Down Neck School Days

by Jack Keegan


On November 11, the holiday we celebrated as Veterans Day was known as “Armistice Day” back on November 11, 1942 when I walked up from Downtown Newark to the Newark Armory and enlisted in the Army.

I wound up in the Army Air Force, and in September 1944, was stationed at an AAF air base in Belem, Brazil, on the mouth of the Amazon River.

It was a muggy September night when, unable to sleep, I went to the Operations Office and fiddled around with a short wave radio, searching for English-speaking broadcasts.

Before long, my dial hand stumbled onto a female voice speaking English. My mental antenna was alerted and I locked in on her words:

“Today’s message is from Sgt. Gilson A. Tallentire, U. S .M. C., of Mogadore, Ohio.”

The message went something like this: “All well. Give my live to –“

At that point, static prevented the name from being understood, but I guessed it was most likely the Marine sergeant’s girl friend or fiancé.

I hurriedly wrote the message down, and at first daylight dashed off a letter addressed to the parents of the Marine sergeant in Mogadore, Ohio.

Within three weeks time, I received a reply from the Marine’s sister, a Miss Annie Tallentire.

She wrote in part: “My mother had just fallen down the stairs and dislocated and broken her arm and she was rather blue. Your message came at a good time.

“We had moved from Mogadore, but father still worked there and your letter was delivered to him at work. He telephoned your message to us at home.

In case you are interested, she told me, “My brother was captured on Wake Island in 1941 and taken to a camp near Shanghai, China. We have received word from him about every six months.”

Strange Coincidence

By some strange coincidence, in later correspondence with the Tallentire family, I was told that I was the only one who had heard and relayed that message to the Tallentire family.

The female broadcaster, apparently, was the famous “Tokyo Rose,” an American-born Japanese woman who, when captured sometime after the war, was convicted of treason.

Had Forgotten Incident for Over 50 Years

After that brief correspondence with the POW’s sister, the incident disappeared from my memory until this year – 2003.

On November 11, now Veterans Day, I recalled that this day was the anniversary date of my enlistment 62 years ago.

I also recalled that Marine prisoner of war – Gilson Tallentire. Had he survived the war? .. If he did survive, was he too maimed to carry on any kind of life? … and … was he still alive?

Search to Satisfy My Curiosity

I first went to the search engine “Google” and typed in “Tallentire.” Bingo! Up came a listing of a notorious Japanese prisoner-of-war camp “Hokodate” and a listing of prisoners by nationality who had been released from that camp at war’s end in September 1945. I scanned the 50 American names and found: Tallentire, Gilson A., Sgt., 249577 USMC.

I looked up “Hokodate” and learned it was the northernmost and second largest of the four main Japanese islands, and in addition to being the base for numerous POW camps, had been a prosperous fishing port since the 1740s.

Tallentire’s Postwar Life

Not satisfied with learning the Marine POW had been freed, I decided to search for more. I went to the search engine “” and again typed in Gilson A. Tallentire. Again, I struck gold.

Up came the full story of the Marine’s life as detailed in his obituary as it appeared in the June 18, 2003 Great Falls, Montana, Tribune.

Tallentire had died on Tuesday, June 17, 2003, of natural causes, at the age of 86, in a Great Falls nursing home.

The obituary said he had enlisted in the Marines in 1940, was married in 1945, (apparently shortly after gaining his freedom in September), was widowed in 1998, and left a son and two grandsons. A brother was mentioned in the obituary but not the sister with whom I had corresponded.

His Postwar Semper Fi Life

Tallentire remained in the Marine Corps for 20 years after the end of World War II and enjoyed a distinguished and notable career as a Marine. He completed Marine Corps Ordinance School in 1947, Marine Corps Supply School in 1948, Naval Justice School in 1953 … and later served in Korea as an ordinance officer and later supply officer.

He taught at Marine Corps Supply Administration School and created innovative practices and lectures on supply that were used long after his retirement from the U. S. Marine Corps in 1965.

* * *

My 2003 recollection of Armistice Day of November 1942, and of the Marine POW who had valiantly defended Wake Island eleven months before my enlistment, in December 1941, until his garrison was overwhelmed by a full-scale Japanese invasion force, had come full circle


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