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Tillman Joe Rutledge collection

 Collection — Container: 98.0464 - Box 1
Identifier: 98.0464

Scope and Contents

This collection relates to Sergeant Tillman Joe Rutledge, who served in the 31st Infantry Regiment of the United States Army in the Far East's Philippine Division. After the fall of Bataan in April 1942, he was captured as a prisoner of war until 1945. This collection consists of one box of personal papers, including the original diary he kept during his internment and photocopies. It also contains an original draft and signed copy of his book My Japanese POW Diary Story; a 36-page oral history transcript; letters to and from his family; newspaper clippings; various government documents; and photographs.


  • Created: 1924-2002
  • Other: Majority of material found in 1941 - 1945
  • Other: Date acquired: 08/17/1998


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to all researchers.

Conditions Governing Use

All requests for permission to quote, publish, broadcast or otherwise reproduce from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Associate Dean for Special Collections & Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Florida State University Libraries as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the researcher.

Biographical or Historical Information

Tillman Joe Rutledge was born on February 29, 1924, in Goodman, Texas to Daniel Tillman “Pete” Rutledge and Alvajoe Phillips. The eldest of three, he had two younger brothers who also served in the armed forces during the Second World War: Waymon and Lloyd. His parents separated at an undisclosed time, and he grew up in nearby Merkel with his father and stepmother, Velma. Tillman did not complete his senior year of high school, choosing instead to enlist in the U.S. Army. Because he was only seventeen at the time, he had to do so with his father's permission. He was sworn in on March 14, 1941, in Abilene, Texas. By April 22, he had crossed the Pacific on the U.S. Republic and become a member of the 31st Infantry Regiment of the United States Army in the Far East's (USAFFE) Philippine Division, also known as the "Polar Bears." He was assigned to F Company at Estado Mayor, the U.S. Army headquarters in Manila. During this time, he frequently wrote letters home to his father, brothers, and girlfriend Peggy.

The Japanese invaded on December 8, 1941, shortly after the U.S. declared war in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. By early January General Douglas MacArthur ordered the American and Filipino defenses to withdraw into the Bataan Peninsula, a plan known as "War Plan Orange." The 31st Infantry covered USAFFE’s retreat at Layac Junction. Though they were successful, it was captured soon afterward, marking the start of the Battle of Bataan which lasted from January 7, 1942, until April 9. Tillman was captured by the Imperial Japanese Army that very day. In addition to surviving the Bataan Death March, he was a prisoner of war (POW) in camps in the Philippines and later Japan. He was believed to be missing in action from the fall of Corregidor on May 7, 1942, until confirmed as a POW April 17, 1943.

Tillman was interned at eight camps over three and a half years, listed here in the names as he referred to them. In the Philippines, he was interned at Camp O'Donnell, Cabanatuan (Hospital Side, #2, and #3), Lipa Batangas, Bilibid, and Las Pinas. He was transferred to Japan in July 1943 and interned at Tanagawa (aka Osaka POW Camp #4-B), Camp #8 (aka Fukuoka #8 Inatsuki), and Fukuoka Camp #11 (aka Hiroshima #4 Mukaijima). During this time, he kept a secret diary of important dates, recording his experience as a POW in short entries. Most notably, he describes the terrible working conditions, malnutrition, the Japanese guards’ abuse, and his own poor health. He even had an appendectomy at Cabanatuan under primitive conditions. He describes interactions with other POWs, as well, most often about his friend J.B. McBride who was also from Merkel. McBride passed away during their internment at Camp O’Donnell on October 20, 1942.

Following the announcement of Imperial Japan’s surrender, the Japanese abandoned Fukuoka Camp #11 on August 15, 1945. Rations were airdropped by Allied forces, which sustained the POWs until they were liberated. Tillman was officially returned to military control on September 12 at Konoya Airfield. From there, he flew to Okinawa where he was briefly reunited with his brother Waymon. On September 19 he left Okinawa for the Philippines. He stayed in Manila—partying with fellow soldiers, ex-POWs, and local women—until October 9 when he boarded the U.S.S. Marine Shark for the States. He landed in San Francisco sometime between October 30 and November 1, and eventually returned home to Merkel, Texas.

Tillman would go on to join and serve in the United States Air Force for twenty-six years, retiring as the highest enlisted rank of chief master sergeant. He was highly decorated, the recipient of the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, the POW medal, Combat Infantry Badge, and four Purple Hearts. Among many duty stations—throughout the U.S., England, and even Japan—he was assigned as an instructor for the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at Florida State University (FSU). It was here where he met his wife Joyce, whom he married in 1951. They had five children together and were married until her death in 1997. Tillman passed away on October 25, 2014, in San Antonio, Texas.


1.00 boxes

Language of Materials


Custodial History

Transferred from the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience to FSU Libraries Special Collections & Archives in July 2022.

Source of Acquisition

Tillman Joe Rutledge

Method of Acquisition

Donated by Tillman Joe Rutledge

Related Materials

This link is Rutledge's obituary, offering a concise overview of his life, family, and achievements:

Processing Information

Processed January 2018

Tillman Joe Rutledge collection
Elaine-Mae Ignacio
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the FSU Special Collections & Archives Repository

116 Honors Way
PO Box 3062047
Tallahassee FL 32306-2047 US