Thursday, March 08, 2012

Lost Battalion


Seventy years ago today, March 8th, Texas’ famous “Lost Battalion” became “lost.” The 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery Regiment, 36th Infantry Division of the US Army from Fort Richardson, Jacksboro, Texas was captured by Japanese forces on Java. They were considered “lost” because no one knew what happened to them until the war was nearly over. To the War Department they had simply disappeared.


Originally National Guardsmen from Wichita Falls, Abilene, Lubbock, and other towns throughout northwest Texas, the unit was activated into federal service in November 1940. They left the United States on 21 November 1941 and were on their way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was bombed. The unit was diverted to Australia and put under Dutch command, then sent to Java Island of the Dutch East Indies. They arrived at Soerabaja, Java on 11 January 1942.


The Japanese started bombing Java on 3 February 1942. After a series of brief, fierce battles, the Island fell to the Japanese on 8 March 1942. The Texans were the first Americans to fight alongside Australian troops. Of the 558 men and officers of the 131st who fought on Java, 534 became prisoners of war of the Japanese. These soldiers were transferred to prison camps throughout the Empire, including Singapore, Burma, Manchuria, Burma, and Japan. Most were sent to slave on the Thai-Burma Death Railroad popularized by the film The Bridge on the River Kwai.

Eighty-nine men, one out of six, perished during the Battalion’s 42-month “invisible” captivity. Those that endured the ordeal emerged from the liberated POW camps sick and emaciated, little more than walking skeletons whose health was permanently impaired. The survivors held an enduring bond with the survivors of the USS Houston with whom they were imprisoned and many viewed themselves are one unit.

 Located at the other end
of the parking lot from the interpretive
center of Fort Richardson State Historical Park.
Illness and death were constants. What was the secret of their survival? When that question was put to an elderly veteran of the "Lost Battalion," he answered, "The thing that brought most of us through it was the comradeship we showed for each."

click to order book
One of the most distinctive features of the 131st was that it included both a Japanese-American and a Chinese- American soldier.  Frank Fujita was a farm boy from Abilene, Texas. His fellow soldiers called him “Foo” that his biography is entitled, Foo : A Japanese-American Prisoner of the Rising Sun : The Secret Prison Diary of Frank 'Foo' Fujita. It took his captors two years to recognize that he was Japanese. 

Eddie Fung had gone to Midland, Texas from San Francisco as a 16-year old to become an cowboy. At 17, he enlisted in the Texas National Guard. After the War, he used the GI Bill to study chemistry at Stanford University. He gives his account of his life in The Adventures of Eddie Fung: Chinatown Kid, Texas Cowboy, Prisoner of War.

Both men were among those who returned home after the War.

The "Lost Battalion" remains the "Most Decorated Unit" in Texas of any War and USS Houston CA-30 remains the "Most Decorated" vessel of it's class in the U.S. Fleet.



Asian laborers or rǒmusha made up the majority of the deaths on the Thai–Burma Death Railway. Malay and Burmese workers had the largest number of dead. By comparison, Australians deaths totaled over 2,700 and American 25. [Data from Rod Beattie, The Death Railway: A Brief History of the Thailand–Burma Railway, TBRC Co., Kanchanaburi, 2009.]

The Wise County Heritage Museum in Decatur Texas has an entire room devoted to the Texas Lost Battalion. Two books are of special interest are: a first-person account of the horrors  a POW from a Battalion survivor, A Thousand Cups of Rice: Surviving the Death Railway, and a scholar's recent research, Hell under the Rising Sun: Texan POWs and the Building of the Burma-Thailand Death Railway

This video recounts one POW's experience: Missing In Action: The Story of Paul D. Stein and the Lost Battalion.


To the best of our knowledge, not one Texas Senator or Congressperson acknowledged the 70th anniversaries of either the sinking of the USS Houston or the capture of the Lost Battalion. Kay Granger (R-TX) represents Decatur and Mac Thornberry (R-TX) represents Jacksboro in Congress. Neither has yet to become co-sponsors of H. Res. 333 that asks Japan to do more to honor and remember these POWs from Texas. Thornberry's nonresponse is surprising as he owes his political career to a former American POW of Japan, Roland Towery who fought on Corregidor. Towery went on to be a prominent newspaperman in Texas and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

As an aside, in November 1944 as members of the "Lost Battalion" toiled in Burma as POWs of Japan, another Texas Battalion was "lost." This time in Europe, Vosges, France. The 141st Infantry Regiment from the 36th Texas Division was surrounded by the German army and cut off from supply lines. The Japanese American  442nd Regimental Combat Team (about 3,000 men) was ordered to rescue the this "Lost Battalion." After days of near constant fighting, the 442nd suffering roughly 1,000 casualties fulfilled their mission. Two hundres soldiers were killed in action (or missing) with over 800 seriously wounded. The 442nd for its heroic action in the Vosges received 5 Presidential Unit Citations and last year (2011) a Congressional Gold Medal. Texan Frank Fujita, it should be noted, was not included in the Nisei Congressional Gold Medal.


As an aside, Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe visited Burma on May 25, 2013 where he paid his respects to Japan's war dead by visiting the Yeway Cemetery. The is no mention if he visited the memorials to the other laborers for Emperor.

Updated 7/28/13

8 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post.

    My grandfather (Corporal James W. Farrar) was a veteran of the "Lost Battalion" captured in Java. Thank you so much for this information about his unit.

    Thank you again,
    Elizabeth

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  2. Thank you. You have prompted me to review the post and realize that a few things were missing. I have hopefully corrected this and made the post more useful. I do urge your reading Hell Under the Rising Run.

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  3. Thank you for this.

    My father, Dan C. Buzzo, was a 20 year old Sergeant with the 131st FA artillery at the time they were captured and lived through the 42 month of hell in captivity.

    I have a couple of facts you may want to include with this posting. My father was in HQ Battery, but one battery, E Battery, was captured away from the rest of the battalion on Java. For some reason, the Japanese seemed to think that these men were the engineers or some such, of the Battalion and instead of working on the Death Railroad, they were sent directly to Japan. Frank Fujita (the Japanese-American) was a member of that battery.

    The Lost Battalion also included a Chinese American, Eddie Fong. As far as we can determine, he was the only Chinese American held prisoner by the Japanese, and he did work on the railroad. (He is still alive and resides in California. He has also written a book about his experiences.)

    Thank you,
    Lori Buzzo

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    1. Lori Buzzo,

      I spent many nights while living in Coca Ecuador listening to your fathers amazing stories good and bad while he was in captivity. We as a nation cannot let there stories of the Texas Lost Battalion be lost in time.

      God bless Papa Dan may your soul rest in peace!!!

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  4. My 2nd Great Uncle J.W.Hoover was also a soldier of the lost battalion and i had the wonderful opportunity of knowing him all the way till he passed last year in 2013. He told me many stories of his experience during those 42 months and the horror those men went through is devastating. He once told me that when they were first captured the Japanese gave them the option to go into to camp or try and make it out in the jungle, he said if he had to do it again he would have taken the jungle.
    thank you for having this page. sincerely Tiffany Reeves

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  5. My uncle "Dub" Wilson Green Reed Jr. from Wichita Falls, TX was a surviving member of the National Guard's 131st Field Artillery Regiment and from what I was told the youngest member of the ordeal.

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    Replies
    1. My father Elton L (Tony) Martin was with your uncle as POW also Dub was best man at my parents wedding after the war.

      Kelly Martin

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  6. My uncle Joe Malavear from Ennis TX was a member of Lost Battalion. He wrote a book about his experience. May these man never be forgotten. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete

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