Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Never Forgotten - November 2 Funeral for USCG LT Crotty

LT Thomas James Eugene "Jimmy" Crotty was the only member of the US Coast Guard to become a POW of Japan. His combat record garnered the Coast Guard a battle streamer for the Philippines Campaign. He will "return" home on November 1, 2019. Semper Paratus

Arlington Cemetery Memorial
His remains were recently identified after being exhumed from Common Grave 312 in the American Cemetery and Memorial in Manila in the Philippines.

There are many opportunities during LT Crotty's return home from Hawaii to Buffalo, New York to honor him. Please take a moment to sign his "tribute wall" LINK HERE

On Thursday October 31, the repatriation ceremony for LT Crotty at Coast Guard will be held at Air Station Barbers Point, Kapolei, Hawaii at 11:00am. During the repatriation ceremony, a Coast Guard Honor Platoon led by Rear Adm. Kevin Lunday, commander, Coast Guard 14th District, will escort Crotty’s remains from the hearse to a HC-130 Hercules airplane and accompany the remains to Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento. There the casket will be transferred to another plane to continue its journey home.

On Friday, November 1, his arrival honors will be held at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, 10405 Lockport Rd., New York at 10:00am. 

All are invited to join LT Crotty's family on Saturday, November 2nd at Noon for a funeral Mass for LT Crotty at the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Buffalo, New York. He will be buried with full military honors next to his parents in Holy Cross Cemetery, 2900 South Park Avenue, Lackawanna, Erie County, New York. Commandant of the Coast Guard Admiral Karl L. Schultz is expected to attend as are senior officials from the Navy and Marines. 

The family will also receive LT Crotty's Filipino Veterans of WWII Congressional Gold Medal during the ceremony. It symbolizes Congressional recognition of the enduring bond between the American and Filipino forces defending the Philippines against Imperial Japan's invasion.

A 1934 Coast Guard Academy graduate, Crotty was assigned mid-1941 to the US Navy Mine Recovery Unit at Cavite Navy Yard near Manila in the Philippines. He served aboard the USS Quail in the Philippines during the outbreak of World War II in early 1942 and in April aided the 4th Marines in the defense of Corregidor, an island in Manila Bay. He missed the epic escape of the USS Quail's captain and 17 crew members in a 36-ft motor launch across the Pacific to Australia. Instead, with the surrender of Corregidor on May 6, 1942, he found himself on the rocky beach of Corregidor's 92nd Garage Area. At the end of the month he and most of the POWs on Corregidor were taken to Manila and marched down Dewey Blvd to Bilibid Prison. From there they were put standing in trains to the Cabanatuan POW Camp. He died there on July 21, 1942 of diphtheria. See HERE for more of his story on this blog and HERE for the official Coast Guard biography.

Coast Guard Mutual Assistance (CGMA) has established an award in LT Crotty's name. The Lieutenant Thomas James Crotty Inspirational Leadership Award recognizes the CGMA Representative who best exemplifies a willingness to go above and beyond in the service of the Coast Guard family. Donations in lieu of flowers to support this award may be made to Coast Guard Mutual Assistance online or sent to 1005 North Glebe Road, Suite 200, Arlington VA 22201. Please note LT Crotty on the donation.

News story from The Buffalo News, October 27, 2019.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

75th Anniversary of the Arisan Maru Tragedy

A ship similar to the Arisan Maru
October 24th is the 75th Anniversary of the sinking of the hellship Arisan Maru in the Bashi Channel between Formosa and Luzon.

It was the largest naval disaster in American history. In comparison, more than 1,500 perished on the RMS Titanic.

Seven hundred miles south raged the Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 23–27, 1944) to liberate the Philippines.

The Arisan Maru went down with 1,774 mostly American POWs of Japan. It was torpedoed by either the submarines USS Shark (SS-314) or the USS Snook (SS-279). The Shark was attacked and destroyed at the same time, adding 87 more Americans to the missing. The Snook was lost six months in the Luzon Strait later on April 8, 1945 with 60 onboard.

t is said that nearly all the POWs were able to make it into the water. Wearing life belts and clinging to rafts, hatch boards, and any other flotsam and jetsam, the POWs struggled through the night in the rough, cold waters of the South China Sea. The Japanese ships nearby refused to rescue them. By morning, all but nine were dead.

Memorial at the National Pacific War Museum
Dedicated October 24, 1999
Of the nine POWs that survived, four were eventually rescued by the Japanese and taken to Formosa. And five managed to find a life raft, a sail, food, and water. They navigated by the stars 200 miles to the Chinese coast where they were rescued by friendly Chinese and taken to an American base hundreds of miles inland.

Of the four taken to Taiwan, Texan Army Pvt. Charles W. Hughes, a member of the Coast Artillery assigned to the 31st Infantry HQ, died November 9, 1944 at the Shirakawa POW camp on Formosa. 

The remaining three were moved to various camps on Formosa. US Army Air Corps medic and Bataan Death March survivor SSgt. Philip Brodsky was moved among four camps on the Island. Chief Boatswain Martin Binder USN assigned to the USS Pigeon (ASR-6) spent the rest of the war at the Toroku POW Camp. On January 19, 1945, Cpl. Glenn Oliver, who was with the 194th Tank Battalion on Bataan was sent to Japan aboard the Melbourne Maru. He spent the remainder of the war working as a stevedore at Osaka POW Camp #10-B Maibara near Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture. 

The story of the survival of the five who sailed to China, is nothing less than mythic. Much of their accomplishment was due to Baltimore native Robert S. Overbeck, who must have been a son of Neptune. Overbeck, a Columbia University graduate, was working as a mine foreman and mine superintendent in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He joined the Army that day.

He participated in the defense of Bataan and survived the Bataan Death March, Camp O'Donnell, Cabanatuan POW Camp, and Bilibid Prison. After U.S. aerial attacks on Manila September 21-22, 1944 (Overbeck says early October), men were boarded on the Arisan Maru on October 10th. They were kept in the sweltering holds for ten days as the hellship inched toward Palawan and then returned to Manila after more Allied air raids. On October 21, the Arisan Maru departed Manila for the final time, joining convoy MATA-30 heading for Takao, Formosa (Taiwan).

American torpedoes hit the hellship on October 24th breaking it in half. As Overbeck tells the story, he was oddly prepared. He had changed to shorts and had a life vest before he made his way into the water. After being refused rescue by a Japanese destroyer, he spied a life boat and threw off his life vest to swim to it. During the night he acquired four passengers. By morning they could no longer see anyone in the water.

Overbeck found a box with a sail floating near the life boat. Later, a keg of water was found and some hard tack ration was on board. 

1st Sgt. Calvin R. Graef, a member of 200th Coast Artillery from Silver City, New Mexico had, like Overbeck survived battle on Bataan and the Bataan Death March.

Pvt. Avery E. Wilber,  a member of the 60th Coast Artillery (AA), Battery A from Maine had also survived battle on Bataan and the Bataan Death March. 

Cpl. Donald E. Meyer, a member of the US Army Air Corp, 693 Aviation Ordnance Company, 24th Pursuit Group from California had been at Nichols Field when Japan attacked. He had suffered a depressed skull fracture and a dislocated hip during the fighting on Corregidor. Doctors at Bilibid Prison were able to repair both. [looking for links]

Pvt. Anton E. Cichy, a member of H Company of 194th Tank Battalion from Minnesota, had also survived battle on Bataan and the Bataan Death March. 

Overbeck, more civilian than Army, was the only one with sailing experience and automatically took over command. Knowing roughly where they were at the time of the sinking, being able to visualize the coast of China as running approximately north northeast in these latitudes and having a good idea of the wind direction from the rising sun, he thought it "was easy to decide" on a rough course which would take us to China.

They made it the 250 miles in two and one-half days by following the stars. A Chinese junk rescued the and first took them to Kitchioh [Jieshi] a town in  Lufeng, Shanwei Municipality, Guangdong midway between Hong Kong and Shantou [Swatow] and then up the coast to Hoifung.

The journey then continued to the interior to Hingning-a refugee town right out of a Star Wars movie. The former POWs were treated like royalty by the Chinese in every village they entered. For 12 days the five survivors were transported about 600 miles by foot, truck, bicycle and plane to Kunming airfield, base of the 14th Air Force and the former Flying Tigers. On November 28, 1944 they started their flight aboard a C47 back to the USA. 

Arisan Maru: America's Worst Naval Tragedy - Paperback – March 18, 2019 by Don Treichler
The Last Voyage of the Arisan Maru - Paperback - June 30, 2008 by Dale Wilber
Ride the Waves to Freedom: Calvin Graef's Survival Story of the Bataan Death March and His Escape From a Sinking Hellship  - Paperback - 1999 by Melissa Masterson

Sunday, October 20, 2019

75 Years Ago Today - Leyte

General Douglas MacArthur Fulfills His Promise and Returns to the Philippines in Victory
Red Beach, Leyte
October 20, 1942
this one is confused with one in December 1942 on Luzon that was

October 20th, is the 75th Anniversary of General Douglas MacArthur's return to the Philippines. The iconic photo above by then-Capt Gaetano Faillace, an army photographer assigned to MacArthur, contrary to popular belief, was not staged. According to HistoryNet, what "may have appeared as determination [on MacArthur's face] was, in reality, anger. MacArthur was fuming. As he sloshed through the water, he stared daggers at the impudent beachmaster [who refused to send a smaller craft to assist the General ashore], who had treated the general as he probably had not been treated since his days as a plebe at West Point. However, when MacArthur saw the photo, his anger quickly dissipated. A master at public relations, he knew a good photo when he saw one."

It can be speculated that MacArthur's rush to stand on Leyte on October 20th before the fighting had ended and the critical battles had begun may have had another PR purpose. In the U.S., it was still October 19th. As he and many Americans at the time would have known, October 19th was a seminal date in American history: it was decisive victory in 1781 of the Americans over British forces and the surrender of General Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown (VA). This was the last major battle of the Revolutionary War and set the stage for a negotiated end to the conflict. The formal surrender at Yorktown was at 2:00pm; MacArthur stepped ashore at Leyte at 2:00pm.

For the POWs in the Philippines the retaking of the islands meant certain death. In addition to the rumors of a "kill all" order--which was enacted in Palawan on December 14, 1944 with the incineration of 150 POWs--there appeared to be an intensified effort to ship as many POWs to Japan and China, as with the Oryoku Maru that left Manila on December 13th. Although, there do not appear to be any documents that suggest this, it is likely these men, mostly officers, were being rounded up to be used as hostages when Japan was ready to negotiate an end to the war. Any surrender would have to be at a cost of the enemy and bitter.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Last Train

October 14th is Railway Day in Japan. It celebrates the opening day in 1872 of Japan's first railway, which was between Shimbashi Station in Tokyo and Yokohama. This was a significant step in the modernization of Japan.

October 17th is celebrated by only a few. It is remembered, however, as the day in 1943 of the opening ceremonies of the Thai-Burma Death Railway. Engine C5631, built by Nippon Sharyo in 1938 at its Narumi plant, was the locomotive used at the opening. It was hauling a cargo of Comfort Women.

This notorious engine now sits restored at the entrance of the Yasukuni Shrine's war museum in Tokyo. The museum celebrates the "Bushido" of Imperial Japan's military and it success in liberating Asia. A recent article in the right wing propaganda online magazine Japan Forward highlights the annual celebration for this wartime relic. The author dismisses the atrocities associated with building the infamous tract. 

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). Japanese forced approximately 200,000 Asian conscripts and over 60,000 Allied POWs to construct the Burma Railway. Among them were nearly 700 Americans, survivors of the USS Houston and the 131st Field Artillery/2nd Battalion (known as the “Texas Lost Battalion”), both captured on Java.

Ralph Levenberg
The truth is that more than 100,000 Asian and Allied POWs died in its making from abuse, torture, starvation, and lack of medical care. No one is sure how many of 200,000 Asian laborers died, as the Japanese did not consider them human enough to count. There were Allied POWs. As the dead cannot speak, I urge readers to comment on the piece and alert veterans groups in Australia, England, and the Netherlands. Japan Forward was created in January 2017 by the rightwing Sankei Shimbun as part of the Abe Government's stepped up PR and history revision campaign.

October 18th (2019) was the funeral for former POW of Japan Air Force Major Ralph Levenberg (September 12, 1920 – July 29, 2018) and his wife Kathie at Arlington National Cemetery. They were buried with full military honors: an Air Force Rabbi, a horse-drawn caisson, an Air Force casket team, an Air Force firing party (three shots), a bugler, an Air Force escort platoon, and an Air Force military band.

Major Levenberg was with the Army Air Corps' 17th Pursuit Squadron at Nichols Field in the Philippines when Japan attacked on December 8, 1941. The Field was destroyed on December 10th and the surviving airmen were moved to Bataan to form a provisional infantry. He and all American-Filipino troops on Bataan--estimated to be 85,000--were surrendered on April 9, 1942.

From the funeral
He was one of the small number of Jewish soldiers on the infamous Bataan Death March to Camp O'Donnell. From mid-April until most of the camp was shut down in early June 1942 and the POWs moved to Cabanatuan, thousands died. Levenberg participated in a number of grueling work details outside the camp in the Philippines before he was shipped to Japan to be a slave laborer.

Aboard the hellship Nissyo Maru, via Formosa, he arrived at the Port of Moji early August 1944. There he as taken north to the Nagoya POW Camp #2-B Narumi. This camp provided labor to Nippon Sharyo, where train engines were built and repaired. The same factory that built Engine C5631 that opened the Thai-Burma Death Railway.

Most of the time Levenberg worked in the "kitchen" boiling water for the thin soup to feed the POWs. Two weeks before the end of the war, he was savagely beaten by a guard and fell into a month-long coma. He did not revive until September 3 when he was evacuated to an American hospital ship. At liberation, he weighed 72 pounds and could not walk.

Nippon Sharyo factory still maintains the factory at Narumi where Levenberg toiled and was beaten. The Company is now owned by the rail corporation JR Central. The company is promoted by the Japanese government as wanting to build high-speed rail in the US with proposed projects between Dallas and Houston, and Baltimore and DC. The firm, however, has never apologized to nor acknowledged its American POW slaves. 

Both Nippon Sharyo and JR Central have offices in the United States. Both were alerted to Major Levenberg's funeral. Neither replied nor sent condolences.

Major Levenberg remained in the US Air Force after the war and saw combat in the Korean War. He held numerous world-wide assignments as a security professional in the Strategic Air Command and then as a U.S. civil service member of Naval Air System Command.

In retirement, Levenberg donated his time and energy to support other former POWs at the VA Hospital in Reno, Nevada. He also served on the VA's National Advisory Commission of Former Prisoners of War and as National Commander of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (ADBC) from 1979 to 1980.

In 1994, he joined, on behalf of ADBC, the group of ex-POWs of the Japanese from other former Allied countries in an appeal to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights regarding these countries' failure in addressing the injustice suffered by POWs of the Japanese during WWII. The appeal was based on the denial of a previous appeal with respect to the "gross violations of human rights" committed by Japan against American POWs during WWII. (Excerpts from the appeal document for UNCHR prepared by Mr. Levenberg) Although their appeal was again denied, it led to the payment by Canada, the United Kingdom, Isle of Man, Norway, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Australia to their former POWs of the Japanese. The United States is the only country that has not done so.

His oral history was recorded by the Library of Congress and the University of Nevada (“Nothing Had Prepared Me For This Kind of Brutality” p 570). In 1996, Dick Cavett interviewed Levenberg for his HBO series Yesteryear...1942 -- a look at the first year of America's involvement in WWII.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Remember the Wake 98

Late in the afternoon of October 7, 1943, 97 Americans, bound, and blindfolded, sat on a rocky beach facing the Pacific. None among them probably doubted what would come next. Three platoons of Japanese troops soon mowed them down with machine gun and rifle fire.

One man reportedly escaped, but he was soon recaptured and beheaded personally by the island's Imperial Japanese Navy commander. Prior to the massacre another civilian had been killed by the Japanese sailors.

The 98 Americans were all civilian contractors for Morrison-Knudson who were surrendered after the historic two-week defense of Wake Island in the Northern Pacific during December 1941. Among them was a civilian doctor (Dr. Lawton Shank, the only civilian ever awarded the Navy Cross), the two-man crew of the tugboat Justine Foss (Capt. Tom McInnis and Mate Ralph Van Valkenberg, Foss Maritime Co.), and two Chinese-Americans from Hawaii. They were what was left of the 1,150 men on Wake Island to build an airfield, seaplane base, and submarine base and to dredge a channel into the lagoon to allow access for U.S
tugboat Justine Foss
Combat, disease, and shipment to Japan and China for slave labor had reduced the group to those unlucky few. They toiled, for the Japanese, in violation of the Geneva Convention at various military projects on all three islands of the atoll. The most famous project by Wake Island slave laborers on the Home Islands is the Soto Dam near Sasebo Navy Base where 58 men died during its building.

click to order
On a large coral rock near where the POWs were buried is carved 98 US PW 5-10-43. It has been believed that the lone escapee of the massacre returned to the site to carve this lonely memorial before he was recaptured. However, this story is now thought to be apocryphal. The escapee would not have had the tools or strength to chisel anything; and he most certainly would have avoided making any noise. It is more likely, that group itself created their own memorial five months earlier in May. 

There remains an ongoing mission to identify human remains found on Wake Island in 2011.  The U. S. Navy Casualty Office has taken responsibility for the navy contractors. DNA of relatives is still being sought. If you think you know anyone who might be related to the 98, please contact. 

There are quite a number of histories of the Wake Island Battle. This book, The Epic Saga of the Civilian Contractors and Marines of Wake Island in World War II, By Bonita Gilbert, however, focuses on the role of the civilian contractors and provide another perspective on how the U.S. entered the War. The book is a must have for anyone who studies the Pacific War and POWs of Japan. Her blog is excellent and has excerpts from the book.