By APRIL DIODATO
OBSERVER Lifestyles Editor
"The situation has changed considerably since the note I wrote you was placed in my pocketbook," wrote Captain Charles D. Tinley from Camp O'Donnell, the final stop in the Bataan Death March for American and Filipino prisoners of war taken by the Japanese in World War II. The letter was marked May 20, 1942. It was the last letter that Tinley would send home to his wife, Vera, at home in Dunkirk with their two young daughters, Nancy and Jane.
Captain Charles D. Tinley’s daughters, Jane Tinley Wilson (left) and Nancy Tinley Brown (right), came back to Dunkirk to see Brian Katta portray their father in a reenactment.
"I vividly recall and somehow better understand the 23rd Psalm, especially the latter part starting, 'Yea I shall walk--,'" the letter continued, omitting the rest of the verse. "Turn to your Bible and read it. It helps me as I recite it from memory for I lost my Bible."
The complete verse is, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: For thou art with me."
Tinley, born in Pennsylvania in 1907, met Vera at Edinboro State Teachers College. While he later attended Akron University, Tinley became interested in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC). He would become an army reserve officer in the 429th signal maintenance corps.
The couple married and bought their first home at 517 McKinley Ave. in Dunkirk, where Tinley started teaching in 1930 at the Industrial High School, School 10, on Lake Shore Drive. Their daughter Nancy was born in 1934, followed by Jane in 1935. The family attended the First Presbyterian Church, where Tinley was an elder and superintendent of Sunday School.
Tinley was the principal of the Industrial High School in Dunkirk and captain in the Reserve Officers Corps when he was called to active duty in 1941.
Tinley was marshall of the Memorial Day Parade in Dunkirk on May 29, 1941. The parade ended at the train station where he said his last goodbyes to his family and then left on the evening train for San Francisco.
Their lives would change forever.
"In the spring of 1942, Mother got the first of three telegrams she would receive from the government regarding my father," said Nancy Tinley Brown, now a resident of Cincinnati, Ohio. "I vividly remember the delivery boy peddling up to our house on a bicycle and handing the telegram to my mother. There was no one around to help shield the blow when she read that my father was missing in action. I remember Mother fighting back the tears; no doubt her worst fears had been realized."
After Tinley had left Dunkirk, he sailed on the USS President Pierce and arrived at Manila, Philippines, on June 24. According to information compiled by the Dunkirk Historical Society, he was made commander of the 54th Signal Maintenance Company at the Port of Manila. In October he moved the company to Nichols Field, 8 miles south of Manila.
The Japanese staged a sneak attack there on Dec. 7, 1941. The Battle of Bataan raged on for months. Malnutrition and lack of supplies forced the company to surrender on April 9, and Tinley marched with 76,000 other soldiers on the Bataan Death March that covered 70 miles. There was no food or water; many soldiers succumbed to dysentery or heat exhaustion.
An Evening OBSERVER article published Aug. 9, 1943, said that Tinley was listed as missing in action during this time, and the war department informed Vera. "Never giving up hope that her husband was alive, Mrs. Tinley read carefully all listings of Japanese war prisoners."
Nancy remembers the second telegram from the war department arriving later in 1942, informing the family that Tinley was a prisoner of war. Her mother was bolstered by this information, as it meant he was still alive.
As the soldiers were marched to Camp O'Donnell, the Japanese brutalized their American and Filipino prisoners, shooting some men for trying to drink water. If they were too weak to go on, they were bayoneted or shot where they fell; others were beheaded.
The men reached Camp O'Donnell - from whence Tinley sent his last letter - and then to Camp Cabanatuan. Tinley was moved to Camp Tanaguwa in Osaka, Japan, traveling to Japan on one of their transport ships (called "hellships" by POWs) called the Nagato Maru. According to the Dunkirk Historical Society, "Thousands of prisoners were sent to Japan into forced labor on these cargo ships. POWs were crammed into the holds, enduring intense heat, darkness, and lack of water and food. Thousands died on these ships and some went insane."
At the camp, 400 POWs slave labored at the Kawasaki Heavy Industry dockyard. More than 100 would die - and Tinley was one of them. He died at age 36 on Feb. 2, 1943.
"In the spring of 1943, almost two years after Daddy had left us, Mother received the third telegram saying he had died in Osaka prison camp of acute colitis," Nancy said. "This telegram was also delivered by a boy on a bicycle."
As she thinks back to each time bad news arrived, Nancy recalls that her mother's reaction was never dramatic.
"Her restraint was impressive," she said. "Who can imagine the toll it must have taken to maintain that reserve? I'm sure Mother felt she couldn't express her anguish; she had to shield Jane and me as best she could."
A DAUGHTER'S MEMORIES
When asked about her father's legacy, Nancy quotes an Evening OBSERVER editorial that touched her:
"To Captain Tinley war was not just a glorious adventure but a solemn duty to which he gave years of thoughtful preparation. He gave of his time, his effort and his loyalty to those days when too many of us were concerned with frivolous pursuits. ... We must never forget Captain Tinley."
Nancy said that Tinley's is just one story of a WWII soldier but it is symbolic of them all.
"All these men were willing to fight for our country so we have freedom."
Nancy's most vivid memories of her father were of family outings. She reminisces about her 7th birthday, April 22, 1941, when her parents took the two girls out of school and they went to Fort Niagara, in order for her father to purchase uniforms and other necessities that he would need in the Philippines. They enjoyed their time exploring the fort. She also looks back to the two or three summers during which they spent six weeks at Enfield Glen (now Trieman State Park) near Ithaca, where her father was working on his PhD at Cornell.
"He would be gone in the mornings and in the afternoons he did study, but he would take time to take us swimming," she said. "He was a good swimmer but I never caught on!"
Before Tinley departed for the Philippines, Vera had been a stay-at-home mom, fixing the big meal at noon, when Tinley wpulld come home to dine with the family. With her husband away, Vera went back to work. She worked for Knowlton's Studio for a short time developing panoramic photos of military units, and then was asked to teach in a nursery school at School No. 7.
"It was a nursery school provided with state funds so that working mothers who were doing defense work had a place for their children," Nancy said. "The need was even greater in Dunkirk and mother was asked to be a director and supervise the start-up, remodeling of facilities and hire the teachers and a cook at No. 1 school. After the war she taught in the Dunkirk Public Schools at No 7 and No 3 schools."
Since their mother taught, the sisters would have plenty of time to spend with Vera during their vacations and throughout the summer, and went to school with her while she was at School No. 1.
"My mother took such good care of us and she/we talked about him all the time and what we would do when he returned," Nancy said.
Nancy graduated from Dunkirk High School in 1952 and went to the College of Wooster in Ohio, finishing her last two years of college at SUNY Fredonia. She married her college sweetheart, a Wooster graduate, in 1956. The couple moved to Cincinnati, where Nancy's husband had taken a job with Procter and Gamble. They raised four children.
"When I came to Cincinnati as a new bride and we were getting acquainted in the new city, I would say I was from Dunkirk and in further conversation I would mention that I grew up with my mother and sister after my father left," Nancy mused. "My husband said, 'Nancy, your father did not leave the family. You must explain.'"
In June, Nancy and Jane returned to Dunkirk for the Tour of Historic Dunkirk Churches, organized by Diane Andrasik of the Dunkirk Historical Society.
"About five years ago, as I was searching for (information) for a book on Dunkirk's history, I began leafing through the over 60 scrapbooks at the Dunkirk Museum," Andrasik said. "I turned the page in one to a photo of two small girls standing next to a plaque on the wall."
The photo was of Nancy and Jane, posing next to a plaque dedicated to their father after his death in WWII. It sparked Andrasik's interest and she began doing research on Tinley, fascinated by his story. As she planned the church tour, it was decided to include portrayals of the people who lived and worshipped in those buildings.
"History is not dead, but rather very much alive if only we are willing to listen," Andrasik said. "There is a human attachment to these things we keep on shelves and in display cases."
Tinley's was the first name Andrasik thought of she began arranging the reenactments. At a car show, she ran into Richard Titus, who co-authored "No One Forgets, Our Fallen Heroes of Chautauqua County," and he passed Nancy's email address along to Andrasik. She let Nancy know about the upcoming tour and reenactment.
"I discovered she had visited the Philippines and walked the Bataan Death March route," Andrasik said. "She had visited the site where the POW camp had stood near Osaka, Japan."
The two Tinley daughters were in the audience as Dunkirk High School graduate Brian Katta portrayed their father. Katta, a member of the ROTC interested in World War II history, was honored to tell Tinley's story. He was scheduled to enter the Army in July.
"I was truly honored to have my father remembered at the Presbyterian Church," Nancy said. "Brian was so kind to these two old daughters when we met! I grew up there and was married in that church."
After listening to Katta speak, the ladies hugged him, and pointed out the pews where they used to sit.
The two daughters returned to the Dunkirk Historical Museum after the tour, sharing scrapbooks of information about their late father, containing articles, photos and letters.
Nancy also went back to see her old neighborhood, happy to find that it is nearly unchanged.
"It made me proud to be his daughter," Nancy said of the experience. "I realized more vividly that my father was a good Christian with high morals, a faithful husband, a loving father, a brave and loyal soldier but because he also loved his country he was willing to give his life for it."
Tinley left his wife with these words in his final letter:
"I only hope and pray that what little I may have done at home in addition to so much you have done will raise our children to respect us and act fairly and charitably toward all mankind ... I'm sure with God's help through prayer, you will plan a rich life. I like to quote that grand old Benediction, 'May the Lord, etc.' but instead I'll say may the kindness of the Christ Jesus be with you always. With all my love, Charles."
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