Black Hawk County

Major John J. Brennan




Waterloo Captain Is Freed
From Jap Prison at Manila

This is a happy day in the home of Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Brennan,
shown above at their home at 227 Cutler street, who received
word Tuesday morning that their son, Capt. John J. Brennan,
had been freed from Bilibid, Japanese prison at Manila by the
American forces. Mr. Brennan, yardmaster for the Illinois Central
railroad, is holding Capt. Brennan’s photography after they had
received the good news.

“It seemed almost too good to be true and the news left us practically speechless,” said Mrs. J. J. Brennan, 227 Cutler street, when she and her husband were informed by a news dispatch Tuesday morning that their son, Capt. John J. Brennan, 29, of the army medical corps had been freed from Bilibid prison camp at Manila by American forces after being a prisoner of the Japanese for nearly three years.

A news service carried this message from Captain Brennan to his parents:

“Dear Mother and Dad, have just been recaptured by the Yanks. I am in excellent health. Only look forward to seeing you soon. Love.”

Capt. Brennan, a physician and surgeon, who holds the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism in the defense of Bataan peninsula, was captured when Bataan fell to the Japanese Apr. 9, 1942. Then followed 1 months of waiting for Mr. and Mrs. Brennan during which no word was received from their son, except that he was missing in action.

Throughout his imprisonment, his parents had received five cards. The last was received two weeks ago, dated May 4. Prior to Capt. Brennan’s capture, Gen. Douglas MacArthur commended his action for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

When two officers were hit during an intensive enemy bombardment, Captain Brennan administered first aid to the officer who was living while shells were falling in the immediate vicinity.

“This gallant act,” General MacArthur reported at the time, “saved the life of a seriously wounded officer and had a decided effect on the morale of his battalion.”

“When the other prison camp was taken recently we were disappointed when no word came from our son,” Mrs. Brennan said. “He had been there previously but had been moved.”

Capt. Brennan was graduated from St. Mary’s Catholic high school and received his medical degree at Creighton university, Omaha, Neb. He interned at St. Louis and took a year of surgery at St. Joseph’s hospital, San Francisco.

He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the reserve corps at Creighton on June 1, 1939. In May of 1941, he was called to active duty from St. Joseph’s hospital and was stationed at Camp Roberts, Cal, until he was sent to the Philippines on Aug. 7, 1941. Captain Brennan was battalion surgeon with the 31st infantry.

Father and mother were exceedingly happy. Mr. Brennan, yardmaster at the Illinois Central railroad, has been recovering from a fall. He has forgotten his injury in the excitement of hearing of his son’s safety. The father told proudly of his son’s school record.

The telephone rang constantly as friends called to express their happiness at the news. Mr. and Mrs. Brennan were kept so busy answering the phone that they did not get time to eat breakfast. However they were glad to receive the calls and answered enthusiastically.

One of Captain Brennan’s former teachers at St. Mary’s high school, a sister of St. Francis, now at Dubuque, wrote to Mr. and Mrs. Brennan, asking them to let her know if they received any word from James. She said she was praying for his safety. The parents had received news of his release and had telephoned her just about five minutes before the postman arrived with the letter.

Source: Waterloo Daily Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, Sunday, February 06, 1945, Pages 1 (photo included)

Brennan In ‘Fair’ Condition,
Wire Advises Parents


Official word that Capt. John J. Brennan has been rescued by American forces at Manila after being held a Japanese prisoner since Apr. 9, 1942, was received late Thursday in a war department message to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Brennan, 227 Cutler street.

The telegram confirmed the report received unofficially from him here Feb. 6 in a news dispatch from Manila.

Flood of Letters.

At that time his message said he was in “excellent health,” however, the war department notification listed his physical condition as “fair.”

Mrs. Brennan has been busy the last two weeks answering a flood of letters – more than 300 in all – from well-wishers in nearly every section of the midwest.

A flood of telephone calls and telegrams, all prepaid, was also received.

Seek Information.

Most messages were from families of other men taken prisoner by the Japanese who want Mr. and Mrs. Brennan to attempt to find out if Captain Brennan has known or heard about them.

Many more were from people the Brennans had never heard of who just wanted to congratulate them on their good fortune.

Pfc. Charles C. Tuppy, son of Arthur A. Tupy, Waucoma, Ia., is listed by the war department as a second Iowan to be freed from the Japanese at Manila.

Source: Waterloo Daily Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, Friday, February 23, 1945, Section Two, Page 16

John Brennan Wins DSC for Heroism

A Distinguished Service Cross was presented Maj. John J. Brennan, Waterloo, Friday during military ceremonies at Letterman general hospital, San Francisco, Cal, where the 338 returnees from Jap prison camps in the Philippines were sent on their arrival in this country last Friday.

For “extraordinary heroism” in attending casualties under fire at Abucay Hacienda, Bataan, Jan. 22 – 24, 1942, the award medal has been awaiting him on his return from captivity.

25 Are Honored.

Maj. Brennan is the son of Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Brennan, 227 Culter street here.

He was among 25 men presented awards for gallantry and heroism Monday.

Ceremonies Scheduled.

Formal welcoming ceremonies were scheduled today for the second group of American soldiers to return after liberation from Jap camps.

The liberees were re-outfitted in new army clothes, were to participate in a forenoon parade and to receive gold lapel medallions from San Francisco’s Mayor Roger Lapham. A steak luncheon at the Mark Hopkins hotel was to conclude the ceremonies.

Source: Waterloo Daily Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, Tuesday, March 20, 1945, Page 14 (photo included)


Major Home After Three Awful Years

Prisoners Died at the Rate of 550 Per Day;
Ate Wood Pulp.

By Robert Knoedler
Courier Staff Writer

Three happy people – Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Brennan, 227 Cutler street, and their son,
Major. James J. Brennan, are shown here after his return home from three years
as a Japanese prisoner on Luzon. He wears the Distinguished Service Cross awarded
by the president for extraordinary heroism in battle; the Silver Star for conspicuous
gallantry in battle; and the Presidential Unit citation with one oak leaf cluster,
designating that his unit has twice been cited for outstanding performance.
Other campaign ribbons and battle stars denote Philippine fighting up until the fall of
Bataan April 11, 1942. Six overseas strips on his left sleeve denote at least 36 months overseas duty.

Major James J. Brennan is home – with only vivid memories of three years of torturous existence in a Japanese prison.

After watching thousands of his fellow prisoners die of starvation and disease, his return home is almost like a return from the grave.

It’s also a return to civilization and to the land of plenty after a scant hand-to-mouth survival under Japanese domination.

Major Brennan, 29, also veteran of the famous “Bataan Death March,” looks much healthier than one would expect, but must still report in three weeks to Gardner general hospital in Chicago for further treatment.

He explained in his first interview to the Courier Saturday that he “sort of sneaked in” Thursday, but had kept his arrival here a secret so as to have a chance to rest up – and to eat.

A prisoner of the Japanese from Apr. 11, 1942, the date of surrender from the last forces on Bataan, until freed by MacArthur’s forces last month, Major (then captain) Brennan is now having the satisfaction of gaining weight at the rate of between a pound and a pound and a half every day. Although he was once down to less than 100 pounds, he now weighs nearly 160.

“All of the men liberated who were not diseased, have gained weight rapidly,” Brennan explained.

General MacArthur himself came into Bilibid prison camp while it was still “pretty hot,” that is, while Jap Mortars were still blazing away at the place, Brennan said, and immediately ordered all of the liberated men placed on triple rations.

“For awhile, about all we did was eat. Now we don’t eat much, but we eat often,” Major Brennan explained.

“It’s a funny thing, but when you get down to 100 pounds or so, you get all knobs. Your joints are all big and boney and there’s no padding on them. You have to keep turning and tossing when you sleep because it’s so uncomfortable.

“That army that rescued us on Feb. 4 seemed like something from out of Buck Rogers, with all their bazookas, tanks and rocket guns. We could hardly recognize them as our men, they were so well equipped.

“Those boys were good, too. They were the best trained army in the world, and I know the best fed army in the world,” he declared.

As for the rigors of three years under Japanese domination, Major Brennan revealed that American prisoners at Camp O’Donnell died at the rate of 50 and 55 men a day.

“Including Filipino soldier prisoners, the rate was as high as 550 dead every day. A burial detail of about 1,000 men was busy most of the time burying the dead,” Brennan said.

He said the Japanese would not let American doctors care for Filipinos although finally they did bring in a captured hospital unit from Bataan to try to stop the death rate.

“Most death was from tropical diseases, plus starvation. Many men died of war wounds, malaria, dysentery and primarily from lack of medicine,” Major Brennan recalled.

He was transferred on June 1, 1942, to Camp Cabanatuan where only American troops were held. There he said the death rate got up around 40 a day. He was transferred to the Bilibid prison last Oct. 13.

Of all of these three Luzon prison, Major Brennan said that between 8,000 and 10,000 American prisoners were the most held in any one camp. He said prisoners were continually being transferred to other prison camps, or were detailed to work parties.

Prisoners at these camps included not only the men of Bataan, but the men from all of the Philippines, Brennan explained.

“By the time you have seen thousands of men die needlessly as I have, you can hardly have any tolerance for the Japanese,” Brennan remarked.

He said that in spite of what the men went through, the Japanese could never understand them. In spite of their suffering, the boys could always find something to joke about – some humorous remark to make.

As examples of American ingenuity, he said the boys made pipes, cigaret (sic) holders, cigaret (sic) rolling [Page 13] machines, pots, pans and one man even made a slot machine – that was his business before the war.

One boy made a violin, with nothing but a pocket knife to work with. Other boys made artificial limbs, peg legs, crutches, in fact most anything that could be made.

“You had to be ingenious to live under Japanese domination,” Brennan said.

With men from every walk of life, a band was organized. A few of the instruments were genuine, but most of them were improvised.

“At one time we tried to establish a school in the camp. We had plenty of college professors, high school teachers, even men who could speak nearly any language known, but the Japs wouldn’t let us do it.

“They wouldn’t allow us to have gatherings or group lectures. In fact they wouldn’t let us have Spanish classes. They would only allow us to learn Japanese,” Brennan recalled.

“I’m afraid we would have all been ‘gone goslins’ all of it hadn’t been for the Red Cross supplies we received twice while prisoners on Luzon,” Brennan revealed. He said the first Red Cross aid in the form of medical supplies came in 1942. At that time the death rate among American prisoners was between 35 and 40 a day. Immediately this rate dropped to only three or four a day.

Red Cross aid came in 1943, and again the death rate declined sharply.

“We buried 13 men in January, 1945, in Bilibid prison camp, so they were still dying clear up until MacArthur came back,” Brennan explained.

“I feel in my own mind the Red Cross got me back, and I’m sure others who got back owe a great deal to the Red Cross too,” Brennan remarked.

As further praise for the Red Cross, he said they were able to deliver three letters to him from home just three days after he was released. “That was in February, and those were fresh letters – dating back only to November,” he explained. He said all other mail while he was in prison was delayed at least a year or a year-and-a-half before he got it.

As for the diets of the men at the time they were freed their regular rations consisted of a mixture of rice, corn meal and soy beans. The total daily ration was only about six ounces, equal to 200 grams. In addition to these rations, Brennan recalled that the men ate everything they could get any nourishment from whatsoever.

He told of eating lizards, snakes, dogs, cats, monkeys, not to mention all types of plants, weeds, roots and even wood pulp.

“In a situation like that, you don’t eat to satisfy your palate – you eat to keep life in your body. The flavor and taste mean nothing – if there is any nourishment in it, you eat it,” Brennan explained.

“We were surprised abut all the fuss people made over us. One of the nicest things was the personal letter every man received from President Roosevelt while we were still on the boat home. General MacArthur really did take good care of us, too.

That trip home wasn’t all pleasure, even at that. There were men whose wives, children or parents had died in the past three years, and they hadn’t heard of it. It was a shock for those men to find that what they had been fighting for wasn’t there when they got home.

“Some of the fellows who had first been reported dead after the fall of Bataan, heard details of memorial services that had been held for them. One of my fellow officers had the satisfaction of reading his own obituary from a newspaper clipping.

“The one redeeming feature about the whole thing is that there was no place to spend money in the prison camp. In fact the last pay I received was for the month of November, 1941. They’re still figuring how much I have coming,” Major Brennan jokingly remarked.

Source: Waterloo Daily Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, Wednesday, April 01, 1945, Pages 9 & 13

City in Brief

Maj. John J. Brennan, here on leave from army medical service after three years’ internment in a Jap prison camp in the Philippines, told members of Cedar Valley Veterinarians society at a meeting Monday evening in Black’s tearoom, of the difficulties of treating sickness and disease in the prison camp. A roundtable discussion followed Major Brennan’s address, led by Dr. F. E. Brutsman, Traer. Topic was animal diseases common in the spring season.

Source: Waterloo Daily Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, Tuesday, April 10, 1945, Page 12

Miss Bloom Is Fiancee of Major Brennan,
Liberated Jap Prisoner

Today another engagement of a returned prisoner of war was made known as Mr. and Mrs. G. C. Bloom of Fairbank announced the betrothal of their daughter, Miss Virginia Bloom, Hillcrest apartments, to Maj. John James Brennan, who was recently liberated by advancing American forces after three years in Japanese prison camps in the Philippines. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Brennan, 227 Cutler street.

Miss Bloom attended Creighton university in Omaha, Neb., and was graduated from St. Catherine’s hospital school of nursing in Omaha where she met her fiancée. She is now employed as an X-ray technician in the offices of Dr. J. L. Kestel.

Major Brennan was a resident surgeon in St. Joseph hospital, San Francisco, Cal., at the time of his enlistment in the service in May, 1941. He served with the 31st infantry division as a battalion surgeon in the Philippines and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. He is now convalescing in Gardner General hospital at Chicago.

No wedding date has been set. [Note: Miss Bloom and Major Brennan were married Tuesday morning, June 12, 1945, at 9:30 a. m. in Immaculate Conception Church, Fairbanks. ~ Sunday, June 10, 1945, Waterloo Daily Courier, Page 8.]

Source: Waterloo Daily Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, Sunday, April 28, 1945, Page 9

Brennan to Inspire Bond Workers

Maj. John J. Brennan, who knows from experience the horrors of a Japanese prison camp, will speak to workers in the Waterloo Seventh war loan drive at the 12:45 p. m. report meeting Friday at Hotel Russell-Lamson.

Workers will make their second reports on total sold toward the $6,691,000 County quota.

Major Brennan, who is spending a rest furlough with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Brennan, 227 Cutler street, was liberated Feb. 4 from Bilibid prison, Manila, after being held there from Apr. 11, 1942.

Source: Waterloo Daily Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, Thursday, May 24, 1945, Page 1