Brigadier General Austin C. Shofner, retired, a native of Bedford County, was a career Marine Corps officer and soldier in World War II. Shofner’s heroic exploits in the Philippines–his escape from a Japanese POW camp and his work in guerrilla resistance–are remarkably detailed in his diary, which he was able to keep hidden while in the POW camps, as well as protected while hiking through the Philippine jungles. His journal is a valuable historical record of the war in the Philippines and is in the Manuscript Collections of the Tennessee State Library and Archives.
Shofner began his military career in 1941 as a lieutenant and company commander in the Fourth Marine Regiment stationed in Shanghai, China. In November 1941 the regiment was transferred to the Philippine Islands to assist the Philippine army in its defense against the expected Japanese invasion. Shofner fought in the battles around Bataan and Corregidor and received the Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster and a promotion to captain in February 1942.
In May 1942 Corregidor surrendered to the Japanese. Shofner and his group were placed in several different POW camps, where they endured many hardships. They were forced to watch as fellow soldiers were beaten and killed or died from starvation and disease. They suffered without medical attention from various battle wounds and illnesses such as malaria and dysentery. Finally, a group of ten Marines including Shofner and two Filipino soldiers took advantage of work details outside the camp walls to escape the Davao POW camp.
The escapees fled through the jungles to the northwest in April 1942 with the hope of reporting POW camp conditions to General Douglas MacArthur. With the help of Filipino guerrillas, they reached Philippine army strongholds in the jungle. There the Marines organized and guided the 110th Division, a group of U.S. military personnel and Filipino guerrillas that maintained a resistance movement around Mindanao. Submarines supplied the 110th from MacArthur’s Pacific Headquarters in Australia. During this time Shofner was promoted again, to major. His duties included deputy chief of staff and assistant for operations for the division.
In November 1943 Shofner and two other marine officers boarded the supply submarine and sailed for Australia. There Shofner received the Distinguished Service Cross from General MacArthur. Major Shofner and his fellow marines then joined the First Marine Division and participated in various Pacific Theater battles to liberate the Philippines. Shofner retired in 1959 with the rank of brigadier general.