Satellite Images of POW Camp Sites
John Lewis
(his essay on his POW father)

Why did you decide to do this project?

Last summer during a family reunion, two nephews showed other family members how to use Google Earth to view satellite images of the homes of various family members.  Soon after I saw this wonderful feature, I thought that it would be a good idea to try to get the locations of all Japanese POW Camps and post that information on my web site so that people can associate POW camp names with the actual locations on the ground. 

So, I started a chart of all Japanese POW camps and I began to solicit assistance from many researchers I have had the pleasure to meet.  I knew this would be a very large project that would require the help of many people.  I suppose it will always be a "work in progress" because so much information is difficult to obtain.  Unfortunately, some will never be found.

How important is it for people like you, who lost father as a POW of the Japanese, to know the places where your father was held? 

As you know, during the Hellships Memorial Tour of the Philippines in January 2006 I got to see many of the places my father was held as a POW.  Still, it is a thrill to be able to see the satellite images of those places and to give other family members the location data so they can look at the images. 

Can you give some interesting examples?

We can see places like Davao Penal Colony just like watching the evening TV news.  We can enter the coordinates and watch the computer screen, just like the news on TV, as it scrolls around the world and zooms in on an excellent view of Davao Penal Colony.  We can scroll to the east several kilometers and see where the POWs toiled in the Mactan Rice Fields and we can scroll to the south and see the location of the Lasang Lumber Dock where the POWs arrived on their way to or from Davao Penal Colony.  The satellite images of Pier 7, Manila (the "Million Dollar Pier") and Old Bilibid Prison are also excellent. 

            Bilibid Prison in Manila in 1945                                  Today's satellite image of Bilibid Prison

Images of many areas are "fuzzy" however, you can zoom out a bit and still see topographical features such as nearby lakes, mountains, towns and other features that help to reveal the location of the POW camp.  People should be aware that Google Earth does provide additional satellite images from time to time, so it is a good idea to check again later to see if the coverage has improved.

Do you fear that if we donít make our efforts now to let the next generation know the profound meaning of these places, the history of POWs of the Japanese will be lost? 

You just brought up a very important subject which is something Duane Heisinger and I discussed many times.  Soon after we met in 2000, we agreed that we must emphasize to all descendants we meet that they should obtain all possible information about their POW relative, document their findings in a permanent form and then pass the information on to future generations.  As you said, if the current generation fails to do this, much information will be lost forever.

I would like to add a note of appreciation to the many people that have provided data for this project and others that will provide data in the future.  Wes Injerd and Yuka Ibuki provided a vast amount of information that led to the compilation of the list of all POW camp locations in Japan and the coordinates of those camps.  Jim Erickson provided precise locations of many places such as the site of some Hellship sinkings.  Fred Baldasarre, Kinue Tokudome and Ao Wang have given information about the camps in Manchuria and introduced me to people in Shenyang that are helping to obtain more precise locations of those camps.  Michael Hurst provided the list of POW camps in Taiwan and will help with the locations later.  This project is truly a group effort.

Aerial photo of  Kawasaki POW camp in 1945               Today's satellite image of the same site         

  Omuta camp 17 (Mitsui coal mine) during WWII         Today's satellite image of the Omuta area

John's chart of Google Earth coordinates