Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran William J. Balchus, who was a prisoner of war during World War II and survived the Palawan massacre.
Born in October 1921, William J. Balchus grew up in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, the only son of seven children. He joined the Army Feb. 12, 1940.
During World War II, Balchus served as a corporal in Battalion I, 60th Air Defense Artillery Regiment Coast, formerly known as the 60th Coast Artillery. As part of Harbor Defenses of Manila and Subic Bays of the U.S. Armed Forces in the Far East, the 60th Coast Artillery provided air defense over Manila Bay in addition to serving in the Battle of Bataan and the Battle of Corregidor. After the Battle of Corregidor, the 60th surrendered to the Japanese on May 6, 1942. Balchus became a POW for 32 months.
On Dec. 14, 1944, Balchus was a POW at the old Philippine Constabulary Barracks in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, a Philippine province. To prevent allied forces from rescuing the POWs held by the Japanese, units from the 14th Area Army under Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita brought the POWs back to the prison camp. After they arrived, the air raid warning sounded, and the 150 POWs sought refuge in the shelter trenches. Once the POWs had entered the trenches, Japanese soldiers used barrels of gasoline to set them on fire. Guards shot the allied POWs who tried to escape. Only 11 POWs escaped the Palawan massacre; Balchus was one of them.
Balchus and the other men who escaped went to Southern Palawan and were eventually rescued by Filipino scouts and guerillas under Nazario Mayor’s command.
During his service, Balchus received a Bronze Star Medal, a Purple Heart, an American Defense Service Medal with a bronze star, an Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, an Distinguished Unit Citation with two oak leaf clusters, a Good Conduct Medal, a Philippines Defense Ribbon and a Philippines Liberation Medal.
He left the service in July 1945, as a sergeant and returned to Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. Balchus married his wife, Helen Wisniewski, and worked driving coal mining trucks and later driving construction equipment.
Balchus was an avid fisherman and enjoyed the outdoors. He spent the last eight years of his life with his son and daughter-in-law in Yuba City, California.
Balchus passed away on Dec. 11, 2013, at the age of 92. He was the last of the 11 massacre survivors to pass away. Balchus was survived by his two children, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
We honor his service.
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Writer: Katherine Berman
Editor: Nicole Elizabeth-Reis Mitton and Amanda Baker
Fact checker: Ciara Nalda
Graphic artist: Helen Strohmier