NORTH HAVEN — They might have become just four more names mentioned dutifully each Memorial Day, but now, thanks to hours of research, years of careful preservation and downtime provided by the pandemic, the story of four prisoners of war from North Haven may reach a much wider audience.

“The Four Boys” is a Ken Burns-style documentary created by a young woman from North Haven, Jacqueline Curtis. It is her first movie, but it has sold out three showings on the island.

Curtis grew up hearing the stories about four boys who perished in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps in the Philippines during World War II. Three of them are distantly related to her and their story was a passion for her parents and many other island residents.

The boys were Charles Baird, Harold Morrison, Arthur Calderwood and Hugh Parsons.

Pictured are, from left, Harold Morrison, Charles Baird, Hugh Parsons, Arthur Calderwood and Paul Calvin at Clark Field in the Philippines during World War II. Photo courtesy of the North Haven Historical Society

These boys grew up in North Haven, weathered the Depression and went to local schools. Morrison’s father was the lighthouse keeper at Goose Rocks. Financial difficulties caused by the Depression made going into the military more attractive to them, and they enlisted before the war even started for the U.S.

Curtis notes too that each of them had suffered heartaches after breaking up with island girlfriends, and that might also have contributed to their decision to go into the military.

These small-town Maine boys ended up traveling across the country to California and then on to Hawaii, Guam and Manila in the Philippines. They were stationed at Nichols Field and Clark Field in the Philippines.

U.S. and Filipino troops suffered losses as Japan invaded the Philippines in December 1941, and fighting continued into 1942. The young men were taken prisoner during this early part of the war in the Pacific.

The North Haven boys were part of the infamous Bataan Death march, in which Japanese forces made thousands of U.S. and Filipino prisoners walk more than 60 miles through tropical heat without food, water, sanitary facilities or medical treatment. Those who failed to march were beaten, abused and in some cases executed. Thousands died, but the North Haven boys made it.

However, in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps soldiers were forced to endure starvation, disease, and draconian punishments. Three of the men perished during this ordeal. The last of them, Harold Morrison, was in the process of being moved from the Philippines in a Japanese ship, the Arisan Maru, when it was torpedoed by a U.S. sub and destroyed. Morrison was killed.

Amazingly, the story of the four boys has been preserved for all of the intervening years. Their relatives kept all of their letters home as well as some of the letters sent out by one mother that ended up returned to her after her son had died. In addition, their writings were the subject of articles in The Courier-Gazette, which have also been preserved in clippings. A number of photos also survive, and Curtis was able to obtain more information by having their records declassified by the military.

The letters of these four are read by island residents in voice-overs in the documentary as photos and war footage are shown on the screen.

The film also includes interviews with Betty Brown, who is Hugh Parson’s sister, and Mary Lou Baird, who is Charles Baird’s sister.

Betty Brown, left, and Mary Lou Baird are sisters of two of the four young men from North Haven who died as prisoners of war in the Pacific. Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Curtis

Brown recalls how her mother, Ruth Parsons was devastated by the loss and never recovered from it.

Curtis grew up hearing about the boys in stories around the kitchen table and at events including Memorial Day ceremonies. She graduated high school in 2003 and studied Environmental Studies and Sustainable Agriculture at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She worked on and off the island for a time creating various opportunities for people to experience therapeutic farming and nature-based activities. At the beginning of the pandemic, she returned to her hometown and started working on a film about the boys.

North Haven Historical Society Executive Director Jacqueline Curtis is now also a filmmaker with the documentary “The Four Boys,” about North Haven men fighting in the Pacific. Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Curtis

She said she wanted to see more representation of events including the Bataan Death March in film. However, this was a major challenge as a new filmmaker. She also found herself on a tight self-imposed deadline, wanting to get the project finished in time for the boys’ surviving sisters to be able to see it.

She enlisted the help of San Diego-based, Emmy-nominated filmmaker Tim Trevaskis, who edited the film. She notes with some humor that the editing discussions were all conducted over Zoom. She had an “in” with Trevaskis in that his brother lives on the island.

In addition, numerous North Haven residents, many of them directly related to the four boys, offered their voice talents to the project.

For Curtis and others involved, the project was more than just the story of these four men — it is a story about North Haven.

“In letters, the boys talked about what they missed on North Haven,” Curtis said. “I found myself taking walks and going for rides and I was seeing North Haven differently.”

The story has been preserved with letters home from the war and stories from The Courier-Gazette. Photo courtesy of the North Haven Historical Society

The movie played to three full-house showings at the island’s famous Waterman’s Community Center, and a showing is planned at Southern Harbor Eldercare.

However, Curtis has set her sights on bringing the story to a larger audience, with showings at film festivals. In addition, she considers the film to be a work in progress. Now that the tight deadline has been met, she wants to take the time to update and re-edit the documentary to include more stories and information and another coat of polish.

She has also earned herself a place in North Haven’s ongoing preservation efforts. She is the newly appointed Executive Director of the North Haven Historical Society.

The film is a significant achievement showing that these veterans may be gone, but their courage and sacrifice will be long remembered.

Letters from soldiers in World War II could offer relief or mean heartbreak for those waiting at home. Photo courtesy of the North Haven Historical Society