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The author used this word a lot in this letter to his girlfriend. My early hunch was that he really liked her.

  In 1938, Onnie E. Clem, Jr., a Dallas native, enlisted in the United States Marine Corps to see the world, and got a lot more than he bargained for.

In the fall of 1944,  Onnie was rescued from an island in the Philippines after a harrowing and horrifying several years. He had survived the Battle of Bataan in the Spring of 1942, and was subsequently captured by the victorious Japanese and forced marched at bayonet along with other American and Filipino POWs. A miserable and violent trek known to history as the Bataan Death March.

Two years later, Onnie and other survivors of Japanese internment were loaded on a “Hell Ship” bound for Japan and a bleak future. Fate had other ideas. After nineteen days at sea, the ship was torpedoed by an American submarine. During the chaos Onnie managed to make his way out of the ship, despite being shot while making his escape.  Once overboard, Onnie somehow found his way to a nearby island, one of only a few of the 750 American POWs to survive the ship’s sinking. A few weeks later, Onnie boarded an American ship bound for California and a much different experience.

While in San Francisco, Onnie met Julie and, after a brief friendship, the Texas hero fell in love with the lady Marine from Massachusetts. Onnie’s letter to Julie is a testament to honesty, persistence, and an aching heart.

Onnie and Julie married seven months later. After the war, they made their home in Dallas. Julie and Onnie were married 65 years. Onnie passed in 2009, age 90.  Julie died a year later. A darling life.

If you’re ever in Waco, stop by the Texas Collection located in the Carroll Library on the campus of Baylor University. There’s a huge parking garage across the street making it an easy walk. Inside, ask to see the Onnie Clem papers, two boxes filled with personal letters as well as other interesting information from the time period.

While you’re there, say hello to Paul Fischer, Processing Archivist and Assistant Director of the Texas Collection, whose kind assistance made my experience enjoyable and memorable.

I’ve included a link below from the Texas Collection website that tells their story in greater detail. It includes an awesome photo of Julie in uniform. There’s also a link to information about the battle of Bataan and the Death March.



Onnie Clem Obituary Photo


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