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Dedicated July 4, 2008



After his discharge, John Playter worked as a geologist, farmer, and engineer before retiring in 1986. He and his wife, Charlene, raised two daughters, Phyllis and Jane.


Despite being known as a kind man with a sweet and witty spirit, John for more than 50 years felt a deep hatred toward his Japanese captors. Friends knew to avoid the subject.


Finally, during a series of church services on forgiveness, John “realized that I could not love God and hate the Japanese that had so mistreated me.”


Finally, he publicly professed his unforgiving spirit.


“This confession freed me of the hate that had been eating me from within for over fifty years,” he wrote in his book, “Survivor,” published in 2000.


Finally being freed of the hatred, he began to share his story in many travels to civic meetings and schools. The story is of struggle, courage, eventual freedom, enduring service and ultimate forgiveness and redemption.


Donated by First Baptist Church of Bolivar





BY Bernadett Charley Gallegos


JUL. 31, 2010 — Looking at the general route my family would drive from Albuquerque to Great Lakes, Illinois the week of July 21 thru July 28, specifically at the section of US Interstate 44 between Joplin, Missouri and Springfield, Illinois, where Lebanon, Missouri is located — where John Shields and Cleophas Millard, 200th Coast Artillery men who both died at Cabanatuan prisoner of war camp in 1942, are buried — I was zooming in on Lebanon and saw Bolivar, Missouri on the map. I could not at first recall why the name was familiar to me, but eventually I remembered it is where the John Playter Rotary Park (or Johnny Playter Park) is located.


Johnny Playter was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 88th Field Artillery (Philippine Scouts), and a survivor of the Bataan Death March. He was one of only 83 prisoners of war to survive the September 7, 1944 sinking of the unmarked “Hell Ship” Shinyo Maru which was carrying 750 American prisoners of war, and the killing fire from Japanese guards that followed when the men who survived the explosions came up out of the holds and over the sides into the water. One of the 83 survivors would later die on the beach.


Two of those survivors were 200th Coast Artillery men, Mike Pulice and William ‘Bill’ Horabin.


Bolivar would only take us an hour out of the way to visit, an easy shot north from I-44 and then east to Lebanon following, but we were going to be on a tight schedule, and I had already given up the idea of a side trip to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery where the Palawan Massacre victim’s grave site is located as well as other group burials containing the remains of our men because we had to make it from Joplin to Great Lakes in the one day, and navigating through and around St. Louis at what looked like evening rush hour would be too big a time deficit to chance. I Googled Bolivar and read an article that described it as “one of the best places to live in America.” That carrot dangling, I was still undecided, but jotted down the information and asked the husband to add the Park to his GPS.


Getting out of Joplin a couple of hours late, I fought the urge to say, “Let’s just go on to Lebanon.”


After a grand country drive north of Springfield, Missouri, we arrived at the outskirts of Bolivar. Green, tidy, good roads. This just might be a nice town.


We found the Park at the end of a neatly manicured neighborhood. Having looked at photos of the area prior to construction while initially searching for information, I was amazed at the overall transformation. Trees, flowers, a walk over bridge… beautiful.


The sign on the wrought iron entrance reads, “Freedom Park”, and directly behind it is a shiny black obelisk bearing the likeness of John Playter and his story on its four sides. Just behind the obelisk, is a flag pole. The obelisk and the flag pole, sit within a circle of concrete which is bordered by benches made of the same black stone, and six tablets describing the purpose and history of the park, and which give more on the life of John Playter. Nearly half the circle is bordered by a concrete wall, inlayed with black stone notes of friendship and affection for John Playter or memorials to other cherished veterans from citizens of the community. The wall dips down and into the earth, a little like the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC. The overall memorial might be considered small by some standards, but in its purpose, it is massive.


After we had been at the park for a bit, a car drove up. The elderly couple inside were probably a bit scared when my never shy husband who was blessed with the gift of gab — and thank Goodness he is — approached the window and asked the couple if they had known John Playter. We learned the couple was Mr. and Mrs. Keith Parminter. Mr. Parminter is a combat veteran of the Korean war and he and Mr. Playter were “good buddies”. Mrs. Parminter had lived in New Mexico once upon a time, down south near Silver City, and on this day, appropriately enough, was wearing turquoise jewelry.


We explained why were at the Park, and Mr. Parminter told us how he and Mr. Playter were both Rotarians, and that the Rotary Club was much involved in development in Bolivar. Before we knew it, we were following the Parminters to the local newspaper office because Mrs. Parminter thought I should meet one of its writers, however, the man was out of the office that day. Mrs. Parminter pointed out a building down the street and told us that it used to be “the mill” her father had owned and operated, and then she thought we should see Dunnegan Memorial Park. And so, we followed the Parminters to Dunnegan Park. We were all a-Wow passing the Court House. Dunnegan Park was absolutely beautiful, and huge, complete with swans majestically skimming the lake.


We still had a mission however, and we had to say good-bye and make our way on to Lebanon.


It was truly a pleasure visiting Bolivar. Brief visit that it was. Never one to use words like “charming” and “quaint“, I cannot think of words that would describe Bolivar better. If all the folks are like the Parminters, I could agree, Bolivar might just be “one of the best places in America to live.”


Feeling strongly that the Parminter's kindness to strangers should be acknowledged, and that John Playter Park was deeply appreciated by folks from afar, I fired off an E-mail to Dave Berry, Publisher of the Bolivar Herald-Free Press, who — only added to my belief that Bolivar's people must all possess a giving spirit — was kind enough to share some photographs, including this one of John Playter and Keith Parminter, saying, “Keith was in the hospital and unable to attend the dedication of the Freedom Plaza. We arranged for him to meet up with John later so both could spend some time looking it over. John didn't have much opportunity to do that on that hot July 4 day we dedicated it.”


John Playter at Park's Dedication
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