Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Pearl Harbor, Midway and the American POWs of Japan

This year is the 78th anniversary of the "date that will live in infamy" -- December 7, 1941.

Few know that Japan bombed not only Pearl Harbor that day, but also the U.S. territories of The Philippine Islands, Wake, Midway, Guam, and Howland Island, as well as Hong Kong, Bangkok, Shanghai, Malaya, and Singapore.

The June 1942 Battle of Midway has been recently in the news as a new film has come out and two of the sunken Japanese aircraft carriers have been found. I have seen the movie and it is not as bad as many have said. It does its job and shows the incredible bravery of the young men who took to the seas and skies to fight the Japanese onslaught. However, it is helpful to know the history, and the dialogue is horrid. Here is a Smithsonian article comparing the various Midway movies,

The film correctly depicts the capture and murder of one American airman. There were actually three, maybe four POWs who were held by the Japan's Imperial Navy from this battle. Three were from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) and executed aboard the Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer Makigumo. After a brutal interrogation, they were bound with ropes, tied to weighted fuel cans, and then thrown overboard to drown. The Makigumo hit a mine off Guadalcanal in 1943 and sank. One POW, Ensign Osmus was from the USS Yorktown and captured by the Arashi. He was thrown overboard, but managed to grab the chain railing. A fire axe was then employed to complete the execution.

The above link to the POWs' "Find a Grave" site
Please visit and add a flower of remembrance

Friday, November 22, 2019

Guaranteeing a rest in peace

Tuesday, November 19, 2019 - 2:00pm
House Committee on Oversight and Reform

The hearing will help inform the public about the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s (DPAA) accounting efforts and allow the Subcommittee to conduct oversight of DPAA’s performance. The hearing will also examine whether DPAA has the necessary resources to carry out its mission, as well as whether it has used these resources effectively since its formation in 2015.

In fiscal year 2019, the DPAA recorded 218 identifications, the highest yearly total reached by the agency or its predecessor organizations, bringing important closure to family and loved ones.

Panel One
Kelly McKeague
Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency

Panel Two
Mark Noah
Chief Executive Officer
History Flight

Vincent “B.J.” Lawrence
Washington Office Executive Director
Veterans of Foreign Wars

Jo Anne Shirley
Former Chair
National League of POW/MIA Families

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Never Forgotten - November 2 Funeral for USCG LT Crotty

LT Thomas James Eugene "Jimmy" Crotty was the only member of the US Coast Guard to become a POW of Japan. His combat record garnered the Coast Guard a battle streamer for the Philippines Campaign. He will "return" home on November 1, 2019. Semper Paratus

Arlington Cemetery Memorial
His remains were recently identified after being exhumed from Common Grave 312 in the American Cemetery and Memorial in Manila in the Philippines.

There are many opportunities during LT Crotty's return home from Hawaii to Buffalo, New York to honor him. Please take a moment to sign his "tribute wall" LINK HERE

On Thursday October 31, the repatriation ceremony for LT Crotty at Coast Guard will be held at Air Station Barbers Point, Kapolei, Hawaii at 11:00am. During the repatriation ceremony, a Coast Guard Honor Platoon led by Rear Adm. Kevin Lunday, commander, Coast Guard 14th District, will escort Crotty’s remains from the hearse to a HC-130 Hercules airplane and accompany the remains to Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento. There the casket will be transferred to another plane to continue its journey home.

On Friday, November 1, his arrival honors will be held at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, 10405 Lockport Rd., New York at 10:00am. 

All are invited to join LT Crotty's family on Saturday, November 2nd at Noon for a funeral Mass for LT Crotty at the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Buffalo, New York. He will be buried with full military honors next to his parents in Holy Cross Cemetery, 2900 South Park Avenue, Lackawanna, Erie County, New York. Commandant of the Coast Guard Admiral Karl L. Schultz is expected to attend as are senior officials from the Navy and Marines. 

The family will also receive LT Crotty's Filipino Veterans of WWII Congressional Gold Medal during the ceremony. It symbolizes Congressional recognition of the enduring bond between the American and Filipino forces defending the Philippines against Imperial Japan's invasion.

A 1934 Coast Guard Academy graduate, Crotty was assigned mid-1941 to the US Navy Mine Recovery Unit at Cavite Navy Yard near Manila in the Philippines. He served aboard the USS Quail in the Philippines during the outbreak of World War II in early 1942 and in April aided the 4th Marines in the defense of Corregidor, an island in Manila Bay. He missed the epic escape of the USS Quail's captain and 17 crew members in a 36-ft motor launch across the Pacific to Australia. Instead, with the surrender of Corregidor on May 6, 1942, he found himself on the rocky beach of Corregidor's 92nd Garage Area. At the end of the month he and most of the POWs on Corregidor were taken to Manila and marched down Dewey Blvd to Bilibid Prison. From there they were put standing in trains to the Cabanatuan POW Camp. He died there on July 21, 1942 of diphtheria. See HERE for more of his story on this blog and HERE for the official Coast Guard biography.

Coast Guard Mutual Assistance (CGMA) has established an award in LT Crotty's name. The Lieutenant Thomas James Crotty Inspirational Leadership Award recognizes the CGMA Representative who best exemplifies a willingness to go above and beyond in the service of the Coast Guard family. Donations in lieu of flowers to support this award may be made to Coast Guard Mutual Assistance online or sent to 1005 North Glebe Road, Suite 200, Arlington VA 22201. Please note LT Crotty on the donation.

News story from The Buffalo News, October 27, 2019.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

75th Anniversary of the Arisan Maru Tragedy

A ship similar to the Arisan Maru
October 24th is the 75th Anniversary of the sinking of the hellship Arisan Maru in the Bashi Channel between Formosa and Luzon.

It was the largest naval disaster in American history. In comparison, more than 1,500 perished on the RMS Titanic.

Seven hundred miles south raged the Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 23–27, 1944) to liberate the Philippines.

The Arisan Maru went down with 1,774 mostly American POWs of Japan. It was torpedoed by either the submarines USS Shark (SS-314) or the USS Snook (SS-279). The Shark was attacked and destroyed at the same time, adding 87 more Americans to the missing. The Snook was lost six months in the Luzon Strait later on April 8, 1945 with 60 onboard.

t is said that nearly all the POWs were able to make it into the water. Wearing life belts and clinging to rafts, hatch boards, and any other flotsam and jetsam, the POWs struggled through the night in the rough, cold waters of the South China Sea. The Japanese ships nearby refused to rescue them. By morning, all but nine were dead.

Memorial at the National Pacific War Museum
Dedicated October 24, 1999
Of the nine POWs that survived, four were eventually rescued by the Japanese and taken to Formosa. And five managed to find a life raft, a sail, food, and water. They navigated by the stars 200 miles to the Chinese coast where they were rescued by friendly Chinese and taken to an American base hundreds of miles inland.

Of the four taken to Taiwan, Texan Army Pvt. Charles W. Hughes, a member of the Coast Artillery assigned to the 31st Infantry HQ, died November 9, 1944 at the Shirakawa POW camp on Formosa. 

The remaining three were moved to various camps on Formosa. US Army Air Corps medic and Bataan Death March survivor SSgt. Philip Brodsky was moved among four camps on the Island. Chief Boatswain Martin Binder USN assigned to the USS Pigeon (ASR-6) spent the rest of the war at the Toroku POW Camp. On January 19, 1945, Cpl. Glenn Oliver, who was with the 194th Tank Battalion on Bataan was sent to Japan aboard the Melbourne Maru. He spent the remainder of the war working as a stevedore at Osaka POW Camp #10-B Maibara near Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture. 

The story of the survival of the five who sailed to China, is nothing less than mythic. Much of their accomplishment was due to Baltimore native Robert S. Overbeck, who must have been a son of Neptune. Overbeck, a Columbia University graduate, was working as a mine foreman and mine superintendent in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He joined the Army that day.

He participated in the defense of Bataan and survived the Bataan Death March, Camp O'Donnell, Cabanatuan POW Camp, and Bilibid Prison. After U.S. aerial attacks on Manila September 21-22, 1944 (Overbeck says early October), men were boarded on the Arisan Maru on October 10th. They were kept in the sweltering holds for ten days as the hellship inched toward Palawan and then returned to Manila after more Allied air raids. On October 21, the Arisan Maru departed Manila for the final time, joining convoy MATA-30 heading for Takao, Formosa (Taiwan).

American torpedoes hit the hellship on October 24th breaking it in half. As Overbeck tells the story, he was oddly prepared. He had changed to shorts and had a life vest before he made his way into the water. After being refused rescue by a Japanese destroyer, he spied a life boat and threw off his life vest to swim to it. During the night he acquired four passengers. By morning they could no longer see anyone in the water.

Overbeck found a box with a sail floating near the life boat. Later, a keg of water was found and some hard tack ration was on board. 

1st Sgt. Calvin R. Graef, a member of 200th Coast Artillery from Silver City, New Mexico had, like Overbeck survived battle on Bataan and the Bataan Death March.

Pvt. Avery E. Wilber,  a member of the 60th Coast Artillery (AA), Battery A from Maine had also survived battle on Bataan and the Bataan Death March. 

Cpl. Donald E. Meyer, a member of the US Army Air Corp, 693 Aviation Ordnance Company, 24th Pursuit Group from California had been at Nichols Field when Japan attacked. He had suffered a depressed skull fracture and a dislocated hip during the fighting on Corregidor. Doctors at Bilibid Prison were able to repair both. [looking for links]

Pvt. Anton E. Cichy, a member of H Company of 194th Tank Battalion from Minnesota, had also survived battle on Bataan and the Bataan Death March. 

Overbeck, more civilian than Army, was the only one with sailing experience and automatically took over command. Knowing roughly where they were at the time of the sinking, being able to visualize the coast of China as running approximately north northeast in these latitudes and having a good idea of the wind direction from the rising sun, he thought it "was easy to decide" on a rough course which would take us to China.

They made it the 250 miles in two and one-half days by following the stars. A Chinese junk rescued the and first took them to Kitchioh [Jieshi] a town in  Lufeng, Shanwei Municipality, Guangdong midway between Hong Kong and Shantou [Swatow] and then up the coast to Hoifung.

The journey then continued to the interior to Hingning-a refugee town right out of a Star Wars movie. The former POWs were treated like royalty by the Chinese in every village they entered. For 12 days the five survivors were transported about 600 miles by foot, truck, bicycle and plane to Kunming airfield, base of the 14th Air Force and the former Flying Tigers. On November 28, 1944 they started their flight aboard a C47 back to the USA. 

Arisan Maru: America's Worst Naval Tragedy - Paperback – March 18, 2019 by Don Treichler
The Last Voyage of the Arisan Maru - Paperback - June 30, 2008 by Dale Wilber
Ride the Waves to Freedom: Calvin Graef's Survival Story of the Bataan Death March and His Escape From a Sinking Hellship  - Paperback - 1999 by Melissa Masterson