Saturday, August 06, 2011

Nippon Sharyo

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In the entrance hall of the Yushukan, the war museum on the property of the Yasukuni Shrine, locomotive C5631 greets visitors. You examine the black engine as you ride up the escalator to the main museum. The museum's entrance hall envelopes its guests in a blinding white.

The C5631 was one of the engines used on the Thailand-Burma Death Railway. This particular engine is said to have been one that opened this infamous Railway, which was the subject of the Academy Award wining movie, Bridge on the River Kwai. The movie immortalized the Allied POWs who slaved to build the railway. PBS hosted a documentary in June 2008 that is truer to the facts of the awful history of building the railway.

Over 240,000 British, Dutch, Australian, Canadian, American, New Zealand, Amonen, Indian, and other civilian and military Allied POWs as well Southeast Asian forced laborers such as Burmese, Malaya, Indonesian (Romusha), Thai, and others participated in creating the railroad from the jungle and mountains. Probably 75 percent died in the process from abuse, malnutrition, disease, overwork, and accidents.

More than 600 American POWs slaved to build the Thailand-Burma Death Railway. They were mostly survivors of the USS Houston CA-30, sunk in the Battle of the Sunda Strait in February 1942, and an artillery battalion of the Texas National Guard (2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery) that was taken prisoner on Java after a brief battle in March 1942. Less than half survived the ordeal.

Nippon Sharyo manufactured in 1936 the C5631 that now rests at the Yushukan. It was shipped to Thailand in 1942 and is said to have taken part in the opening ceremony of the Thailand-Burma Death Railway. After the war, it was used in Thailand until it was retired in 1977. Japanese veteran groups raised funds to return the locomotive to Japan in 1979, restore it, and place it on the grounds of the Yasukuni Shrine. Apparently, in Shizuoka at the Oigawa Railway, you can ride a sister engine, C-5633, manufactured by Mitsubishi also in 1936. 

Since 1896, Nippon Sharyo has been Japan's leading railway rolling stock manufacturer. Today, in the United States, it supplies passenger cars to: Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD), Virginia Railway Express (VRE), Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation (Metra), California Department of Transportation (CalTrains), Maryland’s MARC, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA), and Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART). The company is an essential component of both JR Central and JR East's bids for U.S. high-speed rail contracts, which will be primarily U.S. taxpayer funded. In 2008, the bankrupt Nippon Sharyo was acquired by JR Central to ensure the historic company's survival.

During the war, Nippon Sharyo utilized American POW slave labor at two sites. The largest was at Narumi, which remains an important manufacturing center for the company. Narumi was where Sgt. Sam Moody was tortured (he testified at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal) and one of the POW camps with the greatest number of convicted war criminals (22). 

Nippon Sharyo-manufactured trains rumble daily past the Maywood Veterans Memorial Park. The village of Maywood, home of Company “B” of the 192nd Tank Battalion (originally the 33rd Tank Company of the Illinois National Guard, activated for Federal service on November 25, 1940), had the highest number of POWs on the Bataan Death March from a single municipality. Of the 89 men of Company "B" who left the U.S. in 1942 for the Philippines, only 43 would return from the war.

Danny Davis (D-IL) is the congressman representing Maywood, Illinois. As of August 5, 2011, he has not yet become a co-sponsor of H. Res. 333.

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