Thomas Henry Delamore, WWII Army veteran, to be honored during 2023 Gold Star Hall Ceremony

The following is an edited excerpt of the life narrative that will be read during the 2023 Gold Star Hall Ceremony.

Thomas Henry Delamore

Thomas Henry Delamore

Thomas Henry Delamore left Iowa to join the United States Army on Dec. 1, 1939. During World War II, his primary placement was in the Philippines at the headquarters of the Far East Army Air Forces.

Delamore was born on Dec. 26, 1912, in Clare, west of Fort Dodge. His parents were Henry and Margaret Thomas, and he had two siblings who were fraternal twins – Donald and Dorothy – born in 1919.

Thomas and his younger brother Donald were quite opposites. It seems that Donald would have been described as “the life of the party,” while Thomas was more reserved. Thomas graduated from Ames High in 1930 before attending the Culver Military Academy in Indiana. Donald worked for Prudential Life Insurance before following his older brother into the military.

Intermittently through the years of 1931 to 1938, Thomas would have been found attending Iowa State College. He began his studies in mechanical engineering; however, in 1936, he changed his coursework to agricultural engineering. Though he was not able to complete his degree, he did earn a commission as a second lieutenant through Iowa State’s ROTC program and was called immediately to active duty.

Interestingly, Delamore began his military career with the Civilian Conservation Corps – the CCC – a vital training ground for junior officers. This was during the Great Depression and the CCC was an important employment program that kept many families intact during those tough years. Thomas was eventually put in charge, as a commander of CCC camps in Missouri Valley and Lake View.

He then transitioned to the Army as a company commander and supply officer in the 18th Engineer Battalion at Ft. Devon, Massachusetts. The Army Corps of Engineers started to mobilize after the German invasion of France in the middle of 1940. Lt. Delamore was company commander of the 3rd Engineer Regiment and as a member of the Hawaiian Department staff.

From Hawaii he was transferred to the Philippines in an effort to help expand Nichols Airfield. Among the many projects completed by the Army Corps, this was arguably the most difficult one for the engineers. However, most of the personnel that were chosen were enthused by the assignment. At the time, it was described by Pvt. Clarence Kinser that living in Hawaii was both expensive and confining— “like living on a rock.”

The Hawaiian Department chose Thomas as one of four officers to command the newly formed 809th Engineer Battalion. All officers chosen had bachelor’s degrees in technical fields, and a few held a master’s. In total, 80 men were chosen and gathered from two companies of the Hawaiian regiment. They sailed on the SS President Taft as it departed on June 21, 1941, taking with them only clothing and mess supplies. Delamore was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant five days later on June 26, 1941, as the 809th was traveling to Manila. Thereafter, he was devoted to making a career out of being a soldier and never married.

Thomas arrived in the Philippines on July 1, 1941, in the only U.S. Army engineer unit. He was the adjutant, administrative officer and supply officer. For many, arrival in the Philippines brought an adjustment to the tropical environment. During the first few days, many endured sickness such as diarrhea and vomiting, due to the heavily chlorinated water.

By November 1941, mud and sinkholes were found to be frequent problems and sources of delays for the airfield project. Throughout the coming months, the 809th also built machine gun turrets, first in holes dug by the group and then in bomb craters left by Japanese bombs. Dedicated work and devotion by the 809th Engineer Battalion went into Nichols Field, but as conditions deteriorated, they began removing machine guns from junked planes and welding them in place to protect against Japanese strafing attacks.

It was mid-November when the War Department decided to integrate the 809th Engineer Battalion with the 803rd Engineer Aviation Battalion, better known as Company C, the battalion’s third lettered company. Lt. Delamore was promoted to captain during the integration process.

During the soldiers’ time at Nichols Field, they both worked hard and played hard. However, Pvt. James Onofrey, a mechanic with the 17th Pursuit Squadron, noted that when it came to war and action, they were “very serious.”

Nichols Airfield endured at least 11 Japanese air raids. The Engineers’ last-ditch defenses were not enough, and the airfield was evacuated on Dec. 24. Company C of the 809th demolished aircraft and buildings and set gasoline on fire to scuttle the base, depriving the invading Japanese of any war material.

Delamore wanted to fly the last operable plane out but could not get permission to do so. As Company C left the base on Christmas day, they blew up all the remaining bombs on the base and blew up the underground gasoline tanks at service stations in Manilla. The convoy had Christmas dinner while on the road to Bataan.

Delamore and a small detachment of about four people were ordered to stay behind. During this time, they were charged with destroying railroads, bridges, refineries, ports and other structures that the Japanese could use to capture the Philippines.

Delamore and his small detachment of men who were once in charge of building new air bases were now in charge of destroying them. They were responsible for cratering airfields and blowing up airplanes, hangers and fuel. Delamore gained a reputation and respect among the men of Company C for being a risk-taker in his destruction practices. After all the airfields were destroyed, Delamore was instructed to destroy many of the abandoned naval bases scattered around the island.

Delamore's platoon left Manilla to the Japanese after all the ordered equipment had been destroyed and crossed Manilla Bay to the Bataan Peninsula, arriving on Jan. 3, 1942.

At noon on Jan. 15, Japanese Mitsubishi Ki-30 light dive bombers  attacked the Bataan Field.   Lts. James Caldwell, Theodore Pflueger, Thomas Delamore and Pfc. Clarence Kinser were on the airstrip at the time to inspect for repairs. Pflueger and Delamore were able to evade the attack. Caldwell was killed while attempting to find cover. Kinser sustained injuries. On Jan. 17, a late afternoon raid damaged the plane runway and halted operations.

Delamore and the other members of Company C continuously labored to repair and reconstruct the runway after the Japanese strikes. Crews would not be able to hear the noise of incoming fighters because of the sounds of the construction equipment.  As a result, when the attacks started, the workers hid behind and under the machinery. They were sitting ducks in the middle of the open field. Japanese dive bombers would attack three to four times per week during the first two months of operations at Bataan Field,  in formations of three, nine or 18 planes. War on Bataan was nothing short of deadly.

Thomas was taken prisoner following the Japanese invasion in April of 1942 and interned on the islands until December 1944. Thereafter, he was put aboard the Oryoku Maru along with 1,600 other prisoners for transport to Japan. Prisoners on these infamous "hell ships" perished from disease, hunger, dehydration or cruel treatment. Or they drowned when the ships were sunk.

Delamore lost all his belongings when he was taken prisoner – left with only the clothes on his back. Several weeks later, there was an attack on the ship sailed to Taiwan; of the original 1,600 prisoners, only 450 survived. Records indicate that Capt. Delamore died during this attack. His remains could not be identified following the war, and he is still unaccounted for. His death has been recorded as Jan. 9, 1945.

Thomas’s younger brother, Donald, serving as a bombardier in the European Theater also died in 1945 on a flight over Italy, just a week before the Germans surrendered.

Today, Capt. Thomas Delamore is memorialized in the Philippines on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery. His name is also on a memorial in the Punchbowl National Cemetery on Oahu, Hawaii. He was awarded various medals including the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Service Cross and Legion of Merit.

In 1946 in Tokyo, Gen. Douglas MacArthur ordered the International Military Tribunal for the Far East to be convened on April 29, 1946. Over the next two years, the tribunal put leaders from the Empire of Japan on trial for charges of conspiracy to start and wage war. Arrests were initiated for 28 Japanese leaders who faced charges of war crimes, crimes committed against prisoners of war and crimes against humanity.  Ultimately, many Japanese officials were made to account for their actions.