Saturday, May 25, 2019

Max Hastings on Japan's Treatment of POWs

click to order

The Japanese maltreated captives as a matter of policy, not necessity. The casual sadism was so widespread, that it must be considered institutional.
There were so many arbitrary beheadings, clubbings and bayonetings that it is impossible to dismiss these as unauthorised initiatives by individual officers and men.
A people who adopt a code which rejects the concept of mercy towards the weak and afflicted seem to place themselves outside the pale of civilisation. Japanese sometimes justify their inhumanity by suggesting that it was matched by equally callous Allied bombing of civilians.
Japanese moral indignation caused many US aircrew captured in 1944-45 to be treated as "war criminals". Eight B-29 crewmen were killed by un-anaesthetised vivisection carried out in front of medical students at a hospital. Their stomachs, hearts, lungs and brain segments were removed.
Half a century later, one doctor present said: "There was no debate among the doctors about whether to do the operations - that was what made it so strange."
Any society that can indulge such actions has lost its moral compass. War is inherently inhumane, but the Japanese practised extraordinary refinements of inhumanity in the treatment of those thrown upon their mercy. Some of them knew it.
In Stephen Abbott's camp, little old Mr Yogi, the civilian interpreter, told the British officer: "The war has changed the real Japan. We were much as you are before the war - when the army had not control. You must not think our true standards are what you see now."
Yet, unlike Mr Yogi, the new Japan that emerged from the war has proved distressingly reluctant to confront the historic guilt of the old. Its spirit of denial contrasted starkly with the penitence of postwar Germany.
Though successive Japanese prime ministers expressed formal regret for Japan's wartime actions, the country refused to pay reparations to victims, or to acknowledge its record in school history texts.
I embarked upon this history of the war with a determination to view Japanese conduct objectively, thrusting aside nationalistic sentiments. It proved hard to sustain lofty aspirations to detachment in the face of the evidence of systemic Japanese barbarism, displayed against Americans and Europeans but on a vastly wider scale against their fellow Asians.
In modern times, only Hitler's SS has matched militarist Japan in rationalising and institutionalising atrocity. Stalin's Soviet Union never sought to dignify its great killings as the acts of gentlemen, as did Hirohito's nation.
It is easy to perceive why so many Japanese behaved as they did, conditioned as they were. Yet it remains difficult to empathise with those who did such things, especially when Japan still rejects its historic legacy.
Many Japanese today adopt the view that it is time to bury all old grievances - those of Japan's former enemies about the treatment of prisoners and subject peoples, along with those of their own nation about firebombing, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
"In war, both sides do terrible things," former Lt Hayashi Inoue argued in 2005. "Surely after 60 years, the time has come to stop criticising Japan for things done so long ago."
Wartime Japan was responsible for almost as many deaths in Asia as was Nazi Germany in Europe. Germany has paid almost £3billion to 1.5 million victims of the Hitler era. But Japan goes to extraordinary lengths to escape any admission of responsibility, far less of liability for compensation, towards its wartime victims.
Most modern Japanese do not accept the ill-treatment of subject peoples and prisoners by their forebears, even where supported by overwhelming evidence, and those who do acknowledge it incur the disdain or outright hostility of their fellow-countrymen for doing so.
It is repugnant the way they still seek to excuse, and even to ennoble, the actions of their parents and grandparents, so many of whom forsook humanity in favour of a perversion of honour and an aggressive nationalism which should properly be recalled with shame.
The Japanese nation is guilty of a collective rejection of historical fact. As long as such denial persists, it will remain impossible for the world to believe that Japan has come to terms with the horrors it inflicted.
• Abridged extract from Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45 by Max Hastings (2008)

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Corregidor, MacArthur, and the Japan’s New Emperor

This article first appeared in Medium on May 6, 2019.
Staged picture of the Surrender of Corregidor

The 77th Anniversary of the day Corregidor fell was May 6, 1942. It is a history that shadows every Japanese Golden Week and especially last week’s imperial succession ceremonies.

From December 29, 1941 to the end of April 1942, despite incessant Japanese aerial, naval, and artillery bombardment, the men and women on the fortress Island of Corregidor in Manila Bay, which consisted of the 4th Marine Regiment and combined units from the United States Army, the US Navy, and Filipino soldiers, resisted valiantly, inflicting heavy enemy losses in men, ships, and aircraft.

The last week on Corregidor was brutal. The Japanese celebrated Emperor Hirohito’s April 29th birthday by intensifying their shelling. By week’s end, the island’s infrastructure was destroyed, bombing incessant, water scarce, and the invasion begun. The siege of Corregidor had succeeded.

Fearful of a complete annihilation of the more than 12,000 Americans and Filipinos on Corregidor and the three nearby island forts, Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright surrendered all on May 6, 1942. The rest of the Philippines were surrendered over the next month after the Japanese threatened to massacre all the POWs and civilians on Corregidor.

Seventy-seven years later, the 1942 fall of Corregidor still matters. It set the timetable for the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) in Japan General Douglas MacArthur’s punishment of Japan’s militarists. And thus, it set the Abe Government’s timetable the abdication for Emperor Hirohito’s son, Emperor Akihito, on April 30, 2019 and the ascension of his son, Naruhito, to the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1, 2019. Abe wanted to expunge an ugly history that MacArthur wanted to embed.

As noted, April 29th was Emperor Hirohito’s birthday. It was a sacred day in wartime Japan. General MacArthur ended that practice and humanized the Emperor. After the War, this date became a holiday to appreciate nature called Greenery Day. In 2007, soon after anti-Japanese riots in China, Greenery Day was replaced by Showa Day to again remember Emperor Hirohito and his reign called Showa. Greenery Day is now held on May 4.

It was no coincidence that General MacArthur chose the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal to begin and the indictments for Tojo and other war criminals to be read on April 29, 1946. MacArthur, commander of all US Army Forces in the Far East, forced to escape Corregidor, remembered bitterly his abandonment of his troops and the fall of Corregidor. MacArthur wanted the Japanese also to feel his loss and to forever associate Hirohito with war crimes. In turn, the Tribunal proceedings began on May 3, which in 1947 the new Japanese Constitution came into effect.

It was also the same thinking that led MacArthur to have General Hideki Tojo and six other Class-A war criminals hanged on December 23, 1948. This day is now-former Emperor Akihito’s birthday and long celebrated as the national day for Japan with Embassy parties worldwide. Akihito, however, is forever reminded of the date’s other history.

MacArthur did not want the Japanese to ever forget what they suffered from their loyalty to their monarchs. And he did not want the emperors to forget the consequences and responsibilities of this power. MacArthur wanted to translate the reverence the Japanese had for their emperors into a deep respect for peace.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has different goals. By sandwiching the Imperial abdication and ascension in between the important dates of April 29 and May 3, Prime Minister Abe hopes to diminish if not erase their historical significance. This is what he means when he declares that he wants to “end Japan’s postwar regime. Abe believes he must and can free Japan from these embedded reminders of the war and all that it wrought. The Prime Minister believes the Japanese people should remember the war years as a happier, simpler, and prouder time.

Yet, in his hubris and revisionist history, Abe misses that MacArthur is still setting down the markers and forcing the timetable in Japan. By maneuvering around MacArthur’s touchstones, Abe simply emphasizes them. They are now the brackets sanctioning imperial succession and the rule of law.

MacArthur’s war history will again loom large over the October 22nd formal coronation of Emperor Naruhito. October 20th, will be the 75th Anniversary of MacArthur’s promised return to the Philippines and the beginning of its liberation from Japanese rule. The last, largest and finally decisive naval battle between the US Fleets in the Pacific and the Japanese Combined Fleet was fought in the Philippines’ Gulf of Leyte from October 23–26, 1944.

Emperor Naruhito, who studied history at Oxford, is likely aware of this history. His father, Emperor Akihito, held his coronation on November 12, 1990, 42 years to the day that General Tojo was sentenced to death. Naruhito’s challenge is to be true to the MacArthur’s lessons and to administering the peace, which is the literal, albeit not official Abe government, translation of the Reiwa Era.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Medal of Honor for POW

Sometime in mid-April in 1942, Navy Lt. Richard Nott Antrim held at the Makassar POW Camp on Celebes, Netherlands East Indies does the unthinkable.

He steps forward to stop a savage beating by Japanese prison camp guards of another officer. The man was near death when Antrim asks to take on the rest of prostrate officer's punishment. His bold gesture stopped the guard and led to cheers from the 2,000 men gathered to witness the atrocity.

To the astonishment of all, he succeeds in stopping the murder.  And, he is not beaten himself. This almost never happened in a Japanese POW camp. Both the Japanese and the POWs felt that they had witnessed uncommon bravery and selflessness.

Antrim was the Executive Officer of the destroyer USS Pope (DD-225) that was sunk on March 1 after the battle of the Java Sea. He was one of the few, after days in the water machine gun attacks by the Japanese, of Pope's crew rescued by the Japanese destroyer Inazuma. Also rescued were men from the HMS Exeter and HMS Encounter. 

These rescues by the Inazuma under the command of Commander Shunsaku Kudō (工藤 俊作) was also act of extreme bravery and character. He rescued 442 enemy British and American sailors from the Java Sea in contrast to other Japanese warships that ignored, mowed down, or shot men in the waters off Java. Commander Kudo so shaken by what he had done, never spoke or wrote about his humanitarian act. Japanese rightists have used this rare story as proof that the Japanese never harmed POWs. A number of books and films have been produced to highlight this.
Antrium,  an Indiana native, and Naval Academy graduate (1931), was the only man during World War II to receive the Medal of Honor for acts performed while in captivity. He was recommended for this honor by the camp’s senior POW officer, Lieutenant Commander Thomas A. Donovan (Naval Academy 1928) from the seaplane tender USS Langley (CV-1), who had been left behind by a rescue ship after a brief stop on Christmas Island. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Never undervalue a dandelion

When the dandelion went to war: An American prisoner of war's story

By Frank Blazich, April 9, 2019

“We were picking dandelions on the lawn there and we would boil them up,” Henry T. Chamberlain remembered. During the Great Depression, Chamberlain’s mother lost her job and couldn’t pay rent. The family moved to the grounds of the Nebraska Territory capitol building (now Omaha Central High School). “There were a million people living on that lawn,” Chamberlain said. “They all were in the same boat.”

A dandelion illustration
An illustration from Bibliothèque de poche du naturaliste, published in 1894. Courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library/Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (MBLWHOI Library).

With little money, he learned from his new neighbors about survival. After watching others rooting around in the lawn, the young man learned that dandelion flowers were free food. In addition to boiling them, “sometimes we went over to a park where the dandelions were prolific and we would pick the dandelions and wash them off and eat them green,” Chamberlain said.
Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the nation’s economy slowly began to rebuild and Chamberlain’s dandelion-eating days seemed to be over. On his 18th birthday, in 1940, he enlisted in the army. Though he was a crack shot and his first sergeant wanted him on the rifle team, Chamberlain said he wanted to help people—not shoot them—and trained first as a medic, then later as a surgical technician.

A black and white photograph of a soldier
U.S. Army medic Henry T. Chamberlain, around the 1940s. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Chamberlain.

After completing his training, Chamberlain was transferred to the Philippines. By December 1941, Japanese planes bombed points in Manila and Chamberlain found himself on the front lines of Bataan serving as a combat medic.
In late January 1942, as Chamberlain transported a group of wounded men south to a hospital behind the front lines, he ran into a colonel who knew him. “He asked me where’d I been so I told him, and he said ‘well, I’ll tell you what. I badly need surgical technicians here, so you aren’t going back,’" Chamberlain said, with great thanks.
Chamberlain stayed at the hospital after American and Filipino forces surrendered on Bataan on April 9, bearing witness to horrors that took a grisly toll on the Filipino and American troops. The movement of American and Filipino prisoners of war from the Bataan peninsula, which became legendary for its brutality, was forever known thereafter as the Bataan Death March.
Under Japanese control, Chamberlain found himself at Cabanatuan Prison Number 1 assigned as a medic in a hut adjacent to the camp hospital known as the Z, or “Zero” Ward. Here prisoners too weak to stand were sent to die. Without any medicines to treat the ill, often sheer kindness and willpower became the deciding factor between life and death.
Beginning in mid-June, cases of diphtheria appeared daily in the camp hospital. As a child, Chamberlain had contracted diphtheria and survived the illness. He volunteered to be a medic in the diphtheria ward because, as he explained, “first of all, I had had it and I thought I was immune from it, and secondly it was a way to get away from the Japanese and the labors they were putting us through.”
In the prisons there was no medicine to treat the sick, and the ill prisoners were missing key nutrients. Recalling the situation over 75 years later, Chamberlain observed how “there was a whole profusion of dandelions, so I told the guys ‘let the things blossom and we’ll pick the seeds, and don’t pull them up, just pull the leaves off them and eat them that way.’ And that’s what they did, they ate them green and I think that saved a lot of lives there because we were not getting any green stuff at all and we were not getting any protein.”
After considerable deaths from malaria, dysentery, and diphtheria, the Japanese guards at last began providing medicines to the prisoners at Cabanatuan in August 1942, albeit too little too late. From June through December 1942, 2,556 American prisoners of war had died at Cabanatuan.
Chamberlain’s humble dandelion garden adjacent to his diphtheria ward went unnoticed by the Japanese guards, who feared nearing the darkened building that housed the sick and dying. He continued to work in the diphtheria wards in the Cabanatuan prison camp throughout the remainder of 1942 and into 1944.
As for the dandelions, “What few dandelions there were we fed to the sick guys in the sick bay,” he said. “I think it may have kept them going, I’m not sure, but that’s the only vitamins they got. Whatever protein was in them, that’s what they got.”
Malnutrition was dangerous at Cabanatuan.“One of my friends died in my arms,” Chamberlain said, "He would not eat the rice. They were so full of maggots, rice maggots. I think for every grain of rice there was a rice maggot. One of our doctors said ‘you just as well eat them fellas because that’s all the protein you’re gonna get.’ That’s the way that was, but my friend would not eat those things. He said ‘people were not meant to eat worms,’ so he died in my arms, mostly from starvation.” Chamberlain’s friend remains interred at Cabanatuan, having asked that he be buried there, to “let these people know what we did for him,” with his grave marked “known but to god.”
In October 1944, the Imperial Japanese Army shipped Chamberlain and approximately 1,100 prisoners out of the Philippines to work as forced laborers. Before leaving Cabanatuan, Chamberlain made sure his dandelions came with him. Throughout his time at Cabanatuan, he “let the seeds grow and when I left there I had picked a whole bunch of seeds and put them in various places in what was left of my uniform, in pockets and things. The Japanese guards never suspected them.” After laboring in Formosa (present-day Taiwan), Chamberlain arrived in Moji, Japan, in January 1945 and was moved to Hosokura to a lead and zinc mine owned by the Mitsubishi Mining Corporation.
At Hosokura, Chamberlain served as a medic for his fellow prisoners in Sendai #3-B Prisoner of War Camp. Chamberlain worked with one doctor to take care of all the 284 American and British prisoners. “Taking care of them didn’t mean much because we were not given any medicine, we were given very little food. If you were sick they put you on half rations because you wouldn’t work, and so that’s the way it was,” he said.
“We never saw any dandelions up there so I planted the seeds and boy, I’m sure they got lots of dandelions up there now,” Chamberlain said with a chuckle. The dandelions again provided critical nourishment to the sick and dying, a humble weed turned heavenly manna.
As the war closed in on the Japanese home island, Chamberlain too found himself working in the zinc and lead mines. The grueling work of loading ore into carts and pushing them out of the mine strained all the prisoners, with food and water barely available on any occasion. At least 15 prisoners died at the camp, mostly from malnutrition. Relief for the Hosokura prisoners arrived on September 12, 1945, when American forces reached the camp and accepted the surrender of the Japanese guards.

A photograph of Chamberlin today
In 2017 Chamberlain returned to Japan to visit the former Hosokura lead and zinc mine where he was held for almost a year as a forced laborer. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Chamberlain.

Thereafter, Chamberlain would not need to tend any dandelions. He chose to remain in the military, transferred to the new United States Air Force, and retired after 28 years as a Senior Master Sergeant and a trained paramedic. At 96, he continues to enjoy carving, and as he reminded me, “I get to sleep in every day.” As I stated in reply, “you’ve earned it.”
Frank Blazich Jr. is a curator in the Division of Political and Military History. He has previously written about the life and legacy of Corporal William T. Perkins Jr., a 20-year-old Marine deployed to Vietnam as a combat photographer, and Captain James K. Redding’s experience in the Battle of Hue. He was honored to meet Chamberlain at the annual meeting of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society and appreciative of the opportunity to learn about Chamberlain’s experiences.

Wisconsin Congressman Steil Remembers

[Extensions of Remarks] [Pages E429-E430
From the Congressional Record


of Wisconsin 
in the House of Representatives 
Tuesday, April 9, 2019 

Mr. STEIL. Madam Speaker, today I rise in honor of National Former POW Recognition Day and the 77th anniversary of capture of U.S. soldiers on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines to the Imperial Japanese Army and the beginning of the Bataan Death March. 

In November 1941, 99 soldiers from my hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin arrived on the Bataan Peninsula. These soldiers were known as the "Janesville 99" and composed Company A of the U.S. Army 192nd GHQ Light Tank Battalion. Less than three weeks after arriving to the Philippines, on December 8, 1941, Imperial Japan attacked. 

For the next four months, out-gunned and under-supplied, sick and starving, these brave Wisconsinites fought the Battle of Bataan against a substantial Japanese invasion force. On April 9th, they were captured, tortured, and subjected to the Bataan Death March. 

Only 35 of the original Janesville 99 returned after the War. This is a solemn reminder of the bravery and selfless sacrifices our service members make for our freedom. In Downtown Janesville, there is memorial to honor the Janesville 99. We must never forget our local heroes. 

When President Ronald Reagan created the permanent National Former Prisoners of War Recognition Day on April 9, he said: ``. . . It is truly fitting that America observe April 9 in recognition of our former prisoners of war; that date is the 46th anniversary of the day in 1942 when U.S. forces holding out on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines were captured. Later, as prisoners of war, these gallant Americans were subjected to the infamous Bataan Death March and to other inhumane treatment that killed thousands of them before they could be liberated. In every conflict, brutality has invariably been meted out to American prisoners of war; on April 9 and every day, we must remember with solemn pride and gratitude that valor and tenacity have ever been our prisoners' response.'' 

Today, we recognize those who the fought the impossible and endured the unimaginable for freedom from tyranny and oppression. I thank all our POWs for their sacrifice. May the Janesville 99 rest in peace.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

National Former POW Recognition Day - April 9

There were two starting points for the Bataan Death March:
the west coast beach town of Bagac and the port town of Mariveles at the tip of Bataan.
The above picture is of the park at Mariveles.

Since 1988, with Public Law 100-269, Congress designated April 9th as "National Former Prisoners of War Recognition Day" and authorized and requested the President to issue a proclamation in observance of this event.

April 9, 2019 is also the 77th Anniversary of the fall of Bataan in the Philippines and the surrender of 78,000 American and Filipino troops to invading Japanese forces. It is the start of the infamous Bataan Death March on which as many as 12,000 died.

On the first permanent National Former Prisoners of War Recognition Day, April 9, 1988, President Ronald Reagan said:

“…It is truly fitting that America observe April 9 in recognition of our former prisoners of war; that date is the 46th anniversary of the day in 1942 when U.S. forces holding out on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines were captured. Later, as prisoners of war, these gallant Americans were subjected to the infamous Bataan Death March and to other inhumane treatment that killed thousands of them before they could be liberated. In every conflict, brutality has invariably been meted out to American prisoners of war; on April 9 and every day, we must remember with solemn pride and gratitude that valor and tenacity have ever been our prisoners’ response.”

Never Forget

Saturday, March 30, 2019

POWs voice their concerns to Congress

Time for the Gold Medal


to the

Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and HouseVeterans' Affairs Committee Joint Hearing

 To Receive Legislative Presentations of Veterans Service Organizations




Jan Thompson


American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society

12 March 2019



Today, I want to speak to you about what it means to “Never Forget” our veterans.  The men and women who became POWs of Japan over 70 years ago fought the early desperate battles of WWII in the Pacific and suffered some of its worst consequences. Nearly 40 percent did not return home. Those who survived had the highest rate of post-conflict hospitalizations, deaths, and psychiatric disorders of any generation of veterans. Their families endured and inherited their trauma.

If this history is forgotten, so too will the sacrifices of today’s veterans. It is an obligation to honor our veterans and to remember appropriately their contribution to our country’s history.

Before the last American POW of Japan dies, we believe that the appropriate civic remembrance for them is a Congressional Gold Medal that recognizes their unique history of perseverance, valor, and patriotism.

Most important, we ask Congress to approve an accurate and inclusive Congressional gold medal for the American POWs of Japan. It is a long overdue symbol of our commitment to veterans of past generations that we will “never forget.”


What we ask Congress
We ask Congress to encourage the Government of Japan to hold to its promises and responsibilities by preserving, expanding, and enhancing its reconciliation program toward its former American prisoners. We want to see the trips to Japan continued.  We want Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to publicize the program, its participants, and its achievements.  We want to see a commitment to remembrance. We believe that both countries will be stronger the more we examine our shared history.

We ask Congress to encourage Japan to turn its POW visitation program into a permanent Fund supported by Japanese government and industry. This “Future Fund,” not subject to Ministry of Finance yearly review, would support research, documentation, reconciliation programs, and people-to-people exchanges regarding Japan’s history of forced and slave labor during WWII. Part of the Fund’s educational programming would be the creation of visual remembrances of this history through museums, memorials, exhibitions, film, and installations. Most important, the Fund would support projects among all the arts from poetry, literature, music, dance, and drama to painting, drawing, film, and sculpture to tell the story to the next generation.  

We ask Congress to ask and to instruct the U.S. State Department to continue to represent rigorously the interests of American veterans with Japan. It is only the U.S. government that can persuade Japan to continue the visitation program, to create a Future Fund, and to ensure that the Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution include the dark history of POW slave labor.

We ask Congress to press the Japanese government to create a memorial at the Port of Moji, where most of the “Hell ships” docked and unloaded their sick and dying human cargo. The dock already features memorials to the Japanese soldiers and horses that departed for war from this port. Nowhere in Moji’s historic district is there mention of the captive men and looted riches off-loaded onto its docks. This must change.


Over the past few years, there have been Congressional gold medals given to groups that included American POWs of Japan. Eight members of the Doolittle Raiders were POWs, at least one Nisei member of the Military Intelligence Service was a POW, and nearly all the officers of the Filipino troops who were awarded Congressional Gold Medals were American.

Unlike previous WWII Congressional Gold Medal award groups that honor specific service units or ethnicities, the American POWs of Japan are both men and women from many ethnic groups, religions, services, and regions. For example:

  • The 200th Coast Artillery (AA) on Bataan, the first to fire on the invading Japanese forces, was composed mainly of Hispanic Americans from New Mexico.
  • The first tanker to die in WWII was Private Robert Brooks, a black man with the 192nd Tank Battalion from Harrodsburg, Kentucky, who was killed on Nichols Field, Philippines.
  • Chinese-American, Eddie Fung, and Japanese-American, Frank Fujita, both fought on Java and were surrendered with the U.S. Army 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery, 36th Division (Texas National Guard).
  • A statue before the St. Landry Catholic Church in Opelousas, Louisiana memorializes Army Air Corps Chaplain Father LaFleur who sacrificed his life while saving fellow POWs in the sinking of the hellship Shinyo Maru.
  • The military nurses captured in the Philippines were the first large group of American women in combat and, counted with the Army and Navy nurses surrendered on Guam, comprised the first group of American military women taken captive and imprisoned by an enemy.
  • Over 600 United States Merchant Marines, including one woman Mariner, became prisoners of Imperial Japan. Fifteen percent were killed by Japanese Imperial Navy officers during capture or died in Japanese POW camps.
  • The first American POWs of Japan were Marines stationed in China and the last were Navy and Army aviators shot down over Japan.
  • An Army Corps of Engineers Master Sergeant, Aaron Kliatchko, who died aboard a hellship is remembered as the “Rabbi of Cabanatuan” POW camp in the Philippines where he consoled Jew and gentile alike.

Seventy-eight years after the start of the War in the Pacific, it is time to recognize all those who fought the impossible and endured the unimaginable in the war against tyranny in the Pacific. Moreover, as I have described above, the Gold Medal would also recognize that we are the only American wartime group to have negotiated our own reconciliation with the enemy. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Honoring a Thai hero

On January 29th, please take a moment to give a prayer of thanks to Boonpong.

It is the 37th anniversary (1982, at the age of 76) of the passing of Boonpong Sirivejjabhandu, or simply Boon Pong – a Thai merchant and member of the underground resistance known as V Organization during the Japanese occupation of Thailand.

He owned a Thai traditional medicine business and a general store in Kanchanaburi province, which had been passed to him by his father Mor Khein, a Thai traditional doctor. He was also a mayor of Kanchanaburi from 1942-45 during World War II. His public responsibilities brought him into contact with the Japanese troops in charge of building the Thai-Burma Death Railway. Boonpong got a contract from the Japanese to manage the canteen for POWs in the camp nearby, which allowed him to enter the camp with few restrictions. 

His regular visits allowed him to see the appalling conditions experienced by the sick and wounded, as well as dead prisoners of war of many nationalities including American, Australian, British, Dutch, Australian and others. The horror of the inhumane treatment he witnessed gave rise to compassion and drove Boonpong to create a personal mission to help these unfortunate soldiers. He managed to smuggle in critical medicines, food, money, and messages. The camp POW doctors and POW commanders credit him with saving hundreds of lives.

After the war when rumors reached Britain in 1947 that Boonpong had fallen on hard times, three British POW camp commanders - Toosey, Knights and Lt. Col. Harold Lilly- launched an appeal among former Thailand prisoners of war. The appeal raised £35,000 and enabled Boonpong to start the Boonpong Bus Company, which flourished.

Boonpong's courage and compassion was later recognized by the British government, which honored him as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE). The Netherlands also awarded him the Order of Orange-Nassau. Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop once praised Boonpong by quoting Shakespeare in Henry VI: "In thy face I see the map of honour, truth and loyalty." Initiated by Sir Edward, the Weary Dunlop-Boonpong Exchange Fellowship was was established in honor of two men in 1986, and continues through strong cooperation between the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Surgeons of Thailand.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Bataan Death March Revealed

click to order
Today, January 28th, is the 75th anniversary of when the American public first learned of the infamous Bataan Death March.

The Chicago Tribune and its affiliates' published an account of the horrors by W. Edwin Dyess, a heroic aviator who had survived the Death March and escaped from the Japanese POW camp, Davao Prison Colony in April 1943. Until then, the American public did not know about this war atrocity.

The original story on Japanese atrocities in the Philippines was written for the Tribune in July 1943. The military and the Roosevelt White House balked at releasing the explosive material--especially to a newspaper critical of the President--and even used wartime censorship powers to block publication of Dyess’ story in the Tribune.

The also didn’t want to shock the American public and were worried that the Japanese might respond with even more cruelty against POWs.

One important factor in the decision to delay release of Dyess' account was the fear that the Japanese, in retaliation, might refuse to accept or otherwise block delivery to the prisoners of a Red Cross relief shipment then on the way to Japan aboard the M.S. Gripsholm. Once it was learned that the Gripsholm had reached Japan and it was believed that the Red Cross supplies would reach POWs by late January 1944, the it was easier to decide to release the news by the end of that month.

Months of pressure and Dyess' death in a training flight crash in December 1943 also contributed to the government relenting. At midnight on January 27, 1944, the War Department distributed a long summary of the atrocities to the media.

The next day, the Tribune and its 100 affiliated newspapers ran the first of what would be 24 installments of Dyess’s dramatic story of combat, leadership, selflessness, survival, and escape.

Dyess was buried in a simple family plot in the Albany, Texas Cemetery. The only public recognition, in Texas or anywhere else, of Lt. Col. Dyess’ valiant and inspiring actions during World War II was the 1956 renaming of Abilene Air Force Base to Dyess Air Force Base.

The Dyess Story: The Complete Eye-Witness Account of the Death March (1944) as told to Chicago Tribune journalist William Leavelle remains a best-seller.

For more on Lt. Col Dyess also: THIS and THIS.

Friday, January 18, 2019


Congressional Record Vol. 165, No. 4, (Senate - January 09, 2019) [Page S99]

Mr. [Brian] SCHATZ. Mr. President, today, we remember the 400 American and Allied prisoners of war who died 74 years ago from friendly fire aboard the Japanese hell ship Enoura Maru docked in Takeo Harbor, Formosa-- modern-day Taiwan. 

Among the dead were men who left their homes in America, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, and Czechoslovakia to fight an enemy they did not know, in places few of them had heard of, all in pursuit of a common cause: freedom, justice, and equality. These heroes were part of the infamous 45-day odyssey of the last transport of prisoners of war from the Philippines to Japan--captive since the American territory fell to Imperial Japan in the spring of 1942 after fighting to defend the Philippines. 

On the morning of January 9, 1945, dive bombers from the USS Hornet attacked the unmarked freighter holding 1,300 prisoners of war docked in the Japanese colony's harbor. Two hundred died instantly. Nearly everyone else was wounded. For 2 days, the men were left in the floating wreckage before the Japanese permitted the dead to be removed. Their remains were buried ashore in mass graves. 

After the war, the 400 victims of the bombing of the Enoura Maru were exhumed and eventually brought to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. They rest in 20 mass graves marked only as ``Unknowns January 9, 1945.'' Their families did not learn the final fate of their loved ones until 2001.

This past August, we remembered these brave men with a memorial stone on the Memorial Walk at the Cemetery honoring the prisoners of war aboard the hell ship Enoura Maru. The American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society, an organization that represents the American prisoners of war of Imperial Japan and their families, organized the commemoration in Hawaii. 

That memorial stone is a monument to their courage, suffering, and sacrifice. It commemorates their tragic death 74 years ago and marks their final return home. Let that stone and our remembrance of the prisoners of war on the Enoura Maru remind us of our sacred commitment to veterans of all eras to "never forget.'' 

May they rest in peace.