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PFC Maurice J. Conway
Maurice Conway Gravestone

By Krista Finstad Hanson

For the Times

Prior to the U.S. entry into World War II, the 19th Operations Group of the U.S. Army Air Force was stationed at Clark Field in the Philippines. It was attacked by Japanese planes on Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The unit fought in the battle of Coral Sea in May of 1942 and at Papua New Guinea, Rabul, and New Britain up to August of 1942.

They became involved in the fight for Luzon in the Spring of 1942. In December of 1942 they withdrew to the Bataan Peninsula. Fighting commenced in the Battle of Bataan until the U.S. Army surrendered on April 8, 1942 and were forced to take part in what became called the Bataan Death March. Some of the troops that were on Mindanao escaped to Australia.

The conditions at the camps were terrible. Food and water were limited. Prisoners were tortured and killed during the march and at the camps. Others died of malnutrition, dehydration, malaria, and dysentery. An estimated nearly 3,000 Americans died and were buried in the Cabanatuan camp alone.

Some members of the unit were not captured were sent back to Australia and to the Pocatello Army Base in Idaho and were later inactivated. 

The 19th Bombardment Group were reactivated at Great Bend Army Airfield in Kansas. They trained on B-29 bombers. They arrived at North Field on Guam in January in 1945. They began bombing in Japan in February 1945. They flew targeted raids until the war’s end on August 15, 1945.

PFC Maurice J. Conway served with the Headquarters Squadron of the 19th Bomber Group, Heavy, of the U.S. Army Air Forces.

Maurice John Conway was born Dec. 26, 1916 to John and Theresa (Smith) Conway in Argyle, Lafayette County, Wisconsin.

From the 1920 U.S. Census, the Conway family lived in Argyle. The household included father John, mother Tessie, and children Mary, Leo, Bernard, and Maurice. John was a farmer on a dairy farm.

Father John Conway died April 8, 1920. Mother Theresa (Smith) Conway died January 15, 1922. The children were orphans and lived with different people until they were adults.

Some news appeared in the August 23, 1923 The Blanchardville Blade “Local News” with a notice that stated “Mr. and Mrs. Mahlon Robinson, Mary and Maurice Conway, and Mrs. W. H. Carey of Argyle visited here Sunday.” Mary was Maurice Conway’s older sister.

From the 1930 U.S. Census, Maurice Conway (13) was a roomer living in a hotel in Blanchardville in Lafayette County. The hotel was owned by Arthur M. Ryan who was the head of household along with his wife Mary and daughters Bernadine and Camellia. There were nine roomers aged 13-62, all male except one female. Arthur was the proprietor of the hotel and his wife was the landlady. 

Other news stories from the Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times had news that Maurice Conway was a part of Boy Scout troop, participated in sports, and was a part of the 12 highest students in the Blanchardville High School graduating class of 1934.

On Oct. 16, 1940, Maurice John Conway registered for the WWII Draft. He lived at 4247 Broadway in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. His next of kin was his brother Leo M. Conway. His employer was the Pladium (sic)-Recreation in Chicago.

On May 23, 1941 Maurice J. Conway enlisted for service in WWII at Seeley, California. His civilian occupation was “attendants, recreation and amusement.” He was a Private with the Army Air Corps. 

From the July 10, 1942 Wisconsin State Journal article titled “Blanchardville Soldier Missing, Army Announces,” the news from Blanchardville was “The adjutant general’s office of the war department in Washington has informed V. M. Jacobs that the status of Maurice J. Conway, who had lived with the Jacobs (sic) here, will continue as ‘missing in action in the Philippines since May 7 until information to the contrary is received.’ Jacobs has written the war department for information on Maurice.”

From the U.S. WWII Hospital Admission Card Files, Maurice J. Conway (25) was admitted in June 1942. He was with the U.S. Army Air Force. He was diagnosed with dysentery and died in the line of duty.

PFC Maurice J. Conway is listed on the WWII Gold Star Honor Roll with the National Archives as being from Cook County, Illinois. His death status was DNB — died non-battle. He died as a prisoner of war under Japanese control. He received the Purple Heart and the Prisoner of War Medal, awarded posthumously.

Information posted on the Honor States website states “Some records indicate being held as a prisoner by Japan at a location known as POW Camp 4 O’Donnel Tarlac in Luzon, Philippines.”

PFC Maurice J. Conway is buried at the Manila American Cemetery in Manila, Philippines.

Thank you, Private First Class Maurice John Conway, for your service to and ultimate sacrifice for this country. We honor you and remember you.