Memorial Day – Remembering Lawrence Edward Webber, Beloved Brother of San Diego Family

by on May 27, 2019 · 4 comments

in Military, Ocean Beach, San Diego

Author’s note: During the last few days I have come to know and develop a deep respect for a man I have never met. I do family history as a hobby and have been doing research on Frank’s uncle, Lawrence. While visiting his cousin, Frank saw a picture of his uncle in uniform, mounted in a frame with his medals. That led me to look for him. I have scoured Marine Corps Muster rolls, newspapers and websites. What follows is what I have discovered, and what has brought me to tears a few times while collecting it all, here, for Memorial Day.

Lawrence Edward Webber, USMC, MIA – POW – KIA

Lawrence Edward Webber was born in 1920, in Malden, Massachusetts, the son of Frank Webber and Elizabeth Benson. He was the youngest of four children. He had one brother, Frank Webber (long-time local businessman and owner of Ocean Beach Camera, in the Newport Avenue area) and two sisters, Mildred and Dorothea (mother of our own editor, Frank Gormlie).

As a young man Lawrence moved to San Diego, where his siblings also lived, and enlisted in the Marine Corps on May 2, 1939 at the age of 19. He was stationed in San Diego until December 1939 when he was transported, on the USS Henderson, to Shanghai, China. He was part of the Asiatic Fleet, Company H, Second Battalion, Fourth Marines, and was in Shanghai until November of 1941, serving as a supply clerk.

With the approach of World War II, the U. S. military presence in China was being slowly withdrawn and in early November 1941 the Navy Department ordered the withdrawal of the fleet’s Marines and gunboats stationed in China.

On the 28th of November, Lawrence’s company boarded the ship US President Madison and embarked for the Philippines. They arrived at Olongapo, Subic Bay, on Dec 1, 1941.

Then came the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war on Japan, December 8, 1941, and things got hot for the Fourth Marines. The December 1941 Muster Roll (above) gives the following details for Company H:

  • Dec 1, arrived at Olongapo and disembarked US President Madison same date.
  • Dec 1-24 at US Naval Station Olongapo.
  • Dec 12, returned fire on enemy attack planes.
  • Dec 13, under fire enemy bombers.
  • Dec 25-26, at US Navy Section Base, Mariveles (Bataan Peninsula).
  • Dec 27-31, at Fort Mills (Corregidor Island), Philippines.
  • Dec 29, under severe enemy bombing and strafing, 1 man killed, 2 men wounded, 1 man injured.
  • Dec 30-31, subjected to repeated enemy bombing and strafing.

Lawrence was promoted in December of 1941 from Private First Class to Corporal, and was one of the wounded in action on December 29th at Fort Mills (Corregidor Island), shown above. He was treated at the Malinta Tunnel Hospital from the 29 of December, 1941 to the 1st of January 1942. The 1,000 bed hospital was housed in the Malinta Tunnel, an extensive underground complex built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers on the island of Corregidor during the 1930’s. During this time, the third lateral on the north side from the east entrance served as the headquarters of General Douglas MacArthur and the USAFFE.

The extent of his injuries are not known, but Lawrence returned to duty where his company endured enemy bombing and strafing while engaged in beach defenses in the Manilla and Subic Bay areas throughout the months of January, February and March, 1942.

The Marine Muster roll for March 1942 states the following:

For outstanding performance of duty in action during the Harbor Defenses of Manila and Subic Bays, and Naval and Marine Corps units serving therein, United States Forces in he Philippines, are cited for outstanding performance of duty in action, during the period of 14 March 1942, to 31 March 1942. Auth, War Department GO#32 dated 24 April 1942.

The Japanese worked their way down the Bataan Penisula and the U. S. troops retreated to the island of Corregidor and prepared to hold out until reinforcements came. But they didn’t come. General MacArthur was ordered to Australia (“I shall return,” but not until years later), and American and Filipino forces were starved into submission. Bataan fell on April 9, and on May 6, 1942 U.S. General Jonathan Wainwright surrendered his forces to Japan’s General Masaharu Homma on Carregidor.

The Marine Muster roll, H Company, for April 1942 leads me to believe that Lawrence was taken prisoner on the 9th of April at the fall of Bataan. It states the following:

For outstanding performance of duty in action during the Harbor Defenses of Manila and Subic Bays, and Naval and Marine Corps units serving therein, United States Forces in the Philippines, are cited for outstanding performance of duty in action, during the period of 1 April 1942, to 9 April 1942. Auth, War Department GO#32 dated 24 April 1942.

The headline of an article printed by the San Diego Union on June 24, 1942 states – 20 Percent of California Causalities From Local Area; No Word From Many in Philippines After Bataan Fall. It states further: No Word From Marines – Webber, Lawrence E. corporal U.S.M.C; sister Mrs. Mildred Savoy (Reported wounded on Navy Department casualty list May 11, 1942).

Muster rolls that have been located for this time, list him Missing Action until April 1943, where he is then listed as “in Hands of the Enemy.”

Lawrence was almost certainly part of the infamous Bataan Death March, where nearly 80,000 (12,000 Americans, the remainder Filipinos) prisoners of war were forced to walk 60 plus miles with little food or water. Tortured, killed and dying from dehydration and exposure along the way the casualties numbered in the thousands. Lawrence was imprisoned for a time at Camp O’Donnel, but it is unknown what other camp(s) he may have been held in. He was a prisoner of war for over 18 months.

Purple Heart with Gold Star awarded Cpl. Lawrence Webber posthumously.

The last military record located for Lawrence states:

  • Camp – PW Camp #4 – O’Donnel Tarlac Luzon Philippines
  • Status – Died in Ship’s Sinking or Result of Ship Sinking
  • POW Transport Ship – December Sinkings: Oryoka Maru; (X) Died during transportation from Olongapo to San Fernando, PI.
  • Report Source – Individual has been reported through sources considered official.

The transport ship Oryoka Maru, and dozens more just like it, were called “Hell Ships.” They were unmarked cargo ships the Japanese used to transport prisoners of war. Many of them were sunk by American forces, thousands lost their lives to friendly fire. A horrible tragedy of war. The best estimate of his death is January 18, 1945. The final muster roll for Lawrence E. Webber states – Previously reported POW. Now KIA as result of bombing of Japanese Prison Ship enroute from Philippines to Japan. Evidence of death rec’d 17 Jul 1945.

Lawrence Edward Webber was only 24 years old when he died. He is memorialized at the Manila American Cemetery, Taguig City, Philippines, in the Tablets of the Missing. His name is engraved on a wall with over 36,000 others. His name is also on a wall in Greenwood Cemetery.

Lawrence, I am proud I got to know you. I wish I could have met you.

Manila American Cemetery, Taguig City, Philippines

“The Tablets of the Missing”

Lawrence Edward Webber - 1920 to 1945

Lawrence Edward Webber – 1920 to 1945

 

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie May 27, 2019 at 1:18 pm

So nicely done, Patty, thank you so much.

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Avatar Anna Daniels May 27, 2019 at 2:31 pm

Patty, your moving remembrance of Laurence Edward Webber is a testament to your genealogical research skills and the quiet beautiful stirrings of your heart. Well done my friend.

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Avatar Frances O'Neill Zimmerman May 27, 2019 at 9:01 pm

Corporal Lawrence Weber survived fighting in the Philippines right after Pearl Harbor, then in infamous Corregidor and Bataan. (My oldest brother had a good friend who survived the Bataan March and a Japanese POW camp. He came home and helped me learn my multiplication tables, but for the rest of his life, he couldn’t tolerate crowded spaces.) Lawrence died at age 24 from friendly fire while being transported on an unmarked Japanese Prison Ship. It’s important to know about him and to remember him. May he rest in peace.

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie May 29, 2019 at 10:45 am

My uncle, Lawrence Webber, was the brother of Frank Webber who owned and ran the Ocean Beach Camera for decades.

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