An American Soldier’s Album, found in Bataan by a Japanese

Yuka Ibuki

Mr. Tokio Watanabe(90), a Japanese war veteran engaged in the warfare in Bataan & Corregidor, and in the suburbs of Harbin, Manchuria, feels very grateful recently. He has long wanted to return a photo album of an American soldier to the owner, which he found near Cabcaben in April 1942. However, he had no way to carry out his wish.

In the summer of 2008, Mr. Takao and Mrs. Roberta Koishi of Kofu-city contacted Mr. Watanabe, having read a newspaper article on his book regarding his three years as a POW Internee in Siberia. Roberta was born and raised in Portland Oregon, and one of her family friends was a survivor of the Bataan Death March. As they met, on knowing Mr. Watanabe’s strong wish of giving the photo album back to the owner, the Koishis offered assistance, and started research with no contact information.

Mr. Watanabe showing the album to Mr. and Mrs. Koishi.

There were seven family names in the album. Roberta struggled through the internet with these as the only clue, and finally she traced them back to one unit of the New Mexico Coast Guard, which led the Koishis to the Bataan Memorial Museum in Santa Fe. Eventually before their departure for the US, the Koishis tried to get some publicity, contacting local branches of leading newspapers, and me, through the publisher of Dr. Lester Tenney’s book, My Hitch in Hell: the Bataan Death March, which we four teachers translated into Japanese in 2003. The publisher and I made a trip to Kofu to meet the three people, with some young newspaper reporters.

The first English article in the Daily Yomiuri on Nov. 17 caught the eye of Mr. Roger Mansell, who introduced it to the Japanese-pow listserv, asking for more information. I asked the Koishis for a permission of sending the two files of photos from the album, which they had managed to prepare, through a hard work of scanning them with help of a friend who has computer skills. Several researchers, including Messrs. Mansell and Federico Baldassarre, responded to this offer, and thanks to the energetic efforts of Mr. Baldassarre especially, some survivors of the Battery C, 200th/515th CAC were located, and notified of the returning album. He also found out that the seven men had already passed away.

photos from the album,  President Pierce carrying soldiers to the Philippines,  soldiers  in Honolulu                                                                 

The Koishis who visited the Museum on December 1, were welcomed by some Bataan Death March survivors and the Coast Guard officers. According to the Koishis, the Museum is very positive about the possibility of finding the owner, or the closest kin of him.

Mrs. Koishi kindly contributed to our website the following article:

December 1st, 2008. by Mrs. Roberta Koishi

My husband Takao & I flew to Albuquerque, New Mexico and were met by two National Guard men.  They drove us to Santa Fe and gave us a short tour of the city.  Arriving at the museum, Major General Montoya met us at the car and led us into the foyer of the museum where over 60 of his staff, former POWs and their families met and welcomed us.  We were introduced and then had a Mexican-food lunch. 

We were asked to introduce ourselves and how we got the album. Takao, my husband was afraid (being a Japanese) of how he would be accepted, but when he told of his childhood experience during the war, the former POWs yelled out in Japanese "tomodachi".  Takao was thrilled and all his fears were gone.  We showed the album and the 7 survivors present came to see and touch it.  One survivor, Richard Daly, said he knew all seven men's names.  They were in the same unit as he was.  He was overcome with tears looking at the pictures.

Speech by the Koishis  (video courtesy: Bernadett Charley Gallegos)

In the end Major General Montoya gave a medal of honor to each of the seven survivors which reads "Beyond the Standard" or "Beyond the call of duty".  Then the general turned to us and said, "You both have earned this medal, too!  You came half way around the world to bring this album to us and we are most grateful."  He also gave us a medal to give to Mr. Watanabe for seeking to return the album to the United States

Then the general said to all the people there, "We want to make the Koishis our friends forever.  Is this okay with you all?"  They all clapped vigorously showing their agreement.  I had a hard time during the two and a half hours that we were there swallowing my tears.


            The Koishis showing the album at  the Bataan Memorial Museum in Santa Fe 
     (Photo courtesy:
Bernadett Charley Gallegos)

    from the website of  Bataan-Corregidor Memorial Foundation of New Mexico, Inc.

        Yomiuri Shimbun article on the Bataan album

Every time I called Mr. Watanabe, forwarding new piece of information sent from Mr. Baldassare or others through the internet, he was excited with joy and gratitude. “We had to fight as enemies against each other. I’m so grateful the days have arrived where it’s possible for us to enjoy such communication.” He lives in Oshino village at the foot of Mt. Fuji, and still works everyday as a volunteer guide, stationed at a car park for the tourists. The snow drift on Fuji springs up in eight ponds of the area through decades of time, and produces good buckwheat and other vegetables and fish.


 Mr. Watanabe's grandfather's house is now Oshino Village Historical museum

”I, a soldier in Bataan, have changed after I spent three years of POW life in Siberia, without knowing what would happen next day. I could experience life from a totally different angle.” Mr. Watanabe carried the album in the big containers of the observation machinery. While the troop was stationed in Manchuria, near Harbin, Mr. Watanabe was sent to study at the Military Academy in Tokyo. He left the album and the diary he kept in Bataan with his parents prior to his return to Harbin in February, 1945. He had put in the album his own photos taken with his buddies and local friends, in Buragan, and Harbin. All the pages of the album are covered with photos of the two soldiers; an American and a Japanese.

Mr. and Mrs. Koishi visited Mr. Watanabe on December 19, and handed him the medal. He sent me a letter dated December, 25, which is posted with his permission:

 "We the Japanese had made the Americans suffer a lot. Despite that, now we are allowed to enjoy this warm friendship by people of the US. I feel so glad and appreciative. I pray this friendship will last long from now on. Also please do forgive us for the hardships caused by the Japanese to the US soldiers and people of the Philippines. I wish you all a good new year. When it’s spring again, please come and taste the water of the Eight Springs of Oshino, a wonderful spot at the foot of Mt. Fuji.”
 (He is reading Lester Tenney's My Hitch in Hell: the Bataan Death March.)

      **********  Bataan Warfare Diary by Mr. Tokio Watanabe **************

In 1999, Mr. Watanabe privately printed and distributed his Bataan Diary as part of his life history. Here is a POW related excerpt from the booklet, through his kind permission.

“I was in Bataan and Buragan city from February 13 to June 20, 1942, as the leader of the observation unit(*1) of a heavy artillery company, which consisted of the graduates of the Army Gun Academy. On April 9 we got the order to move to the third, last position in the south east area of Mariveles mountains, and on April 12, set an artillery position around 1km west of Cabcaben, and an observation position on top of a hill near the battle front.(*2) From April 13 to May 5, we were engaged in the fierce exchange of bombarding with the fortresses of Corregidor, Fraile and Cabalo, and there were seven deaths in action in our Company. (*1 Gunners set their gun position in a low ground, with help of transport/logistic unit, but the observatory is set where there is a view for the goal, and work with wireless and communication units. *2 It was while he was in this position that he found the album left in a US camp.)

Since April 8, we saw an amazing number of the US and Filipino POWs and citizens walking north, looking so weak. We all felt sorry, putting ourselves in their place. Malaria, dengue, scarlet fever and dysentery, which prevailed in our troop from mid-March, reduced the available number of the personnel to half by the end of the month. Malaria fever downed me in the position for three days in total. On May 4, the original thirty-eight members of the observation, wireless and communication groups became nine. On May 8, only two were available for the withdrawal of the position, and on consulting the logistics, seven POWs were accompanied up-hill to help us. They had come to the Company on previous day from the US hospital, where food shortage was severe. Of the original 179 officers and men of the Company, one third could attend the roll-call on May 22, one third was in bed with malaria fever, and the other third was the seriously ill who had been sent to the field or main hospitals and we had no information about them yet. These epidemics raged and affected both forces more than shells and bombing.

Food for us observation unit was mainly hard biscuits while available, if not, wild fruits in the jungle, and grilled meat of the big lizard by the stream preserved well. The company, which was first ordered bombardment of the three fortress islands from sides, was on May 27 moved to Natib mountains in Bataan, then we sometimes found the US rations left in the camps in the jungle. They helped us a lot, and to some of us, it was the first time to taste gorgeous food like tinned meat, milk, coffee, and tea.

From May 13 to June 20, the Company was ordered to wait for the next move in Buragan City, north of Manila. We at that time were glad as we believed in the liberation of Asia from colonial rules. By then, thirty-two US POWs had surrendered to the unit and lived with us, doing various chores of the camp, sleeping in an elementary school together with our unit; three of them were Mexican-Americans. I was ordered to be the group leader of the POWs and supervised them as the Company paraded for the morning roll-call. As I joked, “We’ll take you to Japan with us,” the Americans laughed and said, “Watanabe-san, eventually they’ll come from our country to take us back.” Two of the Mexican-Americans said they wanted to come with us, but the other said, “I want to go home soon, because I have my dear wife and a baby waiting for me.” There was an American called “Kobu=lump”, who was an excellent young mechanic of vehicles and was liked by everyone. He often said, “I like Japanese, and I want to go anywhere with Watanabe-san.”

Away from the battle field, we could get along so well: why do countries have to go into war? I, a professional soldier, couldn’t understand. According to the “Field Code” of the Japanese Imperial Army, we were educated to kill ourselves rather than captured alive. However, the US POWs straightforwardly stated to us, ’We did our best in our duty of defending the Manila Fortress, and lost; so our duty is over now. That we fought till we became a POW is heroic and honorable as a soldier.’ ” (*3: When the troop was moved to Manchuria on June 20, the POWs were sent to a POW Camp in Manila.