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.

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