“I Expected The Worst And That’s What I Got”: The Oldest Grad Reflects On West Point And 39 Months As A Prisoner Of The Japanese

Paul Phillips


Paul Phillips was born on March 9, 1918, in his family’s home in Denver, Colorado. His impending birth kept his father from being drafted for WWI. His father was the secretary for the Great Western Sugar Company and imported sugar beets for processing. His mother was a school teacher who chose to stay at home to raise Paul and his younger sister. As a boy, he enjoyed tennis and fishing. Fortunately, the Great Depression did not affect his family too much, and his father was able to maintain his job. Paul graduated from high school in 1935 and attended Denver University for a year but did not have enough money for tuition for the second year. He passed the entrance exam for West Point and started in July 1936. He remembers driving from Denver to West Point with a lawyer who worked for the sugar company. Beast Summer (Cadet Basic Training) was challenging, and Paul recalls the transition from being “something to nothing.” He describes living in tents near Trophy Point and learning to ride horses in the riding hall (now the Thayer Hall academic building). He did well academically, enjoying math and engineering classes, but struggled in gymnastics. During his Firstie (senior) year, Germany invaded Poland, starting WWII, and the Cadets “figured we’d be in it.” When he graduated, he commissioned into the Field Artillery, inspired by an artillery officer at the Academy, and requested the Philippines as his first assignment, hoping that he and his wife could live well on 2LT pay. He found that he was able to afford a houseboy, a laundry woman, and a nurse (once his daughter was born). He was initially assigned to Luzon, but later accompanied MG William Fletcher Sharp (referred to in the interview as Frederick Sharp) to the island of Mindanao. When he received word of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he did not realize the extent of the attack. On Mindanao, there was a sizeable Japanese population in Davao City, and that is where the initial assault on the island took place. After resisting until May 10, 1942, American forces surrendered to the Japanese and were taken prisoner. This began 39 months of captivity for Paul in multiple camps. He spent 20 months in a prison in Davao, and ended the war in Mukden, Manchuria, where he was freed by the Soviets. Upon returning home, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, received treatment at Walter Reed (he describes the process of curing liver flukes), and returned to active duty. He eventually commanded an armored artillery battalion and served multiple tours in the Pentagon. Upon retiring from the Army, he worked in research analysis and served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs when the Army was transitioning to an All-Volunteer Force. In this interview, he talks about his childhood in Denver, his experiences at West Point, and his service in the Army. He focuses on his time as a Prisoner of War in the Philippines during World War II. He describes the neglectful way the Japanese treated the prisoners and how he was forced to grow rice for his captors. He discusses being on a prison ship, and having their meager rations cut when prisoners escaped from a camp. He recalls a classmate receiving a football in one of the few care packages that came from home (and trying to figure out how to cook and eat pigskin). Finally, he reflects on his service and what West Point means to him.


conflicts World War II Cold War
topics Leadership Teamwork Camaraderie West Point History P.O.W.s Returning from War
interviewer David Siry
date 02 February 2023


name Paul Phillips
institution USMA
graduation year 1940
service Field Artillery
unit Philippine Defense Force; 27th Armored Field Artillery, 1st Armored Division; 2nd Armored Division; Pentagon
specialty Oldest Graduate
service dates 1940 1966