Sunday, April 21, 2024

History’s Shadow on Japanese Prime Minister’s U.S. Visit

Robinette 2nd from left
This week’s Japan-Philippines-U.S. trilateral summit comes alongside the 82nd anniversary of the Bataan Death March. 

By Patrick Regan and Mindy Kotler Smith

Patrick Regan is a member of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society (ADBC-MS) and the grandson of U.S. Army Air Corps Tech. Sgt. Donald C. Regan, who survived the Bataan Death March and 41 months as a POW of the Japanese, including two years at Hirohata Camp 12-B working for Nippon Steel.

Mindy Kotler Smith is also a member of the ADBC-MS and great niece of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Construction Engineer Fletcher Wood, who survived the siege of Corregidor but died in a Japanese POW camp in the Philippines. She is the editor of this blog.

The Diplomat, April 09, 2024

Few weeks are as historic in the shared history of Japan, the Philippines, and the United States as this one. The focus this week will be on these countries’ three leaders — Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, U.S. President Joe Biden, and Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. — and their summit in Washington. But the anniversaries of Imperial Japan’s worst war crimes this week cast a shadow over their meetings.

More than 80 years later, those acts remain largely forgotten even though they underlie one of the key topics Kishida is expected to raise at his summit with Biden: Nippon Steel’s attempt to acquire U.S. Steel.

By acknowledging Japan and Nippon Steel’s role in the mistreatment of prisoners of war (POWs) during World War II, Kishida has an opportunity to not only do the right thing but also connect in a meaningful way with Biden and Marcos, both of whom have direct family ties to those atrocities.

The Bataan Death March

Eighty-two years ago, on April 9, 1942, the fighting on the Philippines’ Bataan Peninsula came to an end. For four months, American and Filipino troops had done what no one in the Pacific could do — halt Imperial Japan’s sweep across Asia. Through persistence and ingenuity, without air or naval support, they mounted an unexpectedly stiff resistance against the invaders.

Resupply and reinforcements were not coming, though, and the troops on Bataan were starving and out of ammunition. Faced with a certain massacre, the U.S. commanding general, Edward P. King, disobeyed orders and surrendered his men. But what followed was worse than combat.

On the first day of the surrender, Japanese troops looted the personal possessions of their prisoners, murdered those found with Japanese money, bayonetted to death the sick, and raped the one American nurse they could find.

The next day, April 10, the men were organized in groups of 100 and force-marched up the peninsula in the sweltering tropical heat. They were denied water, food, and medicine. Japanese officers beheaded men at will. The guards killed laggards and those they believed disrespectful. Japanese military vehicles crushed men into the road beneath them, while their occupants laughed. The prisoners’ agonizing 65-mile trek lasted anywhere from four days to two weeks.

What became known as the infamous Bataan Death March was only part of a 100-mile journey to an improvised POW camp. The next segment was 28 miles by rail where the men were packed, standing, in metal boxcars. Many died from heat exhaustion, dysentery, suffocation, or malaria. Survivors then stumbled the next several miles to the unfinished barracks of Camp O’Donnell. The camp contained only two water spigots for the more 55,000 men. In the first month, thousands died of disease and despair.

Among those surviving the march and the first months of imprisonment was a distant cousin of Biden, John Robinette, a Port Clinton, Ohio, soldier with Company C of the 192nd Provisional Tank Battalion. Months before, he had participated in America’s first winning tank battle of WWII. Robinette died of beriberi that November.

Also surviving the march was Marcos’ father and namesake, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., who was an officer with the Philippine Army. Starting in June 1942, the Japanese, to reduce deaths and to reward collaboration, began to release Filipino prisoners of war. Ferdinand was released in August.

Thus, when Kishida sits down with his American and Filipino counterparts for a trilateral summit on April 11, he will face two leaders with direct ties to the Bataan Death March. It will not be his first time in that setting.

In October 2013, then-Foreign Minister Kishida met with two Bataan Death March survivors and one widow. They were part of a visiting delegation of American former prisoners of war of Japan seeking understanding and reconciliation from their former captors. Kishida expressed deep remorse for their suffering.

Despite this intimate history, it is reported that the Japanese prime minister will not express his country’s remorse over World War II in his speech at the U.S. Congress on April 11. Foreign Ministry officials claim Japan’s position on the war “has been settled to some extent” and Kishida “will not touch on it in the speech.”

Surviving as a Prisoner of Japan

April 11 is remembered in the Philippines as the anniversary of the Pantingan River Massacre. Lost and starving Filipino and American officers of the 91st Philippine Army Division missed the April 9 surrender deadline. The commander of Japan’s 65th Brigade, to whom they eventually surrendered, reprimanded the 400 men for being late. He then ordered his officers to behead the defenseless prisoners and directed his enlisted men to bayonet to death those missed by the swords. The slaughter reportedly took two hours.

Surviving imprisonment and hard labor in the Philippines was just the beginning for those who surrendered on Bataan. Starting in August 1942, the Japanese began shipping American and European prisoners from the Philippines to Japan to be used as slave laborers by national corporations. The prisoners were told if they did not work, they would not eat.

One of those corporations was Nippon Steel.

Nippon Steel

In his visit this week, Kishida will present Nippon Steel as the face of Japan. His message will be that the company, like Japan, should be viewed as a trusted ally that will enhance security cooperation by improving the U.S. industrial base. Nowhere will he mention the company’s unfinished business from the war.

Nippon Steel, like all major Japanese wartime corporations, requisitioned prisoner-of-war labor and maintained prisoner labor camps. The firm was so vital to Japanese war production that one of its steel mills was to be a target of an atomic bomb. At its mines, mills, and railyards, Nippon Steel used 6,000 Allied prisoners of war. At least 2,000 were American, most of whom were survivors of the conquest of the Philippines that began with the fall of Bataan.

At Nippon Steel facilities, the POWs were starved, abused, and denied adequate medical care. Company employees willfully beat the POWs working alongside them. Barracks were unheated, infested with vermin, and overcrowded. Ten percent of the prisoners died.

Nippon Steel still refuses to acknowledge that Americans suffered in forced service to the company during World War II. That history is nowhere to be found on Nippon Steel’s website, which devotes more than 1,000 words to a timeline of the company’s heritage. The timeline, which goes back to 1908, ignores the 1940s entirely.

Nippon Steel’s exploitation of POW labor during the war is also ignored at two of its functioning steel mills that were designated in 2015 as UNESCO World Industrial Heritage sites. Despite a UNESCO reprimand, the Japanese government refuses to provide “the full history” of these sites by explaining how POWs helped maintain wartime production.

Nippon Steel has invested in a slew of Washington, D.C., lobbyists to make the case for the company’s purchase of U.S. Steel. The prime minister is supposed to build on their imagery of Nippon Steel as a responsible, technologically sophisticated corporation sensitive to American interests. Ignored is that the company has long failed at its most basic expression of respect for American workers. It has never acknowledged or apologized for its mistreatment of American “laborers.”

The Opportunity

Kishida declared last year at the U.N. that he wanted to emphasize “human dignity” in international cooperation. Here is his chance. He can suggest that Nippon Steel do something more meaningful with its efforts to gain political support for the deal than to emphasize that it is good business.

There is precedent for such a move. In 2015, Mitsubishi Materials Corporation became the first and only Japanese company to apologize and present an atonement payment for using American slave labor during the war. The admission was hailed at the time as an important step in moving Japanese industry out of the shadow of its wartime atrocities, although no other Japanese companies have done the same.

Nippon Steel now has a rare opportunity to make a statement similar to Mitsubishi’s. In the face of recent government leaders reframing the Japanese purely as victims during World War II and to rewrite history downplaying the plight of those who suffered under Japan’s rampage across the Pacific, this would be a timely trust-building corporate and national move.

In addition to acknowledgement and an apology, Nippon Steel, along with the Japanese government, would ideally devote resources annually to educational efforts both in Japan and the U.S. to make the history of American POWs in Japan more widely known. There should be more than a few plaques at steel plants. Virtual visits to former POW camps, digitization of records, exchange programs for families, and a national memorial would be appropriate. Both Japan and Nippon Steel have to show they are serious.

These efforts are especially important now, nearly 80 years since the end of the war, as the living memory of wartime events slips away.

It’s too late now for the thousands of Americans who slaved away for Nippon Steel to get the apology and recognition they deserve. That includes the father of the famed Smothers Brothers, the grandfather of California Governor Gavin Newsom, and Olympian Louis Zamperini, whose remarkable story of survival was depicted in the book and movie “Unbroken.”

But it’s not too late for Nippon Steel, with Kishida’s encouragement, to face its past directly so it can move on to its future, potentially with U.S. Steel, with some measure of honor and trust.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

POW Group Testifies to Congress


to the

Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and House Veterans' Affairs Committee


Joint Hearing


To Receive Legislative Presentations of Veterans Service Organizations



Jan Thompson


American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society


13 March 2024








Chairmen Tester and Bost, Ranking Members Moran and Takano, and Members of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees, thank you for allowing us to describe how Congress can meet the concerns of veterans of World War II in the Pacific.


The American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (ADBC) was founded in January 1946 at the Fort Devens, Massachusetts hospital by former POWs of Imperial Japan. The ADBC represented the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces in the Pacific who participated in the early resistance to, and defensive battles against, the armed forces of Imperial Japan from December 8, 1941 to June 9, 1942. Nearly all the survivors endured four years of merciless imprisonment by Imperial Japan throughout the Empire.


Our Memorial Society now represents their families and descendants, as well as scholars, researchers, and archivists. Our goal is to preserve the history of the American POW experience in the Pacific and to teach future generations of the POWs’ sacrifice, courage, determination, and faith—the essence of the American spirit.




The common perception of an American POW of Imperial Japan is as a casualty of the infamous Bataan Death March 82 years ago next month. The fall of the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines and the start of the March, April 9, 1942, is National Former POW Recognition Day and is recognized with a Presidential Proclamation.


In fact, Americans—Marines, sailors, and merchant marines in China and Japan—became POWs of Imperial Japan starting with the first day of the War on December 8, 1941. Over the following months, Americans unprepared for war in outposts throughout the Pacific were surrendered en masse often after furious, unaided battles—Wake Island, Guam, Java, Sunda Strait, Luzon, Corregidor, Mindanao, Kiska, Attu—against the invading Japanese.


As POWs, the Americans were subject to torture, abuse, starvation, and neglect. Significantly, they were used as slave laborers for Japan’s military and private industry. The men toiled on the Thai-Burma Death Railway; built airfields with their bare hands—such as at what is now the Antonio Bautista Air Base on Palawan, Philippines; died constructing military projects such as the Soto Dam in Nagasaki Prefecture; and slaved in Japanese corporate mines, mills, and factories. For example, Nippon Steel, which is now attempting to purchase U.S. Steel, used more than 6,000 American and Allied POWs as forced labor with ten percent dying in the process.


I testify today to encourage a greater effort to remember and to advocate for these American men and women who gave their all under desperate conditions and who demonstrated determination and resourcefulness against a ruthless enemy. And all this against the backdrop of a long-decided U.S. and British policy to prioritize the war in Europe. The result was that thousands of these soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen became POWs of Japan and suffered some of the War’s worst consequences. One-third did not return home.


Our asks

To ensure that the sacrifices and unique history of our fighting men and women in the Pacific during 1941 and 1942 are not forgotten I ask Congress to:


1. Award the Congressional Gold Medal collectively to the American defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, as defined in U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich’s and Representative Teresa Leger Fernandez’s forthcoming bill. This group represents every U.S. state, territory, tribe, and military service. It is the most diverse World War II Congressional Gold Medal cohort.


2. Call on Nippon Steel and other Japanese companies to acknowledge their history of using American and Allied POWs as slave laborers and to establish an educational foundation to support research and learning about the POW experience in Imperial Japan. Respect for the sacrifices of American veterans should be fundamental to Nippon Steel’s acquisition of a U.S. company. It is the only way that trust can be established.

3. Ask the Government of Japan, to create two central government-funded memorials in Japan, as none exist, to the Allied POWs of WWII. One would be in Tokyo and the other at the Port of Moji on Kyushu, Japan where most of the “hellships”–floating dungeons where POWs were denied air, space, light, sanitation, water, and food–first arrived in Japan to unload their sick and dying human cargo. Currently, the only monuments at Moji are to Japanese war horses, Japanese soldiers, and bananas.


4. Instruct the U.S. Department of State to prepare a report for Congress on the history and funding of the 2010-2023 “Japan/POW Friendship Program.” The report should include (i) how other Allied POW reconciliation programs initiated by the Government of Japan in 1995 compare both in funding and programming with the one for the Americans; (ii) how the U.S. program compares with its “kakehashi” people exchange programs in the United States funded by the Government of Japan starting in 2015; and (iii) a breakdown of the budgets of these various exchange programs and the types and ages of participants.


5. Ask the Government of Japan to reestablish and institutionalize the “Japan/POW Friendship Program.” Inaugurated in 2010 as a reconciliation visit to Japan for former U.S. POWs and family members, it was modeled after ones initiated in 1995 for British, Dutch, and Australian POWs. Japan ended the visitation program for Americans in 2023. Instead of stopping reconciliation efforts, Japan should transform the American POW program into a permanent educational, remembrance, and exchange initiative that encompasses history, justice, and democratic resilience.


6. Ask the Government of Japan to publish in Japanese, English and other Allied languages on the website of the Foreign Ministry of Japan the 2009 Cabinet Decision making a formal apology to all the prisoners of war of Japan and the text of Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki’s May 30, 2009 speech to the final convention of the ADBC offering an apology to the POWs.


7. Ask the Government of Japan to honor its 2015 written promise to include the “full history” of Japan’s UNESCO World Industrial Heritage properties of the Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining. Despite the government’s written commitments to UNESCO, the history of POW slave labor at many of the Heritage sites is not included at those locations or at the Tokyo Information Center. Two of these locations are owned by Nippon Steel.


High price of freedom

By June 1942, most of the estimated 27,000 Americans ultimately held as military POWs of Imperial Japan had been surrendered. By the War’s end, roughly 12,000 Americans POWs had died in Japan’s squalid POW camps, in the fetid holds of “hellships,” or in slave labor camps owned by Japanese companies. This was a death rate of 40 percent. In contrast, 1.5 percent of Americans in Nazi POW camps died putting the mortality rate for POWs of Japan as 20 times greater.

Eighty-three years after the start of the War in the Pacific, it is time to recognize the Americans who fought the impossible and endured the unimaginable in the war against tyranny and fascism in Asia. The American men and women in the early months of the war in the Pacific fought with limited and outdated weapons and no hope of reinforcement or resupply.


Current and future generations can be inspired by their “victory from within.” As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in August 1943, when the outcome of WWII was still uncertain, “The story of the fighting on Bataan and Corregidor—and, indeed, everywhere in the Philippines–will be remembered so long as men continue to respect bravery, and devotion, and determination.”


In return for their sacrifices and service, they ask that their government keep its moral obligation to them. They do not want their history ignored or exploited. What they want most is to have their government stand by them to ensure that they will be remembered, that our Japanese allies respect them, and that their American history is preserved accurately.


Ms. Jan Thompson

President, American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor Memorial Society

Daughter of PhM2c Robert E. Thompson USN, USS Canopus (AS-9)

Survivor of the hellships Oryoku MaruEnoura Maru, and the Brazil Maru

Survivor of the POW Camps Bilibid (Philippines), Fukuoka 3B (Japan), & Mukden (China)


See previous testimony to the Veterans’ Affairs Committees for a fuller background

on the history and efforts of the ADBC-MS.

Thursday, February 01, 2024

Nippon Steel's Legacy of POW Slave Labor

‘Zero ethics’? Japan-US war wounds reopen over POW abuse as Nippon Steel buys American rival

Relatives say they are disappointed the US government failed to pressure Tokyo to face up to the historic abuses of prisoners by the Japanese firms during WWII
Americans would be shocked if they knew of the ‘inhumane’ treatment suffered by US prisoners at Japanese companies supporting the war effort, the relatives add

Relatives of American prisoners who were used as slave labourers during World War II have expressed anger at the purchase of US Steel by Nippon Steel Corp, claiming the Japanese company has made no effort to atone for or even admit the brutal treatment that was meted out to POWs.

They are also disappointed at the US government’s failure to pressure Japan to face up to the historic abuses of tens of thousands of POWs at the hands of companies that are today among the wealthiest in the world.

Workers at US Steel, union members and American consumers would be outraged if they knew what the forerunner of Nippon Steel had put captured servicemen through, they add.

The agreement for Nippon Steel to acquire the 122-year-old US firm for US$14.9 billion was announced in December, immediately triggering opposition from the United Steelworkers union and members of Congress.

Those complaints, however, were focused narrowly on concern over the “dire implications for the industrial base of the United States”, according to a letter signed by three Republican senators addressed to Janet Yellen, US Treasury secretary and chair of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter of 2024, subject to regulatory approvals.

Relatives of men who endured years of abuse and appalling conditions as they laboured in mines, shipyards and other industrial plants that supported Japan’s war effort say they are still waiting for a meaningful apology from industrial giants like Nippon Steel, which merged with Sumitomo Metal Industries in 2012 to form one of the largest steel conglomerates in the world.

Historians estimate that Nippon Steel and its ancillary companies used at least 4,000 American and Allied POWs at its industrial sites.

Nippon Steel is also embroiled in a bitter legal fight in South Korea, where courts have repeatedly ruled that it must pay compensation to the descendants of former forced labourers.

“I am disappointed to learn of Nippon Steel’s attempted acquisition of US Steel and I remain irate that Nippon Steel still has not apologised for or even acknowledged the use of POW labourers during World War II,” said Patrick Regan, 51, from Bolingbrook in Illinois.

“A company that cannot at least admit past misdeeds cannot be believed or trusted to do the right thing going forward,” said Regan, whose grandfather, US Army Air Corp Technical Sergeant Donald C Regan, was captured during the fall of Bataan in the Philippines in April 1942. “Its monetary value may be immense, but its ethical value is zero.”

Regan was held in the Philippines for 18 months after his surrender and “exploited as a slave labourer by Nippon Steel” at the 12-B Osaka camp, also known as Hirohata, for the last two years of the war, his grandson told This Week in Asia.

“He suffered from malaria, optic atrophy, severe malnutrition and other ailments during his time as a POW … As a labourer at Nippon Steel, his fingers were crushed while moving a heavy piece of equipment,” he said.

“The physical scars from that injury were still visible when I saw them as a young boy, and the emotional scars of his treatment as a POW remained until his death in 1984.”

Patrick Regan travelled to Japan with his father in 2023, visiting the site of his grandfather’s POW camp and the steel mill where he was put to work.

“The camp is now a quiet suburban neighbourhood,” he said. “There’s no mention of the POW camp that once stood there. The security gate outside the Nippon Steel complex … makes no hint of that history.”

Teresa Goodell, 64, from Beaverton in Oregon, echoes that anger over the mistreatment of her father, Commander Zemo C Tarnowski, in Japanese captivity and forced to labour as a stevedore at docks in Japan.

“The cruelty he suffered while imprisoned morphed into suffering for his family, despite his good intentions to the contrary,” she said. “This is what trauma does; it lives on.”

Expressing her “strong opposition to the US Steel purchase”, Goodell added that “Americans who were directly and indirectly harmed by Japanese cruelty deserve a greatly overdue formal apology from Nippon Steel prior to approval of the acquisition”..

Jan Thompson, president of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society, said: “I am shocked this is happening. US Steel symbolised America’s strength during World War II … The unions at US Steel also symbolise America’s ideals – fair wages, fair treatment and looking out for the welfare of workers.

“However, the POWs who were slave labourers for Nippon Steel or Sumitomo … were inhumanely treated as slave labourers and if they did not slave, they were not fed,” she said. “Work conditions were unsafe and beatings happened every day.”

Thompson’s father, Robert E Thompson, was a US Navy medic who spent three years in a prison hospital in Manila after the fall of the Philippines before being placed on a “hell ship” to Japan. After a journey during which both “hell ships” he was put on were sunk, his third transport finally arrived at the Japanese port of Moji. Only around 600 individuals from the 1,619 men who had left Manilla survived.

After his repatriation, Thompson would never allow any Japanese product into the family’s home.

“I do not think ordinary Americans know anything about the history of our POWs in Japan,” Jan Thompson said. “If they did know, I believe there would be blowback. I believe our veterans’ organisations would be outraged. I wonder why our government would allow this to happen.”

Mindy Kotler, director of Washington-based Asia Policy Point and a historian of Imperial Japan’s Allied prisoners of war, said no Japanese steel company had acknowledged POW slave labour or offered an apology.

“Many ordinary Americans do not even know that Japan was an enemy in World War II,” Kotler said. “And there is some surprise the Japanese companies have never done what German companies have, which is to apologise, pay compensation and teach the history of slave labour.”

In 1999, European steel giants Thyssen AG and Krupp agreed to a merger, subject to a condition requiring the creation of a foundation to make “humanitarian payments” to former forced labourers and other victims of the Nazi regime.

While ThyssenKrupp has contributed generously to the foundation, Tokyo has resisted efforts to encourage Japanese companies to take a similar path and insists that all claims were settled under the terms of the San Francisco Peace Treaty.

Kotler also noted that Tokyo’s position was contrary to that of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who in September began advocating “human dignity” as a key principle alongside the “rule of law” in Japanese foreign policy.

“Here is an opportunity for Nippon Steel to do the right thing, to live up to its current corporate principles and Japan’s new efforts to ask its companies to engage in responsible business conduct by respecting human rights,” Kotler said.

“Maybe the company will finally acknowledge its use of American and Allied POW slave labour.”

Julian Ryall never expected to still be in Japan 24 years after he first arrived, but he quickly realised its advantages over his native London. He lives in Yokohama with his wife and children and writes for publications around the world.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

January 9, 1945 and The Smothers' Brothers

Pacific War historians usually remember January 9th, for General Douglas MacArthur's 1945 return to the main island of the Philippines, Luzon. In October 1944, the liberation of the Japanese-occupied archipelago had begun with the Battle of Leyte. On January 9th, the campaign moved to Luzon's Lingayen Gulf with 60,000 American troops landing to cheering Filipinos.

The last time MacArthur walked on Luzon was January 10, 1942. It was his one and only visit to the front on the Bataan Peninsula from his command center on the island of Corregidor. It is possible that this one day was chosen as the Bataan battlefield would have been relatively safe. Just days before, Japan's experienced 14th Army 48th Division (15,000 men) on Bataan had been transferred to the Dutch East Indies and replaced with the untrained reservists of the IJA's 65th Brigade (6,600 men).

Task Force 38
As MacArthur planned his return, Adm William Halsey's Third Fleet was tasked with disrupting Japanese shipping in the South China Sea, especially the Empire's resupply of the Philippines. Led by Vice Admiral John S McCain (yes, the grandfather of Senator McCain) Task Force 38 attacked Japanese shipping and air fields throughout the region. Historians call the Task Force's January 1945 operations a "rampage" toward Formosa, Luzon, and Indochina. By the time the Task Force exited the shipping lanes of the South China Sea, over 300,000 tons of enemy shipping and dozens of Japanese warships had been sunk. With follow-up air strikes against Japanese harbors and airfields in Formosa and the Ryukyu Islands, the success of the sweep was unprecedented.

This "carrier rampage" had dire consequences for the American POWs. It was on January 9th, that the Enoura Maru, a hell ship carrying 1,070 POWs from the Philippines, was bombed by planes off the USS Hornet (CV-12). The ship carrying mainly the last officers held in the Philippines was docked in Takao Harbor, Formosa and moored next to a tanker. One-third of the POWs onboard were killed or wounded. The survivors were put aboard the Brazil Maru on January 14 and transported north to the port of Moji, Japan. Only 600 or so survived the 16-day trip. MORE ON THE ENOURA MARU

Major Thomas Smothers
One of those survivors in Moji, Japan was Major Thomas Smothers, the father of the Smothers brothers. Major Smothers was CO of the 3rd Battalion of the 45th Infantry Regiment, Philippine Scouts. Major Smothers survived the Battle of Bataan and the Bataan Death March. It is possible he was among a number of 45th Inf. officers to have made the journey to the POW death Camp O'Donnell by truck. He then endured harsh captivity for nearly three years in Cabanatuan, a POW camp in the Philippines.

On 13 December 1944, he was among 1621 prisoners, the majority officers, who were marched from Bilibid Prison to Pier 7, Manila. At dusk, they were herded aboard the Oryoku Maru, divided into three groups, and forced down into three dark holds. What followed was probably the most infamous of the Hell Ship voyages. American bombers off the USS Hornet and USS Cabot sank the Oryoku Maru barely out of Manila near Subic Bay. Nearly 200 POWs died. The survivors were kept for five tortuous days on an abandoned tennis court, exposed to the tropical sun with little water, food or medical care .

On December 27, the men were packed aboard two freighters, the Enoura Maru and Brazil Maru to Formosa. The ship's holds were not cleaned of its previous cargo, horses and other livestock. Men picked through the animal waste looking for oats to eat. Although they arrived in Takao, Formosa on New Year's Day, they were not allowed to disembark, On January 9, planes from the USS Hornet again bombed the hellships. The Enoura Maru with Major Smothers aboard took direct hits. Days passed before the Japanese allowed the dead to be removed or help to the wounded. Four hundred or so who died were buried in shallow graves near the harbor's shore.

Badly wounded and suffering from the cold, starvation, and lack of medical care, Major Smothers was eventually taken to the Fukuoka #22 POW Camp administered by Sumitomo Mining to provide slave labor for one of its coal mines (the company is now part of Nippon Steel). At the Sumitomo camp medical care was poor or nonexistent during the historically cold winter of 1944/5.

On April 25, 1945, he was transported by stretcher from Fukuoka #22 to the Fukuoka City docks (Moji) for transport to Fusan, Korea [today's Busan, South Korea], and then on to Mukden, China. Some speculate that the Japanese were consolidating the American officers at Mukden to use as hostages. Smothers perished that night on the dock.

According to an oral history by British Lt. Geoffrey Pharoah Adams (available online through the Imperial War Museum. See Reel #11 with the key part of the story beginning at about 10 min 40 sec.), on April 25, 1945, he and a group of POWs were put aboard a ferry, but taken off around midnight after an air raid alarm. Adams and some 15 other comparatively healthy officers were tasked with taking off the ferry the American stretcher cases. Adams and his friend, British Lt. John Vincent Bowen, took an American Major (Smothers) off the ship. They and two of their friends from Fukuoka Camp #17 (Mitsui's Omuta coal mine), Americans Lt. Charles P. Christie, and 2nd Lt John Allen, who were also stretcher bearers, decided to stick together. "We carried the man off who was a Major, so emaciated and thin." Since they were the last off the ship the other prisoners were out of sight.

Those carrying the stretcher cases were told to lay down on the concrete beside the walls of a warehouse. It was very cold. The Major on the stretcher had a blanket over him. Because he said he felt so cold, the four men (Adams, Bowen, Christie, and Allen) laid down all around him, one on either side, one on the top, one across the bottom. "During the course of the night he died." "He just expired from hypothermia, from despair...I don't know, but he died anyway."

The next morning there was a bit of a row, because the man had died and upset the roll call figures. "We were ordered to take the dead man with us." "The Japan Japanese had handed us over to the new Japanese and we had to have the right count aboard the ferry. So we carried the poor Major back on board with us." The ship set sail. "Some of these people who had been sunk and who had had these terrible trials were hysterical." (Col. Ben Skardon, Clemson University alumnus and professor, corroborated this detail about the men being hysterical). After the ferry arrived at Pusan, Korea, "We got off the ship. We still had to take our stretcher with the Major off." Shortly, after roll call, they were told to leave him on the dock. Smothers had been assigned the Mukden POW Camp number of 2006 and appeared on the Mukden death roster with that number. There is no record indicating that his body ever left Fusan, Korea.

USS Hornet (CV-12) was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for the its operations: January 3 – January 22, 1945 — Philippines, Formosa, China Sea, Ryukyu


You can read more about the Task Force 38 campaign in the new (February 28, 2023) book, South China Sea 1945: Task Force 38's bold carrier rampage in Formosa, Luzon, and Indochina (Air Campaign, 36) by Mark Lardas (Author), Irene Cano Rodríguez 96 pages.

See HERE for an interesting diary account of the USS Hornet during January 1945. An official Navy history is HERE.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Who Bombed Pearl Harbor

n December 8, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his famous "day in infamy" speech describing Imperial Japan's "dastardly attack" on Pearl Harbor and condemning Tokyo's "surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area."

Immediately following the speech, the U.S. Senate declared war on Japan. A state of war with Germany was declared December 11, hours after Germany had declared war on the United States.

There was no official, national remembrance of the tragedy at Pearl Harbor until 1994. The 103rd Congress passed a joint resolution in 1994 designating December 7, 1993, as "National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day." President Bill Clinton signed it into law (Public Law 103-308) on August 23rd. The law states: December 7 of each year is designated as "National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day" and the President is authorized and requested— (1) to issue annually a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe the day with appropriate ceremonies and activities; and (2) to urge all Federal agencies, and interested organizations, groups, and individuals, to fly the flag of the United States at halfstaff" each December 7 in honor of the individuals who died as a result of their service at Pearl Harbor.

Historians will wonder why the law identifies the nonexistent Japanese "Air Force" as the aggressor and is not specific about the number of casualties at Pearl Harbor. At the time, Japan did not have an independent Air Force. It was the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service that attacked Hawaii. In addition, unlike in President Roosevelt's speech, there is no mention of Japan's other lightning strikes throughout the Pacific on December 7th. These attacks famously destroyed the American Asiatic Fleet and the Army's Far East Air Force while cutting off U.S. outposts in the Pacific from the mainland and resuplly.

The Proclamations
The first proclamation was issued by President Clinton on November 29, 1994, 53 years after the Pearl Harbor attack. His 1994 proclamation, as all that followed, did little to enlighten Americans about the day's history. Notably, it began the "tradition" of not identifying who "attacked" U.S. Forces in Hawaii that day. All that we learn is that the attack "involved America in a worldwide battle against the forces of fascism and oppression."

In an examination of the 30 Pearl Harbor Presidential proclamations made since 1994, 11 have no mention of Japan. In other words, the "enemy" who attacked the American territory is not identified. It could have been any of the Axis powers. Thailand had a modern, able air force, albeit no aircraft carriers.

President George W. Bush (43) recognized Japan in only two of his eight Pearl Harbor Day commemorative statements. His administration had a close relationship with Japan and notably squashed a joint congressional resolution remembering the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII and the defeat of Japan. President Biden, who lost his uncle and a cousin to the Japanese, has mentioned Japan in only one of his three statements. Here is the link to this year's Proclamation. (I have a memo outlining all 30 statements. If interested, email me.)

California Governor Gavin Newson's 2023 Pearl Harbor Day proclamation clearly mentions Japan. His grandfather, Arthur Menzies, was a soldier on Corregidor with the 60th Coast Artillery Regiment (AntiAircraft) K Battery and endured a hellship and nearly four years in Japanese POW Camps. He was not on the Bataan Death March as some reports say. Sadly, while experiencing a flashback in 1973, he threatened to kill Newsom's mother and her twin sister. When he realized that they were not Japanese prison guards, he turned the gun on himself.

I have not found any member of congress, even members of the Veterans Affairs Committees in the House and Senate who have publicly remembered Pearl Harbor Day. If you find one, please tell me.

Also missing in the proclamations is mention of all the other attacks Japan made that day throughout the Pacific, especially against the American territories of Wake Island, Guam, Midway, and Howland Island. I leave to my loyal readers to figure out how many other Americans died that day in battle (tell me if you run the numbers). President Roosevelt, in contrast, was quite clear in his speech to Congress that December 7th was a day of multiple Japanese attacks in the Asia-Pacific (territories in continental Asia were bombed as well as islands in the Pacific).

To be sure, Pearl Harbor saw the greatest number of casualties and Medal of Honor (MoH) honorees among the American territories in the Pacific attacked that day. For their actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor, 15 sailors in the U.S. Navy (from seven ships and one Naval Air Station) and 1 Marine were awarded Medals of Honor. The 16 recipients held a wide range of ranks, from seaman to rear admiral. Eleven (69%) received their awards posthumously.

The first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor during World War II was killed on Midway, December 7, 1941. First Lieutenant George H. Cannon, USMC, from Michigan, remained at his post until all of his wounded men were evacuated, though severely wounded himself. His selfless action and concern for his men was an inspiration.

When war began, the American Embassy rushed to burn documents before the Kempeitai arrested and interned them. Niles W. Bond was a consular officer in Yokohama, Japan from 1940-1942 and was there during the attack on Pearl Harbor. His accounts of the time make interesting reading.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

December 14, 1944, Palawan Massacre

Plaza Cuartel Park
main square next to
the Palawan Survivors
Memorial (POW Camp 10A).
It was not rain that dampened their skin. It was airplane fuel. Buckets of it were tossed on the 150 emaciated POWs hunched down in narrow air raid trenches. The Japanese guards quickly followed with torches to light the men on fire.

The trench with the officers was the first to be set ablaze. The POWs in two other trenches tried to escape. But if grenades did not stop them, then the machine guns that had been positioned outside did. Wounded survivors were tortured by having their fingers and toes set afire. Their begging to be shot provoked more laughter from their tormentors.

If a man somehow made it past all the attacks, he was hunted down and killed. Of the 30-some who tried to escape the conflagration, only 11 actually were able to swim across the bay to be rescued by Filipino guerillas.

Such was the December 14th afternoon at Puerto Princesa, on the Philippine island of Palawan facing the South China Sea. The POWs had been there since August 1942. They were Marines, soldiers, tankers, and airmen captured months before when Bataan and Corregidor fell.

With only hand tools and one wheelbarrow they cleared the jungle and broke up the coral to build an airfield for the Imperial Japanese Army. Today, the airstrip they constructed rests below the Antonio Bautista Air Base, an important anchor of the U.S.-Philippines alliance and focal point for joint maneuvers with Japan.

It may be by coincidence that the Japanese selected December 14th to murder the POWs. And maybe not. For on December 14, 1799, George Washington died at his Mt. Vernon home after five decades of service to his country.

To learn more about the Palawan Massacre read Last Man Out or As Good as Dead.

Most important, please leave a tribute or a flower at the Find A Grave site for the Palawan Massacre. Most of the men are buried in a mass grave at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in Missouri. Click here for the virtual memorial.

Never Forget

Sunday, September 10, 2023


Do not forget National POW/MIA Recognition Day Friday, September 15, 202

Annually, the Secretary of Defense holds a ceremony at the Pentagon remembering POW/MIAs. Rarely do members of Congress attend (they are all invited and they all have a POW/MIA flag planted at their office doors on the Hill.). Thus, ask your congressperson and senators to join the Friday ceremony at 10:00am on the River Terrace Parade Field at The Pentagon. The ceremony will be broadcast live on the Defense Department website.

The Defense Department POW/MIA Recognition Day Website highlights recovery stories and you can download from the site the annual Recognition Day Poster poster.

For past POW/MIA Posters and to order free copies of this year's poster see here on  the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) website. The DPAA also has National POW/MIA Recognition Day 9-page Tool Kit to help you conduct a meaningful memorial ceremony for POW/MIAs.


>1898: U.S. IMPERIAL VISIONS AND REVISIONS SYMPOSIUM. 9/8-9Join the National Portrait Gallery on September 8 and 9 for the 2023 Edgar P. Richardson Symposium, organized around the landmark exhibition 1898: U.S. Imperial Visions and Revisions, the Smithsonian's first major exhibition on U.S. imperialism and the pivotal conflicts of 1898. The symposium will convene over 40 scholars and artists from Cuba, Guam, Hawai‘i, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States for two days of panels, roundtables and gallery talks, and a keynote address by 2022 Pulitzer Prize Winner Ada Ferrer. The keynote address will take place Friday, September 8 at 5pm, and will be followed by an audience Q&A and public reception. The Museum's Portal Website will soon post the conference.

>MASTER CHIEF PETTY OFFICER OF THE NAVY, JAMES M. HONEA. 9/12, 1:00pm (EDT), ONLINE. Sponsor: US Navy Memorial. Speaker: James M. Honea, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy. Discusses the Navy's recent Three Calls to Action: 1) Warfighting Competency, 2) Professional and Personal Development, and 3) Quality of Life. 

>THE USS HOUSTON: A SURVIVAL STORY. 9/14, 7:00-8:00pm (EDT), IN PERSON ONLY. Sponsor: Loudoun County Public Library. Speaker: John K. Schwarz, Executive Director USS Houston (CA-30) Survivors’ Association and Next Generations®. 

>ROAD TO SURRENDER WITH EVAN THOMAS. 9/14, Noon (EDT), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: Alexander Hamilton Society. Speaker: author Evan Thomas, writer, correspondent, and editor for 33 years at Time and Newsweek
>VIRTUAL CONFERENCE ON WORLD WAR II. 9/16,10:00am-1:00pm (EDT), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: Friends of the National World War II Memorial. Speakers: “The Partnership: George Marshall, Henry Stimson, and the Extraordinary Collaboration That Won World War II"with author Edward Aldrich; “A Woman's View of the Pacific Ocean Theater” with Lorissa Rinehart who writes about women, art, war, and their points of intersection and is author of First to the Front: The Untold Story of Dickey Chapelle, Trailblazing Female War Correspondent; and “The Merchant Marine in WWII” with Dave Yoho served in World War II in the Merchant Marine and later built a highly successful career as an entrepreneur and business leader. Moderator: best-selling author and Friends’ Resident Historian Alex Kershaw. 

>OCCUPATION: THE LEGACY OF THE ASIATIC PACIFIC WAR. 9/16, 9:00am-5:00pm (CDT), In person and online. Sponsor:  The Admiral Nimitz Foundation.  Speakers: Richard B. Frank, internationally recognized leading authority on the Asia-Pacific War; Dr. Xiaobing Li, professor of the Department of History and Geography and the Don Betz Endowed Chair in International Studies at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO); Ricardo Trota Jose, professor of history at the University of the Philippines, Diliman; Mindy L. Kotler is founder and director of Asia Policy Point. Special guest, Marie Vallejo, author of Dauntless, a book about the First and Second Filipino Regiments. 

>. WAR CRIMES - FROM WWII UNTIL TODAY: 6TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE ON WWII IN THE PHILIPPINES. 9/23, 10:00am-4:00pm (PDT), In person, Facebook Live. Sponsor: Bataan Legacy Historical Society in partnership with the University of San Francisco's Philippine Studies Program, Memorare Manila 1945 and USF Kasamahan. Speakers: James Zarsadiaz, Director, Philippine Studies Program, University of San Francisco; Prof. Mark Hull, Professor of War Crimes, U.S. Army Command & General Staff College, Ft. Leavenworth; Philippine Consul General in San Francisco Neil F. Ferrer; Father Paul Fitzgerald, S.J., President, University of San Francisco; Benjamin Hall, Fox News State Department Correspondent, Eyewitness to War Crimes Today (Via Zoom); Jose Custodio, Fellow, Consortium of Indo Pacific Researchers; Christopher Capozzola, Professor of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Richard Frank, Pacific War historian, author, Tower of Skulls; Marie Vallejo, author of Dauntless, a book about the First and Second Filipino Regiments; Kate LaFerriere, daughter of Frank Innis, former civilian POW in Los Banos; Cynthia Bonta, survivor of the Los Baños massacre, mother of California Attorney General Rob Bonta; and Richard Foye, author of Foye And The Filipinos Bailout, Escape, And Rescue Of A Navy Fighter Pilot In World War Two Luzon, is the son of Ensign William Foye, an F6F Hellcat Pilot and a member of the Air Group Twenty assigned to the USS Enterprise (CV6). 

>WWII: AIR WAR, THE PACIFIC THEATER: ONLINE CONTINUING EDUCATION COURSE. September 4–November 6, ONLINE. Sponsor: National WWII Museum and Arizona State University. Speaker: John Curatola, PhD, Military Historian at the Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War and Democracy. 

>EXHIBIT OPENING: THE PRICE OF UNPREPAREDNESS: POWS IN THE PHILIPPINES DURING WORLD WAR II9/30, 10:00-11:30am (EDT), IN PERSON ONLY*. Sponsor: MacArthur Memorial. Speakers: Dr. Frank Blazich, Jr., Curator of Modern Military History at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History and author of Bataan Survivor: A POW’s Account of Japanese Captivity in World War II; Mary McKay Maynard, she and her family spent two years hiding from occupying Japanese forces in the jungles of Mindanao before being rescued by the USS Narwhal as chronicled in My Faraway Home: An American Family’s WWII Tale of Adventure and Survival; and MacArthur Memorial Archivist James Zobel  *For the virtual option Email  and ask to be added to the post-event email list. This list will be used to send a one-time email with a link to the digital exhibit guide and a recording of the exhibit opening event.

>VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY DENIS MCDONOUGH. 11/6, 12:30-2:00pm (EDT), IN PERSON (LUNCH AND FEE) AND ON C-SPAN. Sponsor: National Press Club. Speaker: Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough delivers an update on the state of America's veterans and their families, and on the implementation of the PACT Act.