Friendly Fire in WWII

Tablets of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery.  Orville’s name can be read on the 3rd tablet on the right in the full-scale image.

By Eilene Lyon

Orville E. Bodtker was the son of Fred Bodtker and Mary Ann Sumner (grandson of Emil Bodtker and Minnie Gusso), making him my second cousin, twice removed.  He was born in Codington County, South Dakota, on September 7, 1919, and grew up on a farm near Florence.  He completed high school and attended the Baptist Church.  His father, Fred, died in 1939, when Orville was 20 years old.  In 1940, Orville was living at home with his mother and sisters, Bernice and Mavis.  He was working for the Works Progress Administration doing gravel road work.  As war progressed in Europe, Orville decided to enlist in the Army Air Corps.

Orville’s enlistment date was March 3, 1941, well before the United States became involved in World War II.  He joined the 28th Bomb Squadron and was sent to Clark Field in the Philippines.  America entered the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  The next day, the Japanese attacked Clark Field, almost completely destroying the fleet of bombers there.  As a consequence, the enlisted men and their commanders were assigned to ground infantry duty under the V Interceptor Command.

They first traveled to Bataan by train and then boarded the S.S. Mayon and headed to Mindanao, which managed to escape a Japanese bombing attack.  A sister ship, the S.S. Panay, was not so fortunate.  In Mindanao the troops were issued old British Lee-Enfield rifles and eventually were assigned to guard the Carmen Ferry on the Pulangi River.  The Japanese were approximately 40 miles away.

In early May, while on an assignment to dig trenches for Filipino troops, they encountered the enemy near Maramag, but there were few casualties, despite the soldiers being armed only with shovels.  On May 10, 1942, the American command surrendered the Philippines to the Japanese and the 28th Bomb Squadron men were ordered to give themselves up.


This is one of the notifications Orville’s family received from the Imperial Japanese Army after he’d been taken prisoner (Courtesy of Bruce and Gina Bodtker)

The Japanese were notorious for their inhumane treatment of prisoners.  Numerous books, such as the recent Unbroken, detail the horrors inflicted on their captives.  The POWs were routinely starved, beaten and worked to death.  The highest number of casualties occurred on the construction of the Burma-Siam railroad (see “The Railway Man” starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman).  The second highest number of casualties resulted from what became known as “Hell Ships.”  One of these ships would be the end of the ordeal for Orville Bodtker.

BodtkerOrville  Orville Bodtker’s high school yearbook photo and memorial stoneBodtkerOrville

After surrendering, Orville and his comrades were taken to a POW camp at Malaybaly, Mindanao, where they served as slave labor for their captors.  After surviving more than two years as a prisoner of war, Orville was forced to board a transport ship in August, 1944.  The Japanese feared the liberation of prisoners in the coming offensive by American forces led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur.  They pressed ordinary merchant vessels into service to begin moving prisoners to Japan.

These ships were not marked in any way to indicate that they were prisoner transports.  The ship Shin’yō Maru, was holding 750 prisoners, mostly American, in its holds.  The men had been held in the bowels of the ship for 19 days when the U. S. submarine, USS Paddle, fired torpedoes on the fleet of ships that included the Shin’yō Maru.

At the start of the attack, the Japanese began firing on the prisoners with machine guns and throwing grenades in the hold of the ship.  The prisoners, clad only in G-strings or loincloths, began struggling with one another to escape from the holds and jump from the ship.  The ones who managed to dive into the sea were fired upon by Japanese troops in life boats, and they faced a two-to-three mile swim to reach shore. Of the 750 prisoners in the Shin’yō Maru, 83 made it to shore.  One of these soon died and the 82 remaining were cared for by Filipino guerilla fighters.  Orville Bodtker was not among them.

The story of the Shin’yō Maru incident was not fully known until after the war.  The commander of the USS Paddle was not informed that he had sunk POWs until 1946.  Orville’s mother and sisters spent the entire duration of World War II not knowing if Orville was dead or alive.  His body was never recovered.  He has a memorial plaque in Mount Hope Cemetery in Watertown, SD, and he is also memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Cemetery in Manila, Philippines.



American Battle Monuments Commission. 2015. 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012. Year: 1940; Census Place: Florence, Codington, South Dakota; Roll: T627_3852; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 15-4

Jackfert, Edward. 28th Bombardment Squadron – Far Eastern Air Force – Clark Field P.I. 2015.

Mazza, Eugene A. 2004. The American Prisoners of War Rescued after the sinking of the Japanese transport, Shinyo Maru, by the USS Paddle, SS 263, on 7 September 1944.

National Archives and Records Administration. U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005.

USAAFData. 2015.

Wikipedia. 2015. 28th Bomb Squadron.

Wikipedia. 2015. Shin’yō Maru incident.’y%C5%8D_Maru_incident

World War II Database. 2015. Shinyo Maru.

6 thoughts on “Friendly Fire in WWII

Add yours

  1. A sad story, but not uncommon in the vast carnage of WWII. Orville was one of a multitude of brave young Americans who died for their country. R.I.P.


    1. Sad for the families of the POWs, certainly. I also feel sympathy for the men aboard the USS Paddle who had to live with the knowledge that they contributed to the deaths of so many fellow Americans.


  2. Eilene:
    I would like to thank you for writing a short story on my uncles life. I know Orville’s mother and my grandmother would be comforted to know his life has continued through your works of documenting his life.

    Liked by 1 person

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