Fallen Heroes: Private Thomas J. Forbes

Surrender of American troops at Corregidor, Philippine Islands, May 1942 (Source: wikipedia.com -NARA-535553).

This family had two older sons, both of whom volunteered to serve in the United States military during World War Two. Each would be sent to the Philippines to combat the Japanese, and each would die while a prisoner-of-war. This is one of those sons’ stories.


Determining when this branch of the Forbes family tree arrived in Ohio is difficult to ascertain, though it is possible it began with the migration to Ohio of Pennsylvanian Nathaniel Forbes (1820-1860). The Forbes family were residing in Ohio by the time of the birth of James Forbes (1851-1914) in 1851. James’ birth year has been recorded on census records as having occurred in either 1841 or 1851, indicating some confusion on the part of the enumerator. Regardless, James was residing in Jefferson Township, Tuscarawas County in the early 1870s when he met, and then married, Catherine Sheritts (1840-1932).

James made his living as a farmer and he and Catherine raised their family of four children on their farm in Jefferson Township. Two of the children died before reaching adulthood, leaving the Forbes family with a remaining son and daughter. The son, named Charles H. Forbes (1878-1931), worked on his father’s farm throughout his youth before finding work at the rolling mill in the city of New Philadelphia. Charles, in 1904, married Lucy F. Shull (1885-1965) and the couple set up housekeeping in the city.

A young Charles Forbes and his sister, c. 1890. (Source: ancestry.com)
A young Charles Forbes and his sister, c. 1890. (Source: ancestry.com)

Charles found himself in trouble with the law on a regular basis beginning in 1902 and usually because he had been drinking to excess. Charles was, by all accounts, a violent drunk and on one occasion held police at bay with a loaded shotgun. He spent many a night at the Tuscarawas County jail leaving his wife to fend for herself with their children. Among the children living in the Forbes household on South Tenth Street were Gladys (1905-1987), Eugene (1906-1944), Thelma (1907-1989), and Thomas James Forbes (1915-1943).

Perhaps due to his well-known excessive drinking and frequent incarcerations, Charles had a difficult time finding work locally. He was working in Massillon, Ohio when, in the summer of 1931, he was struck by a passing car on his way to work and killed. That same year the youngest son, Thomas, attended what would be his last year at New Philadelphia High School where he lettered in football. After leaving school Thomas went to work at the Reeves Manufacturing Company. He was working there when, in February 1941, he and his brother older brother Eugene decided to enlist in the United States Army.

Hoten POW camp Mukden Manchuria Photo taken by Joseph Vater with camera obtained from B-29 airman in a trade. Joe gave away a sword. Pictures were taken after liberation September 1945.
Hoten prisoner-of-war camp in Mukden, Manchuria, September 1945. (Source: flickr.com)

Thomas and Eugene were both assigned to United States Army Coast Artillery units and transported to the Philippines where they served on the island fortress of Corregidor. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and the beginning of the war in the Pacific, the Japanese began a campaign to capture the Philippines from the United States. The Philippines had all but fallen by the spring of 1942 when the last of the defending hold-outs on Corregidor surrendered to the Japanese, including Privates Thomas and Eugene Forbes.

Thomas survived the Bataan Death March and was eventually sent to the Hoten Prisoner-of-War Camp in Manchuria. The prisoners there were forced to work in small factories in and around the camp, and suffered from numerous diseases associated with being in close confinement with one another. The brutal Manchurian winter exacerbated the already horrible conditions for the prisoners. Private Thomas Forbes became ill with acute enteritis, an intestinal condition, in the winter of 1942-1943 and died on January 23, 1943. He was initially buried in a cemetery at the camp.

It was almost a year later when Private Forbes’ mother received news that one of her sons had died while a prisoner-of-war. Her other son, Eugene, would also die as a prisoner-of-war less than a year later. Private Thomas Forbes’ body was eventually repatriated back the United States and he is buried at the Grafton National Cemetery in Grafton, West Virginia.

Private Thomas J. Forbes' headstone at Grafton National Cemetery, Grafton, West Virginia. (Source; findagrave.com)
Private Thomas J. Forbes’ headstone at Grafton National Cemetery, Grafton, West Virginia. (Source; findagrave.com)

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© Noel B. Poirier, 2022.

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