Sunday, April 09, 2023

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.

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