Service Number: 256599
Birth and Early Life:
William “Billy” Lynch was born on March 24, 1919. He was raised in a house on Victory Road in Dorchester, Massachusetts; after the death of his father, Daniel, Lynch was raised by his mother Marie and older sister Eleanor. Lynch was a spirited child, often getting into trouble, but showed an aptitude for mechanics. He graduated from Mechanic Arts High School, and then joined the 26th Signal Company of the National Guard in 1935. (1)
Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Lynch joined the Marine Corps on January 15, 1937. He attended boot camp at Parris Island and after graduation in May was assigned to the base headquarters detachment for additional training in “telephony” – possibly using skills he had learned in the National Guard. By July 1, he was on his way to the First Signal Company at Quantico, Virginia.
Service Prior to 1941:
During his first months at Quantico, Private Lynch was shuttled between detachments before joining the Motor Transport section of Quantico’s service battalion as a truckdriver.
Lynch was better suited to driving than to communications; he attended Motor Transport School at the Philadelphia Navy Yard from February to August 1938 before returning to Quantico as a fully licensed motor vehicle operator. His driving on base was exemplary, but in November, Lynch was involved in a serious car accident while on liberty in Jersey City. He was quickly brought to the Brooklyn Navy Yard hospital, where he remained under a doctor’s care until January, 1939.
That August, Lynch joined the Motor Transport company of the Fourth Marines in Shanghai, China. He would ply the streets of Shanghai with his truck until promoted to Private First Class in December 1939; Lynch was reassigned as a dispatcher the following month. 1940 would be a busy year for Lynch, as he qualified as a mechanic, qualified as a sharpshooter (the picture above shows him proudly sporting the cross-shaped rifle shooting badge) and was promoted to Corporal in June. For the rest of the year, Lynch served with the mechanics of Motor Transport, along with Frank Hundley.
In 1941, Lynch was promoted to Sergeant. His regiment was moved to the Philippines, where they began preparing to defend the islands against a predicted Japanese attack. Their fears proved true; the Japanese began hitting the islands on December 8, and landed ground forces on December 22. As they pushed forward, the American and Philippine Army troops began to fall back; after the fall of Bataan, the survivors fell back to the island of Corregidor, and were promptly besieged. Sergeant Lynch and his comrades endured weeks of shelling before the enemy landed and forced the surrender of the garrison on May 6, 1942.
Date Of Loss:
The Fourth Regiment muster roll compiled after the war claims that LYNCH, William J., Sergeant, Service Company, died of wounds in the Philippine Islands on May 6, 1942. (2)
However, Lynch’s story did not end on Corregidor, nor even in the Philippine Islands. He laid down arms with his comrades, suffered the indignity of being marched through the streets of Manila to Old Bilibid Prison, survived transport to and imprisonment at Cabanatuan, and was finally loaded aboard a “hell ship” for transportation to Formosa.
Lynch was then sent to Korea, where he worked as a slave laborer in Pusan. He was scarcely a model prisoner, from the Japanese perspective – he was at the center of many scraps at the prison, and was reported to have attempted to escape twice, only to be recaptured and beaten each time. Why Lynch was not simply executed after his attempt – a common practice in nearly every Japanese prison camp – is unknown, though some research suggests that his mechanical skills made him a very valuable POW in industrially-challenged Pusan. Eventually, his captors decided Lynch would be of more use in a manufacturing plant, and had him sent to Mukden, China, where there was a Mitsubishi production line.
The irrepressible Lynch, given access to important aircraft parts, was certainly involved in sabotage activities – other American prisoners would deliberately break machinery, misunderstand orders, or lose tools, enduring beatings for their “stupidity.” Lynch may have been too conspicuous in his efforts, and was removed from the machine shop to a tannery, where he was compelled to treat leather for rifle slings and equipment.
Finally, Lynch could take no more. On May 20, 1944, seemingly without any prior planning or forethought, Lynch dropped his working tools, slipped through a door onto the main grounds of the camp, and simply walked away unchallenged. His escape came to an end the next day when, clad in a Russian military coat he had been issued at the camp, Lynch entered the town of Mukden and attempted to bluff his way past the kempetai guards, despite not speaking a word of Russian. He was caught, shot in the leg, and brutally beaten before being returned to Mukden on a stretcher. (3)
Again, for unknown reasons, he escaped summary execution – but the Japanese had something worse in store for the troublesome Billy Lynch. Documents discovered in 2008 tell that Lynch was removed from Mukden and sent to Lushun – formerly Port Arthur – a notorious prison camp reserved for spies, saboteurs, political dissidents, and other men considered a threat to the Japanese rule. Lynch was a rarity at Lushun, and civilian Chinese and surviving prisoners would long remember “the American.”
No-one was meant to survive imprisonment in Lushun, and it was here that fate caught up with Billy Lynch. It is believed that Lynch was horribly tortured, having the skin flayed from his body, before being killed and dismembered.
Upon their death, prisoners were buried in the barrels that they were compelled to carry with them; when the cemeteries were filled, some barrels were exhumed and the remains dumped in the wilderness. The date of Lynch’s death is unknown, but is believed to have happened in 1945; an eyewitness claimed seeing “twelve Koreans and one American” buried on the same date near Lushun.
Lynch is the only man from Mukden not accounted for after the war; when the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the CIA) arrived to recover prisoners after the war, Colonel “Wild Bill” Donovan spent an unusual amount of time personally searching for Lynch in the Mukden area without success. (4)
Next Of Kin:
Mother, Mrs. Marie Lynch
Status Of Remains:
Recovery effort by Moore’s Marauders is ongoing.
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
William J. Lynch Square, Dorchester, Massachusetts.
(1) Nate Leskovic. Will Staff Sergeant Lynch Be Coming Home Soon? Dorchester Reporter, December 11 2008.
(2) The date of Lynch’s promotion to Staff Sergeant (if indeed he was promoted) is unknown, he is referred to by that rank on the DMPO list of the missing.
(3) The kempetai treatment of Lynch has been the subject of much curiosity. Renowned for their brutality, the Japanese military police force had absolutely nothing to lose by killing Lynch, yet they returned him to the prison on a stretcher – in itself unusual – and with no reprisals visited on the other inmates. The Japanese would answer in his place at roll call from the date of his disappearance until the end of the war.
(4) Donovan’s interest has led to the speculation that Lynch was involved in covert activities, although no solid evidence has been found to confirm this.