Monday, April 27, 2015

In memory Major Thomas Smothers, Jr. - POW of Japan

Wall of the Missing American Cemetery Manila

April 26th is the 70th anniversary of the death Major Thomas Bolyn Smothers, Jr. He was a West Point Graduate and a member of the 45th Infantry Regiment, Philippine Scouts.

He was the father of the Smothers Brothers comedy team.

Major Smothers survived Battle of Bataan and the Bataan Death March. He endured harsh captivity for nearly three years in Cabanatuan, a POW camp on the Philippines. It is the trip to become a hostage, slave laborer for Japan that he did not survive.

On 13 December 1944, he was among 1619 prisoners, the majority officers, who were marched from Bilibid Prison to Pier 7, Manila. At dusk, they were marched aboard the Oryoku Maru, divided into three groups, and forced down into three dark holds.

What followed was probably the most infamous of the Hell Ship voyages. American bombers sunk the Oryoku Maru barely out of port. POW survivors were kept for five tortuous days on an abandoned tennis court, exposed to the tropical sun with little water or food.

On December 27. the men were again packed aboard a freighter, the Enoura Maru to Formosa. This ship's holds were not cleaned of its previous cargo, horses. They arrived in Takao, Formosa on New Year's Day only to be left on board for over a week, where they were again bombed by American planes. The Japanese took days to remove the dead and did little to help the wounded.

Finally on January 13, 1945, the survivors were packed on the Brazil Maru to Moji Japan arriving January 31st. Smothers was judged as one of those in the worst shape and sent along with 109 others to "Moji Hospital" more properly known as Kokura Army Hospital.

After a month he and most of the few survivors of Kokura Army hospital were brought to Fukuoka #22 camp that provided POW slave labor to Sumitomo steel.

Smothers was never well enough to perform any labor at the camp. He was taken from Fukuoka #22 to the Fukuoka city docks on April 25th. Either on the dock or at sea on the steamer to Fusan, Korea, Major Smothers died. Some report he was buried at sea, others say his body was carried on to Mukden, China and cremated.

Only 36 of the 110 men brought to Kokura Army hospital survived the war, with Smothers being the last to die. Only 271 of men from the Oryoku Maru survived through to liberation in late August 1945.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Does the Japanese PM have remorse?

Digger History
In July 2014, Prime Minister Abe traveled to Australia and gave a speech to the country's parliament. His words were well received and viewed as thoughtful and healing. Thus, there is a focus on Abe's speech Down Under as a model for his upcoming address to a joint meeting of Congress on April 29th, Emperor Hirohito's birthday.

Will Americans and America's Pacific war veterans be satisfied with the same sort of statement? To understand why this is problematic, we reprint and analyze the relevant sections here:
Our fathers and grandfathers lived in a time that saw Kokoda and Sandakan. How many young Australians, with bright futures to come, lost their lives? And for those who made it through the war, how much trauma did they feel even years and years later, from these painful memories?

I can find absolutely no words to say. I can only stay humble against the evils and horrors of history.

May I most humbly speak for Japan and on behalf of the Japanese people here in sending my most sincere condolences towards the many souls who lost their lives.

I can find absolutely no words to say. I can only stay humble against the evils and horrors of history.
May I most humbly speak for Japan and on behalf of the Japanese people here in sending my most sincere condolences towards the many souls who lost their lives.
Many people believe that the Prime Minister used the word "remorse" in the speech. This is not true. It is not in the document.

Instead, he sends” his “condolences towards the many souls who lost their lives." It is a general expression of empathy without any hint of responsibility. Who was responsible for the dead?

Abe merely mentions “Sandakan." It dangles out there without explanation or reflection. It is associated with distant time, not tied to a series of human decisions. He does not say that “Sandakan” was a series of senseless death marches in 1945 on Borneo for approximately 2,400 Australian and British POWs. Only six Australians survived. Of those who died, most were never found.

He did not say that Sandakan was a callous, premeditated war crime perpetrated by an incompetent and fanatical leadership. He did not say that it was an atrocity perpetrated by Imperial Japan. He did not say there was any justification to march to death or murder these sick and defenseless men.

Americans should insulted if Abe mentioned the Bataan Death March in as off-handed a manner. No former POW of Japan will be satisfied to only receive a condolence for his suffering and the deaths of his buddies. They do not want a promise to do better and they certainly do not want condescending pity. They want the assurance that comes with acknowledgment of responsibility. They want to hear remorse.

Prime Minister Abe objects to his country’s past war apologies. He walked out on the vote for the 1995 war apology. He now shuns apologies and never mentions who was responsible for his country's most fatal mistakes.

Abe will squander his grandest opportunity to show that Japan has learned from 70 years of peace if he fails to say that Imperial Japan was responsible for the War. Americans want less an apology than an affirmation that what happened was wrong, very wrong.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day, 2015

For more than two centuries, courageous patriots have fought and sacrificed to secure the freedoms that define our Nation's character and shape our way of life. With honor and distinction, they have borne the burdens of defending these values, enduring tremendous hardship so that we might know a freer, safer, more peaceful world. On National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day, we honor the women and men who traded their liberty -- and sometimes their lives -- to protect our own, and we acknowledge the profound debt of gratitude we owe these extraordinary members of our Armed Forces.

Thousands of American servicemen and women have experienced unimaginable trials and profound cruelty as prisoners of war. Many suffered mental and physical torture. Often they faced starvation, isolation, and the uncertainty of indefinite captivity. But even in their darkest moments, these heroes displayed courage and determination. They met immense anguish with an indomitable resolve and stood fast for the principles in which they believed. Their sacrifice represents what is best about our people and challenges us to live up to our Nation's highest ideals.

These warriors endured days, months, and sometimes years of imprisonment, missing irreplaceable milestones and simple moments at home. But they were never forgotten; they were remembered every day by loved ones. Families, friends, and communities -- sustained by unyielding devotion through periods of painful unknown -- never lost hope. And the United States of America remained deeply committed to our profound obligation to never leave our men and women in uniform behind.

As we reflect on the sacrifices that have made progress throughout our world possible, we are reminded of our solemn duty to serve our former prisoners of war, their families, and all our veterans as well as they served us. Today, we recommit to upholding this sacred trust, and we pay tribute to all those who have given of themselves to protect our Union.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 9, 2015, as National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day. I call upon all Americans to observe this day of remembrance by honoring all American prisoners of war, our service members, and our veterans. I also call upon Federal, State, and local government officials and organizations to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand fifteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-ninth.


Sunday, April 05, 2015

73rd anniversary of the Fall of Bataan April 9, 2015

Today, March 5th, the start of Philippine Veterans Week.

The Philippines and Filipinos throughout the US will observe the 73rd anniversary of the Fall of Bataan this coming Thursday, April 9th.

The day, also referred to as “Araw ng Kagitingan” (Day of Valor) is a legal holiday nationwide as stipulated in Republic Act 3022 which President Carlos P. Garcia signed in 1961. Read the full text of RA 3022 in this link.

The law calls on all Filipinos particularly their public officials to observe a one-minute silence at 4:30 o’clock in the afternoon of April 9 and to hold appropriate rites in honor of the veterans of the Fall of Bataan in particular and World War II in general.

The Fall of Bataan happened in April 9, 1942, when Filipino and American fighters isolated for months in Bataan surrendered to the Japanese Imperial Army under General Masaharu Homma.

This came after Major General Edward P. King of the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) came to the conclusion that further attempts to stop the Japanese from advancing would be useless. Most of the survivors of the Japanese offensive were then forced to march from Mariveles, Bataan all the way to San Fernando, Pampanga before traveling in tiny box cars via train to Camp O’Donnell in Tarlac.

The 65-BATAAN DEATH MARCH killed approximately 8,000 Filipino and 600 American troops.  At Camp O'Donnell thousands died. During the first 4 months 300 POWs died a day.

In Washington, a memorial will be held on April 9th at the World War II Memorial on the Mall and Embassy of the Philippines.

TIME: 4:45 – 5:30 PM


* VFW Washington Department Color Guard (Color Guard Commander – Jay Cabacar)
* Taps to be performed by James Cruzada Alleva
* Philippine Embassy Personnel
* FIL-AM Community of Metro DC
* Other Guests


* 4:45 – 5:15 PM : Assembly
* 5:15 – 5:30 PM : Wreath Laying Ceremony
HON. PATRICK CHUASOTO Chargé d’ Affaire, Philippine Embassy
* 5:30 PM : End of Ceremony


TIME: 6:30 – 8:30 PM

* Philippine & US National Anthem (James Cruzada Alleva- Trumpet)
* Invocation – (WW2 Veteran)
* Recognition of WW2 Veterans and families present
* Welcome Remarks & Introduction of the Speaker - MGen Delfin N. Lorenzana AFP(Ret)
Chargé d’ Affaire, Philippine Embassy
* Video/Film Clips Showing:
*Death March Recollection – by a veteran
*26th Annual Bataan Memorial March (3/22/2015)

Office of Veterans Affairs
Embassy of the Philippines
Tel: 202-467-9427; 202-467-9410

And what of the fate of the torturers

Award-winning newsman Bob Simon died this past National Foundation Day, Japan's holiday to remember its Empire and the establishment of the Imperial family. One of his most inspiring stories for 60 Minutes was on Louis Zamperini. It won an Emmy. Simon went to Japan to track down Mitsuhiro WATANABE who was the torturer of Zamperini and hundreds of others who passed through the POW camps at Omori and Naoetsu where Watanabe was a brutal guard. Simon found him and the interview is above. Zamperini had wanted to meet Watanabe, but the unrepentant former Imperial Army captain refused.

Watanabe had escaped arrest by going into hiding during the American Occupation of Japan. He escaped prosecution when Washington suspended the arrest warrants of suspected war criminals after the San Francisco Peace Treaty went into effect on April 1, 1952.  With this, Watanabe was free to emerge from hiding and become a typical Japanese salaryman--an insurance salesman to be exact.

click to order
Watanabe severely beat and psychologically tortured Zamperini and was reviled among the other POWs, American and Allied. Yet, frankly and sadly, Watanabe was not the exception. Imperial Japan's fascist state had forged beasts from simple peasants and school boys.

Legendary war historian Max Hastings wrote in Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45 about the shocking Japanese treatment of POWs that has horrified and “fascinated” Westerners ever since. He noted that the POW’s “liberators were stunned by the stories they heard: of starvation and rampant disease; of men worked to death in their thousands, tortured or beheaded for small infractions of discipline.” He said that “It seemed incomprehensible that a nation with pretensions to civilisation could have defied every principle of humanity and the supposed rules of war.”