Skip to main content

United States v. John David Provoo collection

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: MS-0536

Scope and Content

The collection (1900-2009, undated) contains biographical information, correspondence, news clippings, photographs, and audiotapes. These materials were donated by Kenneth B. Thomson, much of them given to him by Robert B. Heer, a personal correspondent of John David Provoo.

Most of the materials in the collection are related either to the Provoo family (John David and his parents and siblings) or to the trial. Biographical materials of the Provoo family include obituaries, news clippings, genealogical records, and digitally reproduced photographic prints.

The correspondence in this collection is primarily between John David Provoo and Robert and Karen Heer. Provoo served with Sergeant Heer in the military during World War II. Heer visited Provoo in New York shortly after it was announced that Provoo would be retried for treason in Maryland. In his letters, Provoo writes about life in federal prison, his court trials, and his personal problems. He tells Heer about his desire to be reinstated in the army, despite all that he was going through. Another set of later correspondence contains emails between Robert Heer and Irma Sohnchen, a relative of John David Provoo. These emails discuss the Provoo family, with Irma sharing some personal insight on various members of the family.

The audiotapes contain recordings of John David Provoo speaking in his later years to Karen and Robert Heer. Due to difficulty writing letters Provoo preferred to correspond by audiotape. On the tapes Provoo discusses his religion, how he came to become Buddhist, how he came to Hawaii, and events currently happening in his life. He also discusses his experience in Japan before the war, his struggles to receive a fair trial after his arrest for treason, and his difficulty receiving government benefits.


  • 1900-2009, undated

Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

Open for research.

Use/Re-use Restrictions

Consult Special Collections and University Archives


Kenneth Burton Thomson is the author of the manuscript, A Case of Treason: The Traitor of Corregidor (Special Collections call no. D767.4 T46x 1999). The book is an account of the death of his father, Burton Campbell “Stretch” Thomson, during the Japanese occupation of the Philippine Islands in World War II and the role Sergeant John David Provoo played in his murder. Provoo would later be tried and convicted of treason for his role in Thomson’s murder and other acts committed while a Prisoner of War.

Burton Campbell “Stretch” Thomson was a graduate of Iowa State College (University) where he earned the degree Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (1938). It was at Iowa State that he met Olive Edwina Swanson who graduated with a B.S. (1938) in applied art. After graduation he received his reserve commission as a 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. They were married in August 1938 and their first child, Kenneth Burton, was born on September 6, 1940. Lieutenant Thomson applied for foreign duty and in April 1941 he received orders to report to the Philippines.

The rest of the book describes events as they happened in the Philippines based on military transmissions and witness testimony during the Provoo trial. The book pieces together the hours leading up to the murder of Lieutenant Thomson and the eventual recovery of his remains. Several chapters in the book describe the alleged actions of Sergeant Provoo during the Japanese occupation, his arrest, and the several trials surrounding his conviction of treason and the eventual overturning of the conviction in Federal District Court. The Supreme Court later upheld the ruling that Provoo was denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial.

In September 1956, Provoo would again be in the news—this time for the arrest and sentencing in Nebraska court on a morals charge involving an 18-year-old youth. Provoo was sentenced to three years. Sometime after his release he traveled to Japan to study Nichiren Buddhism. He settled in Hawaii in 1967 as a Buddhist teacher. During his training he took the Buddhist name Nichijo Shaka. Provoo died in Hawaii on August 28, 2001.


0.21 Linear Feet (1 half-document box)


The collection is organized Alphabetically.

Processing Information

Released on 2018-11-01.

MS-0536. United States v. John David Provoo collection, 1900-2009, undated
February 11, 2021
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives Repository

403 Parks Library
701 Morrill Road
Iowa State University
Ames Iowa 50011-2102 United States
(515) 294-6672