Sunday, September 1, 2013

Constance Cowan meets Everett Reamer

A recent headline read, “Lanny Martinson, Vietnam Veteran, Finds Dog Tags on Facebook 45 Years Later.”  It was a story that made national news.  We thought this was a great story and are happy for Mr. Martinson, However, we think it pales in comparison to the story we brought you last month about James (Jimmy) and Constance Cowan.

Costance Cowan with Jimmy's dog tag

To recap, someone recently found a dog tag of James W. Cowan on Corregidor Island.  Over the years, hundreds – if not thousands – of dog tags have been found on Corregidor.  Many are on display in the museum.  But finding one today is expectedly rare.  Tour guide Armando Hildawa came into possession of Jimmy’s dog tag and entrusted it to American visitor Brandon Ainsworth.  Brandon, by clever use of the internet, tracked down Jimmy’s sister and only surviving sibling, Constance Cowan, age 87, of Duluth, Minnesota.  Since we were in the area during the months of July and August, Steve contacted Constance to set up a meeting.  Steve also contacted the American Cemetery in Manila to get photographs of Jimmy’s name on the Walls of the Missing, something Steve was sure that Constance would appreciate.
Steve thought that this story was newsworthy, and by chance met TV reporter and weekend weatherman Dave Anderson from KBJR, Channel 6 in Duluth, who initially sounded very interested in producing a feature story.  However, repeated follow-up emails went unanswered, so Steve contacted the editor of the Duluth News-Tribune.  Reporter Michael Creger was assigned the story, which appeared on the front page the day after the meeting took place.  Michael did a great job of not only telling the story of the dog tag but also included that Steve’s father, Walter, a Duluth native, had been in the same regiment as Jimmy on Corregidor, although the two were in different batteries.  He also told about our living on the Rock.  One thing that Michael failed to mention was that Constance and Jimmy Cowan are first cousins to former Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale.  Jimmy’s middle name is Walter, and multiple male relatives on that side of the family have Walter as first or middle name, not to be confused with Steve’s father.
As is usual in modern-day newspaper editions, it was only available on-line free of charge for a week.  Soon the Associated Press picked up the story, but to our dismay, they eliminated all references to Walter and to us.  Eventually we managed to find one website that contains the entire account – if you have not yet seen it, it is at:
To be clear, we point out that we had nothing to do with Constance initially receiving her brother’s dog tag.  However, had we not contacted the media, the story would have been untold.  In addition, the coincidences – that Walter was in the same regiment as James, was from the same city where Constance spent much of her life, and the fact that we now live on Corregidor – make the story more compelling, in our opinion. 
But the story does not end with our meeting in Duluth. 
During that get-together, Constance mentioned that her brother had been assigned to “F Battery” of the 60th Coast Artillery Regiment (60th CA).  While Steve is more familiar with his own father’s E Battery, he seemed to recall that Everett Reamer (WW II Corregidor veteran, POW, and dear friend) served in F Battery.  Steve told Constance a little of what he knew off the top of his head, mostly that the men in that battery manned anti-aircraft guns around Battery Cheney.  Constance said, “Oh, Jimmy would have loved that – he loved anything to do with big guns.”  By the way, Walter, Everett, and Jimmy entered the service at the same time, crossed the ocean on the same army transport ship (The Republic), and arrived on Corregidor on the same day.  But Jimmy didn’t make it home.
After returning to Virginia (MN), Steve called Everett at his home outside Cincinnati, Ohio, and asked him if he possibly remembered Jimmy Cowan.  Without hesitation Everett said, yes, he did.  At first all he could recall was that they were in the same battery and that they had taken a leave together to Manila when it was still peace-time.  By coincidence, Everett’s daughter lives in Hinckley, Minnesota, 75 miles south of Duluth, and he and his wife Bernice were planning to be there soon.  This gave Steve the idea of trying to get Everett and Constance together.
As it turned out, it was rather easy.  We had already made plans to drive from Virginia, where we had been staying with Steve’s mother, Mary Anne, to Minneapolis, where the three of us would spend several days with family before our flight back to the Philippines.  Hinckley was right along our route. 
We (Steve, Marcia and Mary Anne) arrived at David and Melissa’s house (son-in-law and daughter of the Reamers) and spent a few minutes meeting them and chatting with Everett, introducing him and Mary Anne to each other.  Bernice soon returned from a hair appointment to join us. 
Steve initially met Everett on his first tour to the Philippines, back in 2002.  Everett was one of five Corregidor and two Bataan defenders who made the trip for the 60th anniversary of the fall of the Philippines.  Steve immediately took to Malcolm Amos, a Death March survivor from Iowa whom we have mentioned on several occasions, and to Everett, who was in the 60th CA as was Steve’s father.  Both veterans could have been described as feisty and quick witted.  Later they were both on the 2006 tour that we took for the dedication of the Hell Ships Memorial in Subic Bay.  (We’ve included a picture.  Everett is second from left, Malcolm second from the right.)  And later in 2006 the Reamers and Malcolm were at the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor annual convention in Phoenix, Arizona, the first convention we attended.
Dick Francies, Everett Reamer, Malcolm Amos, and Chuck Towne

Soon, Constance and her cousin Eric Gibson arrived.  Connie told Everett a bit about her brother, showing him the dog tag and pictures of James.  Everett had had a couple of weeks to think about James, and after seeing his pictures, recalled that they were indeed very close.  They bunked together on the USAT Republic, were assigned to the F Battery, and even manned the same anti-aircraft gun!  Everett set the fuses and Jimmy worked the horizontal control.  (A third soldier worked the vertical control.)  On May 5, 1942 they were moved from their position to a point above James Ravine, in anticipation of a second Japanese landing which never came.
 Constance listens to Everett

Constance and cousin Eric

When asked by Connie why Jimmy’s dog tag would have been lost (and found) near the Malinta Tunnel, Everett had a plausible explanation.  On May 7, the morning after the surrender, many of the men – boys, in some cases; Everett was only 17 at the time – were ordered to stand outside the tunnel for a propaganda/publicity shot.  The soldiers were ordered to raise their hands and look at the camera.  A few, such as feisty Everett (seen circled in the attached photo) refused to obey.  Japanese soldiers took their bayonets and hooked them under the chains holding the American soldiers’ dog tags, yanked, and sent them flying.  The soldiers did not dare try to recover them.  Everett believes that Jimmy’s dog tag could very well have lain for 70 years near the very spot where it landed, and that Jimmy also in the same famous photograph.
Everett Reamer outside Malinta Tunnel, May 7, 1942

Melissa had prepared a sumptuous meal, typical of Midwestern hospitality, so we all sat down for lunch. 

After lunch, Steve overheard Melissa talking to Marcia about the scars on her father’s back.  It reminded Steve that he had never paid attention to the scars on his own father’s back, although Marcia noted them the first time she gave Walter a haircut.  So Steve asked if Everett would mind showing us the scars on his back from wounds inflicted by sadistic Japanese prison guards.  We took a picture, included here.  Be mindful that these scars have had 70 years to heal and that the camera cannot do them justice.  Nevertheless, Everett, who was once acknowledged by the Guinness Book of World Records for having been forced to stand at attention for 132 straight hours as punishment for attempting to steal Red Cross food packages withheld by the Japanese prison guards, still shows obvious signs of frequent, brutal beatings.  (Guinness has since rescinded the record, probably due to political pressure.)

Everett's scars

Finally we gathered in different groupings for photos, and said our goodbyes, which often take a long time in Minnesota.  We were so happy to see the Reamers again, as well as to bring Everett and Constance together for the first – we hope not last – time.

 Bernice and Marcia

Everett and Steve

Constance and Everett
If you find this story and set of coincidences intriguing, we encourage you to pass along this email or to contact the media, in an effort to give the story of Constance, Jimmy’s dog tag, and Everett Reamer, the coverage it deserves.
Steve and Marcia, back on the Rock

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