troop of Scouts back to the New York World's Fair in 1964

1973 also saw Hank take advantage of the G.I. Bill and build his dream house in another part of Roseville, With his back bothering him, he could only lie on the couch giving orders as the rest of the family moved him in. As his back got better the doctor told him that he needed some more exercise, like walking a dog. It was at this time that Penney finally went on to her eternal reward. It had been up to Rob and it was a hard decision to make but she was laid to rest at the new home and a rose was planted on the grave. The rose always bloomed the biggest and brightest of any roses in the yard.

Even though Hank had sworn not to get another dog he had been looking at Shetland Sheep Dogs and when Penney departed he decided to get a Sheltie puppy, train her and take her out for exercise per doctor's orders. Hank took great pride in teaching Kelly all the tricks of the trade, so to speak, and was training her very well, he thought. One day when she was still a puppy she saw a cat and took off after it with Hank yelling for her to "Come" and Kelly ignoring him. Seeing his prize dog disappearing into the weeds in the fields next to his house Hanks jumped in the car and took off after Kelly just about tearing up the car in the process. Kelly was Hank's dog and if anything proved it, that did.

Hank could be seen all over the neighborhood walking Kelly. Kelly was widely known as the best cat dog around. When his son took care of her when Hank went vacationing in the Caribbean she surprised a cat and ran it up a telephone pole from which the poor thing had to be rescued. Another time the cat next door continued to torment her and she finally saw it on the ground. Uttering not a sound she took off after the cat, going straight under the trailer, and the cat jumped straight up in the air as much barking and meowing ensued. Kelly never hurt a cat in her entire life. It was simply a game that she enjoyed because she could chase them. Hank had hand picked Kelly and the love between the two of them was something to behold. Ginny taught her some parlor tricks to complete her training, a la Grandpa Croft. Kelly went everywhere with Hank and Ginny and Kelly was definitely Hank's dog.

When Hank took his disability retirement, his children convinced Ginny to take retirement as well and use what time was left to enjoy life together. Hank and Ginny went on several different cruises in the Caribbean and to Alaska. They had a van and trailer and traveled all over the country visiting relatives and seeing the sights. This period of Hank's life was probably the best that he had ever had. He and Ginny were not wealthy but they had enough to permit them to go camping when they wanted and to take a cruise about once a year. Even a second back operation didn't slow them down. 

Hank's pride and joy was his van and trailer and he kept it spotless. He always kept his cars and other vehicles in immaculate shape and it really came in handy at trade-in time. Everyone knew that you could just about eat dinner off of Hank's engines, they were so clean. No oil spots on the garage floor for Hank!  If a car dared to drip oil it was off to the dealer for a fix. The trailer, in its' several incarnations, was Hank's home away from home. It was always loaded with all the essentials and all it needed was food, and gas in the van, to make picking up and going camping at a moment's notice simple. It was something that really made his retirement worth living.

Hank was very active in several veterans' organizations and became the Commander of the 49er Chapter of the Disabled American Veterans. He enjoyed his time in these organizations and spent much time working for and on behalf of veterans causes. His greatest accomplishment was when he was awarded the Bronze Star in April of 1986, forty four years after he had fought and suffered on Bataan. It was one of the greatest honors that Hank had received in his lifetime and he was so proud that his sacrifice had finally been recognized by the government. Upon acceptance of the medal, in a tearful voice he said, "I'm accepting this medal for the guys that gave it all and didn't make it back. They're the ones that should have this medal." 

Hank contracted prostate cancer and fought it for several years. For a time it seemed as if he would beat it but it slowly started to wreak havoc with Hank's daily life. He had been part of the fight to get the Prisoner of War Medal approved and he was determined to live until it was authorized and he was able to have it awarded. Although in a wheelchair, Hank fought back tears of joy as he received one of the first Prisoner of War Medals to be awarded in the nation by Maj. Gen. Greer at McClellan Air Force Base. General Greer said it all when he summed up Hank's life; he was a survivor.

Unfortunately, after that ceremony Hank's health really began to go downhill. He fought valiantly through a stroke, another operation, several hospitalizations and several experimental treatments. His last six months were in a morphine haze as he had to be confined to a nursing home to control the pain. Ginny had kept him at home and tended to his every need and she would have run herself into the ground for Hank if she could have taken care of him but his physical needs were beyond her capabilities. Ginny was to be found at Hank's side almost every day even though it entailed a trip of over 40 miles a day. Looking at those last few months, one could see just how gallantly Hank fought this last fight. He amazed his family and friends as well as the doctors by hanging on until his 68th birthday. Shortly after a subdued birthday party he died peacefully with Ginny at his side.

His gallant fight was over. Never more would he suffer from the terrors in the night. Never again would he have to explain again and again to uncomprehending doctors about physical ills which no one knew much about other than the fact that they had been caused by his maltreatment at the hands of the Japanese. Never again would he be a living symbol of triumph, of survival of the Japanese Holocaust. Never again would he suffer from things that he had never spoken of; things he took to the grave with him; things that were probably best left unsaid. He was part of the "Greatest Generation."  He played the hand that had been dealt with courage and valor. He loved his country above all else. He often said he would not want to go through the whole ordeal again but he wouldn't have missed it for the world. His life was forged in that terrible fire of Japanese maltreatment and inhuman brutality.

Hank's story must not be forgotten. He gave his all for his country. He and his comrades suffered much to preserve the freedom that we all enjoy today. The suffering that he went through can never be adequately explained in words. There is something about that experience that one had to live in order to fully understand it. One had to go through it to know what the words freedom and love of country really mean. "Patriot" was perhaps the best word to describe Hank and he wore it like a golden, shining cloak made of gold and studded with diamonds. The gold was his character and the diamonds represented his survival over so many, many obstacles that fate had placed in his path. Hank's life, and the lives of his comrades in arms, will serve as shining lights in this country's history for as long as America stands. Their sacrifice in the face of terrible odds show the nobleness and gallantry of the American spirit as few other things in this country's history have shown. God Bless them all. I know that God in His great wisdom has prepared a place on His right hand for them. If God knows pride, He must be extremely proud of Hank and his buddies.

Visitor # Hit Counter

P.O. Box 340157, Sacramento CA 95834-0157

HOME   |   BIOGRAPHY   |   MEDALS   |   STORY   |   PHOTOS   |   VIDEO   |   CONTACT   |   LINKS