Biography of John B. Brettell

Captain, CCC Commander, Company 316C, Camp S-83, Straight Creek, Pennsylvani / Piney River & Big Island, Virginia

Lt. Col., Cavalry, World War I & CCC Staff, Great Depression & Quartermaster Corps, Ft. Holabird, Md, Pre War,  Manila, Phillipines, POW, Bataan Death March, World War Two

         John B. Brettell was a member of the United States Army and originally served as an officer in the Cavalry.  He saw service in World War I. After the war he remained in the Army at the rank of Captain.

         During the Great Depression he was assigned to the supervision of Civilian Conservation Corps camps. The CCC camps were a great relief to many many men who were nearly destitute (depression) and the work of the enlistees provided much needed conservation as well as re-forestation to our national and state forest areas.

         Captain Brettell's first CCC posting was as Commander of  CCC Camp S-83, Straight Creek, Pennsylvania in 1933. This camp was a new one along the Clarion River in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania. (this camp site no longer exists as it became a part of the Clarion River dam project and was flooded). The nearest Railhead was in St. Marys the nearest Post Office in Wilcox. This camp was manned by Company 316C, a Company of black enlistees. The men (enlistees) were primarily from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

         When he arrived at that location the enlistees and officers were quartered in tents with oil stoves for heat in the frigid mountain weather. Construction of permanent buildings was undertaken some months after his arrival and continued until all permanent buildings were in place.

          I was 11-12 years of age during this time. I spent many days with my dad at this camp and enjoyed the mountains. Dad's favorite assignment was the one at Straight Creek, Pa. Upon his transfer to his next camp the men of Camp S-83 presented Dad with a beautifully engraved sabre with the inscription "To our white father".

          Following his two years as camp commander at Straight Creek , Captain Brettell was assigned to a CCC camp at Piney River, Virginia. Following that assignment he was assigned to a CCC camp at Big Island, Virginia. After this posting his duty as a CCC Commanding officer ended.

          Dad was an active U.S. Army officer. He re-entered civilian live at the termination of his CCC experience and was appointed Street Commissioner of New Castle, Pennsylvania. He was never really pleased with this position and shortly applied for re-activation to the regular army. He was re-activated and assigned for a short time to Ft. Holabird, Maryland (Quartermaster Corps.).

         After a short period of service at Ft. Holabird , Captain Brettell was assigned to duty in Manila in the Philippines. Shortly after his arrival in Manila he was promoted to Major. He was serving in the Philippines when Japan attacked.

         Major Brettell was one of the defenders of Bataan. During the chaotic fighting in Bataan he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.  After months of fighting the American forces, bereft of supplies, reinforcements and greatly out numbered eventually were ordered to surrender.  Colonel Brettell then became a Prisoner of War and was a member of the infamous "Bataan Death March". He survived the "Death March" and was imprisoned at Camp O'Donnell and later Cabanatuan. He was then removed to Bilibid prison in Manila and from there placed aboard a ship, along with about 1,500 other officers and enlisted men for transport to Japan. This ship was bombed by American planes and sunk. He survived this sinking and was transported to San Fernando for further shipment aboard another ship. This ship arrived at Takao, Formosa (present day Taiwan) and it too was bombed. The survivors were transferred to yet another ship and it left for Japan. Conditions aboard all three ships were indescribablly chaotic. The ships later became known as "Hell Ships". Men had died and were dying by the hundreds and Dad died January 28, 1945 while aboard the latter ship just before it arrived in Japan. He was 55 years of age, was approximately 90 lbs. (former weight about 250 lbs.) and was buried at sea along with many others. His death was listed by the Japanese government as "acute colitis", which translates for us as "starvation". He, along with many others, was denied adequate food,water and sanitary facilities and at his age he simply could not survive under those conditions.

       I have recently acquired a book regarding the Sugamo (Tokyo prison) trials of Japanese war criminals. I have been obsessed with wanting to know what happened to the Japanese Lt. who was in charge of the American POWs aboard the unmarked prison ships and the one responsible for the horrific conditions aboard thos ships. While browsing the Internet I found a web-site which mentioned this book and it appeared that it might give me an answer. Sure enough, I sent for the book and it listed all class A, B, and C war criminals. The Lt.'s name was one of those tried as a Class C war criminal and executed. I must admit this gave me some satisfaction as I understand some of those tried had sentences reduced to life in prison.

       Dad's companion in the prison camps and aboard the prison ships did survive and at the end of the war came to visit my mother and me (I was discharged by this time). He related all the details of their experiences, more lurid details to me than to my mother as he didn't want to add that knowledge to her loss. Incidentally, she lived only about four years after the notification of Dad's death- they were very close. "Uncle Joe", as Col. Kramer was known to me continued to stay in touch with my wife and I as long as he lived. I had collected quite a number of books regarding the POW experience and recently presented them to a local high school where our son-in-law is a teacher.

      If I can provide any further information I will be happy to do so. Incidentally, I too am a veteran of World War II (Navy).

----- Allan Brettell


Captain John Brettell, Commander, Company 316C, Camp S-83, Straight Creek, Pa.

Camp Under Construction, Other View, Company 316C, Camp S-83, Straight Creek, Pa.

Company 316C, Camp S-83, Straight Creek, Pa.

Company 316C, Mess Hall, Camp S-83, Straight Creek, Pa.

Officer's Quarters, CCC Camp, Piney River, Va.

Snow Covered Camp, CCC Camp, Piney River, Va.

Tents, CCC Camp, Piney River, Va.



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