The Ghost Soldiers of Bataan and the Hellships Memorial Tour to
Seventy years have passed since April 9, 1942, when more than 70,000 USAFFE (United States Army Forces in the Far East) officers and men became POWs of the Japanese in Bataan. I was given the honor of being a part of the commemoration tour with Ms. Shizu Maekawa, a member of POW Research Network Japan and a doctoral candidate of St. Paul’s University. The tour was organized by the San Francisco-based Valor Tour Ltd.
It was the hottest season of the Philippines, when we the group of 38 attendees, ranging between 92 to 20 embarked on the tour, under the guidance of Mr. Steve Kwiecinski, escorted by his wife, Marcia. Steve is the son of a POW. The air-conditioned Rajah Tours coach transported us to WWII landmarks such as the American Cemetery and Bilibid Prison (a POW camp during the war) in Manila, the POW campsites of Cabanatuan and O‘Donnell in central Luzon, and the Hellships Memorial that was built at Subic Bay in 2006 where the Oryoku-Maru and other transport ships had been sank.
On April 9, we attended a ceremony to commemorate the 70th Day of Valor at Mt. Samat. This event was attended by the Filipino President, deputy chief of mission of the US Embassy, Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines, and around 3,000 other people, including the Filipino Armed Forces men and women, veterans and bereaved families.
Stopping at various historical points of WWII in the Bataan Peninsula, the coach
trip ended at Camaya Point, where we crossed the waters over to Corregidor
Island using two bankas (Filipino boats). This was followed by two days in
Corregidor, where we enjoyed an exciting learning voyage by a banka, travelling
around Corrigidor, Fraile and Caballo islands. Some former POWs could make some
optional personal visits in Steve’s jeep. The tour concluded with meeting the US
Ambassador at his official residence in Manila. Mr. Tommy Soria of the Rajah
Tours and his assistant “Ojie”, a good photographer, worked diligently to make
the whole journey pleasant and fun.
is the author of recently published Honor, Courage, Faith: A Corregidor Story,
an account of his father’s experiences as a POW. His father, Walter Kwiecinski,
SSgt., was a gunner at Battery Way of Corregidor (Fort Mills). Steve and Marcia
have been stationed at Corregidor for three years. Steve offers informative and
unbiased guided tours that are based on his research, which he originally
started to gather materials for his book, but now it appears to be on going.
Marcia provides him with invaluable assistance as they interact with various
visitors to this well-preserved war memorial island. I learned a great deal from
him about the Japanese, for example, about the caves of the Shinyou-tai, the
Japanese suicide-attack boats, explosions that caused mass destruction and
killed many in Marinta tunnel, and the soldiers who surrendered in early 1946.
In addition to the Filipino Heroes Memorial, we spent some time in the Japanese
Peace Memorial. (Please refer to the photo and plaque for more details on this.)
Corregidor is a sacred island for bereaved families and buddies; thus, natural
decay on some artifacts and possible damages by excessive tourism have been a
matter of concern. CFI (Corregidor Foundation Inc.):
moment of the tour was a profound learning opportunity because of the presence,
thoughts, and experiences shared by five former POWs, two veterans engaged in
the liberation of Corregidor, and seven descendants of POWs. Another unique
feature of this tour was that each of the six veterans, who joined the tour in
San Francisco, was accompanied by two university students from the College of
the Ozarks in Missouri. It was the tenth educational project organized by the
school, which has been involved in touring the war fields of WWII, each time
with US veterans. The group consisted of twelve selected students, another
student who was also a descendant of a POW, a nurse, and a camera crew of two,
all led by Dr. Fred Mullinax, the Vice President of the college. You can see
pictures of the group through their blog :
http://patriotictravel2012.blogspot.com/ Dr. Mullinax organized a series of
discussions called “Round Table Discussions”, featuring the Descendants, former
POWs and so on so that we could listen to their stories.
Let me introduce the POWs in Alphabetical order, with the place of captivity and their camps in Japan. Messrs. Jim Collier, Corregidor, Toyama #6 No-machi; Robert (Bob) Eharhart, Caballo (Fort Hughes), Osaka Ichioka, Osaka #6 Akenobe; Ray Heimbuch, Mindanao, Nagoya #5 Yokkaichi, Toyama #11 Iwase: Warren Jorgenson, Corregidor, Sendai #6 Hanawa: Wayne Carringer(92), Bataan Death March, Fukuoka #17 Omuta.
Two veterans are Messrs. Ed Knight and Lawrence Nelson, both served in the liberation of Corregidor. After the war, Ed was stationed at Tsuchiura Air Base and he fondly recalls being invited to the home of an English-speaking Japanese soldier. Lawrence is a retired teacher and served for a long time as the head teacher of a school.
Seven people had fathers who were officers or soldiers of the USAFFE. They were all captured as POWs and six of them were sent to Japan by hell ships where they were slave-labored, but in the end, they made it home.
descendants were as follows: Culea Abraham, Jim Erickson, John Hogue, Steve
Kwiecinski, Linda McDavitt, Jan Thompson and Marilyn Alarcon Warzecka. Marilyn’s
father survived the Bataan Death March, and was liberated earlier. Culea
Abraham, a student, is a great-niece of late Linus Marlow, whom she had never
met. Jim Erickson lost his father at the age of five, but he remembers how he
ensured that Jim did not develop prejudice against the Japanese. Jan was still
grieving over recent loss of her father, though she usually did not show it.
Overall, the descendants avoided going into emotional details. Their fathers
were affectionate, often suffered from PTSD, strict about wasting food, and was
disciplined about certain things that were beyond understanding for a child.
However, fathers rarely talked to their children about their POW experiences.
For most descendants, it was easier to understand their fathers better after
interacting with other POWs and listening to their stories, which led them to
feel more respect and love for their fathers. They often regard other POW
survivors as if they were their second fathers. All Culea knows about her
great-uncle Linus Marlow is that when he finally came home from war, he talked
all night about his POW experiences, but the next morning he said, “Never ask me
any more again.” The only information the family has about Linus is that he was
in a POW camp called Funatsu in Japan. Culea asked us if we could help her
gather more information about her great-uncle. After returning home, I contacted
Ms. Taeko Sasamoto of the POW Research Network Japan, and sent Culea a report
compiled by Taeko on Nagoya #3 Funatsu and Linus, including excerpts from Roger
Mansell’s site, GHQ/SCAP investigation, and Taeko’s account on her visit to
transport ships were aptly called “hell-ships”, because of the inhumane manner
in which the POWs were treated on them. Sardined in the dark, filthy hold of the
ship with the hatch closed, the POWs suffered from a lack of oxygen, water and
food, in addition to the heat, and chronic diseases such as diarrhea. Some even
suffered from psychological problems. It is difficult to determine the exact
number of allied POWs who lost their lives through friendly fires and torpedoes,
but it could be more than 20,000. Bereaved families are still very resentful
that these ships had not been marked as POW transport ships.
Steve said, “Generally speaking, the Japanese were well-disciplined, good soldiers.” However, they were indoctrinated with the military education that ordered them never be captured as POWs, but to kill themselves in honor of the Emperor. Through information provided by Steve and the firsthand stories of the survivors and descendants, I had a better understanding of inhumane fanaticism, which particularly influenced the younger Japanese military leaders of the Pacific War. We were told about Filipino people who were killed trying to give food or water to POWs, and also some Japanese soldiers, who risked danger for the benefit of POWs. Survivors may have developed a sense of humanity, warm heartedness, and a sense of humor from overcoming hardships. They would suddenly become emotional and choke up in the middle of a conversation, revealing the deep scars that they still bore inside. They have witnessed the horrific deaths of friends and have experienced living under abject conditions. It is impossible for survivors to reveal everything. They try to tell me both good and bad experiences they had through their interaction with the Japanese. This has convinced me even more that Japanese people have to make efforts to know the reality of that war.
Mullinax graciously gave a chance of presentation to us two Japanese, as, he
said, “It is a precious opportunity to listen to what independent attendants
have been doing.” It was an unexpected honor and responsibility, so we did our
best. I talked about my meeting, in 2000, with Dr. Lester Tenney, a former POW
who survived the Bataan Death March and later became the last Commander of the
American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (ADBC). His talk made me realize
that I do not know everything about the Pacific War. He introduced me to Ms.
Kinue Tokudome, who would found a bilingual website, “US-Japan Dialogue on POWs”
in 2004, which I have helped with since then. Through this activity I was able
to meet a number of US former POWs that I love and respect because they are
wonderful human beings. Listening to their experiences has also been good
learning experiences for me about the Japanese army in this war. The fanatic
nationalists that took over Japan in that period had no respect for the human
rights of any human being. Through conveying what I have learned, my strong wish
is to see more dialogue occur between the people of the US and Japan, as we
share facts about the Pacific War. I also told the audience that there are a
number of conscientious academics and young and old activists working on the
issues related to the Asian and Pacific War. I also talked about the Japanese
veterans, who are now eager to pass on their honest war experiences, through
talks and filming, assisted by younger generations.
While the tour went on, it was good that Mr. Tatsunori “Shino” Shinodsuka, a member of the Bridge for Peace, an NPO that delivers video messages from former Japanese veterans to Filipino villages where atrocities were committed, and a new reporter of a bilingual newspaper, the Daily Manila Shimbun, reported the Mt. Samat Ceremony with a senior colleague of his. The article appeared on April 10. I respect their attitude in introducing both negative and positive remarks to the Japanese by Filipino veterans.
are many WWII-related research studies and articles in Japanese, some of which
are available in English on, for example, the on-line journal Japan Focus.
However, the translation of more voluminous works in Japanese requires funding.
Since 2010, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs started inviting the US
POWs to Japan. This is much later than the invitation extended to their
Commonwealth counterparts, however, it has been happening. This tour to the
Philippines was an opportunity for mutual encounter and reaching out for
attendants from different countries. Through sharing experience and knowledge
regarding WWII across the border, I am sure we will
be able to have a better understanding of each other.
wish a bright and peaceful future for the younger generations I met in this
tour, and I extend my gratitude to all who helped this event.
A Report on the Ghost Soldiers of Bataan & Hellships Memorial Tour to the
Philippines: People Mediated by History
The year 2012 marks the 70th Anniversary of the surrender of Bataan and Corregidor. To commemorate this occasion, I went on the Ghost Soldiers of Bataan & Hellships Memorial Tour to the Philippines, planned by Valor Tours. Valor Tours is one of America’s oldest military history tour operators, having been established in 1977. There were thirty-eight members in our tour group.
all of the members except myself and Ms. Yukako Ibuki were from the United
States, I had met some at the 2011 annual convention of DG-ADBC (Descendants
Group - American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor). To my surprise and delight,
one of our fellow tourists was Mr. Jim Collier, whom I had accompanied to
Takaoka during his visit to Japan the previous October. Mr. Collier had been
invited by the Japanese government as a member of the Japanese/American POW
Friendship Program, and Takaoka had been the location of his Prisoner of War
Camp. Mr. Collier openly shared his experiences but with his characteristic
sensitivity to the appropriateness or subtlety of language. Whenever he tells a
joke, I laugh, and he looks happy to see me laughing.
Displays of respect for the soldiers were not merely verbal. Seats on the stage were reserved for four members of the tour: former American soldiers who fought in Bataan and Corregidor, eventually to become Japanese prisoners of war after their surrender. The American Deputy Chief of Mission, Leslie Bassett, introduced Ozarks University, represented among our tour group members, and gave high praise to the young students’ efforts to understand the history. Japanese Ambassador Urabe was introduced as someone who had spent his childhood in the Philippines and knew the country well.
Without such an introduction, Ambassador Urabe’s expression of remorse for what Japan had done there in the past might have come across as too dry or lacking sincerity, as is sometimes the case with high Japanese officials, but this was not the case. For example, a woman from our tour, whose father had been in the Philippine Scouts, told me that her impression of the Ambassador was one of genuine sincerity. I assume that by paying attention to all people attending, the ceremony served to possibly unite the past with the present. In this sense, the ceremony might be significant for the Filipino people.
My research concentrates on human relationships mediated by a particular history. During this tour, I observed different relationships mediated by World War II history in the Philippines: the relationship between the Japanese Ambassador and a lady whose father was in the Philippine Scouts, between veterans and students of Ozarks University, between veterans and their children’s generation, and so on.
I myself related with many tour members as a Japanese, a researcher, and a member of the younger generation. The underlying relationships resulting from this tour are elusive and complicated, mediated by the history, yet affected by present interactions, which could easily be overlooked. An example is a relationship formed after two consequent events. On the bus in the morning, I listened to veterans’ stories about how they had been treated by the Japanese after their surrender and later had lunch with them at a restaurant. I ate Chinese food with a fork even though chopsticks were provided on the table and some Americans tried to use them. They made fun of me for this, and of course I also laughed myself, as it was good-humored fun. With former POW Mr. Ray Heimbuch and Mr. Erickson
The relationship we formed is difficult to put into words. It was a relationship between Americans and myself, a product of two different faces of Japan: the citizen of a former enemy and a youngster who is not good at chopsticks.
This tour meant a lot to me because I could mingle with members while visiting
historical sites and expose myself to building such relationships. This brought
valuable experience to my study for several reasons: 1. It created a situation
in which I could have firsthand experience with the history itself, 2. I could
better analyze the situation and relationships in which I now found myself
involved, 3. If I could now analyze these relationships, I could understand more
insightfully other people who were also a part of this history and their