DR. JAMES WALTER STRONG (1874 - 1950)
May 25, 1874 - June 27, 1950
James Walter Strong was born on May 25, 1874 in Frisco, (Now Schaberg); Arkansas U.S.A .He had an older sister Estella Mae. His father died of exposure in service with the 2nd. Missouri Cavalry U.S.Army, 18 months after he was born.
He enlisted in the U.S.Cavary and rose to the rank of Sergeant in the Medical corp.
James W. Strong as a US Marine corpman Manila 1898.
When his enlistment was up with the Cavalry he enlisted in the U.S Navy April 15, 1896 in Cleveland, Ohio as an apothecary (pharmacist mate in today’s Navy.)
He arrived in Manila in Oct. 10 1898 on the USS Celtic shortly after the Battle of Manila Bay.
In 1901 He met and married Crispina S. Tolentino.
They had 6 children; Julia Magdalene, Estella Susana, Baby Inez (died as an infant), Inez Cristina, Feliza Crispina and Walter.
He stayed in the Navy and was assigned to the Marine detachment Isabella, Basilan Island as a corpsman. (Pic .005)
In Sept, 25, 1906 He was discharged from the U.S Navy as a Dental Surgeon and established a practice in Zamboanga City. (pic. 011b)
Up on consulting with Fr. Zamora a noted botanist of Santo Tomas University he decided to start experimenting with rubber plants and in 1910 formed the Basilan Rubber Plantation in partnership with J.M. Menzi Corporation as principal stock holders. Seven years later he sold out his interest to J.M. Menzi Corp. and started American Rubber Co. backed by San Francisco capital. He started building roads on Basilan with the help of his children of his first marriage mostly as truck drivers since such skills were not readily available at the time. Those roads are now part of the National Highway system in Basilan.
He is credited for pioneering the Rubber industry in the Philippines. In Nov. 2, 1913 he married Isabel C. Garcia a year after the death of his first wife Crispina.
Isabel was the daughter of the Warden of the Spanish military prison in Isabella, Basilan. They had 7 children Elisabeth Crispina, Fredrick William, James Albert, Roberta Francis, Josephine Lillian, Thomas Henry and me, Alexis Richard.
The family and plantation prospered and was frequently visited by such notables as Manuel Quezon President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, his vice-president Sergio Osmena (pic. 043a), General Douglas Macarthur and assorted Governor Generals and High Commissioners for the Philippines. (Pic. 058a)
In Nov. 1941 He went to Manila on his monthly business trip, checked in at the Manila Hotel and was scheduled to return to Basilan the second week of December on the SS Corregidor an interisland vessel with my Niece Estella her husband and her father- in- law then Governor of Negros Oriental. Because of the on going air raids on Manila my father was staying with some friends in Los Baños.
On Dec.17, 1941 he started back to Manila to board the SS Corregidor scheduled to leave at midnight. They had to make repeated stops on the road and take shelter due to Japanese air activity. On arrival at the pier at about 10:00 PM they were told the ship had sailed ahead of schedule shortly before they arrived. The Captain of the SS Corregidor fearing for the safety of his ship from the air raids decided to leave early with out the escort thru the mine fields of Manila Bay. At 11:00 PM she struck a mine just south of Corregidor Island, split in two and sunk within minutes.
My niece and her unborn son survived the tragedy but she lost her husband and father-in-law.
This was her account of the tragedy;
“As the ship started to leave ahead of schedule, I was worried about Grandfather Strong being left behind. Most of the passengers were on the promenade deck with their life vests on, when the explosion happened we were thrown over board my husband swam towards a raft with me in tow. Bell Raymond, a friend helped me on board while my husband went back to look for his father, that was the last I saw of him.”
This is an excerpt of the first hand account of the rescue of the survivors of the SS Corregidor by Lieutenant John D. Bulkeley, Commander Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 3 and Lieutenant Robert B. Kelly as narrated to W.L White in his book “They were Expendable” pages 31-34. Robert B. Kelly starts the narration. (He was in the hospital in Corregidor Island with an injured hand).
"The first influx of patients we had at my hospital was survivors from the interisland steamer Corregidor full of refugees, mostly natives, leaving Manila. She'd run smack into one of our own mines and sunk like a rock. I don't know whose fault. Maybe she hadn't bothered to get a chart of the mine field. Maybe the chart the army gave her was inaccurate. Anyway we could hear the explo- sion even in the hospital. "It came at eleven at night," Bulkeley went on. "I had my three boats out there by 11: 30. Funny thing, that old ship had been an aircraft carrier in the battle of Jutland-first boat ever to launch a plane in actual battle. She survives the whole German Imperial fleet and more than twenty years later end up on an American mine field halfway around the world. When we got there the survivors were so thick we didn’t have to zigzag to pick them up our boat managed to rescue as many as 196. Had them lying and standing every place.”
Father faking old age and infirmity was not interned in Los Baños until Dec. of 1942 with him was grand daughter Alice Neibert, her father Henry E. Neibert and her future husband George Todd jr. Father was 69 years old .(pic. 158). This picture was taken just before he was interned in Los Baños in 1942.Standing in front is his grand daughter Marie Ibanez in his right arm is grand daughter Lillian Bennett and in his left arm J.J. Villanueva great grandson born after the sinking of the Corregidor.
Alice was in Manila working as a secretary at the YWCA when the War broke out. This is Alice Norbert’s account of the early years in the camp;
“"In the early years of internment at Los Baños we had vitamins (Grandfather, Dad & I at our shack), which were doled out daily, one for each. Well, Dad & Grandfather would secretly return their pill back in the bottle, each thinking they were doing the right thing. Neither knew the other was doing it. Boy! Was I mad when I found out and it did not happen again?"
Prior to his interment he was able to communicate with my Mother through our local Congressman Juan Alano. In the note father advised mother to register the family as Spanish citizens in keeping with her dual citizenship.
We got a second note from him through the same source only this time he sent her a case of evaporated milk he said “ For the babies” and a PS; “To the married members of the family, Pickle it!!”
A part of the note that caused much puzzlement was his request for mother to give the bearer of the note his hearing aid and electric razor.
He never used his hearing aid even though he was hard of hearing on his left ear due to an aircraft accident in 1935 off the coast of Panay where the aircraft sunk in deep waters and they had to swim to the surface and, he did not like to use the electric razor either.
That was the last we heard from him.
It was not until he returned to us in June of 1945 did he tell us why he needed those items.
The family lost contact with the progress of the war during the invasion of Africa through KGEI San Francisco when water got into our radio and shorted it out.
The next hard news we got other than rumors was the dropping of leaflets over our island by B-24s announcing the landings in Leyte Oct. 20, 1944.
We were liberated by elements of the 41st Division on March 16, 1945 and Father returned to us in June 1945.
This was his account of what he went through since we last heard from him two years before;
“Conditions in Los Baños had progressively gotten worse medicine was non existent and we were on a starvation diet.
We knew the war was progressing well, but concerned about our situation as the Japanese were showing signs of panic especially when American planes were flying in the area you could see them run for cover. About a week before the rescue we lost electrical power in the camp and with that our radio.
But why did you want the hearing aid and razor?
“Oh! that, some of us decided if we got enough equipment together we could perhaps put a receiver together, Heaven knows we had enough talent in camp to do so. So we sent our notes out and got our raw material. The radio was a simple single frequency crystal receiver that was kept in side a can of dry beans you turned it on by positioning the can over certain nail heads on the shelf the antenna was hooked up the same way. You listen through the hearing aid ear bud and wrote down the news for later dissemination through a reading group that the Japanese allowed us to have. I think the Japanese suspected we had radios and conducted frequent surprise inspection, but it never occurred to them that in spite of the starvation in the camp, that can of beans was always full.”
As for the rescue this is what he told us:
"Every morning a t 7:00 AM we internees had to line up at one of the fields for roll call it was getting very hard for me to move around due to severe Beri-Beri my legs were quite swollen. The Japanese commandant was a stickler for his troops to do calisthenics every morning and when they did they were mostly undressed except for loin cloths. They were unarmed their rifles were in a shack they used as an armory, word of this behavior got to the American forces which set the time for the rescue. We did not hear the air planes until they were literally on top of us, they were so low. Parachutes began to blossom out and there was the sound of gunfire all over the place. We dropped to the ground then tried to make it back to the shacks we called home for this many years. Amtracs were soon in the camp and I was helped on to one.
This was Alice Norbert’s recollection of the rescue during liberation:
"I had a trunk with me at Los Baños with mementos I brought with me to Manila to work at YWCA before the War. When we were liberated, I dragged that trunk all the way to the Amtrac only to be told I could not bring it on board. To only choose the most important items, one of item was my Baby book, which had in it, a Neibert/Strong 4 generation ancestry chart Dad had made. I could not leave that. It broke my heart to leave the trunk behind with some of my 'treasures', but had to. The soldiers kept saying the Japanese were coming” She weighed 86 pounds when rescued. . (pic.097b, 097d) The pencil sketch of Henry E. Neibert was drawn at Muntinglupa on April 5, 1945 while waiting for transport to the U.S.A. The second photo is of Mr. & Mrs. George Todd Jr. taken at Reno, Nevada on their wedding day shortly after their repatriation from the Philippines (She is Alice Neibert)
“When we started to leave camp our amtrc got jammed against the pillars at the entrance to the camp and we started to receive fire from the now recovering Japanese guards. One G.I. on board returned fire and an empty cartridge hit one of the internees in the leg causing some commotion.
We were taken by Amtrac across Laguna de Bay to Mamatid then on to New Bilibid Prison. There we were interviewed and I and four other internees were singled out for immediate evacuation due to our being essential to the war effort, me for my knowledge on growing and producing rubber.
That same day the four of us was taken by Amtrac to a PBY Catalina flying boat out on the Bay and flown to Tacloban, Leyte. Some how My Daughter Roberta and my son-in-law Alfonzo was there to meet me, they had gotten word through from the Red Cross that I was rescued and passing through Tacloban on the way back to the United States.
We were loaded on board a B-24 Liberator and flown to Walter Reed Military Hospital, Washington, D.C. By way of Guam, Wake Is. Hawaii and San Francisco. I was in the hospital for 4 months when the powers declared I was fit to be returned to the Philippines. Because the area I was going back to was still unsecured I was given the rank of Lieutenant Colonel U.S. Army in case I was captured I would be treated as an officer. With the rank I got a blank check to get the rubber plantation going and producing rubber ASAP.” We returned to Latuan where the plantation was located for the first time since the start of the war on June 27, 1945 (pic.160)
Within a month of his return the plantation was producing rubber and shipping out processed rubber courtesy of the U.S.Navy.
The family gathered for the first time in Latuan since the end of the war for Fathers 72nd birthday May 25, 1946. Missing was my Sister Roberta her husband Alfonzo Ibáñez and family as they were still in Leyte and My sister Josephine and her Husband Edwin Bennett and family as they had been repatriated back to the states (pic. 165)
Father passed away in his sleep June 27, 1950 He was 76 years old.
February 24, 2004
I received the following message from one of Dr. Strong's sons.
Thanks for your prompt reply and offer of Father`s website I really appreciete it. He was born in Frisco, Arkansas on May 25,1874. He died June 27, 1950. Enlisted in the US Cavalry rose to the rank of Sergeant in the medical unit. In 1896 he inlisted in the US Navy and was with Adm. George Dewey at the battle of Manila bay he was a CPO Pharmacist mate (At the time the Navy term was apothecary) He was assigned to the Marine barracks Isabela, Basilan Island as a corpman.
He was married twice having 5 children with his first wife and married my Mother a year after losing his first wife they had 7 children I am the younget of the bunch. My Mother was the daughter of the warden of the Spanish Military prison in Isabela, Basilan Island, Philippines.
Father started the American Rubber Plantation in Basilan, Philippines. He was responsible for the start of the Rubber industry in the Philippines.
He was in Manila on a business trip when war broke out and was scheduled to leave Manila on the SS Corregidor. Because of the air raids on Manila he was staying with some friends in Los Banos and missed the boat as the Captain left ahead of schedule for fear of the air raids, The Captain of the Corrigedor did not wait for the PT boat for escort through the mine fields and was sunk. Ironic isn`t it? ( Note on the second photo; about the great-grandson my father is holding; his mother my neice and his father as well as his grand father, then Governor of Negros Province, was on board the SS Corregidor when it sunk. His mother was 7 months along with J.J. Villanueva. Both his father and grandfather were lost.)
He sent word to the family to register as Spanish under my Mothers Spanish citizenship (She had dual citizenship).
After the rescue at the Bilibid interview he was identified with 4 other internees as vital to the war effort; he for his knowledge on rubber production. These were his words:
"We were taken by AMTRAC out to the bay and loaded on a PBY Catalina and flown to Tacloban, Layte, Philippines. Then flown to Walter Reed Military Hospital for recuperation via Guam, Wake Island and Hawaii." He was suffering from Beri-Beri and malnutrition.
He returned to Basilan Is. Philippines on June 1945 with a rank of Lieutenant Colonel US Army (Basilan was still unsecured and the rank would gurantee his treatment as an officer in case of capture.) and a blank check from the US goverment to get the rubber production going.
As a side note, my father was an avid photographer both still and movie and I guess I took after him. He had thousnds of photos of the family and his travels as well as the famous and not so famous. When war broke out the photos were left behind and only later was salvaged. of those only about one thousand survived. When I decided to save them and with the emerging technolgy of digital photogarphy I was able to digitize and restore most of them.
I now have them in 2 CDs of high resulotion photos.
You can add my e-mail address to the web site.
The years have taken their toll. Of my siblings I am the only male surviving, and of my sisters, those that are still here is Inez Ledesma 97 she lives in Concord,CA.; Elizabeth 89 she lives in Los Angeles; Roberta 85 she is still in Davao City, Philippines; and Josephine 80 she lives in Temecula CA. None of them have access to e-mail; and I am 74.
P.O. Box 1316
Yermo, CA 92398
or would like to be added to my POW/Internee e-mail distribution list,
please let me, Tom Moore, know.