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.
| Located at the other end
of the parking lot from the interpretive
center of Fort Richardson State Historical Park.
|click to order book
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 rǒmusha 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.