Thursday, December 12, 2019

75th Anniversary of the Palawan Massacre and Oryoku Maru Sinking

This coming Saturday marks the 75th Anniversaries of the Palawan Massacre and the sinking of the hellship Oryoku Maru off Subic Bay.

At noon on December 14, 1944, 150 POWs on Palawan Island in the Philippines were herded into their recently constructed air raid trenches. Most had been on the island since the summer of 1942 to build by hand an airfield for the Imperial Japanese Army. Quickly, the Japanese troops doused them with buckets of airplane fuel and set them afire with flaming torches, followed by hand grenades and machine gun fire. Miraculously, eleven men escaped to the sea and were rescued by Filipino guerrillas.

The airfield that the POWs built is used today as the Antonio Bautista Air Base, an important anchor of the U.S.-Philippines alliance. In a letter to Assistant Secretary of State David R. Stillwell, I suggested that the U.S. use this anniversary to memorialize the POWs with our Filipino allies to highlight our deep and historic military ties. I have not heard back.

On the same day, 600 miles north of Palawan, off Subic Bay, US Navy aircraft from the USS Hornet attacked the hellship Oryoku Maru. The day before, December 13, 1944, the ship had left Manila with 1,619 POWs in its cargo holds. Two hundred POWs died in the attack. Survivors swam ashore dodging bullets and sharks to endure a week on an abandoned tennis court in the tropical sun with limited food and water. The ordeal of the surviving POWs continued through a hellship voyage on the Enoura Maru and Brazil Maru from Luzon to Takao Harbor, Formosa (Taiwan). The Enoura Maru upon arriving at Takao on January 9, 1945 was sunk by aircraft again from the USS Hornet

Survivors were eventually consolidated on the Brazil Maru for the voyage from Takao to Moji, Japan. About 600 POWs reached Japan, but many of those died soon after arrival. Most of the remaining POWs were shipped to China via Korea and liberated at Mukden. One of the men who died en route to Korea in April 1945 was the father of the Smothers Brothers, US Army Major Thomas Bolyn Smothers, Jr. He was a West Point Graduate and a member of the 45th Infantry Regiment, Philippine Scouts. In the end, barely 400 POW made it to liberation.

Thus, today we remember these brave souls who suffered and perished so far from home. The airfield they built is one of the sites of our Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the Philippines that helps bind our historic alliance with the Philippines. Most of the POWs murdered at Palawan are buried in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, Missouri. In Hawaii, there is a memorial stone to the Enoura Maru dead at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific and a memorial to all who endured the hellships stands at Subic Bay in the Philippines. Never Forgotten

Put a virtual flower at the graves of some of the men massacred on Palawan HERE.

Put a virtual flower at the graves of some of the men who died during the Orokyu Maru's multiple ship voyage to Japan HERE.

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