Hoke County vet recalls POW past

Posted October 20, 2011 3:38 p.m. EDT
Updated October 20, 2011 6:50 p.m. EDT

— Next week, World War II Veterans from the Triangle will make an emotional journey to visit the memorial built in their honor in Washington, D.C.

John Mims, of Hoke County, is one of the 100 Triangle veterans taking the Flight of Honor on Wednesday to view the World War II, Air Force and Marine Corps memorials. Veterans will also stop at Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

A member of the Army, Mims was stationed in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked in December 1941. 

"It was terrible – bloody and loud," Mims remembered. 

Outgunned and outmanned, Mims and thousands of American and Filipino troops were forced to surrender, then forced to march. 

"It was torture," he recalled.  

Within hours, Mims met a Japanese officer who told him his fate, that this was the "march of death." 

Through sheer will, Mims survived and remained a prisoner of war. After the Japanese surrendered, Mims said, he overheard an enemy soldier being given orders to kill the prisoners. Mims and his fellow POWs were able to take over the prison and save themselves. 

"I saved 500, 501 lives," Mims said.

Before the war, Mims met his future wife, Juanita, a teacher in the Philippines. 

While Mims was a prisoner, she would sneak to the barbed-wire fence to see him. 

"I would send her information, and the next day, she would have a reply and would send that on to (U.S.) Gen. (Douglas) MacArthur," Mims said. 

Soon after the war, the two were married. They were together 59 years until Juanita died. 

At 89, Mims is remarried and living on a quiet piece of property outside of Aberdeen.

He said his time during the war made him a better person. 

"God told me to forgive, and I lost a lot of friends. I've cried so much it's pathetic, but God understood me, I guess, because it was something," Mims said. 

Wednesday's Flight of Honor will be the seventh such trip thanks to the nonprofit group Triangle Flight of Honor.

Triangle Flight of Honor raises the money to offer the trips at no cost to veterans.