Baltimore war hero rests in Druid Ridge Cemetery P.O.W.: In 1945, Air Corps Maj. David Henry Wainwright Houck was shot down over Hong Kong. Imprisoned by the Japanese, he refused to provide military information and was later shot.

Way Back When

May 23, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Maj. David Henry Wainwright Houck's journey to this quiet place under the trees in Druid Ridge Cemetery began with his execution in 1945 as a Japanese prisoner of war in Hong Kong's notorious Stanley Prison.

The Baltimore-born Houck, who graduated in 1935 from Johns Hopkins University with an engineering degree, entered the Army Engineer Corps in 1941. After Pearl Harbor was bombed, he requested a transfer to the Army Air Corps.

Trained as a pursuit pilot at Craig Field, Ala., in April 1944 he was ordered to India, where he rose to the rank of major and served as operations officer. That December, he was sent to China to take command of the 118th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron of the 14th Air Force Association, better known as the famed "Flying Tigers."

On a bombing mission Jan. 15, 1945, against Japanese forces occupying Hong Kong, Houck's P-51 Mustang fighter was riddled with anti-aircraft fire. His plane was seen burning heavily as it made its way east over the harbor; then it flipped over and plunged into the water.

Houck managed to parachute from the burning plane and was immediately taken prisoner -- although it was not known at the time whether he made it out or not.

"He was a very intense individual," said Fred Poats in a 1987 interview with The Evening Sun.

At the time, Poats was a 22-year-old second lieutenant assigned to Suichwan, China, where Houck and 15 other men took off for the raid on Hong Kong and Canton.

"He already had considerable leadership experience as a base commander in the States. He approached his new assignment in a businesslike fashion. He was highly analytical," Poats said.

However, it was the first time that Houck had flown through enemy fire that could turn the sky black with danger.

Imprisoned in solitary confinement, Houck refused to divulge any information regarding air power, sites or Allied plans, according to a Roman Catholic priest who was also incarcerated at Stanley Prison.

On April 5, 1945, he was brought before a Japanese military tribunal but was not allowed to have counsel or present evidence.

He was convicted of sinking a small Chinese vessel, causing the loss of eight lives, and was condemned to death.

For a time, it was rumored that Houck had been beheaded, but the true story wasn't known until the end of 1945. The day after his trial ended, Houck was tied to a cross in the prison yard, blindfolded and shot. His body was later buried in the prison yard.

"The Japanese, who could not destroy the 118th in the air, were determined to destroy our morale by executing our commander," Wayne G. Johnson, a past commander of the Flying Tigers, 14th Air Force Association, told The Evening Sun in 1987.

A letter to his mother, Nellie Houck, and his sister, Elizabeth Houck, who lived in the Cambridge Arms Apartments across Johns Hopkins' Homewood campus, from Army Maj. Gen. Edward F. Witsell, adjutant general of the Army, said, "His courage and faith will never be forgotten."

A United States military commission later tried the five Japanese officers in connection with Houck's death. Two were sentenced to hang, two to life sentences and one to a 50-year term.

In October 1947, Houck's body was one of the first to be returned to Maryland from the Pacific Theater. He was buried in Druid Ridge Cemetery after a funeral service at University Baptist Church.

"Mrs. Houck decided to have a gravestone that would express her sorrow at the loss of her only son, and even more, her pride in the achievement of one of the men who won World War II," said a 1950 story in The Evening Sun.

Reuben Kramer, the noted Baltimore sculptor, fashioned Houck's memorial from a shaft of Tennessee marble. In bas relief, he carved Houck's fighter pilot's wings and the shoulder patch of a U.S. soldier assigned to the China Theater.

Under his name is engraved "Died in the Service of his Country," and on the reverse side is Houck's military record.

At the bottom of the stone, Kramer chisled in words from the 10th chapter of Matthew, which still inspire the casual walker who happens upon this tranquil setting:

"Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul."

Pub Date: 5/23/98

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