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American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Museum in Wellsburg Continues Education About POWs

Photo by Warren Scott Jim Brockman, executive director of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Museum, Education and Research Center in Wellsburg, uses a digital scanner to record pages of a book for the museum’s collection.

Located within the Brooke County Public Library, the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Museum, Education and Research Center was launched to remember the many U.S. servicemen who fought against Japanese invaders of the Philippine Islands during World War II.

As part of the library building, the museum was closed for a while because of the pandemic, but it has reopened and welcomes visitors and contributions of items that can help it tell the story not only of those veterans, but other aspects of the war, said Jim Brockman, its executive director.

The museum began in 2002 as a large display created by the late Ed Jackfert and his wife, Henrietta, to educate people about the atrocities experienced by tens of thousands of Allied troops held in Japanese prisoner of war camps.

Among them were about 72,000 American servicemen and Filippino scouts who participated in the infamous Bataan Death March.

Captured following a three-month battle against the Japanese, the troops were forced to walk 65 miles in grueling heat to a railroad station for transportation in stifling boxcars to the POW camps.

But before that, more than 10,000 had died from disease, starvation or dehydration or were killed when they attempted to get water or fell behind.

Though not in the death march, Jackfert, an infantryman in the Army Air Corps, had been imprisoned at such a camp and spoke of being transported in a “hell ship.”

He said the vessels earned the name not only for their inhumane conditions but also because they weren’t marked, as prescribed by the Geneva Convention.

Jackfert said the poor conditions experienced by the POWs were exacerbated by the fact they were forced to work for Japanese companies that contributed to that nation’s war effort and benefited financially from their slave labor.

As leader of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, a nationwide group of surviving POWs, Jackfert campaigned for an apology from the Japanese government, which came in 2009.

It was followed in 2015 by another from the Mitsubishi Materials Corp., which also donated $50,000 to the museum.

Two years later, the Hubbard and Meriwether families collectively donated $500,000 for an expansion to the museum and library that has enabled the museum to display many of the hundreds of artifacts that have been donated by fellow ADBC members and many other veterans and their descendants.

In more recent years, the museum has expanded its collection to include other items reflecting the service and experiences of others during the war.

Brockman said its most recent addition is a large collection of newspapers and magazines published during the war and in the years leading up to it.

The periodicals belonged to Matt Camilletti, longtime owner of City Plumbing, Heating and Supply and an active community member, who died on March 7. They were donated by Margaret White on behalf of his family and chronicle key developments in the war.

An Oct. 17, 1941, issue of the Herald-Star reports that the torpedoing of the USS Kearney, a U.S. destroyer intervening in an attack by German forces against British and Canadian ships near Iceland, has led Congress to call for the arming of Merchant ships.

The same issue reported efforts by Communist troops to ward off a Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.

The issue pre-dates America’s entrance into the war following the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

A special edition of the Herald-Star in Camilletti’s collection bears the headline, “Continent invaded. Allied Forces make landings in France.”

Dated June 6, 1944, it broke news of the landing of thousands of troops at Normandy, the first step in the liberation of Nazi-occupied France, on what many know as D-Day.

Camilletti’s collection includes April 13, 1945, issues of the Wheeling Intelligencer and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporting the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“There was a huge funeral when FDR passed away. They spared no time and no expense,” noted Brockman.

The April 4, 1945, issue of the Wheeling Intelligencer reported on the surrender of Germany in what appeared to many to be the end of the war.

But the battle against Japan would continue for several months until the Wellsburg Daily Herald was able to proclaim on Aug. 15, 1945, “World is at peace. Japan surrenders. Big guns are still after 12 long years.”

A story below it is headlined by “City and county celebrate end of war with parades.”

“Each of these (issues) is significant because it tells an important story from history,” said Brockman.

He and Chloe Cross, an intern from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, noted other stories and advertising in the periodicals tell much about life in America at the time.

For example, a survey of Cosmopolitan issues from the 1930s reveals not only that women’s fashions have changed much but also that the magazine was less about fashion and more a showcase for fiction in those days.

In addition to Cross, Brockman is aided by two other interns: Brody Hynes, also of Franciscan, and Jonathan Wynn of West Liberty University.

“We’ve got great students and more wanting to come here,” said Brockman.

He explained that the students will be aiding him in creating a digital record of the periodicals and placing them in protective sleeves.

He noted that while many of them are in surprisingly good condition, having been stored with very little protection, their thin, yellowing pages nonetheless have brittle edges and wouldn’t stand up to frequent handling.

Brockman said so often such things are found in the attics and basements of their original owners by descendants who don’t know what to do with them.

Of items that further the museum’s efforts to educate about history, he said, “We’re very pleased to get this kind of stuff. We don’t want to see any of it rotting away.”

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