Thursday, December 08, 2016

In honor of Sgt. Andy Knapp, 1918-1942

Andy Knapp holds a dubious, but significant, distinction as the first Lucas Countyan to lay down his life during World War II. But by now, he has been largely forgotten  and so far as I know, his name is inscribed in stone in only one place --- a Manila American Cemetery tombstone in the Philippines.

Through no fault of anyone, Roy Ellis and Lyle Morris --- the second and third to die --- are better remembered. That's in large part due to the fact that Chariton's City Council decided by resolution dated May 3, 1943, to name Lakes Ellis and Morris, still the source of our city water supply, in their honor.

Andy was listing as missing in action then, a year after the chaotic and tragic falls of Bataan and Corregidor, and it was hoped that he might still have been alive, confined in a Japanese P.O.W. camp somewhere.

As became evident once the war was over, however, the young man from South Main Street, Chariton, had died on or about June 2, 1942, just a few days before Roy, a radio operator, was killed on June 11. On that date, the Consolidated B-24 "Liberator" bomber that Ellis, of Williamson, was serving aboard was hit by Japanese anti-aircraft fire and exploded over Kiska Islands in the western Aleutians. Morris, of Derby, died four months later, on Oct. 26, 1942, at his battle station aboard the carrier U.S.S. Enterprise.

Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7, which marked the 75th anniversary of U.S. entry into World War II --- seemed like a good day to learn a little more about this fine young man of considerable promise and athletic ability who had earned his high school diploma during 1938 in the same building, considerably expanded by now, where members of the class of 2017 now are about to enter the second half of their final year of classes.


Andy was born July 11, 1918, in Shelby County, northeast Missouri, the eldest son of Joe Andrew and Ethel Mae Knapp, and moved to Chariton with his parents and younger brother, Robert E., prior to 1925. Two other brothers, Joe Jr. and Vernon, were born in Chariton.

Andy's given name was Theron Andrew Knapp, but "Theron" must have been a challenging name for a child to have. As a result, he was always called "Andy" and that is the name he grew up with; graduated, married, served, died and was buried as.

A member of the Chariton High School class of 1938 --- enrolled in the college preparatory program --- Andy was a good student and a stellar athlete. He played football during his freshman-senior years and concluded his career, during the fall of 1937, as co-captain of the Charger team with a fellow Andy, Andy Bradford. He was involved in a variety of other activities, including the school newspaper and yearbook, serving as athletic editor of the 1938 Charitonian.

He continued his education at Chariton Junior College, but money was scarce --- Joe Knapp worked at a variety of jobs during those years: laborer, deliveryman, grocery store clerk --- and jobs hard to find. By 1940, still living at home when not in camp, he was working as a soil conservation technician for the Civilian Conservation Corps.


During the fall of 1940, Andy enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He entered the service on Oct. 18 of that year and received his training at Chanute Field at Rantoul, Illinois, then the site of all Air Corps technical training programs. During 1941, he married Margaret Tessman, of Oskaloosa.

Upon completion of his training as an aircraft mechanic, Andy was assigned to the 21st Pursuit Squadron and deployed to Hamilton Field, California. He left California on Oct. 31/Nov. 1, 1941, with the 21st Squadron, bound for the Philippines, where the squadron had been assigned to the 24th Pursuit Group. His family heard from him the last time in a letter dated Nov. 9, 1941, posted during a stop in Hawaii.

It is almost impossible in the 21st century to comprehend the situation and conditions in the Philippines after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, as Imperial Japanese forces moved to take the islands.

Headquartered initially at Clark Field, the 24th Pursuit Group was ordered on Dec. 24, 1941, to retreat to the Bataan Peninsula and eventually to Bataan Airfield. During the days and weeks that followed, the 24th and all of its squadrons were destroyed. Survivors, perhaps including Andy, joined infantrymen to fight a deadly, losing battle to defend the peninsula.

On April 9, 1942, the United States surrendered Bataan. Corregidor fell a month later, on May 6. Andy was among an estimated 60,000-80,000 Filipino and American Prisoners of War forced in what now is known as the Bataan Death March to walk up the Bataan peninsula to a railhead at San Fernando, Pampanga, where they were jammed into freight cars and hauled northwest before being  forced to walk the final miles to prisoner of war camps. Thousands died.

Andy reached Camp O'Donnell at some point during May of 1942, starving, weak and apparently desperately ill. There was a hospital in the camp and a few surviving medics, but there was no food, no clean water and no medicine. The dying were taken there. Andy most likely was among them. He died  on or about June 2, 1942, the U.S. Military eventually determined. Both dysentery and malaria are given as causes in various records. It may have been both. He was buried in the camp cemetery.

An allied military tribunal eventually declared the Bataan Death March a Japanese war crime. Life (and death) at Camp O'Donnell was unimaginably harsh and cruel. Ellis and Morris died quickly in combat, hopefully with minimal suffering. Andy's death was hard and there is no doubt that he suffered.


Back in Iowa, Andy's parents and his wife learned during the first week of June, 1942, that their son and husband had been declared missing in action in the Philippines, but were told that there was a possibility he was in a Japanese P.O.W. camp. There was no way to know for sure, however, "pending the obtaining of a list of prisoners and casualties from the Japanese government." No such list ever was forthcoming.

During early summer 1945, Andy's parents received a letter dated June 13 from the War Department informing them that a declaration of Andy's presumptive death had been made --- the date set for a reason that was not explained as May 8, 1944.

Finally, during July of 1947, Joe and Ethel Knapp learned that their son's remains had been recovered from the Camp O'Donnell cemetery, identified and reburied in the Manila American Cemetery. A death date of June 2, 1942, had been established

By this time, Andy's widow had remarried and was moving on with her life. Here's a report, published in The Herald-Patriot of July 17, 1947:

Word from the war department this week is that the body of Pvt. (actually Sgt.) Andy Knapp, Chariton, has been identified. Knapp died in the Philippine Islands while confined to a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

He was in a group of approximately 1,600 prisoners who were buried in the Camp O'Donnell Prisoners of War Cemetery on Luzon, Philippine Islands. The War Department announced in May of this year the positive identification of 353 other soldiers who were among those buried in the cemetery.

All remains have now been disinterred and reburied in the United States Armed Forces cemetery, Manila No. 2, within the city limits of Manila.

Col. Quinn said that Maj. T.B. Larkin, the Quartermaster General of the Army, had notified all next of kin concerned.

"Evidence obtained from liberated prisoners of war, comparison of dental charts which were authenticated by a Dental Corps officer, and records of officers who survived the period of imprisonment at Camp O'Donnell under the Japanese, proved of value in making certain identification," Col. Quinn said. "in each case the facts which led to certain identification were passed on by the Army board of review before the identity of the unknown was certified as having been established beyond any possible doubts."


Joe and Ethel Knapp eventually moved from Chariton to Lovilla, where she died in 1980 and he died during 1982. Both are buried in Woodlawn Cemetery there.

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