by Bill Cherry
LIEUTENANT WALTER A. KELSO, JR.’S JOURNEY
want to tell you about my first friend’s daddy, Lieutenant Walter
A. Kelso, Jr., who was an important member of a prominent Galveston
family. And I want you to know the end of the story before I begin.
In 1944 Lieutenant Kelso became a Japanese prisoner of war, and
he passed away along with seventy-six other American soldiers because
the enemy let them die of dysentery and starvation in 1945. Only
Walter A. Kelso, Jr.
Photo courtesy Walter A. Kelso, III.
| Fort Crockett
was an Army Artillery fort that was installed during World
War I to protect the shores and waterways of Galveston
and Houston. It ran along
seawall from 39th Street west to 53rd Street, then jumped back
a block of so north, and then meandered for a few more blocks toward
61st Street. The guard house was at the corner of 45th Street and
The fort continued to be used and was modernized so it could serve
In addition to the artillery emplacements that ran along the south,
there was a huge telephone switchboard that was under a large concrete
mound across from Gaido’s Restaurant at 39th Street. It was there
to provide emergency communications should Galveston
The fort itself was, quite frankly, a self-contained mini-city. Officers
and enlisted men lived there; there was a hospital, movie theater,
non-denominational church, a PX, gym and outdoor recreational facilities.
Nearby and on the property were Japanese prisoners of war.
My very first friend, Butch Kelso, and I met in 1944. He was three
and I was four. Our birthdays were in June, six days apart. He lived
across the street. His dad, Lieutenant Walter A. Kelso, Jr., had graduated
from Culver Military Academy, like all three of the Kelso boys did,
and he was serving his duty in the Army.
The guard house at Fort Crockett was three block south and six blocks
east of our houses on Woodrow, so many days in the late afternoon,
one of our mothers or Margaret, Butch’s babysitter, would walk us
to Avenue U, just in front of the guard house, to see the military
parade, band and all, parade there for the ceremony to lower the American
We’d hold a salute while the Star Spangled Banner played, then snap
our hands to our sides along with the platoon soldiers.
Patriotism was important to everyone then, and it was especially important
to Butch and me since his daddy was oversees helping protect us from
a spring-like day in 1945, Butch and I were playing at his house one
afternoon. The windows were open, and the cool gulf air was surrounding
us. Butch’s mother was in a blue sundress with big flowers on it.
She had on leather thong sandals and she was dusting the mahogany
furniture in the living room. The doorbell rang.
The visitor on the porch was unexpected. He was in full military dress.
He had come to tell Barbara Kelso that she was a widow.
Lieutenant Kelso had died of starvation in the ward of a Japanese
hospital. He had been a captured prisoner.
When the soldier left, Butch’s mother sat with us on the couch and
told us that Butch’s daddy had died. I remember thinking that the
only thing I could do to help was to share my daddy with Butch, and
I told him so. None of the three of us cried.
Barbara Kelso never remarried. The actual story of Lieutenant Kelso’s
last days was rarely discussed, and when they were, the details were
very abbreviated. The pain remained too strong for the Kelsos.
ten years ago, Butch’s son, Mark, (who I proudly call my surrogate
nephew) by then a graduate of A&M University and a computer wizard
and public school teacher, decided it was time for Lieutenant Kelso’s
story to be researched and told, told to his grandmother and his daddy
and the remaining members of the Kelso family.
Lieutenant Kelso’s mother and daddy had passed away without knowing
much more than an outline, and even the outline left many gaps with
Mark uncovered and spoke with survivors and those who knew the truth,
people now living all over the U.S., and even after fifty years had
passed. Families showed him letters and photographs. And for himself,
his family and for the others Mark meticulously pieced together the
story. Here’s what he learned.
grandfather, as a prisoner, survived an attack of the OM on December
15, 1944, and the attack on the Enoura Maru on January 9, 1945. He
made it through on the last ship the Brazil Maru where it docked in
Moji, Japan on January 28, 1945.
He was taken to the town of Kokura outside of Moji to a warehouse/hospital
where he died of dysentery and starvation on 2/4/45.
Mark told me that he recently uncovered a diary that may shed another
light on his death. It appears that an American captain who was in
reasonably good health took charge of 77 out of the 110 men who went
to this so called hospital. All but one of those men died.
Mark has concluded that the Japanese did attempt to get some health
back to these men, but they were either too far gone or this American
officer who was in charge had something to do with these helpless
men, including Lieutenant Kelso, not getting taken care of.
Lieutenant Kelso died in Japan on February 4, 1945.
The purpose of my piece, though is to point you to the incredible
web page Mark has developed. http://www.oryokumaru.net
Please take the time to study it.
More World War II
Cherry's Galveston Memories
Feb. 18, 2008 column
Copyright William S. Cherry
All rights reserved
Texas | Online
Magazine | Galveston
Book your hotel here and save:
Bill Cherry, a Dallas Realtor and free lance writer was a longtime
columnist for "The Galveston County Daily News." His book, Bill
Cherry's Galveston Memories, has sold thousands, and is still
available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com and other bookstores.