“The galloping Ghost of the Java Coast




Paul Papish


            Paul Papish was the only son of his parents, Erma and Paul. He was born in Pueblo, Co, April 4th, 1919. He graduated from Cathedral H.S. in Denver, where they had moved during the depression years. He described his childhood and teenage years as being a rascal, like the ones depicted in the Spanky and our Gang comedy show on tv. He wanted to go to college but joined the Navy in 1939 because he was not a good risk to go to college according to his grandmother. In 1941 at the start of the war, he was on the USS Houston in the Philippine Islands. 


            On the USS Houston he was Store Keeper, 3rd Class and knew everybody as he handed out the pay. After the sinking of the USS Houston, he spent the next 3 1/2 years in Bicycle Camp and then in Changi Gaol. He never understood why he did not go to work on the Burma-Thai railway as he would try to position himself in line so that he would get picked to go by the camp guards. But that was not to be. Instead, he labored in Singapore building the runway now used for Singapore International Airport.


            At the end of WWII, he could not get home fast enough to see his mother and father. He never forgot the sight of his mother as he walked up the sidewalk to the front door. Telling that story always brought tears to his eyes. In Pueblo, he met and fell in love with the love of his life, Theresa Jersin. They married, Nov 26, 1945.


            Pap, as he was known to everyone, retired from the US Navy after 21 years as a Chief, in Norfolk, VA. He picked up his family and moved to Colorado where they settled in Colorado Springs, by then, Susan, his daughter was already 12 years old and Paul, his son was 7 years old.


            Pap worked for Litton Manufacturing, Joy Manufacturing and Denver Equipment before retiring. His retirement years were spent in much joy with his precious wife and family, traveling the world and enjoying his family.  He and is love were married for 58 years before he died on Feb 22, 2004. We visit him now at Ft. Logan National Cemetery.


            On April 30th, 2005, he was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart for the wounds he received during the battle and for the beatings he received during the 3 1/2 years as a POW at the hands of the Japanese.



Dad was a great story teller but did not like telling about the sinking of the USS Houston and the horrors of Changi. While he did not like to tell them when he talked to students he wanted them to know the terrible things about war, he wanted them to remember what their grandparents gave up for them, what they sacrificed for them.  He wanted to instill in today's youth the understanding that Freedom is NOT free!


Escaping the sinking Houston and getting to the beach was a story in itself. He told it something like this.


            "I heard the order to abandon ship. It was both hard to leave her and yet I wanted off. She was my home and I grew to love her. When the time came, I jumped off her port side, close to the area of the plane catapult. When I came back up after jumping my first thought to find a raft and there it was, close to me. It was the raft for the airplane. I climbed in; little did I know I was climbing into a trap.


            The raft was stuck to the sinking Houston. And I, in my haste to resolve this, got my foot stuck n the webbing on the bottom of the raft. Jumping out of the frying pan into the fire described the situation very well. I panicked and could not release myself. Finally, I got my foot free and jumped back in the water. By this time, I had no shoes on, not sure when they came off.


So I started swimming away from her. My last look before the Houston went down was of our Flag, flying full away. I had tears in my eyes.


            My vest was getting water logged so I looked for another raft and found one with my friend, Punchy Parham already in. After climbing in,  I heaved a sigh of relief and we talked about what to do next. Suddenly, I knew. I yelled at all of the guys in the raft, "We have to get out of this raft, now.". They thought I had lost it. I yelled it again and jumped out, so did my buddy, the others did not. That was the last we saw of them for the Japanese were strafing every raft they could see as they flew over the survivors in the water. They even strafed some of our men they could see bobbing in the ocean.


            I don't remember how long we floated but early in the morning we made it to the beach. All I can recall about that is fighting my way up away from the surf, laying down and then I slept for a long time.  But that was just the start of the next 3 1/2 years of struggling to survive at the hands of the Japanese."