Thursday, June 27, 2019

Rediscovered but not recovered

Tayabas by Ben Steele
On Memorial Day, May 27, 77 years after his death, Gordon B. Northrup II of Spring Street in Pembroke, Massachusetts was remembered. A plaque and a wreath were placed near the Northrup family home on Spring Street, at the intersection of Pleasant and Oak streets.

Pvt. Northrup was a member of the Army Air Corps, 3rd Pursuit Squadron, 24th Pursuit Group At Iba, Zambales Province, Luzon. The 3rd Pursuit Squadron was based at Iba, a small grass field on the China Sea across the 2,000-foot Zambales Mountains from Fort Stotsenberg and Clark. Iba Field was barely large enough to accommodate the 18 Curtis P-40Es that made up the 3rd Pursuit Squadron, but it was the closest fighter airfield to the approach routes to the American military installations around Manila. Previously, Iba had been used primarily as an advanced field for gunnery training on the ranges in the nearby Zambales.

Because of its location, Iba was a logical choice for a radar site. In all, seven radar sets had arrived in the Philippines by early December, but Iba was the only one operational when war came on December 8, 1941. Iba was also the first Air Corps field to be attacked. The Iba attack came shortly before Japan's planes descended upon Clark Field. By evening of the 8th, both Iba's radar command and the air field were destroyed. Half the men on the ground were dead.

In mid-December, the men of the Army Air Corps and Navy in the Philippines, had lost their planes, hangars, ports, and ships. They were given WWI rifles and reassigned to provisional infantry units to fight off the invading Japanese on Bataan. Many first learned to shoot and fight in combat.The US Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) on Luzon soon all retreated to the Bataan Peninsula. All were seasoned, hardened soldiers by the time they were surrendered on April 9, 1942.

The surrendered were gathered at various points on Bataan with many at the city of Mariveles on the tip of the peninsula. The trek up and out of the peninsula, became known as the Bataan Death March. It was made of up of three phases each punctuated by brutality, cruelty, and death from thirst, starvation, disease, and murder.

First was a 65 mile march to the San Fernando train station. There they were packed standing in unventilated boxcars for a 24-mile train trip to Capas. From there the survivors were marched seven more miles to Camp O'Donnell, a makeshift POW camp from an unfinished training facility.

To escape the hellish conditions at O'Donnell, a number of men volunteered for work details outside the Camp. One was the infamous Tayabas Road Detail. Ptv Northrup was among the 300 POWs who arrived at the work site on 29 May 1942. With no shelter, mosquito nets, clean water or medicine men sickened and died rapidly of malaria, pneumonia, and other tropical diseases.

On 28 July 1942, the Japanese finally closed down their road-building effort in Tayabas. Only 187 men were still alive, and all were deathly ill. Northrup was among the dead; he died June 30, 1942. The horrors of Tayabas, although documented in many memoirs, is best depicted in Montana's Ben Steele's drawings and paintings.

Northrup was buried in an unmarked grave in Tayabas. His body was never recovered. And his hometown never recognized his death.

This all changed Memorial Day 2019. Memorial Committee Chairperson Linda Osbourne organized the creation and installation of a memorial plaque to Ptv. Northrup. The Forgotten Soldier of Pembroke is no longer forgotten.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

USS Missouri (BB-43) Forever

Today, on the 75th anniversary of her commissioning, the famous American battleship USS Missouri (BB-43), will sail again via the nation's mailstream with the issuance of the USS Missouri Forever stamps.  The U.S. Postal Service dedicated the stamps today during a ceremony on her deck at the Battleship Missouri Memorial pier side in Pearl Harbor. The public is asked to share the news on social media using the hashtag #USSMissouriStamps.

View photos

"The USS Missouri is one of the most famous Naval battleships to ever sail the sea and now the Postal Service is proud to add her to our roster of commemorative stamps," said Jeffrey C. Johnson, U.S. Postal Service acting enterprise analytics vice president, who dedicated the stamp. "As a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, I had the honor to serve in the United States Navy and I recognize the importance this great ship brings to American history and this Forever stamp will continue to help tell that vital story."
Joining Johnson in the ceremony was USS Missouri Memorial Association President and CEO Mike Carr, Rear Adm. Brian P. Fort, U.S. Navy Region Hawaii, and Rear Adm. Samuel Cox, US Navy (Retired), Director, Naval History and Heritage Command, Curator of the Navy.
The USS Missouri was commissioned on June 11, 1944. As a fast battleship, she was affectionately nicknamed "Mighty Mo." She was heavily armed and armored and capable of very high speeds for a vessel her size.
She joined the military efforts of the United States in the Pacific theater of operations during the last months of World War II. On Sept. 2, 1945, in a ceremony that was broadcast around the world, USS Missouri played one of the most momentous roles in the conflict when military officials from the Allied powers and Imperial Japan convened on her deck and signed the documents confirming Japan's surrender and ending the war.
USS Missouri earned numerous combat awards and citations during her decades of service, which also included deployments during the Korean War and Operation Desert Storm. Decommissioned for the second and final time in 1992 and removed from the Navy's ship registry in 1995, USS Missouri now rests as a memorial and museum at the Battleship USS Missouri Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
The stamp art depicts USS Missouri from a low vantage point almost at sea level, cutting through the water at a moderate speed commensurate with entering or leaving port. Large and imposing in the frame, USS Missouri is shown in the disruptive camouflage she wore from her commissioning until a refit in early 1945. Clouds loom in the background, tinged with gold and rose from the sun's rays.
Designed by art director Greg Breeding, the stamp features a digital illustration created by Dan Cosgrove.
The USS Missouri stamp is being issued as a Forever stamp. This Forever stamp will always be equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce price.  
Customers may purchase stamps and other philatelic products through the Postal Store at , by calling 800-STAMP24 (800-782-6724), by mail through USAPhilatelic, or at Post Office locations nationwide. DIRECT LINK TO ORDER

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Alaskan POWs of Japan

On Sunday, June 7, 1942, in the midst of the Battle of Midway (June 4–7, 1942) and six months after Imperial Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, the 301st Independent Infantry Battalion from the Japanese Northern Army landed unopposed on the Alaskan islands of Attu and Kiska.

Attu’s radio operator and handyman, Charles Foster Jones, was executed (his wife was told he committed suicide) during the invasion and his wife Etta, the island’s schoolteacher, taken prisoner. To prove to her that he was dead, Etta's Japanese capturers presented her with Charles' body. And then, before her, beheaded him.

Mr. Jones is the only non-military-related civilian buried in the military cemetery at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, in Anchorage.

Etta Jones' story
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The traumatized Mrs. Jones was sent to Yokohama, Japan (4573 Izumi-cho, Totsuka-ku) as a prisoner of war in July 1941. Alone for many months, she was eventually joined by Australian nurses captured in Rabuel, New Britain.

The Aleut (Unangan) villagers were also considered prisoners of war and confined to the immediate vicinity of the village. The Japanese fearing that they would become a fifth column, shipped them to Northern Japan in September. They were lodged in the small rooms of dormitory for single employees of the National Railroad in Wakatake-Cho, Otaru City in Hokkaido.

Of the 42 Aleut captives sent to Japan, 16 (40%) died from disease, despair, and starvation. None were allowed to return to their island home.

Half of these Native Alaskans -- twenty -- were already suffering from advanced tuberculosis. Their symptoms had been diminished by the hi-protein and hi-calorie diet (salmon, seal and whale) of Attu, but quickly resurfaced due to poor hygienic conditions on the ship and inadequate nutrition in the Japanese diet.

Aleut survivor's story
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The POW years for Attu's residents were the usual story of Imperial Japan's internment camps, forced labor, abuse, and rape. They were a slow torture of hunger and isolation. They could not adapt to the loneliness, the local diet, and often became sick.

The battlefield area on Attu was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service owns and manages Attu as a part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

For the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of Attu, award-winner Japanese director Tadashi OGAWA premiered a documentary on the invasion,  When The Fog Clears.

Records show at least 12 Alaskans were POWs of Japan. Mrs. Jones and the 42 Aleuts are not counted among them. None of the prisoners received compensation from either Japan or the United States.

Hidden caves & sunken ships: 
Alaska's living museums of World War II

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Soto Dam Memorial

Stars and Stripes. SASEBO, Japan (May 23, 2019) - For more than 70 years Soto Dam has provided water to the citizens of Sasebo, but the construction of this vital water supply cost more than money and material. Members of Commander, Fleet Activities Sasebo, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and Sasebo community came together to honor the 67 men who died in its construction during the annual Soto Dam memorial ceremony May 23, 2019.

Soto Dam was an Imperial Japanese Navy construction project that began in 1941 to alleviate water shortages in Sasebo. To complete the task 265 American civilian prisoners of war were used and the dam was completed April 1944. A total of 53 American POWs and 14 Japanese laborers died during the construction.

In 1956 Sasebo City erected a memorial tower beside the dam to honor all those who died during its construction.

“Their ability to look at the unpleasant events of the past and remember what occurred here permits us to come here together today and stand side by side to remember our fallen countrymen,” said Capt. Brad Stallings, CFAS commanding officer.

Remarks by Sasebo Mayor Norio Tomonaga, who was unable to attend the ceremony, were read by Sasebo City Base Affairs Administration Bureau Chief Director Ryuichiro Higashi.

The speeches were followed by the reading of the names of the fallen by members of the U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force as wreaths were laid by Stallings and Higashi on behalf of CFAS and Sasebo, community leaders and the Navy League.

“We would like to remember in our hearts again that Soto Dam was built upon many sacrifices during the unfortunate history of war,” said Higashi during the ceremony. “I wish our friendship that has been built between U.S. and Japan will continue forever.”

The prisoners of war had been construction workers contracted to build the airfield and submarine facilities at Wake Island. When Wake was captured by Japan on Dec. 23, 1941 it had 1,100 civilian contractors on island, 265 of which were sent to work on Soto Dam in late 1942.

According to Phil Eakins, a local historian involved with the memorial, the POWs lived and worked in harsh conditions and received no medical treatment. Among the survivors it became known as the “Death Camp.” [The prisoner of war camp, Fukuoka #18-B, was primary labor source for construction of the dam.]

The dead were originally buried by fellow POWs on a nearby hillside but were repatriated to the U.S. around 1949.