Friday, March 24, 2017

Nannie Hereford: Missionary and Prisoner of War

By Ellen Robison

The Tennessee State Library & Archives’ collection of Tennessee newspapers on microfilm is an excellent source for researchers to get an overview of events in Tennessee history. Among the stories found within these records is that of Nannie Hereford, a former missionary in Japan who was held as a prisoner of war in the Philippines during World War II. She later returned to Japan to work for 33 more years serving the people by whom she was held hostage.

Nashville Tennessean article, dated May 3, 1945, entitled “Local Woman, Free of Japs, Returns to U. S.”

Hereford was born in 1908, in Osaka, Japan to Presbyterian missionaries, Dr. and Mrs. W. F. Hereford of Lebanon, Tennessee. She grew up in Hiroshima, Japan, but returned to Tennessee during her high school and college years. In 1932, she followed in her parents’ footsteps and accepted her own appointment for missionary work in Japan. There she worked as a teacher in Hokkaido until 1941, when tensions between Japan and the United States forced her to transfer to the Philippines. She was still working there when war broke out in the Pacific.

Nashville Tennessean article, dated April 11, 1942, entitled, “25 More State Servicemen, Civilians Believed in Philippines.” Pages 1 and 2.

An article on the April 11, 1942, front page of the Nashville Tennessean reported that 25 more individuals were added to the list of Tennesseans last known to be in the Philippines when the Japanese took control of the islands, bringing the total to 55. Among these was Hereford. Those who remained in the Philippines were taken as prisoners by the Japanese. In March of 1943, the prisoners were transferred to Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila, which held more than 4,000 civilians from several countries. Additionally, more than 60 U. S. Army nurses were also interned at Santo Tomas. In July of 1944, The Nashville Tennessean reported that Hereford’s parents had received a cablegram from her, which read: “Family welfare? Disappointed no recent mail. Nt [No] loss weight during internment. Love, Nannie Hereford.”

Nashville Tennessean article, dated July 21, 1944, entitled “Daughter Writes Parents From Jap Prison Camp.”

On Feb. 3, 1945, American troops liberated Santo Tomas Internment Camp during the month-long battle for the city of Manila. In an interview decades later, Hereford recounted that the camp was caught in the middle of the battle for about a week. At one point, she took shelter in her cooking shed, putting her cooking pan over her head. Upon emerging, she found a piece of shrapnel that had fallen on the counter quite close to where she had been. In late February of 1945, the Nashville Tennessean reported that the Hereford's family received a telegram from the war department informing them that she had been among the survivors of the camp and was in good health. She returned to the United States in May of that same year and was in Lebanon with her family when the U. S. dropped the first atomic bomb that decimated her childhood home of Hiroshima.

Nashville Tennessean article, dated Feb. 25, 1945, entitled “State Woman Freed From Manila Prison.”

Only a year passed before Hereford returned to the Philippines to continue her mission work. Several years later, she transferred back to Japan where she worked until her retirement in 1973. After retirement, Hereford kept herself busy by volunteering with various organizations including the Nashville Peace Links, where she worked as an anti-nuclear activist, and the Nashville Crisis Center, where she served as a telephone helpline operator. She was a chairperson of the legislative committee for the American Association of University Women, where she worked on important issues such as food taxation.

Tennessean article, dated May 19, 1985, entitled “77-Year-Old Promotes Peace.”

In 1985, Nashville Peace Links awarded to Hereford its annual Peace Award for her activism against nuclear weapons. In an interview with the Nashville Tennessean, she said that she had visited Hiroshima after World War II and toured the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The article quoted her as saying: “I’ve seen the museum with their horrid pictures… I don’t believe in more and more munitions. If you prepare for war, you’ll use it.”

Until her death in 1999, Hereford continued to speak out to support peace - in hopes for a world with “No more Hiroshimas, ever.”

"If you prepare for war, you'll use it." -- Nannie Hereford

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

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