Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Honoring a Thai hero

On January 29th, please take a moment to give a prayer of thanks to Boonpong.

It is the 37th anniversary (1982, at the age of 76) of the passing of Boonpong Sirivejjabhandu, or simply Boon Pong – a Thai merchant and member of the underground resistance known as V Organization during the Japanese occupation of Thailand.

He owned a Thai traditional medicine business and a general store in Kanchanaburi province, which had been passed to him by his father Mor Khein, a Thai traditional doctor. He was also a mayor of Kanchanaburi from 1942-45 during World War II. His public responsibilities brought him into contact with the Japanese troops in charge of building the Thai-Burma Death Railway. Boonpong got a contract from the Japanese to manage the canteen for POWs in the camp nearby, which allowed him to enter the camp with few restrictions. 

His regular visits allowed him to see the appalling conditions experienced by the sick and wounded, as well as dead prisoners of war of many nationalities including American, Australian, British, Dutch, Australian and others. The horror of the inhumane treatment he witnessed gave rise to compassion and drove Boonpong to create a personal mission to help these unfortunate soldiers. He managed to smuggle in critical medicines, food, money, and messages. The camp POW doctors and POW commanders credit him with saving hundreds of lives.

After the war when rumors reached Britain in 1947 that Boonpong had fallen on hard times, three British POW camp commanders - Toosey, Knights and Lt. Col. Harold Lilly- launched an appeal among former Thailand prisoners of war. The appeal raised £35,000 and enabled Boonpong to start the Boonpong Bus Company, which flourished.

Boonpong's courage and compassion was later recognized by the British government, which honored him as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE). The Netherlands also awarded him the Order of Orange-Nassau. Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop once praised Boonpong by quoting Shakespeare in Henry VI: "In thy face I see the map of honour, truth and loyalty." Initiated by Sir Edward, the Weary Dunlop-Boonpong Exchange Fellowship was was established in honor of two men in 1986, and continues through strong cooperation between the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Surgeons of Thailand.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Bataan Death March Revealed

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Today, January 28th, is the 75th anniversary of when the American public first learned of the infamous Bataan Death March.

The Chicago Tribune and its affiliates' published an account of the horrors by W. Edwin Dyess, a heroic aviator who had survived the Death March and escaped from the Japanese POW camp, Davao Prison Colony in April 1943. Until then, the American public did not know about this war atrocity.

The original story on Japanese atrocities in the Philippines was written for the Tribune in July 1943. The military and the Roosevelt White House balked at releasing the explosive material--especially to a newspaper critical of the President--and even used wartime censorship powers to block publication of Dyess’ story in the Tribune.

The also didn’t want to shock the American public and were worried that the Japanese might respond with even more cruelty against POWs.

One important factor in the decision to delay release of Dyess' account was the fear that the Japanese, in retaliation, might refuse to accept or otherwise block delivery to the prisoners of a Red Cross relief shipment then on the way to Japan aboard the M.S. Gripsholm. Once it was learned that the Gripsholm had reached Japan and it was believed that the Red Cross supplies would reach POWs by late January 1944, the it was easier to decide to release the news by the end of that month.

Months of pressure and Dyess' death in a training flight crash in December 1943 also contributed to the government relenting. At midnight on January 27, 1944, the War Department distributed a long summary of the atrocities to the media.

The next day, the Tribune and its 100 affiliated newspapers ran the first of what would be 24 installments of Dyess’s dramatic story of combat, leadership, selflessness, survival, and escape.

Dyess was buried in a simple family plot in the Albany, Texas Cemetery. The only public recognition, in Texas or anywhere else, of Lt. Col. Dyess’ valiant and inspiring actions during World War II was the 1956 renaming of Abilene Air Force Base to Dyess Air Force Base.

The Dyess Story: The Complete Eye-Witness Account of the Death March (1944) as told to Chicago Tribune journalist William Leavelle remains a best-seller.

For more on Lt. Col Dyess also: THIS and THIS.

Friday, January 18, 2019


Congressional Record Vol. 165, No. 4, (Senate - January 09, 2019) [Page S99]

Mr. [Brian] SCHATZ. Mr. President, today, we remember the 400 American and Allied prisoners of war who died 74 years ago from friendly fire aboard the Japanese hell ship Enoura Maru docked in Takeo Harbor, Formosa-- modern-day Taiwan. 

Among the dead were men who left their homes in America, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, and Czechoslovakia to fight an enemy they did not know, in places few of them had heard of, all in pursuit of a common cause: freedom, justice, and equality. These heroes were part of the infamous 45-day odyssey of the last transport of prisoners of war from the Philippines to Japan--captive since the American territory fell to Imperial Japan in the spring of 1942 after fighting to defend the Philippines. 

On the morning of January 9, 1945, dive bombers from the USS Hornet attacked the unmarked freighter holding 1,300 prisoners of war docked in the Japanese colony's harbor. Two hundred died instantly. Nearly everyone else was wounded. For 2 days, the men were left in the floating wreckage before the Japanese permitted the dead to be removed. Their remains were buried ashore in mass graves. 

After the war, the 400 victims of the bombing of the Enoura Maru were exhumed and eventually brought to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. They rest in 20 mass graves marked only as ``Unknowns January 9, 1945.'' Their families did not learn the final fate of their loved ones until 2001.

This past August, we remembered these brave men with a memorial stone on the Memorial Walk at the Cemetery honoring the prisoners of war aboard the hell ship Enoura Maru. The American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society, an organization that represents the American prisoners of war of Imperial Japan and their families, organized the commemoration in Hawaii. 

That memorial stone is a monument to their courage, suffering, and sacrifice. It commemorates their tragic death 74 years ago and marks their final return home. Let that stone and our remembrance of the prisoners of war on the Enoura Maru remind us of our sacred commitment to veterans of all eras to "never forget.'' 

May they rest in peace.