Illustrious Brother Cletis Overton is a World War II Veteran that fought the Japanese in the Philippines when he was in his early twenties. Brother Overton was also taken as a Prisoner of War by the Japanese while serving and spent nearly 3 years in captivity while suffering through starvation, dehydration and physical abuse. Of about 62,000 Filipinos and 10,000 Americans, Cletis was one of the unfortunate prisoners that suffered through and survived the infamous Bataan Death March. On August 20, 1944, Cletis and his fellow prisoners were marched down to the local dock and caused to board a Japanese cargo ship. Cletis had been defeated in everyway imaginable; he endured the weeklong Bataan Death March and about 3 years in various prison camps. Even though they had all been treated in the same terrible and inhumane manner and he had watched many of his comrades die or killed, Cletis was still alive, and he attributed this to his unshakable will and faith in God. As they boarded the ship the Japanese forced them all down in a lower level room where they were packed in like sardines. After a while they stopped and 150 more men were loaded onto the ship. After a few more days the ship stopped again and the men where moved to a Japanese freighter, the Shinyo Maru. They were now on their way to Japan and it was well known that there was no escaping if you made it there. On September 7, 1944 there was a loud explosion and Cletis was immediately overtaken by a wave of rushing water. Many things were rushing through Cletis’ mind as he fought to keep from drowning, the first thought was to take a big gulp of water and end his pain but then he thought about his parents and his family and friends back in Arkansas. But the last thought that went through his mind was that if he died his parents would not know that he had become a Christian and that if he died at that moment, he realized that he had never done anything for the Lord. He promised God that if he survived he would share his testimony of faith every time he shared this story, and he has to this day.
An American submarine had come along and fired a torpedo at the Japanese freighter that Cletis was on, as it was going down Cletis got free from the wreckage and swam to a piece of timber that a few survivors were hanging on to. As he grabbed hold Cletis heard a familiar noise and noticed the water spattering around him, he was being shot at by the deck machine guns as the ship was going down. He dove under water until his lungs could not take it any longer and he surfaced again to find no one left on the timber. Cletis then began his swim towards land but was badly shaken by the explosion and had shrapnel in his shoulder. As he swam he noticed a Japanese man calling for help, Cletis could tell that the man was badly injured and only staying above water with his life preserver. Cletis knew these men were still dangerous as they always carried a bayonet on them and the last thing he wanted to do was get stabbed in the middle of the ocean. As he approached the man he pulled him in closer by the strings of the life preserver until he was right behind him and Cletis grabbed the man, shoving him into the water until he did not move. Cletis took the mans life preserver and swam to land to reunite with his fellow survivors. Of the 750 POW’s on the Shinyo Maru only 83 survived it’s sinking and 1 died once he reached the shore, Cletis Overton was one of the 82 left and he is still alive today.
After serving his beloved country and surviving so many extraordinary hardships, Cletis went on to serve the Scottish Rite in Little Rock, AR with great distinction for many years. Cletis received the 33rd Degree on 12/13/1969 and is the most tenured 33rd Degree Mason in the State of Arkansas. In the Valley of Little Rock Cletis served from 1972-1975 as the Commander of the Council of Kadosh, 1975-1978 as the Master of Kadosh, 1978-1983 as the Venerable Master and 1983-1986 as the Executive Secretary. Cletis was a great ritualist and worked in many of the degrees, conferring the 32nd Degree and for many years conferring the 33rd Degree on the brethren of Arkansas that did not travel to Washington, D.C. Cletis will be 95 years old on April 5, 2015 and lives in Malvern, AR with his wife Adrianne. Cletis is not only a treasure in Arkansas but he is a national treasure and every Scottish Rite Mason in the world should be proud to call him Brother! I know I am!!