Sunday, March 25, 2012

April 25 - Heroes of Bataan & Corregidor in Washington

Painting of the Bataan Death March by Ben Steele

Including the American Defense Forces of the Philippine Archipelago, 
The Asiatic Fleet, Wake Island, China, Marianna Islands, 
Midway Island and the Dutch East Indies

Veterans of the Battle of Bataan, the Bataan Death March, and the capture of Corregidor will be in Washington, DC from April 24 to April 26 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Philippines. All became POWs of Imperial Japan. The history of these survivors of jungle warfare, torture, abuse, starvation, and slave labor and of their success in reconciling with the Japanese is a timeless inspiration.

Congress did not commemorate the 70th anniversaries of Pearl Harbor, Wake Island, the USS Houston, or Texas’ Lost Battalion. These were all among the first battles of American involvement in World War II. To make up for this oversight, a series of commemorative events is being planned with the veterans of the Philippines defense to provide a venue to remember these early months of World War II and their unique contribution to American history.

The 70th Anniversary of the Bataan Death March is April 9th and the surrender of Corregidor is May 6th. The valor of the Filipino and American soldiers is celebrated annually on April 9th in the Philippines as Valor Day or Araw ng Kagitingan.

The veterans coming to Washington include past national commanders of the now-disbanded American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (ADBC) who traveled to Japan in 2010 and 2011 to receive an official apology from the Government of Japan for their maltreatment and to visit their former POW camps. The death rate and incidence of post-traumatic stress for American POWs of Japan was the greatest of any American conflict. One invitee, Dr. Lester Tenney, the last national commander of the ADBC was instrumental in persuading the Government of Japan to offer American former POWs an apology and to begin a program for them to visit Japan. He also founded Care Packages from Home for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Another invitee, Mr. Ralph Levenberg who was on the Death March, was until recently an advocate for veterans benefits as a member of the Advisory Committee on Former Prisoners of War, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Mr. Ben Steele of Montana, another Death March survivor, has chronicled the Death March and Japan’s POW camps through his award-winning paintings and drawings. Mr. Ed Jackfert of West Virginia has championed and helped establish the ADBC Museum and Archive to preserve the memory of the American POWs of Japan and their lessons for war and peace.

  • Reception on Capitol Hill the evening of April 25 hosted by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and others
  • Roundtable discussion hosted by members of the House of Representatives on the Bataan Death March and the success of the two POW visitation programs to Japan
  • Wreath laying at the WWII memorial Bataan/Corregidor site
  • Lunch program with contemporary veterans for all to share their experience with PTSD (not recognized until the mid-70s), other war-related disabilities, and reintegration into society
  • Dinner with Commemoration donors and the American and Japanese officials who encouraged the Government of Japan to establish a program of reconciliation for American POWs

The final list of veterans who will attend will be made closer to the event taking into consideration the health of each participant. Each veteran will be accompanied by a caregiver. The veterans have also requested that Ms. Kinue Tokudome, who has spent years working to help them communicate their story to Japan, be included.
  • Dr. Lester Tenney, 92, San Diego, CA. Bataan Death March, Illinois National Guard, B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion from Maywood, Illinois
  • Mr. Harold Bergbower, 92, Peoria, AZ. Bombing of Clark Air Field, Army Air Corps, , 28th Bombardment Squadron, 19th Bomb Group,V Bomber Command
  • Mr. Edward Jackfert, 90, Wellsburg, WVA. Bombing of Clark Air Field, Army Air Corps 28th Bombardment Squadron, 19th Bomb Group, V Bomber Command
  • Mr. Joseph Alexander, 85, San Antonio, TX. Bombing of Clark Field, Army Air Corps 440th Ordnance Aviation Bombardment Squadron
  • Mr. Ralph Levenberg, 92, Reno, NV. Bataan Death March, Army Air Corps, 17th Pursuit Squadron
  • Mr. Earl Szwabo, 91, Florissant, MO. Corregidor, US Army, Battery C, 59th Coast Artillery
  • Mr. Ben Steele, 94, Billings, MT, Bataan Death March, Army Air Corps, 7th Material Squadron, 19th Bomb Group (his painting is above)
  • Special Guest: Ms. Kinue Tokudome, Kagoshima, Japan. Founder of the US-Japan Dialogue on POWs, who accompanied the POWs on their return to their POW camps.

Funding is needed for all the expenses of this program. Your help is requested to make these veterans of our greatest generation comfortable in their trip to Washington and to cover the program costs.

Donations can be made to one of two nonprofit, 501(c) (3) organizations: 

Asia Policy Point, 1730 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, Suite 414, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 822-6040. APP is organizing this program in Washington.

Brooke County Public Library Foundation, 945 Mail Street, Wellsburg, West Virginia 26070, (304) 737-1551. The Library houses the ADBC museum and archive.

For more information contact APP. Donate by clicking the DONATE button on the left side bar.

Not So Shared Values

The Sri Lankan government welcomed the Japanese declaration on March 13th (see video above) that "no country has a perfect record on human rights." Although only an observer to the UN Human Rights Council, the Japanese government felt it important to speak out against the US-sponsored resolution "Promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka" (A/HRC/19/L.2/Rev1).

The US introduced the resolution by saying that it "is not intended to condemn....[however] the government has not yet promulgated a credible action plan for implementation of those recommendations [toward peace]  nor has it taken the additional needed steps since the war to foster national reconciliation....[the objective of the resolution is] to ensure accountability for actions taken during the war."

The resolution, opposed by Russia and China*, presses the Sri Lankan government to investigate the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians in the final stages of the civil war with the Tamil Tigers. Passed March 22, it requires the United Nations high commissioner for human rights to report back next year on whether the government followed the council’s recommendation, which many see as crucial to healing the divide between Sri Lanka and its minority Tamils.

For those interested in resolving lingering wartime justice and peace issues with Japan, the Japanese UNHRC statement is a stunning slap at contemporary efforts toward post-conflict reconciliation. Japan essentially rejects today's norms of recognition of and accountability for war crimes. This is particularly troubling to the American POWs of Japan who are pressing on Japan and its companies to respect their human rights and to do more to show the sincerity of their apology.

In contrast, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton released a strong statement hours after the vote that the United States and the international community “had sent a strong signal that Sri Lanka will only achieve lasting peace through real reconciliation and accountability.” More interesting, Secretary Clinton noted that Sri Lanka's commitment to the reconciliation process cements the "shared values" between the two countries.
Today’s action by the UN Human Rights Council encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to continue on the path toward reconciliation following 27 years of civil war. The United States, together with the international community, sent a strong signal that Sri Lanka will only achieve lasting peace through real reconciliation and accountability, and the international community stands ready to help. The next steps are clear. We look to the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the constructive recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and take the necessary measures to address accountability.
We are committed to working with the Sri Lankan Government to help realize this goal, and I look forward to discussing future actions with Foreign Minister Peiris soon. We will continue the productive working relationship we have with the Sri Lankan Government based on shared values, respect and constructive dialogue. Most important, we seek to strengthen our partnership with all the people of Sri Lanka.
The White House followed by saying: 
The United States Government applauds today's passage of the UN Human Rights Council's resolution on "Promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka." The resolution, which received broad support from around the world, calls for a range of critical steps that would go a long away to advancing the rights and dignity of the Sri Lankan people. The United States urges the Sri Lankan government to develop a comprehensive action plan for implementing steps on reconciliation and accountability, as called for in today's resolution, and to work with UN experts and its partners in the international community to take meaningful action to achieve these important goals, which will be a critical part of Sri Lanka's efforts to provide a bright, peaceful, and stable future for all of its people. We stand ready to partner with Sri Lanka in this important effort.
For their part, Sri Lankan officials retorted that "We hope those human rights champions will take note of the Japanese sentiment as laid out by Minister Sakashita Osamu of the Japanese Permanent Mission in Geneva":
No country has a perfect record on human rights, and countries need to be given time, space, encouragement, advice, and where appropriate, concrete assistance in order to overcome existing challenges. The political, socio-economic and cultural contexts of each country duly need to be considered when addressing human rights issues.
Too often a false dichotomy is constructed between the universality of human rights per se and the particularity of specific human rights situations. Discussions, including those by this council, need to combine the two essential facets of human rights issues in a constructive manner.
Of the four Co-chairs to the failed Norway-led peace process for Sri Lanka, only Japan had objected to intervention. The other Co-chairs, the US, Norway and EU lambasted Sri Lanka, with UK's human rights minister, Jeremy Browne calling for UN intervention in Sri Lanka. With the exception of Japan, the allies believed it important to compel Sri Lanka to live up to its commitments to postwar reconciliation.

For those who say that the US-Japan Alliance is based on shared values, the Japanese objection to UN pressure on Sri Lanka to pursue meaningful postwar reconciliation is a contradiction, if not a set back. As with Sri Lanka, it is also important to the US that Japan develops a comprehensive action plan for implementing steps on postwar reconciliation and accountability. For the American POWs of Japan it is fundamental.

As Eileen Donahoe, the United States ambassador to the Human Rights Council, told the press after the vote:
Our view is that if there isn’t some form of truth and accounting of these kind of mass-scale atrocities and casualties, you can’t have lasting peace. You will sow the seeds of future violence. So we think it’s important that they take steps to show there will be some form of truth and accountability.
This is true for any conflict, any country, and even any time. Seventy years later, Japan still has a lot for which to account. It is unfortunate that there are still government officials in Japan that want to obstruct or undermine these responsibilities.

*Against (15): Bangladesh, China, Congo, Cuba, Ecuador, Indonesia, Kuwait, Maldives, Mauritania, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Uganda.

Later: India voted with the US to condemn Sri Lanka. For an analysis of this see: Indian foreign policy and the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka in the East Asian Forum. As the author notes, the US expected India's support. It is a wonder why the US did not expect support from its most important ally in Asia, Japan.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Lost Battalion

Seventy years ago today, March 8th, Texas’ famous “Lost Battalion” became “lost.” The 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery Regiment, 36th Infantry Division of the US Army from Fort Richardson, Jacksboro, Texas was captured by Japanese forces on Java. They were considered “lost” because no one knew what happened to them until the war was nearly over. To the War Department they had simply disappeared.

Originally National Guardsmen from Wichita Falls, Abilene, Lubbock, and other towns throughout northwest Texas, the unit was activated into federal service in November 1940. They left the United States on 21 November 1941 and were on their way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was bombed. The unit was diverted to Australia and put under Dutch command, then sent to Java Island of the Dutch East Indies. They arrived at Soerabaja, Java on 11 January 1942.

The Japanese started bombing Java on 3 February 1942. After a series of brief, fierce battles, the Island fell to the Japanese on 8 March 1942. The Texans were the first Americans to fight alongside Australian troops. Of the 558 men and officers of the 131st who fought on Java, 534 became prisoners of war of the Japanese. These soldiers were transferred to prison camps throughout the Empire, including Singapore, Burma, Manchuria, Burma, and Japan. Most were sent to slave on the Thai-Burma Death Railroad popularized by the film The Bridge on the River Kwai.

Eighty-nine men, one out of six, perished during the Battalion’s 42-month “invisible” captivity. Those that endured the ordeal emerged from the liberated POW camps sick and emaciated, little more than walking skeletons whose health was permanently impaired. The survivors held an enduring bond with the survivors of the USS Houston with whom they were imprisoned and many viewed themselves are one unit.

 Located at the other end
of the parking lot from the interpretive
center of Fort Richardson State Historical Park.
Illness and death were constants. What was the secret of their survival? When that question was put to an elderly veteran of the "Lost Battalion," he answered, "The thing that brought most of us through it was the comradeship we showed for each."

click to order book
One of the most distinctive features of the 131st was that it included both a Japanese-American and a Chinese- American soldier.  Frank Fujita was a farm boy from Abilene, Texas. His fellow soldiers called him “Foo” that his biography is entitled, Foo : A Japanese-American Prisoner of the Rising Sun : The Secret Prison Diary of Frank 'Foo' Fujita. It took his captors two years to recognize that he was Japanese. 

Eddie Fung had gone to Midland, Texas from San Francisco as a 16-year old to become an cowboy. At 17, he enlisted in the Texas National Guard. After the War, he used the GI Bill to study chemistry at Stanford University. He gives his account of his life in The Adventures of Eddie Fung: Chinatown Kid, Texas Cowboy, Prisoner of War.

Both men were among those who returned home after the War.

The "Lost Battalion" remains the "Most Decorated Unit" in Texas of any War and USS Houston CA-30 remains the "Most Decorated" vessel of it's class in the U.S. Fleet.

Asian laborers or rÇ’musha made up the majority of the deaths on the Thai–Burma Death Railway. Malay and Burmese workers had the largest number of dead. By comparison, Australians deaths totaled over 2,700 and American 25. [Data from Rod Beattie, The Death Railway: A Brief History of the Thailand–Burma Railway, TBRC Co., Kanchanaburi, 2009.]

The Wise County Heritage Museum in Decatur Texas has an entire room devoted to the Texas Lost Battalion. Two books are of special interest are: a first-person account of the horrors  a POW from a Battalion survivor, A Thousand Cups of Rice: Surviving the Death Railway, and a scholar's recent research, Hell under the Rising Sun: Texan POWs and the Building of the Burma-Thailand Death Railway

This video recounts one POW's experience: Missing In Action: The Story of Paul D. Stein and the Lost Battalion.

To the best of our knowledge, not one Texas Senator or Congressperson acknowledged the 70th anniversaries of either the sinking of the USS Houston or the capture of the Lost Battalion. Kay Granger (R-TX) represents Decatur and Mac Thornberry (R-TX) represents Jacksboro in Congress. Neither has yet to become co-sponsors of H. Res. 333 that asks Japan to do more to honor and remember these POWs from Texas. Thornberry's nonresponse is surprising as he owes his political career to a former American POW of Japan, Roland Towery who fought on Corregidor. Towery went on to be a prominent newspaperman in Texas and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

As an aside, in November 1944 as members of the "Lost Battalion" toiled in Burma as POWs of Japan, another Texas Battalion was "lost." This time in Europe, Vosges, France. The 141st Infantry Regiment from the 36th Texas Division was surrounded by the German army and cut off from supply lines. The Japanese American  442nd Regimental Combat Team (about 3,000 men) was ordered to rescue the this "Lost Battalion." After days of near constant fighting, the 442nd suffering roughly 1,000 casualties fulfilled their mission. Two hundres soldiers were killed in action (or missing) with over 800 seriously wounded. The 442nd for its heroic action in the Vosges received 5 Presidential Unit Citations and last year (2011) a Congressional Gold Medal. Texan Frank Fujita, it should be noted, was not included in the Nisei Congressional Gold Medal.

As an aside, Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe visited Burma on May 25, 2013 where he paid his respects to Japan's war dead by visiting the Yeway Cemetery. The is no mention if he visited the memorials to the other laborers for Emperor.

Updated 7/28/13

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Texas Proud

Many sons of Texas became POWs of Japan. Over 2,000 were on the infamous Bataan Death March. The Lost Battalion captured on Java on March 8, 1942 was an activated Texas National Guard unit. March 1st was the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Houston that inspired the Nation to enlist and contribute to the war effort.

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
On Saturday, March 3rd, two survivors of the World War II sinking of the USS Houston CA-30 the flagship of the Asiatic Fleet gathered in Houston, Texas along with relatives of their shipmates for a memorial service at a monument dedicated to their famous warship in downtown Houston's Sam Houston Park. None of Houston's five members of congress attended the event.

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."

In Houston, the destruction of the warship resulted in a mass recruiting drive for volunteers to replace the lost crew, as well as an $85 million fundraising campaign to pay for a new cruiser and an aircraft carrier, the USS San Jacinto. According to a 1949 Houston Chronicle article commemorating the event, word of the USS Houston's fate "aroused a fever pitch of patriotism in Houston." "Her loss made the war something more of a personal conflict to more than half a million people," the article reads. "Official news of her destruction ... slapped the city squarely between the eyes, and set off a series of events that stands unequaled in the nation."

Today, the University of Houston houses an archival collection of documents and artifacts from the USS Houston CA-30. And there is an active Next Generation group maintaining two websites working hard to keep the memory alive.

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."