Friday, January 18, 2013
Lost Battalion's Compensation
Below is an excellent article from a Texas newspaper on the US government's compensation to the American POWs of Japan for their "undue hardships" and suffering. As Linda Goetz Holmes writes in Chapter 14 of her seminal account of how Japan's great companies benefited from slave labor, Unjust Enrichment: American POWs Under the Rising Sun, the US government was unsure as to how to compensate the POWs.
Thus, according to Ms. Holmes, they referred to a 1936 War Department field manual that gave soldiers on bivouac $1/day for lost meals. This compensation was approved under the War Claims Act of 1948. Following bitter complaints and the fact that the US in the San Francisco Peace Treaty had waived the right of its citizens to sue Japan, Congress in 1952 approved a second trance of $1.50/day for being "subjected to inhumane treatment." Many of the former POWs, however, never received the second payment as they had died, moved, or never heard of the offer.
In 2000, a number of countries--UK, Isle of Man, Norway, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand--granted their former POWs ex gratia benefits for their brutal treatment. In 2011, the Government of Australia approved for all surviving POWs of WWII and the Korean War a fortnightly grant of AU$500 (US$530) for the next four years. In 2001, Australia’s POWs of Japan had also been awarded a one-off ex-gratia payment of AU$25,000. In contrast, the US Congress has never allowed a vote for additional compensation to the American POWs.
DOUG McDONOUGH | Plainview Daily Herald Editor | Saturday, January 12, 2013
What is adequate compensation for 42 months of pain and suffering as a Japanese prisoner of war who was forced to work on the “Burma-Siam Death Railway” which connected with the infamous bridge over the River Kwai?
For several local veterans who were members of the 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery, compensation for their compulsory labor and inhumane treatment during the darkest days of World War II amounted to just over $1,900, which was paid in 1953. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index calculation, that amount would have the same buying power today as approximately $16,500.
A photo and article in the Jan. 11, 1953, issue of the Plainview Sunday Herald shows Floyd R. Lamb receiving a $1,906.50 check from local Veterans Service Officer Harry McCain.
Lamb, a Plainview police officer at that time, was the first of less than a dozen local veterans from the same “Lost Battalion” to receive governmental checks as additional payment for compulsory labor and inhumane treatment suffered while being held in Japanese prison camps during World War II.
Lamb happened to be the first in the county to receive both the 1953 payment as well as another governmental check two years earlier, sent as compensation for the undernourishment he and his fellow POWs suffered during their captivity.
According to the article accompanying the 1953 photograph, Lamb and his comrades were captured March 8, 1942, while resisting the Japanese invasion of Java.
They were held 42 months in various camps from Java to French Indo-China. During that time he was starved, beaten and contracted beriberi, malaria and other tropical diseases.
“He was forced to work on a railroad in the Burma jungles covering over a thousand miles,” the Herald reported in 1953, “and for which he said more men died than the number of cross-ties laid in the roadway constructed entirely by hand labor.”
Lamb, who died Aug. 19, 1988, told the Herald that he weighed just 89 pounds when he was freed from a camp in French Indo-China — now Vietnam — by the U.S. Air Force and flown to Calcutta, India. From there he was sent to Washington, D.C., where he was admitted to Water Reed Military Hospital to recover.
According to the Herald, just nine survivors of the “Lost Battalion” still lived in the Plainview area in 1953. The A Battery of the 2nd Battalion was largely composed of National Guardsmen from the Panhandle-South Plains region, including Plainview and Lockney, who were activated a few weeks before the United States was drawn into the growing global conflict.
According to the Texas Military Forces Museum at Camp Mabry in Austin, the 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery was mobilized on Nov. 25, 1940, along with the 36th Infantry Division, Texas National Guard, and sent to Camp Bowie at Brownwood. Originally intended to be part of a force to be sent to reinforce American troops in the Philippine Islands, the battalion was detached from the 36th Infantry Battalion and sailed on the USS Republic on Nov. 21, 1941. The ship was diverted from the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941, and landed on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies on Jan. 11, 1942, to reinforce Dutch, British and Australian troops already there.
The Japanese landed on the island and the Dutch surrendered on March 8, 1942, after token resistance. The entire battalion was taken prisoner.
The battalion (less Battery E) and the survivors of the cruiser USS Houston, which had been sunk off the Java coast, were sent to Burma, Thailand, or Japan to work for the Japanese as slave laborers. They worked on the “Burma-Siam Death Railway” building a railroad through the jungle and in the coal mines, docks and ship yards in Japan and other southeast Asian countries. They spent 42 months in captivity suffering humiliation; torture, both mental and physical; starvation and disease (without medication).
A total of 532 soldiers from the battalion, along with 371 survivors of the USS Houston, were taken prisoner. Of that number, 668 were sent to Burma and Thailand and 235 to other locations. Altogether, 163 soldiers died in captivity, and of those 133 died working on the railroad. Many more died as a result of diseases contracted while in captivity after the war.
For almost three years, no one heard from any of the members of the battalion, hence the name, “Lost Battalion.”
Lamb, who was 69 when he died Aug. 19, 1988, was a member of the Plainview Police Department for 13 years. Later, he was a sporting goods salesman for Gibson’s Discount Center.
He was a member of Seth Ward Baptist Church, Disabled American Veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and the Lost Battalion Association.
N.B.: An excellent book on the Lost Battalion is Hell under the Rising Sun: Texan POWs and the Building of the Burma-Thailand Death Railway (Williams-Ford Texas A&M University Military History Series)