Corporal Joseph Roy Brown (aka “Jo Jo”, “Georgia”)

JRBrown UniformPhotoCorporal Joseph Roy Brown (aka “Jo Jo”, “Georgia”)

3rd Army, 8th Corp
36th Division, 61st Brigade
2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery, Headquarters Battery

Born: 11/27/1913, Newman, Georgia (Coweta County)
Died: 11/24/1943, 100 Kilo Camp, Burm (Myanmar)
Cause(s) of Death: Dysentery, Tropic Ulcer, Beri-Beri

Joseph Roy Brown Jr. was born in Newnan, Georgia on November 27, 1913. Today Newnan is a bustling suburb of Atlanta, but in 1941 Newnan was the county seat of a very rural Coweta County. Newnan was a small southern town featuring numerous textile mills, a large steel fabrication company, and two intersecting RR lines. The town was also known as the “City of Homes” for its large number of beautiful homes. The Newnan public schools were considered to be excellent. It was in this genteel environment that Joe’s father, a local businessman and his mother, a stay-at-home mom, raised Joe and four girls. The Brown and Askew families had come to Coweta County in the early 1800s so there were a large number of relatives and friends living in the area.

Joe loved sports, especially football, but being small in stature he found that the game of golf was the perfect match for his athletic endeavors. Joe was called “Jo Jo” by his friends and he and his golfing buddies spent many hours playing golf at the local 9-hole golf club. Upon graduation from Newnan High School “Jo Jo” enrolled in Georgia Tech but later transferred to Auburn University to complete his studies. He was a member of the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity. Joe enjoyed both big dance band and classical music, which he listened to on his prized personal radio.

After college Joe returned to Newnan and started his business career with a local Fire and Casualty Insurance Agency. By all accounts Joe was a friendly, easygoing person with a winsome smile. He was often described by friends as outgoing, a witty guy who was fun to be around.

In late 1940 Congress passed this nation’s first peacetime draft requiring all men 21 to 41 to register. Joe completed his form and in May 1941 became one of the first Newnanites to be called to serve in the US Army. Private Brown was sworn in at Fort McPherson in Atlanta on June 14,1941 and soon was sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for 13 weeks of basic training. The army decided Joe would be an ideal cook, so after 13 weeks of drilling and cooking he became a Qualified First Cook.

Joe left Ft. Sill on September 23 with orders to join the 131st Field Artillery which at that time was on maneuvers in Louisiana. He was in Louisiana only a week before his unit returned home to Ft. Bowie, Texas. At Ft. Sill Joe had hoped to be transferred to Ft. Benning, Ga. to be nearer home but he accepted the move to Texas in stride saying, “Arrived here about noon. It seems like a good place and I’m sure I will like it. I have met some pretty good boys who have been nice about helping me get things straightened out.” Joe was reassigned from cooking duty to Regimental Headquarters Battery and soon was promoted to the battery clerk and to Corporal with pay of $54 a month. The new position was a much better match for his past work experience and talents. Joe did retain his First Cook certificate as he felt when given a choice a lady would prefer to marry a man who could cook.

As Joe settled into his daily routine of his new job it became obvious, he was beginning to inherit a new name at Camp Bowie. Because Joe was a newbie Kyle Thompson stated that “Knowing Joe was from Georgia, and had a deep southern accent which was pleasant to the ear, he was dubbed “Georgia” Brown and fit right in with us.” With a little encouragement Joe was known to sing Dixie or his school’s fight song (I’m a Rambling Wreck from Georgia Tech).

Joe returned to Newnan for two weeks of leave in October. He was somewhat of a celebrity as letters to the paper describing Army life had been published in the local newspaper. He also was a prolific letter writer to friends and family. These letters had ensured that he had a steady supply of cookies, cakes, cheese straws, and several knit sleeveless sweaters. One news account compared his short visit to Newnan “like a presidential candidate with Jo Jo shaking hands with everyone at the court square, telling jokes and offering tons of advice to future draftees.”

Little did Joe know that this would be his last visit to his beloved hometown. Internationally tensions were rising and the 131st would soon leave for San Francisco, Australia, Java and eventual captivity. The last personal communication received from him was a letter to his parents dated January 27, 1942, from Java. Joe expressed his delight that he was able to talk with his sister when he placed an international phone call home the week before. He was no longer receiving regular mail or any news updates from home. He reassured them that he was well and said that he and his friends were using his prized radio to listen to music and the morning news report in English. His parting words in the letter were, “I really believe that everything will turn out for the best and we will not be here long.” Five weeks later the Allies Forces on Java surrendered to the Japanese.

Joe was part of a large contingent of POWs selected to work on the Death Railway near Moulmein, Burma. He was initially at 18 Kilo Camp and worked with crews at other work camps until he fell seriously ill at the 100 Kilo Camp. Conditions there were horrendous due to the monsoon season. Joe was transported back to the old 80 Kilo Camp where the sickest were sent to die.

Charles Pryor (MC), a fellow prisoner who knew “Georgia,” recalled in a telephone call that he was in Kumi 2 and “Georgia” was in Kumi 3 (Kumi is a Japanese term for “work party”). These were work parties often working on the same RR job site. He recalled “Georgia’s “southern drawl and very dry cracking wit. Some of Joe’s comments… “you don’t have to worry we’ll make it back. I got blisters on top of blisters.” This is a WPA type government job. Pounding on a typewriter isn’t as hard as pounding on rocks.” And sadly, “I’ll have half of the half of that half ration of food.” Pryor was already at the 80 Kilo camp when Joe arrived there. The camp was designated a hospital camp but was not one as there were no medical supplies and each man sent there had his food rations reduced. The captors had written these prisoners off as they were too sick to work. With no medical treatment, only a lucky few survived this camp. During the night of November 24, 1943, a malnourished Joe aka “Jo Jo “aka “Georgia” died from a large septic tropical ulcer on his leg and dysentery. His death occurred 3 days before his 30th birthday

Shortly after the war ended Major William D. “Ike” Parker, a fellow prisoner and Auburn football player, called to pay his respects to Joe’s family and was shocked to learn that the War Department had not notified the family of Joe’s death. He filled the family and the local news media in on all of the terrible details and handed over several of Joe’s personal belongings including a drawing of Joe done by Noel Mason on 8-16-1942, at the Bicycle POW Camp in Java. Parker’s last words to Joe’s parents were “and that’s all just wish I could have brought your son back to you.”

In May of 1948: with Parker attending representing the 131st , almost five years after his death, and seven years after his last visit home, Joe’s remains arrived in Newnan. This day was to be the third military burial and third time a bugler would sound Taps over Joe’s remains. The long difficult journey had ended. His fervent wish to return home finally granted.

Bio and photos submitted by nephew, Herb McKoy.