PRIVATE JAMES L. AARON, 14047086
Born: April 7, 1923
Died: July 16, 1942 (Report of Death)
Army Service Number according to NARA POW Archives: 14047086James was born in Adair County, KY to parents James V and James V and Maggie May Platt Aaron. He had several siblings, and by 1930 the family had settled in Knoxville, TN (address listed as on Kingston Pike), where James completed grammar school.
He enlisted in the US Army on February 13, 1941 at the age of 17 at Fort Mcpherson, Atlanta. He listed his birth year as 1922 on his enlistment paperwork to show his age as 18 instead of 17 as he was born in 1923. Incidentally, his enlistment records have him listed as an Actor for his occupation.
He became a member of the 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, and was sent to the Philippine Islands.
According to "Short History of the 31st US Infantry Regiment - The Polar Bears
'America’s Foreign Legion'" this is the fate of the 31st Infantry Regiment in regards to the Japanese invasion of the Philippines and their subsequent torture and starvation during the Bataan Death March and captivity in POW Camps:
"On 8 December 1941, Japanese planes attacked U.S. military installations in the Philippines. A 31st Infantry sergeant on detail at Camp John Hay became the campaign's first fatality. After landing in northern and southern Luzon, the Japanese pushed rapidly toward Manila, routing hastily formed Philippine Army units that had little training and few heavy weapons. The 31st Infantry covered the withdrawal of American and Philippine forces to the Bataan Peninsula. Unfortunately, the peninsula had not been provisioned with food and medicine and no help could come in from the outside after much of the Pacific fleet was destroyed at Pearl Harbor and mid-ocean bases at Guam and Wake Island were lost. Despite starvation, disease, no supplies, obsolete weapons, and often inoperative ammunition, the peninsula's defenders fought the Japanese to a standstill for 4 months, upsetting Japan's timetable for Asia's conquest. When MG King announced he would surrender the Bataan Defense Force on 9 April 1942, the 31st Infantry buried its colors and the cherished Shanghai Bowl to keep them out of enemy hands. Some of the 31st's survivors escaped to continue resisting, but most underwent brutal torture and humiliation on the Bataan Death March and nearly four years of captivity. Twenty-nine of the regiment's members earned the Distinguished Service Cross and one was recommended for the Medal of Honor, but the entire chain of command died in captivity before the medal recommendation could be formally submitted. Roughly half of the 1600 members of the 31st Infantry who surrendered at Bataan perished while prisoners of the Japanese."
The 31st Infantry Regiment "Short History" also says,
"When the Japanese invaded the Philippines, the 31st was the main unit defending Manila. Since Manila was considered indefensible it was declared an open city and the 31st moved to the Bataan Peninsula to fight until help arrived. The “Battling Bastards of Bataan” held out against a vastly superior force with no reinforcement or resupply from December 13, 1941 to April 9, 1943, and only surrendered when ordered to by their superior officers.
The 31st went into captivity in the infamous Bataan Death March where thousands of American and Philippine soldiers were marched 68 miles in the blazing sun with no water. Thousands died or were killed by their captives. Many were already sick from lack of food and medicine during the siege. They were to spend the next 42 months in brutal captivity."
According to Private James L. Aaron's National Archives POW paperwork, the first report of his POW status was May 7, 1942, and his last status report/death was reported as of July 16, 1942. After surviving the horrific Bataan Death March, he was held in Cabanatuan Prison, Luzon, Philippines, where he perished. His body was not recovered, and he is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Manila, Philippines.
Today marks the 26th anniversary of the day hero James L. Aaron walked into an Army Enlistment Officer and signed his name on the line committing to give all for his country if that was the cost. Thanks to the South African War Graves Project, we have a snapshot of his name etched in stone. I've edited it for clarity.
February 13, 2017