Former POW Robert A. Brown returns to Mukden camp

Kinue Tokudome

Chief Master Sgt. Robert A. Brown (USAF. Ret.) was interned at the Mukden POW camp from November 1942 to August 1945, together with some 1,500 American POWs.  It was my privilege to accompany him on his first return trip since the end of WWII to this former camp in Mukden, now Shenyang, China.  Here are some of the highlights of our trip.

Feb. 21. 2005
Arrived in Tokyo.

Feb. 22.
We visited the family of late Juro Oki, the Japanese Army doctor for whom Bob had worked at the Mukden POW camp. He had visited Dr. Oki in the late 50s to thank for his kindness during the war. This time, the reunion was attended by Mrs. Oki, all three children of Dr. Oki and other family members who welcomed Bob with warm hospitality.

              Bob visiting Dr. Oki  in the 50s                In the same room, Dr. Oki joined, if only by picture 

Feb. 23.
We visited two members of the Japanese National Diet, Mr. Yukihisa Fujita and Ms. Eiko Ishige, both of whom belong to the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party.  The two lawmakers listened to Bob’s POW experience on the Bataan Death March and that in the Mukden POW camp.

         With Diet member Yukihisa Fujita                With Diet member Eiko Ishige

Bob also had an opportunity to meet with a group of former Japanese soldiers who were taken to Siberia by the Soviet forces after the war. (About 600,000 Japanese soldiers who were in Manchuria at the end of the war were taken to Siberia and other parts of the Soviet Union and were forced to work under extremely harsh conditions for 3-5 years. About 60,000 perished.) Bob introduced himself and talked about his POW experience in Japanese! Each member of the group shared with Bob their experiences in Siberia. Bob said that he could relate to their suffering and felt a sense of camaraderie with these former Japanese soldiers. He found out that several of them were in Hoten (Mukden) when the war ended and even saw American OSS officers as they parachuted down.         With Siberian forced laborers

In the evening, members of the POW Research Network hosted a welcome dinner for Bob.

Feb. 24
Arrived in Shenyang, China in the afternoon. Bob and I were invited to dinner at the residence of the U.S. Consul General David Kornbluth. Mr. and Mrs. Kornbluth and Consulate staff members were fascinated by Bob’s scrapbook where he kept many interesting photos and documents from his POW days. We also visited Japanese Consul General Ogawachi the next day, with whom Bob shared his memories of the Mukden POW camp.  

 With Consul General Kornbluth                 With Consul General Ogawachi

Feb. 25
We visited the former POW campsite where a part of the hospital building Bob had worked in 60 years earlier still stood. Local historian Mr. Yang Jing, who has been working on the history of the Mukden POW camp for the past ten years, was our guide. Half a dozen or so reporters and TV crew came along with us as well. Bob said, “So many memories came back…”

During the first winter after American POWs had arrived in Mukden from the Philippines in 1942, over 200 died because of the extremely cold and appalling condition of the first camp. Three POWs were executed after their unsuccessful escape. On Dec. 7, 1944, the third anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, B-29 bombing killed 19 POWs (18 Americans and 1 British) and wounded 54 in the camp.  As a medic, Bob worked 40 hours straight tending wounded POWs.





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Bob in front of the prison hospital building

Feb. 26
We visited the 9-18 Museum in Shenyang where the history of Japanese invasion and occupation of Manchuria was chronicled.

Feb. 27
Bob received one more interview from a Chinese newspaper before leaving Shenyang for Tokyo.

Feb. 28
Left Tokyo for the U.S.  Bob’s final thoughts on the trip were, “This is an once-in-a-lifetime trip for me. I am glad that I made it. I don’t have bitter feelings toward Japan today, but want our POW history to be remembered.”

New friend
Our stay in Shenyang could not have been as fruitful as it was without the help of Mr. Yang Jing, a local historian. He is a member of the preservation project of the camp site now underway. I asked the local media that they see Bob’s trip that was assisted by me (a Japanese) and Mr. Yang (a Chinese) as an example that we could all work together to remember and learn from our common history.


                                                                            With Mr. Yang Jing

Media coverage
Bob’s return visit to Shenyang was front page news of three Chinese newspapers. It was also reported in the morning TV news. In Japan, the Asahi Shimbun reported his story.

Liaoshen Evening News                                Times Economic Daily

China Business Morning View                              Asahi Shimbun  

And finally…
My deepest gratitude goes to Bob who trusted me to arrange this trip. He taught me that learning history together could bring us all closer, regardless of which country we came from.

Pfc. Robert A. Brown right after liberation in August, 1945

* Mr. Robert Brown passed away on October 15, 2008