Five hundred and thirty two soldiers of the Lost Battalion, along with 371 survivors of the USS Houston were taken prisoner. Six hundred and sixty eight were sent to Burma and Thailand and 235 to other locations. They slaved 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). Altogether, 163 soldiers and sailors died in captivity and of those 133 died working on the Thai-Burma Death Railroad. Many more died soon after the war as a result of diseases contracted while in captivity and the lack of recognition of their severe PTSD.*
|Survivors Howard Brooks and David Flynn|
Seventy years ago on March 1, a Japanese fleet sunk, after a brief but heroic battle, the USS Houston and the Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth shortly after midnight, during the Battle of Sunda Strait off the coast of Java. The ship carried 1,068 crewmen, but only 291 sailors and Marines survived both the attack and being prisoners of war. With the sinking of the USS Houston, so ended the Asiatic Fleet.
Fifteen of the original crew members are still alive, but Howard Brooks of New Jersey and David Flynn of Florida, both 92, are the only ones able to attend the reunion of the USS Houston CA-30 Survivors Association. Brooks was among those forced to build the Thai-Burma Railway, made famous in the 1957 film "The Bridge on the River Kwai."
Lloyd V. Willey, a Marine aboard the USS Houston and survivor of the Thai-Burma Death Railway became the survivors' Poet Laureate. He wrote: HOUSTON, Earned the name of `The Galloping Ghost', A fleeting shadow on the Java Coast Duty and Honor to Country, the code they knew, Well Done', to our `HOUSTON' and her crew.
*Numbers of survivors and deaths differ among researchers. The archivist of the Cruiser Houston Collection at the University of Houston says, "368 survived the sinking of the ship and the hours-long swim to the shore of Java....Nearly 13,000 Allied POWs and 100,000 Asian natives died building the Death Railway, including 79 men from the Houston."