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Wright Painter (alternately Paynter) Shill, Jr. was born into a strong pioneer family in Lehi, Arizona. The family farmed cotton and other crops and raised cattle for dairy products. It was a very hard and lean life, but the result was a family of hardy and resilient individuals. The men of the family supplemented the household table with the rewards of various hunting trips. Junior, as family and friends called him, always enjoyed hunting and was an excellent shot.

Junior graduated from Mesa Union High School and worked drilling wells while continuing his family farming and dairy work. He joined the United States Navy where he was trained as an aircraft mechanic.

While in the Navy, Junior served aboard various aircraft carriers and eventually was assigned to USS Canopus AS-9, a submarine tender. How or why an aircraft mechanic came to be assigned to a submarine tender is a mystery, but it may have been because he was to go to China which was a routine event for Canopus. Canopus was in Manila harbor when the Japanese attacked the Philippines on December 8, 1941.

Canopus was struck by enemy fire in Mariveles Bay on December 29, but remained afloat. Her crew worked diligently and unceasingly to repair her, while leaving smudge pots burning aboard to give the impression that she was dying. The crew also continued assisting in duties on other vessels to maintain the fleet.

When it became evident that Canopus would be lost to the Japanese, she was scuttled by her crew so she couldn't be of use to the enemy. The crew then was transferred to duty on Corregidor. Junior was assigned to the 4th Marine Battalion.

Corregidor eventually fell to the enemy, and the troops were taken prisoner. Numerous Japanese POW camps arose in the Philippines to accommodate the multitude of service men and women who were captured. Junior was initially taken to Cabanatuan but was later "chosen" go to a labor camp in Japan.

He was taken aboard "Hellship" Nagato Maru and arrived in Osaka on Thanksgiving Day, 1942. In Osaka, he spent most of his internment at Umeda Bunsho POW camp until March 1945 when the prisoners were moved to Tsuruga. Firebombing destroyed Umeda Bunsho in May of 1945 and Tsuruga was bombed in July or August while the prisoners were interned there.

As a prisoner of war, Junior worked as slave labor for shipping lines. He suffered severe malnutrition as well as physical and emotional abuse that would haunt him both physically and psychologically for the rest of his life.

When he was finally repatriated after the war ended, Junior returned to his well drilling and helping with the family dairy work and farming. He was also in the Arizona Guard and trained at Fort Huachuca.

He soon married and and had two daughters and a son. Junior took advantage of the GI Bill, earning a degree in medical technology from what is now Arizona State University in Tempe. He initially worked at the Southside Clinic in Mesa, then later at Williams Air Force Base in Chandler until his retirement.

Junior continued his avid pursuit of hunting throughout his life. The rewards of his hunts were always put to very good use. He was an excellent cook and he also made jerky from his kills. No food ever went to waste. While he lived in town his farming endeavors eventually abated to smaller scale gardening, but always involved having a ready food supply. All these undertakings were despite the effects of chronic injuries suffered while he was a prisoner of war.

Junior did live life to the fullest, perhaps always trying to make up for the three and a half years of his life that he lost to imprisonment. But he did enjoy so much of the life he lived. Unfortunately, he paid a terrible price for the deprivations and abuses he suffered for so long.

Wright P. Shill, Jr. passed away on Thanksgiving Day of 1979 at the age of 59.

Read More About: Junior's Life as a Prisoner of War Under the Japanese
The Story of USS Canopus AS-9

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