Saturday, September 11, 2021

Telling Time

Took a licking and kept on ticking

‘Emotional moment’ to get watch for longtime WT supporters

by JON MARK BEILUE, West Texas A&M University

September 1, 2021

Photo: Bitsy Downing, longtime business manager and director of finance at WT, and son Stu hold the watch this summer of  late husband and father Scott Downing, who had it taken from him by the Japanese after he was captured in 1945.

The small package arrived on June 1, taking three months and 6,154 miles by way of ship and through customs from outside of Tokyo to the mailbox on Fulton Drive in Amarillo.

Stu Downing and his mother Bitsy knew what was inside. That only made carefully opening the package that much more poignant.

“It was an emotional moment for me,” Bitsy said, “because I kept thinking about Scott’s emotions at the time of his capture when he was tied to a tree near a village. I just imagined his emotions when he had to give up his possessions – his belt, his ring, and of course, his watch.”

His watch.

First Lt. Scott Downing of Canyon was a bombardier among a crew of 11 on a B-29 on what was his 20th – and as it turned out, final – combat mission on May 25, 1945. Only 2 ½ months remained of World War II, but they had no way of knowing that. They, like most, suspected a long protracted war with Japan.

They left the Tinian Islands on a six-hour flight to the heart of Tokyo. The objective was to bomb an industrial complex four miles southeast of the Imperial Palace. Dangerous? Was there a combat mission that wasn’t?

A Japanese Zero attacked the B-29 near Tokyo. The right engine caught fire. The crew bailed out 9,500 feet over Japan. Three could not get out of the plane and died. Downing was able to parachute down in a rice field 15 miles southeast of Tokyo.

His ordeal was just beginning. With 15 minutes, villagers ran toward him, carrying hoes, pitchforks, any crude implement they could get their hands on. Downing was tied to a tree until two Japanese soldiers arrived, one with a bayonet on the end of a rifle.

In his book A Ball of Rice and a Cup of Water, Downing said he was prepared to die, and die like a proud American. Instead, he was stripped of all personal possessions, blindfolded and marched to building with a dirt floor.

This was the beginning of three months as a prisoner of war. Nineteen soldiers were initially crammed into an 8-by-12-foot horse stall. There were beatings if Japanese soldiers saw POWs talking to each other and beatings anyway. Downing was beaten by a bamboo pole when an interrogation didn’t go the way the Japanese wanted. POWs were threatened with decapitation or a bullet in the temple.

Most POWs thought they would die at the hands of guards in retaliation of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and Aug. 9, 1945. On Aug. 15, Emperor Hirohito announced the unthinkable – the surrender of Japan to the Allied forces.

Two weeks later, on Aug 29 and four days before the Sept. 2, 1945, formal surrender aboard the USS Missouri, Downing was among those at the Omori prison camp who were released to the Americans. His roommate on a transport ship was James “Pappy” Boyington, decorated Marine pilot and Medal of Honor recipient. [Today, the Omori camp location, an artificial island built by American POWs, is Heiwajima, a motorboat racing revenue owned by the Sasakawa organization that supports Japanese government public diplomacy.]

Men returned home to restart their lives. For Downing, he found himself back in Canyon. He became a longtime building contractor. Scott and Bitsy were married on the West Texas A&M University campus at the Joseph A. Hill Chapel on Sept. 1, 1951.

WT became a key part of their lives. Bitsy was assistant business manager and director of finance at WT from 1957 to 1982. Scott helped build the presidential home of James Cornette. He and his brother Jack also helped build the original Pioneer Village at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum.

Scott was the youngest of 10 children, and Bitsy was the youngest of nine, but Stu was their only child. He graduated from WT in 1978. There was no a bigger fan of WT athletics than the former bombardier. He had season tickets to football and men’s and women’s basketball games for so long that no one could remember when he didn’t. A WT flag flew in the front yard of their Amarillo home where they moved in 2004.

That was passed down to Stu. Even today, if anyone wants to find Stu, just go to a WT athletic event and holler out his name. He’s usually there.

Finding the watch, or the watch finds them

His dad didn’t dwell on his combat missions and never, to anyone’s knowledge, suffered from PTSD. But it was always a part of him. Like novelist William Faulkner said, “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.”

Scott made four trips to Japan. The first was in 1947 to testify at a Japanese war crimes trial. He and Bitsy went on sightseeing tours there in 1986 and 1994. Then in 2015, just two years before his death at age 98, Scott and Stu were among an American POW contingent on a reconciliation tour sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the U.S. State Department [and the American Defenders of Bataan Memorial Society].

At one event was a PowerPoint presentation by a man named Nakazato. It was all in Japanese so neither Downing knew the man was saying his grandparents were among those who tied a parachuting American to a tree. He had a watch that was the man’s which had been handed down by his grandparents.

But Dr. Isao Arai, a researcher with the group who is fluent in English, relayed what Nakazato said. Wait a minute, a watch? Could it be Scott’s watch? What were the odds?

Then they did some digging. Only officers were issued military standard Bulova watches. There were four officers on that downed B-29. Two were captured nowhere near the site. A third didn’t land too far from Downing, but he avoided detection for six days and was captured along the coast.

Eventually the Downings were convinced the watch was Scott’s. They put that on the backburner as they returned home, but it would be nice to one day get that watch back if possible.

Nancy Samp, the historian of the 505th Bomb Group, agreed. She was instrumental in persuading Arai to take steps to return the watch. It didn’t take much persuasion. Arai was 12 when he witnessed the B-29 crash. He has spent much of his life researching B-29 crashes in Japan and bringing closure to families. The grandson also knew the watch belonged to someone else.

“Scott always told me and everyone he knew that the Japanese people were kind and considerate,” Bitsy said. “He only had fault with the military. They ruled the country at the time, and they were brutal. The citizens were not. The grandson needs to be commended for releasing it.”

The Downings were sent a photo last year of the watch. It was inscribed as a Type A-11 with a serial number of AF4380602. A Google search pronounced it from the 1940s.

Arai and Stu exchanged a series of emails to finalize the return. In one of his last emails, Arai wrote: “It is not just an old watch. I think of it as the spirit of a soldier returning home after 75 years.”

The watch was put on a boat in Japan on March 9, six years after its rediscovery and four years after Scott’s death. It finally returned home on June 1. But after 75 years-plus, what was another three months? Wife and son held the watch like a newborn. They were the first Downings to touch the band since May 25, 1945. The face read 12:07.

“The little second hand still runs,” Bitsy said. “We wound it up very carefully when we got it, and the second hand started running. It was like it was telling us, ‘I’m happy to be home. It’s good to be back in the United States.’”

The last Sunday in August was the 76th anniversary of Downing’s release. Sept. 2 marks the 76th anniversary of the formal end of World War II and the surrender of Japan.

The watch will not stay in the Downing home much longer. Sometime this fall, they will take it to the B-29 museum in Pratt, Kan., a restored World War II parachute building at Pratt Air Field. There it will remain among other artifacts from the war.

“We got it home and we got to touch it again,” Bitsy said. “That’s what’s important. I think Scott would want it up there.”

Sunday, July 25, 2021

UNESCO and Japan’s Rewriting of History

At UNESCO, Japan lays bare the difficulties of achieving shared values within the Quad.

By Mindy L. Kotler

Originally published in The Diplomat, July 23, 2021
This version is slightly revised for clarity

On July 22nd, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad, comprising the United States, India, Japan, and Australia, faced its first test. Unexpectedly, it came at the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. The focus was on Japan, not China, and the result reveals how fragile the idea of shared, universal values is for this multilateral coalition. As things stand, Japan is a willful outlier.

At the World Heritage Committee’s 44th virtual session, there was a review of several previously designated Japanese World Industrial Heritage sites that were the scene of war crimes in World War II. Americans, Australians, and Indians were among the thousands of Allied prisoners of war (POWs) brought to Japan during the war. They became slave laborers in various private mines, chemical factories, and steel mills, and on docks critical to support Imperial Japan’s war effort.

These very mines, foundries, and wharves were selected by Japan to represent its “Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining.” The Japanese, however, left out any mention of this forced labor and abuse, which was the substance of the hundreds of war crimes trials throughout the postwar Pacific.

UNESCO approved the designations in 2015 but conditioned the designations on a promise to provide a “full history” of these sites. Yet, six years later, Japan has not fulfilled this promise. Japan’s forced colonial workers from Korea are given slight mention, although Japan refuses to admit they were unwilling or unhappy. The POWs, which included soldiers, civilians, and mariners from Ireland, Egypt, Norway, Argentina, Jamaica, Portugal, Italy, and Arabia are unmentioned in any official publications, whether at the particular sites or at the Tokyo Industrial Heritage Information Center, which was opened in March 2020.

On July 12, 2021, a UNESCO draft decision noted that Japan still had to improve its interpretive strategy. The reprimand of Japan’s unwillingness to tell the “full history” of these properties was approved July 22. The Committee believes measures are still necessary to “allow an understanding of a large number of Koreans and others” who were forced or slave laborers. 

Unfortunately, UNESCO identifies POWs only as “others. This euphemism affirms Japan’s effort to censor its war crimes and rewrite the history of World War II. UNESCO members Australia, the United Kingdom, India, Norway, and the Netherlands need to insist that “others” means their veterans.

To satisfy UNESCO’s directive to include “others,” it is implied that Japan must acknowledge that five of the UNESCO industrial heritage sites — Hagi, Kamaishi, Miike, Nagasaki, and Yawata — held 26 POW camps during the war and provided more than 13,000 POW slave laborers from over 16 countries to Japan’s industrial giants, including Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, and Nippon Steel.

The Miike Coal Mine (Fukuoka #17) warrants particular attention. The mine, owned by the Mitsui conglomerate, was Japan’s largest. Nearly 2,000 Allied POWs suffered capricious brutality and starvation in deadly and primitive conditions. Hundreds died. American POWs were so desperate for a respite from the coal pits that they traded their meager rice bowls for someone to break their arms or legs.

Kamaishi’s industrial area (Sendai #4B and Sendai #5B) is also illustrative of missing war history. The site was the first to be bombed by U.S. Navy warships off Japan’s unguarded coastline. The iron works at this site, still owned by Nippon Steel, were among Japan’s largest. On July 14, 1945, more than 40 American, Dutch, New Zealand, and British POWs as well as hundreds of Japanese were killed in the bombardment.

Nippon Steel’s Yawata’s steel works (Fukuoka #3) was Japan’s most important armament manufacturer. The workforce was primarily composed of POWs who endured intense manual labor shoveling iron ore and tending the furnaces. Yawata was the primary target for the second atomic bomb. Cloud cover from aerial bombing on August 8, 1945, shifted the mission to Nagasaki, close to the Miike Coal Mine.

Japan’s unstated history of Allied slave labor at its UNESCO sites is part of a larger trend of the government’s rewriting history. The narratives presented at Japan’s industrial heritage sites also diminish the use of Korean forced labor and Chinese slave labor. This all dovetails with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s quest to retell Japan’s story in an uncritical, more glorious manner. So important was the UNESCO heritage designation to the former Abe administration that one cabinet adviser had the sole job of shepherding the application through UNESCO.

Highlighting the effort to annul history was last August’s 75th anniversary memorial address for the end of World War II. Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, unlike his predecessors, did not mention, “learning from history” or having “remorse.” Instead, he said “we will never forget that the peace and prosperity we enjoy today was built atop the precious sacrifices of the war dead.”

This ahistorical take on Japan’s disastrous war is not a reassurance to UNESCO that Japan will correct the histories of its industrial heritage sites. Nor does it comfort the Quad allies that their shared history will not be recognized and reflected upon. Upholding historical facts is a value of democracy now being undermined by Japan as rapidly as in authoritarian China or Hungary. Japan’s defiance of UNESCO’s recommendations to explain the “full history” of its cultural properties shows how fragile the Quad’s so-called unifying principles are.

Mindy L. Kotler
is director and founder of Asia Policy Point, a Washington think tank focused on Northeast Asia. She is also an adviser to the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society that represents the American POWs of Japan and their families.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Significant passings

click to order
Over the past six months the POW community has lost three notable chroniclers of the POW experience with Imperial Japan. Their body of work expanded knowledge about the American POWs and their eloquent writing made the history accessible and memorable. 

Anthony Weller. Tony was the son of the Pulitzer-prize winning war correspondent George Weller (d. 2002). After his father's death, he compiled two books of George's unpublished war articles that were censored by the U.S. military. First into Nagasaki (2006) includes interviews with many POW liberated on Kyushu and an account of the hellship nightmare of the Oryoku Maru.Three years later, he edited and published Weller’s War (2009), a collection of his father’s World War II writing.

An accomplished jazz and classical guitarist and a widely published writer before primary progressive multiple sclerosis stilled his body starting in 2006, Weller was 63 when he died in his Gloucester home June 3 from complications of the illness. He was a high school classmate of mine, although I did not know him as he was a bit younger. However, our classmates had a steady fundraising campaign for him, so that he could live out his life at home instead of an institution. The motto of our high school is Non Sibi - Not for Oneself. Donations in his name to the school can be made here

James D. Hornfischer. James died June 2, 2021 at age 55 after a lengthy illness. He was a gifted writer, naval historian, book editor, and literary agent. He is best known to the POW community as the chronicler of the USS Houston (CA-30) in his 2007 New York Times Best Seller, Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR’s Legendary Lost Cruiser; and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors.

The author of several books focusing on the U.S. Navy, Hornfischer recently had been honored with the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award. His other naval history were: The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour; Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal; and The Fleet at Flood Tide: America at Total War in the Pacific, 1944-1945. According to his official obituary, “Jim took great pride in the fact that each of his books has been placed on the Chief of Naval Operations’ Required Reading List.” A graduate of Colgate University, Hornfischer also earned two degrees at the University of Texas at Austin: an MBA from the McCombs School of Business and a Juris Doctor degree from UT’s School of Law. Soon after law school, he and his wife Sharon opened Hornfischer Literary Management, one of Austin’s first literary agencies.

Three additional Hornfischer books will be published posthumously: Destroyer Captain: The Last Stand of Ernest Evans, written with his son David J. Hornfischer; Who Can Hold the Sea: The US Navy in the Cold War, 1945-1960, and The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: A Graphic Novel Adaptation. His family has requested that donations in his memory be made to the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, where his archives are housed. His official obituary.

Judy Yung. Judy was the third wife of Eddie Fung, only Chinese-American soldier captured by Imperial Japan during World War II. There were, however, quite a number of Chinese Americans captured on Wake Island and from Navy vessels that were sunk. Born in San Francisco in 1922, Eddie left home at 16 to become a cowboy in Texas. He joined the National Guard at 17, and his unit was activated in November 1941 as part of the 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery of the 36th Infantry Division that was sent to Java, now part of Indonesia, to fight the invading Japanese in the early months of WWII. On March 8, 1942 he was surrendered by his Dutch commanders and soon sent to the Thai-Burma Death Railway.

Judy was introduced to Eddie by a military historian while doing research on Asian American men who had been in the U.S. Army and were taken as prisoners of war. Yung did nearly 50 hours of interviews with Fung that eventually led to a book titled The Adventure of Eddie Fung: Chinatown Kid, Texas Cowboy, Prisoner of War. He died in 2018. Then Senator Kamala Harris paid tribute to him with an extension of remarks in the Congressional Record on June 14, 2018. They married on April 1, 2003. Judy Yung was a pioneering scholar in Chinese American and women's history. The emerita professor of American studies, author, and scholar of Chinese American history at UC Santa Cruz, 74, passed away on December 14, 2020 after suffering a fall in her home. 

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

On the 4th of July 1942

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The Bataan Death March -- the merciless 65-mile trek by American and Filipino POWs up the Bataan Peninsula from Mariveles to San Fernando -- is part of the American language and lore. Many have some vague recognition of the war crime, although few know what happened, where, or when. April 9th is better remembered as the surrender at Appomattox than the surrender on Bataan.

But at least there is some effort not to forget.

This is not the case for the other "Death March" in the Philippines. This one took place four months later on the island of Mindanao over 800 miles south of Bataan. Although one day instead of weeks, the "Death March" was no less brutal or deadly.

At The Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal held between May 1946 to November 1948, the Philippine Prosecution Team presented and proved before the court 16 incidents of indignities, torture and barbarities committed against the Filipino and foreign Prisoners of Wars (POWs) and civilians. All were well-documented and easily proven. The Bataan Death March was already a legend by the time the trial started because of the sensational series articles about the March published in the Chicago Tribune in January 1944. The articles, turned into a book, were an account of the brutalities experienced by Col William Dyess who had escaped from a POW camp in the Philippines. Dyess, unfortunately, had died in a flight training accident in December 1943.

Among the 16 war crimes was the Iligan Death March that is also called, depending upon the writer, the Mindanao Death March or Dansalan Death March.

Although Gen. Sharp officially surrendered the Mindanao-Visayan Force on May 10th, 1942, the final surrender of units in the Lake Lanao area under Bri­gadier General Guy C. Fort did not take place until May 28, 1942. Fort surrendered at Camp Keithley approximately 300 Filipinos and 46 Americans (civilian and military) to the Japanese. Fort was executed by the Japanese on November 11, 1942 for refusing to give up his men who became guerrillas. He is the only American-born general officer to be executed by enemy forces.

On July 4, 1942, the POWs were made to march from Camp Keithley at Dansalan (now the Amai Pakpak Medical Center at Marawi City; Marawi was the site of a deadly ISIS-inspired Muslim insurgence in 2017) to Iligan, Lanao, a distance of about 25 miles (36 kilometers). Transport trucks, although available, were denied the POWs. 

The Americans were arranged four abreast and strung together in columns by a telephone wire through their belts. The Filipino POWs, though unwired, had to walk barefooted. The March lasted from 8:00am to 7:00pm. The midday sun was unbearable. Without food and water, many of the men collapsed due to exhaustion and dehydration. Those who fell were shot in the forehead so they would not be rescued by guerrillas. 

Few of the Americans on the March survived the entire war. It is unknown how many Filipinos were killed as they were soon paroled (released). Among those Americans that lived to be liberated in 1945, four are known to have recorded their memories of the March. They were: Victor L. Mapes, Herbert L. Zincke, Richard P. Beck and Frederick M. Fullerton, Jr. All have their accounts recorded by the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project. 

Zincke published his account in his autobiography, Mitsui Madhouse: Memoir of a U.S. Army Air Corps POW in World War II (2002)

Mapes published his account in his autobiography,  Butchers, the Baker: The World War II Memoir of a United States Army Air Corps Soldier Captured by the Japanese in the Philippines (2000)

You can read more about the March HERE and HERE.  This blog post borrows heavily from both essays.

There is still more research needed on this atrocity.

A summary of the Philippines Prosecution Team's charging document is here: POW Summation - Appendix B, Part II Summary of Evidence in Relation to Treatment of Prisoners-of-War, Civilian Internees and Inhabitants of the Philippine Islands Between December 1941 and September 1945.   (p 24, F. Iligan Death March 106.)

The Japanese mockingly dubbed the Iligan Death March the  “Independence Day March.

Never Forget

Friday, May 14, 2021

Group highlights Filipino bravery during WWII


SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KTXL) May 12, 2021 — The history between the Philippines and the United States is deeply rooted in World War II.

It was 1942. World War II had marched into its third year.

The Philippines, like Hawaii, at the time, was a coveted assignment for many American servicemen until the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy invaded.

The Filipino and American militaries joined forces.

Dr. Mickey McGee, the director of the Doctor of Business Administration program at Golden Gate University, told FOX40 his mother was with those forces serving as a guerrilla soldier.

“They were very loyal and courageous allies of the U.S. Army,” McGee said. “The Filipinos, fighting alongside their American comrades, were able to last as long as they could.”

When the Japanese reached the Bataan Peninsula, the Americans and Filipinos held out as long as they could.

“The Filipino and American forces in Bataan were able to disrupt the 50-day time table of the Imperial Japanese army and they held on for 99 days,” said Cecilia Gaerlan, executive director of the Bataan Legacy Historical Society.

“They were instrumental in basically slowing down their attack,” McGee said.

But ultimately, they couldn’t stop the Imperial Japanese Army. The Siege of Bataan would become one of the most devastating military defeats in American history where 76,000 Filipino and American troops were forced to surrender.

They would make what would become known as the Bataan Death March, a 65-mile walk to prison camps with little-to-no food or water.

McGee says his mom tried to help.

“I’ve heard stories of my mom was one of those people on the Bataan Death march,” McGee said. “And many of them got killed while they were trying to help.”

Gaerlan’s father, a lieutenant in the 41st infantry regiment, was a survivor of the death march.

Growing up, she says he’d share bits and pieces about his ordeal in a comedic way.

“He was like a one-man comic with sound effects,” Gaerlan recounted.

One particular story stands out, about what happened before the march, when the Japanese confiscated valuables such as watches and rings from the Filipinos and Americans.

“He had this toothbrush in his pocket. And it looked like a fountain pen. So, he didn’t want to give it away. And the Japanese guard grabbed it. And then, when he saw it was a toothbrush, my father had a grin and then the Japanese got mad at him, and hit him with the butt of a rifle. But the way he told it with his antics,” Gaerlan said.

In the end, only 54,000 of the 76,000 prisoners of war reached the camp.

“Some of the soldiers were writing their farewell letters. And some committed suicide because they couldn’t take it anymore,” Gaerlan said. “When I asked my father, ‘Did this happen?’ He broke down.”

Gaerlan’s father was one of the lucky ones which is why she founded the Bataan Legacy Historical Society.

The goal of the non-profit based in the Bay Area is to share the history of the Filipinos during the war so generations to come will know their sacrifice and bravery.

During her research, she read about an analysis of her dad’s regiment in the army and was moved beyond words

“When I was reading this document, I was crying because I didn’t know what really had happened to him in Bataan. And then when I asked him, well, he broke down. And that’s when I really found out what happened to him,” Gaerlan recalled.

The pain he and so many soldiers experienced in Bataan is what drives Gaerlan and McGee to make sure their parent’s service is never forgotten.

Gaerlan is working to get a Navy warship named for Telesforo Trinidad, the first Filipino sailor to receive the Medal of Honor in 1915.