As a reminder, I should note that Byron Hot Springs, 14 miles northwest of Tracy, was the location of an ultra-secret interrogation center for Japanese and German prisoners of war.
Several weeks ago, the city of Tracy received an inquiry about Tracy’s connection to a secret base during the war. Sharon Davis, administrative assistant to City Manager Leon Churchill, sent me a copy of the query.
The email came from Ed Clawson, location still unknown, who asked about a base at Tracy where his grandfather had written he had been stationed during the war.
I realized quickly he was talking about Byron Hot Springs, where prisoners were interrogated from periods ranging from two hours to several months.
I responded to Clawson by email, giving him a brief outline of what went on at the base, which was known in most official correspondence as merely P.O. Box 651, Tracy, Ca.
The base received its mail at the Tracy Post Office, and the military wanted to keep the base’s exact location a secret.
I told him that much of the most important information gathered at the base — including details about ships, submarines and war industries — came from the Japanese prisoners.
Clawson responded: “This is all starting to make more sense to me now. Long story short: Edwin John Allen (his grandfather) spent four years in Japan as a missionary right after World War I. He spent time on U.S. subs and ships to learn the language of submarines and warships. He did interrogate both Japanese and German prisoners.”
“He said very little about what he did in Tracy, but said quite a bit about the time after Tracy. He was lieutenant commander U.S. Navy Reserve while serving in WWII. He was sent to the South Pacific to Okinawa to get the Japanese soldiers to surrender. Then off to the USS Missouri to prepare for the surrender. Unfortunately, he waited until he was pretty old before he started his memoirs, and some of it is incomplete.”
Clawson said he would send me any other information he could find about his grandfather’s duties at P.O. Box 651, Tracy, Ca. I’ll be interested if that includes what information his grandfather learned from the POWs.
The fact that the grandfather had been assigned to ships and subs to learn the terminology confirms that the gleaning of information from Japanese sailors about the subs and ships was some of the most valuable intelligence gained at the base, sometimes called Camp Tracy.
Mr. Clawson’s grandfather wasn’t the only former American missionary in Japan at the interrogation center. The Rev. Fox, whose son, Bill Fox, attended Tracy High, also had been a missionary in Japan and was assigned to the Byron Hot Springs.
The Army Military Intelligence Service was in charge of the Byron Hot Springs operation, but the Navy had a section in the basement of the hotel. Frank Shelby, later a longtime Tracy insurance agent who married a local girl, Alvera De Maria, was chief clerk of the section.
A great source for me in finding out how Camp Tracy was operated was Bill Burdette, first sergeant of the Army guard. He, too, married a local girl, La Wanda “Sammie” Morgan. Bill worked at H.J. Heinz Co. for four decades before retiring.
I know that the 2016 presidential election is a long way off, but already Hillary Clinton, after her successful tenure as secretary of state, is being mentioned seriously as a likely Democratic Party candidate.
As for the Republicans, there is no obvious front-runner, but how about Jeb Bush?
I heard Bush speak Tuesday night in Oakland, and I was impressed. The former Florida governor, son of one president and brother of another, spoke with ease and conviction.
He made a strong case for promoting upward mobility through education reform. He believes changes in immigration laws and policies are desperately needed and that a major overhaul in the income tax code is long overdue.
He sounded very much like a bona fide presidential candidate with the potential of attracting independent, young and minority voters — if he decides to be a candidate. That decision has yet to be made.
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at email@example.com.