Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Palawan Massacre December 14, 1944

Palawan Grave 1945
In May 1945, Acting Secretary of State and former US Ambassador to Japan Joseph Grew protested to the Japanese government “the brutal massacre of one hundred fifty prisoners of war at Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines Islands, by the personnel of Ogawa [Toru Ogawa, a company commander in the 131st Airfield Battalion] Tai Construction Corps.”

He angrily charged, ”Such barbaric behavior on the part of the Japanese armed forces is an offense to all civilized people.” His reprimand barely captures the awfulness of the Palawan Massacre in the Philippines on December 14, 1944.

So graphically horrific was the Palawan Massacre that it is the opening scene for movie The Great Raid. Japanese troops are shown drenching American POWs with gasoline and then setting them afire in air raid dugouts. As the men inside burned, the Japanese threw in hand grenades and gunned down or bayoneted any man trying to escape from the burning shelters.

Nevertheless, a lucky few did escape. Their descriptions of the Palawan Massacre confirmed intercepted Japanese cables that contained orders to kill all surviving POWs before American troops advanced. The orders stated:
(a) Whether they are destroyed individually or in groups or however it is done, with mass bombing, poisonous smoke, poisons, drowning, decapitation, or what, dispose of them as the situation dictates.
(b) In any case it is the aim not to allow the escape of a single one, to annihilate them all, and not to leave any traces.
At Palawan, the commanding officers did what they could to obey the order. Though the exact numbers of murdered POWs and survivors may never be known, the best estimates are that 139 men were killed and 11 men survived. Lorna Nielson Murray, the daughter of a Palawan Massacre survivor, has compiled a roster of the victims and survivors, along with the names of 8 men whose status is unclear. This year (2011), POW researcher Jim Erickson has refined the roster of those on Palawan.

News of the Massacre prompted the U.S. to hastily organize a series of rescue missions in 1945 to liberate both military and civilian prisoners held by the Japanese on the Philippines. The Great Raid of Cabanatuan POW camp was one of them. An elite squad of American Rangers and Filipino guerillas (Alamo Scouts and members of the 6th Ranger Battalion) cooperated with local Filipinos to liberate 489 POWs and 33 civilians. (492 Americans, 23 British, three Dutch, two Norwegians, one Canadian, and one Filipino).

Previously, in 1943, reports of the desperate, sub-human conditions at Japan’s POW camps had prompted the U.S. and other Allied Nations to secretly transfer millions of dollars to a Swiss bank account for Japan to care for the POWs. Tokyo, however, ignored the agreement and used the interest in the account to buy Swiss cannons. Strangely, the Japanese count the return of these Allied funds as part of their reparations for prisoners of war.

Many from the 59th U.S. Army Coast Artillery who helped defend Corregidor died on Palawan. Others were from the 4th Marines and the China Marines who also fought on Corregidor. One was a member of the Janesville 99 and had survived the Bataan Death March. They were all part of 300 POWs brought to Palawan in late 1942 to build an airfield. The POWs suffered years of disease, hunger, and emotional and physical abuse at the hands of their captors before their murder.

Shortly before he died in 2004, Palawan survivor Marine Corporal Glen McDole released a book called Last Man Out recounting his experiences as a POW and his escape from the Palawan Massacre. This first-hand account provides a stunning narrative about the horrors and abuses suffered by POWs at the hands of the Japanese, as well as his eye-witness account of the massacre itself. An oral history by Mr. McDole is HERE.

He describes watching in hiding five or six Japanese soldiers torture with their bayonets a wounded American:
I could see the bayonets draw blood when they poked him. Another Jap came up with some gasoline and a torch, and I heard the American beg them to shoot him and not to burn him. The Jap threw some gasoline on his foot and lit it, and the other Japs laughed and poked him with their bayonets. Then they did the same thing to his other foot and to his hand. When the man collapsed, the Japs then threw the whole bucket of gasoline over him, and he burst into flames.
In 2009, a monument to the victims and survivors of the massacre was erected in Palawan, listing the names of the U.S. POWs and recounting their tragic story. The top of the monument is a sculpture of an emaciated American man in chains rising from a fire, symbolizing the oppression of the POWs and the miraculous escape of the 11 survivors.

On March 23, 1949, Toru Ogawa, a company commander in the 131st Airfield Battalion who was charged with abusing 300 POWs and causing the death of 138 prisoners by ordering subordinates to massacre them by surprise assault and treacherous violence, and killing them by various methods, received his sentence of two years' hard labor, reduced by 9 1/2 months for time served.

Palawan was eventually liberated by U.S. forces in March 1945, where the Americans found evidence of the massacre, including the burned dugouts, charred remains, and mangled skeletons. In 1952, the remains of 123 of the victims were moved to a mass grave at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery near St. Louis, Missouri.

3 comments:

  1. Sharon Jones TrussellFebruary 19, 2012 at 9:55 AM

    For the families of those killed at Palawan the memorial and books are sometimes the only link they have left to their loved ones memory.
    My father never forgot his cousin James Pitts who was a POW at Palawan and was killed there.
    Although I never had the honor of knowing James Pitts I will always honor his memory and that of all the men lost at Palawan. They deserve they deserve the highest honors for the sacrifice of their lives.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I salute all those who died and survived in this tragedy.
    Filipino Attorney

    ReplyDelete
  3. our maternal uncle, S1C Waldo Stedam Hale was a POW on Palawan, he had escaped the dugout & was shot trying to swim to the next island on Dec. 14, 1944 per an eyewitness account, he is one of the 123 men buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in the mass grave. One of his brothers was in the rescue detail that arrived on the island & witnessed the bodies of the burned soldiers, he was never the same after that day......he never talked to us kids about this but I can only imagine his pain.......

    ReplyDelete

You are welcome to leave a reasonable comment or additional information. We will moderate comments.