Saturday, April 27, 2013

Remembering Pfc. Arthur A. Klein, USMC

Our hero passed yesterday evening at 4:10.

Thus read the email announcing Pfc. Arthur A. Klein, Wake Island Detachment, 1st Defense Battalion, U.S. Marine Corp, 91, death on Monday, April 16th in Billings, Montana.

He was indeed a hero. Little in neither his obituary in the Billings Gazette nor the tribute given him by U.S. Senator John Testor (D-MT) in the Congressional Record conveys just how much.

Pfc. Klein was one of 449 Marines who fought in one of the first battles of World War II. Although out-gunned, out-manned, and out-supplied, the Marines, with a handful of civilian contractors who were on Wake to fortify the island and Pan American Airways Chamorro flight attendants, held Wake Island in the Pacific. For over two weeks, December 8 to 22, 1941, these men did the impossible. They stopped an invading Japanese armada.

According to historian Gregory Urwin, author of Victory in Defeat: The Wake Island Defenders in Captivity, the Wake Island Marines exhibited “a heroism that inspired millions of their countrymen, they defended their tiny outpost for sixteen days, beating off seventeen air raids and an amphibious landing attempt.” Their fierce defense of the tiny atoll is said to be the only time in military history that an amphibious assault was successfully repelled.
Incredibly, only 46 Marines, three sailors, and 75 civilians died in Wake’s defense. The 1,593 Wake Islanders still alive at the time of the surrender, which included 35 Chamorros and 403 Marines, became prisoners of war of Imperial Japan.  Japanese losses, on the other hand, easily topped 900 dead, plus two destroyers, two patrol boats, one submarine, and 21 aircraft.

In January 1942, the majority of Wake’s POWs (1,187 in all) including Art were herded onto a former Japanese ocean liner, the Nitta Maru, and sailed first to Yokohama and eventually to Shanghai. Others were shipped to Japan later, leaving 98 civilians on Wake to work as slave laborers. The Japanese massacred these men on October 7, 1944.

Nitta Maru
The Nitta Maru was a Hellship. It was like many others, built and operated by NYK Lines (Mitsubishi) and unmarked as carrying POWs. Japanese ship operators bid on and profited from transport contracts with Japan's military. One thousand starving, dehydrated, sick men crammed into her dark, airless hold, which at best was only large enough for 400. Art remembers they “were so crowded that we could not even sit or lie down.” The smell of death and waste hung in the air.

After departing Yokohama, the Japanese took five men topside as retribution for the hundreds of their comrades who had fallen to the defenders of Wake. Art may have listened as five fellow Marines (see Master Technical Sergeant Earl Raymond Hannum and Technical Sergeant Vincent Bailey) were tortured and clumsily beheaded. Their torsos were mutilated with bayonets and thrown overboard. These men are among the 3,000 WWII Marines whose bodies have never been recovered.
In China, Art was taken first to the Shanghai War Prisoners Camp (Kiangwan ).Then he was transferred to Woosung POW Camp also in Shanghai. Although neither camp was humanitarian or comfortable, Art said that it was better than any he had heard about and “it was certainly far better than anythat we had in Japan.” For awhile, the expat community in Shanghai was allowed to provide food and clothing to the POWs. Labor was building a mountain-like firing range that Art called Fujiyama [Mt. Fuji].

It is unclear when Art was sent to Japan. It is likely that he was among the maybe 400 POWs shipped from Shanghai in August 1943 to Tsumori POW Camp 13-B near Osaka. The camp was operated to provide slave labor for the Fujinagata Shipbuilding &Engineering Co., Ltd. Founded in the 17th Century, Fujinagata was shipyard and railroad car manufacturer in Osaka. Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding acquired the company in the 1960s.

The book ConductUnder Fire describes the five barracks at Tsumori as wooden structures 150 to 200 ft long and 30 to 40 ft wide. Three times a day the POWs received rice or a mixture of barley and millet. Greens and root vegetables were added for the evening meal.

Art first slaved as a stevedore hauling rocks and unloading pig iron. He was eventually moved inside to work as a welder. He was grateful for this, as it was warm. The winter of 1943-44 was very cold with temperatures ranging between 32 and 45 degrees. The winter of 1944-45 was the coldest in 50 years. His clothing and bedding was cotton and fuel to heat the barracks was always minimal. That meant only enough to fuel small fires in the barracks for a few hours-if any fuel at all. Body heat was what kept the POWs warm at night as buddies wrapped themselves together in the bedding they had.
About Naoestu
American firebombing raids prompted the Japanese to abandon Tsumori on May 15, 1945. The surviving Wake Islanders and other POWs were sent to Tokyo 4-B Naoetsu to serve as slave laborers for ShinetsuChemical and NipponStainless [both companies still exist with their original names]. This POW camp was considered the worst and most notorious in Japan, More guards (15) were tried and executed (8) than any other POW Camp on the mainland.

At this camp, Art witnessed the many beatings and humiliations of Airman and Olympian Louis Zamperini. The horror of the capricious brutality by the Japanese guards is immortalized in the bestselling book Unbroken. Art’s testimony for the Yokohama Class B and C War Crimes Trials, as footnoted in the book, helped indict a number of the more sadistic camp guards. 

Naoetsu was liberated in September 1945 and Art, barely 85 pounds, returned to the U.S. to spend months in a military hospital recovering from the trauma, beatings, illnesses, and malnutrition. He had survived nearly four years of the worst that Imperial Japan could deliver.

As a Marine it is said he had an advantage. U.S. Marines, according Professor Urwin, had the discipline and esprit de corps that helped them survive the merciless POW camps. Eighteen Wake Island Marines died as prisoners, fixing that group's death rate at 4.46 percent, whereas the overall death rate for American POWs of Japan was nearly 40 percent.

Naoetsu Peace Park
In 1995, the citizens of Naoetsu and families of former POWs dediated the Naoetsu Peace Memorial Park & Museum on the site of the former Naoetsu POW camp. It is one of the very few memorials in Japan to acknowledge the suffering of Japan's victims and Japanese responsibility.

After being a Marine and POW of Japan, there were few challenges that Art could not overcome. Staying optimistic is what Art attributed to his longevity. The next challenge is for us, Americans and Japanese, to remember him and understand the important role he played in American history. Rarely does his name appear in camp rosters, histories, or memoirs. Hopefully, this will now change. He helps us fill in many blanks in the American experience with Japan.

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