Sunday, June 17, 2018

Remembering Eddie Fung

Typical labouring scene. Shows Hammer
and Tap, Embankment. Labouring, Timber felling
and an excavated cutting by Lt Fred "Smudger" Smit
At the entrance of the Yushukan, the museum at the Yasukuni Shrine to selected members of Japan's war dead in Tokyo, sits Nippon Sharyo's engine C5631. It is infamous for having pulled the first train over the Thai-Burma Death Railway in October 1943. Reportedly, Korean Comfort Women were the train's first cargo.

The Japanese forced over 200,000 Asian conscripts (romusha) and over 60,000 Allied POWs to construct the Railway. Among the Allied POWs were some 30,000 British including colonial troops, 13,000 Australians, 18,000 Dutch, and 700 Americans. Between June 1942 and October 1943 the POWs and forced laborers laid some 258 miles (415 km) of track from Ban Pong, Thailand (roughly 45 miles [72 km] west of Bangkok), to Thanbyuzayat, Burma (roughly 35 miles [56 km] south of Mawlamyine). During this time, prisoners suffered from disease, malnutrition, injury, and cruel forms of punishment and torture inflicted by the Japanese.

One of the Americans was Eddie Fung. He was a private with the Texas Lost Battalion that fought the Japanese on Java in early March 1942. 

Dr. Fung, 96, died peacefully at home in his sleep on March 25, 2018. He will be buried with full military honors at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California on June 20, 2018. All are welcome to attend.

Dr. Fung had nothing less than an “extraordinary” life. 

Eddie became the only Chinese-American soldier captured by Imperial Japanese forces during World War II. His battalion—all white Texans, except for Frank Fujita, a Japanese-American from Abilene, Texas—became known as the “Lost Battalion” as it was surrendered on March 8, 1942 by its Dutch Commanders on Java and its fate unknown until near the end of the war.

In the statement below inserted in the Congressional Record on June 14th by US Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), the quote by Eddie is incomplete. It should continue on with:

click to order
 When people ask if I’ve had a good day, and I know them fairly well, I’ll say that I’ve never had a bad day since August 19, 1945 [his liberation in Burma], because nothing can be as bad as those camp days.  Whenever I start feeling sorry for myself, I can always say, ‘No, no, Ed, you’ve got a short memory, you’ve forgotten the lessons that you have undergone.’  One lesson I’ve learned well is that every moment that you’re alive, you’d better take advantage of the fact and enjoy it.


[Congressional Record Volume 164, Number 99 (Thursday, June 14, 2018)] [Page S3949]

Ms. HARRIS. Mr. President, California and the nation lost a trailblazer and a war hero. Mr. Eddie Fung served our country bravely throughout his tour with the Army National Guard as part of the 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery of the 36th Infantry Division, including 3\1/2\ years in a Japanese prisoners of war camp. Mr. Fung will be buried with full military honors at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, CA, on June 20, 2018. 

Born in San Francisco in 1922, Eddie left home at 16 to become a cowboy in Texas. He joined the National Guard at 17, and his unit was activated in November 1941 as part of the 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery of the 36th Infantry Division that was sent to Java, now part of Indonesia, to fight the invading Japanese in the early months of WWII. 

Eddie became the only Chinese-American soldier captured by Imperial Japan during World War II. His battalion was known as the Lost Battalion, as it was not until near the end of the war that there was any news of what happened to the men. 

Of the 558 men and officers who landed on Java on January 11, 1942, 534 became prisoners of war, POWs. Ninety-nine were sent to Japan to be slave laborers at Japanese factories and mines, and 435, including Eddie, were sent to work on the Thai-Burma "Death'' Railway that was made famous by the film "The Bridge on the River Kwai.'' Eddie endured nearly 4 years of grueling work, near-starvation, beatings, and tropical diseases as he worked on the infamous railroad project that resulted in the loss of over 12,000 Allied POW and 70,000 Asian lives. Eighty-nine of the men from the battalion died in captivity. 

Although Eddie said his capture was a defining moment in his life, the horrific experience is just one aspect of his long and rich life. It includes his Chinese-American upbringing and his life after the war, when he studied chemistry at Stanford University on the GI bill. He also worked as a metallurgist at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and became a Tai Chi master after retirement. 

As he concluded in his autobiography, "The Adventures of Eddie Fung: Chinatown Kid, Texas Cowboy, Prisoner of War,'' University of Washington Press: ``Taking my life as a whole, I've had many more good days than I've had bad ones. But even the bad days serve a purpose. They remind me of how good I have it now, in the sense that if you have never known hunger, you will not appreciate food; if you have never been enslaved, you will not appreciate what it means to be free.'' 

Eddie Fung is a hero and a role model, and we will miss his vibrant spirit. The thoughts of San Franciscans and Californians are with his wife, Judy Yung of Santa Cruz.

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