“The galloping Ghost of the Java Coast


Merle Hobbs




I spent one month a year, for three years, at Fort DesMoines. Had I gone one more year, I would have been commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the regular army. Instead I joined the Navy. I signed aboard the USS Houston, Flag Ship of the Asiatic Fleet, based in the Hawaiian Islands and the Philippines. And form then on we were on general quarters alert- four hours on and four off patrol. When war broke out we were leaving Manila with a ninety million dollar convoy, headed for Australia. On our way back, we encountered the Japanese Fleet in the Madagascar Straights, Australian Cruiser Perth. We were in constant battle with the Japanese Naval and Air forces until sunk- Feb. 29th 1942. We abandoned ship about midnight under close range strafing. I was picked up, outh of the water, about eighteen hours later. By Japanese Navy and interned in a theater in Serang, Java for about a month. Then by ship, where we were attacked by our own planes. To Singapore, where we were held in a captured British army camp another month. Then by three ships, two railroad thru the jungle, built to hook up with the Burma Road, 350 miles. One hundred and sixteen thousand prisoners died in its building from starvation, and brutality, lack of clothing, shelter, medication and overwork and disease. One thousand of us were marched into the jungle. In April to cut a road thru the jungle peninsula near Bangkok. We were not freed until the war had been over for more that a month. I was flown to Calcutta, India and then to Karachi and New York City. First to St. Albans Hospital and then to Sampson New York. I was discharged from there in July, and spent three and a half years regaining my health at Oakdale Sanatorium in Iowa.

Medals listed on my discharge are:

American Defense Ribbon with one Bronze Star.

American Campaign Ribbon.

Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Ribbon with tow Bronze Stars.

Philippine Liberation Ribbon with one Bronze Star.

Presidential Unit Citation with one Bronze Star.

World War II Victory Ribbon.