POW remains returned

By PAT BROWN,

Just over three quarters of a century later a local family has been reunited with the remains of a fallen veteran. 

Private Harvey Andrew Nichols was one of the unfortunate ones who was taken prisoner at the fall of Corregidor and the ultimate surrender of the Philippines during April of 1942.  On May 7, 1942 Nichols was officially reported as Missing in Action.

The Philippian Islands were an American colony so American servicemen along with Philippians soldiers were tasked with defending against the Japanese invasion.

Nichols, born in 1915, was from Braxton and joined the Army in January 1940 just before the outbreak of World War II.

Private Harvey Nichols and his brother Burley served in the same unit, the 33rd Quartermaster Company, on the island of Luzon in the Philippines.  Both were captured and forced to endure the Bataan Death March.  Along the way it is reported that Burley became ill and was unable to make the march.  Gruesome reports reveal that those who were unable to complete the march were shot or bayonetted by their Japanese captors. 

Pat Sheppard, the Nichols’ nephew and a Braxton resident, said that it was not uncommon for the Philippine natives to recover the bodies of these soldiers and to bury them out of respect.  Because of that, Burley Nichols remains listed as Missing In Action to this day.   

The trek to the prison camp at Cabanatuan was 65 miles and took 20 days  for the prisoners to complete.  The prisoners were then loaded onto railcars with room only to stand and shipped 20 miles along the rail to their drop-off point, which was still nine miles from their prison camp. 

Almost 2,800 of those soldiers would die from illnesses like pellagra, malaria, beri beri and dysentery or any combination of the above.  Their captors did not offer enough food to survive and shelter was almost non-existant. 

On November 19, 1942, the 27-year-old Private Harvey Andrew Nichols is reported to have died from malnutrition and malaria-related illnesses.   His body was placed in Mass Grave 717 along with 13 other bodies.  The Japanese did not allow the marking of graves.  Nichols became one of almost 2,800  who died in this camp.   

Following the end of the war the bodies were disinterred and moved to Manila sometime between December of 1945 and March of 1946.  However, because of the length of time the  bodies were buried and the fact that dental records were the only method of identification results were not always accurate.   Also there was a co-mingling of remains during the exhumations, which occurred more than once. 

In October of 1949 what were thought to be the remains of Nichols were returned to the family.   On October 29 a funeral was held for Nichols and the body was interred in the Goodwater Cemetery in Magee.

In 2010 at the insistence of other family members who had veterans buried in Mass Grave 717, the remains of other bodies were tested by new forensic science methods. 

Around 2014 the Department of the Army contacted Nichols’ nephew, Pat Sheppard.  When he and other family members later had DNA tests performed., it was determined that the remains thought to be those of Private Harvey Nichols were not, in fact, him. 

Sheppard said the grave was exhumed and the remains were returned to the proper family. 

Sheppard himself did not know his uncles who made the ultimate sacrifice in the South Pacific.  He said he did recall as he got older his mother and grandmother talking about the two boys who were part of 16 children in the family.  Sheppard said at one point a total of 10 of them served in the military.  Sheppard fondly recalled a story that his uncle sent home $10 a month to his mother, asking her to put it up for him so he could buy a  place when he returned home from the war. 

Private Harvey Andrew Nichols was awarded during his service a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Prisoner of War Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, American Defense Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, WWII Victory Medal and the Philippine Defense Ribbon.

Sheppard and his wife are responsible for the funeral service, which will be Calvary Baptist Church, Braxton. It was desire of the grandmother that the two boys be buried beside her and her husband. 

  Visitation will be held Friday, September 6, from 5 until 8 p.m. at Colonial Chapel in Mendenhall. Services will be at Calvary Baptist Church in Braxton on Saturday at 10 a.m.  The public is invited to attend.

In addition to full military honors, there will be motorcycle escort for the funeral procession.

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