Saturday, April 15, 2023




FEBRUARY 11 TO 16,  2023

This past February, the Japanese  government again invited children of POWs of Japan to the country to work on reconciliation and their parent's ordeal with Imperial Japan's armed forces. This was the first trip that included a daughter of a female Army officer, a nurse on Corregidor. It is also the first trip that highlighted a POW camp where POW slave labor was for a company, Ube Industries, owned by the current Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi. His great grandfather founded the conglomerate.

They met with the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel. They also visited with Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki, president of the America-Japan Society, who helped initiate the program in 2009 while he was ambassador to the United States. Sadly, he was unwilling to host a program for his visitors with his members or at the Nakasone Peace Institute where he is president.

This may also be the last trip the Japanese feel necessary to host. Its multi-million dollar kakehashi program to bring Americans to Japan is focused on Japanese-Americans, high school students, and cultivating the next generation of American Japan experts. As American policymakers are now reluctant to mention that Japan was an enemy or an unrepentant perpetrator of war atrocities, it seems likely that this reconciliation program will disappear. 

The following children visited Japan. For fuller biographies of their POW parent, see this LINK.

Ms. Margaret A. GARCIA , 72, lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is the daughter of CPL Evangelisto “Evans” R. Garcia (June 19, 1913 – January 29, 2011), a corporal in New Mexico’s 200th Coast Artillery. They were the first to fire on the invading Japanese on December 8, 1941. He fought in the Bataan Peninsula and endured the Bataan Death March. He was sent to Japan in 1943 to be a slave laborer in Mitsui’s Omuta coal mine outside Nagasaki. Today, the mine is a UNESCO World Industrial Heritage site.

Ms. Sandra Harding, 70, of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is the daughter of two U.S. Army officers who were prisoners of war of Japan surrendered in the Philippines: Lt. Earlyn Black Harding (September  8, 1918 – August 16, 2007) and Lt. Col. Harry J. Harding (March 22, 1919 – October 30, 1987). Lt. Black was an Army Nurse on Corregidor who was interned at Santo Tomas in Manila. Lt. Col. Harding was with the 63rd Infantry Regiment (Philippine Army) on Panay. He was sent to Japan and imprisoned in Kobe House POW Camp, Zentsuji, and Rokuroshi. Ms. Harding was an elementary school art teacher for the Santa Fe Public Schools and recently retired as a freelance graphic artist.

Mr. Thomas J. Hoskins, Jr., 75, lives in San Antonio, Texas. He is the son of Staff Sergeant Thomas J. Hoskins (April 6, 1918 – April 18, 1995) who was a member of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. His father operated one of the two working radar units in the Philippines when Japan attacked on December 8, 1941. As a POW, his father was forced to build an airfield on Palawan Island in the Philippines. He was taken to Japan to be a slave laborer in various Kawasaki area POW camps near Tokyo. After the war, his father continued to serve in the military until his retirement in 1959 as a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force.

Ms. Linda McDavitt, 76, lives in Austin, Texas where she is President/CEO of the Genevieve and Ward Orsinger Foundation and Sail Training Commander of the Austin Yacht Club. She is the daughter of Capt. Jerome A. McDavitt (February 10, 1912-May 3, 1982) the 24th Field Artillery Regiment (Philippine Scouts). Surrendered on Corregidor, he was sent to Japan in 1944 where he was the POW commanding officer at the Hiroshima #6B - Omine POW camp that provided slave labor for a coal mine owned by Ube Industries. He was one of 89 Texas Aggies (graduates of Texas A&M) involved in the defense of Bataan and Corregidor.

Ms. Lorna Nielsen Murray, 64, lives in South Jordan, Utah. She is the daughter of PFC Eugene P. Nielsen, (January 23, 1916 - February 3, 2011) a member of the 59th Coast Artillery who fought on Corregidor. Nielsen was one of only 11 survivors of the 1944 Palawan Massacre of 139 American POWs. They were on Palawan Island in the Philippines to build an airfield for the Imperial Japanese Army. Today, this airfield is the foundation for the island’s Antonio Bautista Air Base. On November 22, 2023, Vice President Kamala Harris laid flowers at the memorial to the victims of this Japanese war crime. Ms. Murray is also a cousin to Lt. Col. Chase J. Nielsen, one of the famed “Tokyo Doolittle Raiders” and one of the eight who were captured by Japan. He was one of the four POWs who survived.

Dr. Gail Yoella Small, 68, lives in Reno, Nevada and is the daughter of Major George Small (February 28, 1908 – December 15, 2007) who was with the Chemical Warfare Service, 7th Chemical Company, Aviation, at Clark Field in the Philippines. After the Far East Air Force in early December 1941 was destroyed, he was assigned as an officer with the 31st Infantry Division, Company F of the 2nd Battalion that fought on Bataan. He survived the Bataan Death March, Camp O’Donnell, and the Cabanatuan POW Camp in the Philippines. In Japan, he was imprisoned at Osaka POW Camp 2-D UMEDA, Zentsuji, and Rokuroshi. 

Ms. Karen Brady Smith, 73, lives in Kent, Washington. She is the daughter of Major Jack E. Brady (February 26, 1921 – August 11, 2008) who was a member of the 228th Army Signal Company in the Philippines. He survived the Bataan Death March, Camp O’Donnell, and Cabanatuan POW Camp. He was on one of the first hellships, Tottori Maru, to Japan, enduring a 38-day journey via Formosa, Mako, and Korea to Japan. He was held at the Omori POW Camp in Tokyo, used as stevedore for Nippon Express and worked at an iron smelter in Iwate at Sendai #10-B for Tokyo Shibaura Denki K.K. (Tohoku Denki Seitetsu Kabushiki Kaisha)

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Convening on the history of the POWs of Japan


May 4-6, 2023

Sheraton Albuquerque Uptown

2600 Louisiana BLVD NE

Albuquerque, NM

Special hotel rate available by April 6, 2023

Call 24 hrs. a day at 1800-325-3535 and ask for the American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor Memorial Society (ADBC-MS) Rate or LINK (suggest you call to see if you can retain the conference rate after the deadline)

Find registration form HERE.

You can email in a pdf of the registration form and call in your registration fee by emailing Ms. Judy Pruitt,   

Thursday, May 4, 2023

  • 2023 POW/Japanese Friendship Trip to Japan discussed by the seven “children” of eight POWs.

  • John Duresky talks about the book: Relentless Hope: A True Story of War and Survival by David L Britt, with John Duresky and Vickie Graham  (ISBN 978-1-09838-539-2, august 31, 2021). The story of US Army 1st Lt. Chester K Britt who served at Ft Wint in Subic Bay and then in the Battle of Bataan. He was from La Crosse, Wisconsin.

  • William Dalness and Josh Kefauver discuss their relatives in “Two Wars Two Generations.” Harold Elmore "Swede" Dalness, 31st Inf (PA) who fought in the Battle of Corregidor as an officer with the Provisional Battalion of the 4th Marines and was a POW of Imperial Japan and his namesake, Harold Edward Dalnes, a sailor aboard the USS Cyclops that disappeared in the Caribbean Sea during WW I.

Friday, May 5, 2023

  • Chris Schurtz, Grandson of Major Paul W. Schurtz (515th Coast Artillery, died aboard the Oryoku Maru) discusses memorials across New Mexico remembering the Battle of Bataan and the Bataan Death March.

  • Paul Ruiz tells the stories from his father MSGT Joe Ruiz (U.S. Army Philippine Scout, POW, Guerrilla Fighter) about the war in the Philippines.

  • Gregory Kupsky, Ph.D., Senior Historian on the WWII Team in the Indo-Pacific Directorate at Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency gives an update on the disinterments of Unknowns from Manila American Cemetery and the  National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl, Hawaii)

Saturday, May 6, 2023

  • Thomas H. Begay, U.S. Marine, Navajo Code Talker at Iwo Jima talks about The Navajo Code Talkers: Their Code Was Never Broken Presenter:  

  • The Next Generation: The Grandchildren of Bataan and Corregidor Veterans. Panel led by the grandchildren of Agapita Silva (200th Coast Artillery)

Banquet-Speaker: author Steve Moore discusses his book As Good As Dead: The Daring Escape of American POWs From a Japanese Death Camp about the Palawan Massacre.

National Former POW Recognition Day

This Easter Sunday, April 9th, is the 81st anniversary of the fall of the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines and the beginning of the infamous Bataan Death March. Less than half of the men on Bataan would survive WWII, the majority dying as POWs of Imperial Japan. President Joe Biden's cousin, John Robinette, a tanker from Ohio, was on the Bataan Death March and died as a POW of Japan in the Philippines.

The man most associated with this history is Georgian, Major General Edward Postell King, USA (July 4, 1884 – August 31, 1958). He is today's Department of Veterans Affairs' "Veteran of the Day." A version of the biography below is reprinted on the VA's website.

Post a remembrance to his Find  A Grave site.

In the early morning hours of April 9, 1942, General King surrendered, in violation of direct orders, his command on the Bataan Peninsula to the invading Imperial Japanese forces. His was a rational, moral decision. Not doing so, he had concluded, would have led to the pointless slaughter of his sick, starved and exhausted soldiers, dozens of female military nurses, as well as the civilian population under his control.

A decorated artilleryman, King made the moral choice to risk his career and reputation by refusing to sacrifice his men for no military gain. His men had fought for 93 days under siege conditions with antiquated weapons, dwindling resources, and no hope of rescue. The approximately 78,000 troops (66,000 Filipinos and 12,000 Americans) under his command were the largest contingent of U.S. soldiers ever to surrender to the enemy. King emphasized to his men that he "surrendered them," they did not surrender.

The General pleaded with the Japanese that those under his command would be treated in accord with the 1929 Geneva Conventions. He got no promise or assurance. Nor did he get a surrender agreement or document. Instead, the Japanese considered his surrender, and any others, individual ones.

The Japanese soldiers, understanding their commanders’ intentions, proceeded to loot their captives of any belongings, kill those they found with anything Japanese, and pull gold teeth out of the soldiers’ mouths. The surrendered were then forced on the infamous Bataan Death March up the Peninsula in the tropical heat to a make-shift POW camp 100 miles north. Food and water was withheld, stragglers shot, random soldiers beheaded or bayoneted, the sick left to die on the road, and the less nimble run over by tanks to be forever embedded in Bataan’s East Road.

For the next three and a half years, General King and the men and women of Bataan were POWs. General King endured abuse, starvation and forced labor as a POW in the Philippines, Formosa and Manchuria. His men were sent across the Japanese empire in hellships for slave labor. The military nurses were put in squalid civilian internment camps in the Philippines. By war’s end in August 1945, more than half of the men he surrendered on Bataan had perished in captivity.

A native of Georgia, King received a law degree from the University of Georgia. He began his military career in 1905 as a second lieutenant in the Georgia National Guard. During WWI, he earned a Distinguished Service Medal as a Chief Assistant to the Chief of Artillery. Recognized as a leader, after WWI he attended and taught at both the Army and Navy War Colleges. He was sent to the Philippines in 1940 where he became General Douglas MacArthur’s second ranking ground general in the United States Army Forces in the Far East.

King assumed command of the American-Filipino forces on Bataan on March 21, 1942, shortly after General MacArthur was evacuated from the Philippines to Australia. He oversaw a tenacious and courageous final defense of the Peninsula. Although he expected to be court-martialed after the war, he was not. Neither was he invited to be on the deck of the USS Missouri for Japan’s formal surrender or promoted.

He received the Army Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf cluster; World War I Victory Medal; American Defense Service Medal with "Foreign Service" clasp; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three service star; World War II Victory Medal; and the Philippine Defense Medal with service star.

General King never received any decoration or recognition for his good judgment or gallantry on Bataan. His troops, however, widely admired and revered him. He passed away peacefully at his home in Brunswick, Georgia on August 31, 1958.

✮And for you military history buffs, April 9th is also the anniversary of Robert E. Lee's 1865 surrender to General Grant at Appomattox.

Saturday, April 08, 2023

Is Congress listening?

On March 8, 2023, the Veterans Affairs Committees of the House and Senate held their annual joint hearing for To Receive Legislative Presentations of Veterans Service Organizations. Last year, Ms. Jan Thompson, president of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society, testified in person. This year, as in all past years she submitted a STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD (see below).

Unlike all previous years, both the House and Senate Committees refused to post that the ADBC-MS was to give testimony for the record and, most important, refused to post the text of the testimony. Inexplicably, the rules changed, although no one could give your editor a coherent reason why. Sheepishly, staff told us that the testimony would appear in the Committee print--a printed record of the hearing. If true, this will happen months from the hearing date.

Interestingly, the House Veterans Affairs Committee did list on its Committee Repository website for the hearing, another organization's Statement for the Record: Laura Lehigh as Independent Citizen Advocate for DIC Surviving Spouses Rank-Based Dependency and Indemnity Recipients Group.

UPDATE (4/12/2023) - The Clerk of the House Veterans Affairs Committee admitted that it was an oversight not to post the ADBC-MS testimony on the hearing website repository page. It appear the House committee did not change its posting policy. The clerk for the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee apparently neglected to share the testimony with his counterpart at the House committee. You can find the testimony HERE

Why the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee would block our testimony in this passive aggressive manner we do know. Soon after the hearing, the Committee staff took another unusual position, that of objecting to and blocking a proposed gold medal bill for the men and women who fought in the early defensive battles of WWII in the Pacific. They were vague as to why other than they had problems with the "findings" or statements of fact and noted that they cannot block a bill. But the reality is that their objections did stop the bill from being introduced. The "findings" were written by a committee of world class, American historians of the Pacific War.

I guess the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee got tired of the ADBC-MS asking for the same things every year.  Or maybe they did not again want to hear that there are veterans they were leaving behind and forgetting. Or maybe it is too unbelievable that Japan was once our enemy and considered more brutal than the Nazis. Or maybe Japan's history disinformation campaigns, which are now being directed at POWs, are successful.


Chairmen Tester and Bost, Ranking Members Moran and Takano, and Members of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees, thank you for allowing us to describe how Congress can meet the concerns of veterans of World War II in the Pacific.

The American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (ADBC) was founded in January 1946 at the Fort Devens, Massachusetts hospital by former POWs of Imperial Japan. The ADBC represented the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces in the Pacific who participated in the early resistance to, and defensive battles against, the armed forces of Imperial Japan from December 8, 1941, to June 9, 1942. Nearly all the survivors endured nearly four years of merciless imprisonment by Imperial Japan.

Our subsequent Memorial Society now represents their families and descendants, as well as scholars, researchers, and archivists. Our goal is to preserve the history of the American POW experience in the Pacific and to teach future generations of the POWs’ sacrifice, courage, determination, and faith—the essence of the American spirit.

Eighty-one years ago today marks the fall of the Dutch East Indies (today’s Indonesia) to Japan and the capture on Java of a West Texas National Guard Battalion as well as two American aviators and one sailor too seriously wounded to be moved. Barely a week before, the heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA-30) went down in the Battle of Sunda Strait marking the decimation of the United States Asiatic Fleet that had commanded the United States Navy and Marines in the region since 1902. American forces on Wake Island and Guam had surrendered in December 1941.

In April, after 99 days of constant warfare and no hope of resupply, the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines was surrendered and the infamous Bataan Death March began. Less than one month later, on May 6th, the Fortress Island of Corregidor and its associated commands defending Manila were surrendered. The rest of American and Filipino units throughout the Philippines were surrendered on June 9th. And on June 7th, Japan invaded Alaska’s Kiska and Attu islands in the Aleutians, imprisoning 42 Native Americans, 8 Navy weathermen, one female school teacher, and killing three men.

I testify today to encourage your efforts to remember these American men and women who gave their all under desperate conditions to demonstrate determination and resourcefulness against a ruthless enemy and a long-decided U.S. and British policy of prioritizing the war in Europe. The result was that most of these soldiers became POWs of Japan who suffered some of the War’s worst consequences. One-third did not return home.

For all, the homefront was their third battle--after surviving warfare in the Pacific and enduring atrocities as a POW. Forced to sign gag orders about the horrors they witnessed and unable to explain the after-effects of torture, abuse, starvation, and trauma, the POWs of Japan first focused, as do today’s veterans, on obtaining healthcare, disability benefits, survivor benefits, caregiver support, mental health access, and education.

The fourth and final battle for the American POWs of Japan is for them not to be forgotten: both by their country and the Japanese. Current and future generations can be inspired by their “victory from within.” As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in August 1943, when the outcome of WWII was still uncertain, “The story of the fighting on Bataan and Corregidor—and, indeed, everywhere in the Philippines–will be remembered so long as men continue to respect bravery, and devotion, and determination.”

Our asks
To ensure that the sacrifices and unique history of our fighting men and women in the Pacific during 1941 and 1942 are not forgotten I ask Congress to:

1. Award, collectively to the American defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, as defined in U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich’s and Representative Teresa Leger Fernandez’s forthcoming Congressional Gold Medal bill. This group represents every U.S. state, territory, tribe, and military service. It is the most diverse World War II Congressional Gold Medal cohort.

. Ask the Government of Japan, to create a central government-funded memorial in Japan, as none exist, for the Allied POWs of WWII at the Port of Moji on Kyushu, Japan where most of the “hellships”–floating dungeons where POWs were denied air, space, light, sanitation, and food–first arrived in Japan to unload their sick and dying human cargo. This memorial should be selected from a world competition. Currently, the only monuments at Moji are to Japanese war horses, Japanese soldiers, and bananas.

3. Instruct the U.S. Department of State to prepare a report for Congress on the history and funding of the “Japan/POW Friendship Program.” This visitation program began in 2010. The report should include (i) how other Allied POW reconciliation programs initiated by the Government of Japan in 1995 compare both in funding and programming and (ii) how the U.S. program compares with other “Kakehashi” people exchange programs in the United States funded by the Government of Japan starting in 2015.

4. Ask the Government of Japan to continue and institutionalize the “Japan/POW Friendship Program” established in 2010. Initially established as a reconciliation visit to Japan for former POWs modeled after ones established in 1995 for British, Dutch, and Australian POWs, the program has included widows and the elderly children of POWs. The program needs to transform into a permanent educational, remembrance, and exchange initiative encompassing history, justice, and democracy. It needs to be permanent, not merely a yearly, diplomatic “deliverable” subject to Japan’s budget whims.

Thus far, there have been 12 trips, one each in the fall of 2010 through 2019. In 2015, there were two trips. In 2016, 2018, and 2019, due to the advanced age of surviving POWs, only widows and children participated in the program. No trips were held in 2020, 2021, or 2022. A four-day trip for 7 children of POWs was held in February this year. In all, 46 former POWs, all in their late 80s or 90s, as well as nine widows and 25 children in their 60s and 70s have made the trip to Japan. A number of the caregiver companions were wives, children, and grandchildren.

5. Ask the Government of Japan to publish in Japanese, English and other languages on the website of the Foreign Ministry of Japan the 2009 Cabinet Decision offering a formal apology to all the prisoners of war of Japan and the text of Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki’s May 30, 2009 speech to the convention of the ADBC offering an apology to the POWs:

I would like to convey to you the position of the government of Japan on this issue. As former Prime Ministers of Japan have repeatedly stated, the Japanese people should bear in mind that we must look into the past and to learn from the lessons of history. We extend a heartfelt apology for our country having caused tremendous damage and suffering to many people, including prisoners of wars, those who have undergone tragic experiences in the Bataan Peninsula, Corregidor Island, in the Philippines, and other places.

6. Ask the Government of Japan to honor its 2015 written promise to include the “full history” of Japan’s UNESCO World Industrial Heritage properties of the Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining. The history of POW slave labor at many of the Heritage sites is not included at those locations or at the Tokyo Information Center.

7. Amend title 36, United States Code to include National Former POW Recognition Day among the days the POW/MIA flag is required to be displayed. This is April 9th, which is the anniversary of the Bataan Death March. The President is already required to issue a proclamation for this remembrance day.

High price of freedom

By June 1942, most of the estimated 27,000 Americans ultimately held as military POWs of Imperial Japan had been surrendered–they did not surrender. By the War’s end, roughly one-third or more than 12,000 Americans had died in squalid POW camps, in the fetid holds of “hellships,” or in slave labor camps owned by Japanese companies. Almost one-third (or 4,000) died from friendly fire in unmarked hellships sunk by American planes and submarines.

Surviving as a POW of Japan and returning home was the beginning of new battles: finding acceptance in society and living with serious mental and physical ailments. In the first six years after the war, deaths of American POWs of Japan were more than twice those of the comparably aged white male population. These deaths were disproportionately due to tuberculosis, suicides, accidents, and cirrhosis. In contrast, 1.5 percent of Americans in Nazi POW camps died (the mortality rate for POWs of Japan was 20 times greater). In the first six years after liberation, the mortality rate of those who survived the Japanese POW camps was three times the rate of the Nazi POW camp survivors.

Eighty-two years after the start of the War in the Pacific, it is time to recognize the Americans who fought the impossible and endured the unimaginable in the war against tyranny in the Asia. The American men and women in the early months of the war in the Pacific fought with limited and outdated weapons and no hope of reinforcement or resupply.

In return for their sacrifices and service, they ask that their government keep its moral obligation to them. They do not want their history ignored or exploited. What they want most is to have their government stand by them to ensure they will be remembered, that our allies respect them, and that their American history is preserved accurately for future generations.

Ms. Jan Thompson
President, American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor Memorial Society
Daughter of PhM2c Robert E. Thompson USN, USS Canopus (AS-9)
Survivor of the hellships Oryoku Maru, Enoura Maru, and the Brazil Maru
Survivor of the POW Camps Bilibid (Philippines), Fukuoka 3B (Japan), & Mukden (China)

Friday, April 07, 2023

A Proclamation on National Former Prisoner Of War Recognition Day, 2023



     On National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day, we honor the more than half a million service members who sacrificed their freedom as prisoners of war in order to defend freedom for their fellow Americans.  These brave patriots remind us of the grave costs of war and the sacrifice we ask of those who fight for us.  We owe them and their families, caregivers, and survivors a debt of gratitude we can never fully repay.

     This year, we mark the 50th anniversary of Operation Homecoming, the repatriation of nearly 600 Americans held captive during the Vietnam War, as well as the 70th anniversary of Operations Big Switch and Little Switch, which brought home more than 3,700 American prisoners of the Korean War.  These heroes — and other prisoners of war from every conflict throughout our history — stand among the bravest of our Nation, serving honorably under intolerable circumstances.  Their unwavering courage helped defend an idea unlike any other in human history:  the idea of the United States of America.

     Our Nation has many obligations, but our one truly sacred obligation is to equip those we send into harm’s way and to care for them and their families when they return home.  To every prisoner of war now safely reunited with their loved ones:  We will never fail to honor your sacrifice.  To every family still awaiting answers about a hero who went missing in action:  We will never stop working to bring them home.  And to every service member defending our Nation and our values around the world today:  We will never forget what you give to this country each day.

     May God bless our former prisoners of war and their families, caregivers, and survivors, and may God protect our troops.

     NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 9, 2023, as National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day.  I call upon Americans to observe this day by honoring the service and sacrifice of all former prisoners of war as our Nation expresses its eternal gratitude for their sacrifice.  I also call upon Federal, State, and local government officials and organizations to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

     IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this

seventh day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-seventh.

                             JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.

A Gold Medal For All Needed

Descendants of WWII POWs call into question congressional bill that only honors defenders of Bataan and Corregidor

STARS AND STRIPES, November 8, 2022

Descendants of some U.S. troops taken prisoner in the Philippines during World War II have called into question an ongoing effort to award those veterans with Congressional Gold Medals, saying the latest version honors only those who fought in Bataan and Corregidor and excludes other areas of the Philippines and Pacific.

Since 2009, the New Mexico congressional delegation has introduced bills to establish the medal to honor those captured at the Bataan peninsula and on Corregidor Island, two of the main defensive positions that the U.S. established after the Japanese invaded the Philippines within days of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. U.S. and Filipino troops on Bataan surrendered on April 9, 1942, after running out of food and ammunition. Corregidor held out for nearly a month before surrendering.

The current version of the bill honors only those who served on Bataan and Corregidor.

It does not mention the thousands of U.S. troops who were fighting in other parts of the Philippines until the top U.S. commander, Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, surrendered all American and Filipino forces in the Philippines when Corregidor fell. Some members of the 1,000-strong Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society would like to see Americans who resisted Japan’s sweep through the Pacific but were captured at Wake Island, Guam, Java, the Aleutians and at sea honored, too.

Some of them were imprisoned alongside defenders of Bataan and Corregidor when the Japanese consolidated many of their prisoners at camps in Japan and Manchuria as other areas once under their control fell to the advancing Americans and their allies.

“It's very much a misreading of the history of the fall the Philippines. You cannot divorce Bataan and Corregidor from everything else that was going on,” said Mindy Kotler Smith, a member of the memorial society. Her husband’s great uncle Fletcher Wood served in the Philippines with the Army Corps of Engineers and died in Bilibid prison in Manila.

Congress has commissioned gold medals as its “highest expression of national appreciation” since the American Revolution. Other groups to receive the medal for service during World War II include Merrill’s Marauders, a unit that served in the jungles of Burma, women who joined the workforce as a “Rosie the Riveter,” the merchant mariners of World War II and the Navajo Code Talkers.

House and Senate rules state that legislation establishing such a medal must be co-sponsored by two-thirds of the chamber membership to advance to committees. If this doesn’t happen by the end of the year, the legislation must be resubmitted in the next session of Congress.

The latest version of the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Congressional Gold Medal Act was introduced by Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., in April 2021. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, D-N.M., introduced the companion bill in the House a month later. Both have sat idle because they have bipartisan support but not enough co-sponsors.

“Bataan veterans deserve the recognition of our nation’s highest and most distinguished honor for their perseverance and patriotism. We must never forget their undaunted heroism in the face of unthinkable conditions and horrific abuses,” Heinrich said in a statement.

The Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society was founded in 1946 by survivors of the Philippine campaign as they recovered in a Massachusetts hospital following their liberation from captivity at the end of the war, Smith said. As those men grew old and died, their descendants took over the organization, and now focus on education and preservation of this specific chapter of World War II history.

They’ve watched over the years as lawmakers from New Mexico have introduced the different bills to honor their sacrifice and have offered their own guidance on how to better honor the estimated 27,000 American service members held prisoner by the Japanese during World War II. About 12,000 of them died in captivity, according to the memorial society.

They included up to 700 Americans and several thousand Filipinos who died of beatings, beheadings, starvation and lack of water during a 5- to 10-day forced march from Bataan to prison camps that became known as the Bataan Death March. Thousands more perished in the camps.

However, determining who should be honored by a congressional medal has proven a challenge.

Among those who surrendered at Corregidor were 77 Army and Navy nurses, all of whom were liberated when the U.S. recaptured the Philippines late in the war. The memorial society fears the current bill would exclude them because the current wording refers to “troops.”

The first legislation to award medals in honor of POWs in the Philippines dates to 2009, when Heinrich served in the House. He proposed the medal to be presented to defenders of Bataan, Corregidor and the main Philippine island of Luzon. It did not mention any specific units nor Americans taken prisoner in the central and southern Philippines.

That same year, former Sen. Tom Udall, also a New Mexico Democrat, introduced the companion bill in the Senate, but with a more narrow focus. It only authorized medals for those who were taken prisoner at Bataan but not Corregidor or other locations overrun by the Japanese.

Heinrich’s office did not respond to queries about whether he would consider changes to the legislation in the next congressional session.

“It is our hope that they will amend and modify the bill so that we can support it,” said Jan Thompson, president of the memorial society whose father, Navy pharmacist’s mate Robert E. Thompson, surrendered on the island of Corregidor. “We’re not comfortable supporting it as it is, and we’d like to be able to support.”