On April 9th each year, the Philippines commemorates Bataan Day (Araw ng Kagitingan), when Filipino and American war veterans are remembered.

 

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Atop Mt. Samat (555m) in Barangay Diwa, Pilar, Bataan, stands the 92 meter tall concrete and steel cross (each arm reaching out 15meters either side of the central column), known as the Shrine of Valor (Dambana ng Kagitingan). Constructed in 1966,  the Memorial and adjacent museum is dedicated to the memory of the sacrifice made by the more than 70,000 Filipino and American soldiers, who surrendered (under U.S. Army Major General Edward King Jr.) to the invading Japanese Army on April 9th 1942, at the Fall of Bataan and suffered on the subsequent infamous Death Bataan March. Mt. Samat marks the location on the battle front, where the 14th Japanese Army (commanded by Lt. General Masaharu Homma), spearheaded the final bloody assault against the Allied force, which had been entrapped and isolated on the southern Bataan Peninsular for over three months.
 

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On April 10th 2008, the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Subic Bay, Zambales (11447) and Angeles City, Pampanga (2485), Philippine Chapters, unveiled a memorial plaque at the recently dedicated (Feb. 2005) HELLSHIPS MEMORIAL, located on Seafront Road (in front of Building 299) at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Zambales. The Memorial honors the sacrifice made by the more than 10,000 World War II Allied POWs (Prisoners of War) of the Japanese, who were lost on what were known as Hellships. Generally old cargo or former passenger ships, the Japanese military would cram thousands of POW’s into the ship hulls under the most inhuman of conditions, for transport to Japan or other Japanese occupied lands. Unmarked as POW carrying transports, the ships were frequently torpedoed by Allied submarines.  Prisoners surviving the perilous voyage were compelled to work as slave labor in dangerous mines or factories, under the most deplorable conditions. The dedication was honored by the presence of several World War II veterans, including hellship survivor, Mr. Courtney Kruger (standing in green shirt at left), Mr. Malcolm Amos (sitting foreground left), a Corregidor survivor and one of the lucky 513 POW’s rescued during the “Great Raid” on Cabanatuan POW Camp in late January 1945, and Mr. William “Bill” Pallett (wearing sunglasses and hat standing to the left of Mr. Krueger), an Australian WWII veteran of the New Guinea campaign. Conducting the dedication rites, were HELLSHIPS MEMORIAL PROJECT Manager, Mr. Randy Anderson (U.S. Navy Lt-Cmdr - retired), who’s unyielding efforts have been instrumental in establishing the Memorial and Mr. Bob Chester (U.S. Navy Boatswain Chief – retired), designer of the Memorial.

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Following the VFW plaque dedication at the Hellships Memorial, a wreath laying ceremony was conducted off Alava Pier, (approximately 200m from the Memorial site), over the site of one of the most notorious Japanese Hellships, the Oryoku Maru and war grave to more than 250 Allied POWs. (for details, please see below). Docked at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone’s Alava Pier, is the USS JUNEAU (LPD 10) – “The Mighty J” - commanded by Captain Kent D. Whalen. Based in Sasebo, Japan the 7,710 ton deadweight, Austin Class Amphibious Transport Dock, was visiting the former Subic Bay US Naval Base to participate in the annual Philippine- American Balikatan Military exercise.

A brief account of the final voyage of the Hellship, Oryoku Maru and the fate of her 1,619 POW HUMAN cargo.

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The Oryoku Maru in war time colors. Painted by artist, Mr. Kihachiro Ueda, a soldier with the Japanese Army assigned to merchant ships as an anti-aircraft gunner.  He was severely wounded during the bombing of the Kinka Maru in Manila harbor on November 14, 1944.  Loosing the use of his right hand, he learnt to paint with his left. As a heartfelt gesture of reconciliation between former enemies, Mr. Kihachiro Ueda kindly donated the above original painting to the Subic Bay Historical Centre (located on the Subic Bay Freeport Zone) for display at the HELLSHIPS exhibit.  Please click here - Mr. Kihachiro Ueda to view his photograph and the letter, which accompanied his generous gift.

The convoy accompanying  the unmarked POW transport, Oryoku Maru, originally departed Manila Harbor’s Pier 7 on December 13th and was  attempting to transport 1,619 American and Allied POWs to Japan. After lying at anchor off Corregidor Island that night, the Oryoku Maru departed Manila Bay on the 14th and while steaming north towards Subic Bay, along the Bataan Peninsula’s South China Sea coast, was detected by F6F Hellcat fighter-bombers (Air Group 11) from the USS Hornet ( CV 12 – an Essex Class aircraft carrier assigned with Task Force 58 and Flagship of Admiral J.J. “Jocko” Clark.). Repeatedly bombed and damaged by the Hornet’s planes, the Oryoku Maru limped into Subic Bay and unloaded her wounded and surviving Japanese military and civilian passengers that night, near what is now Subic City, at the northern end of Subic Bay. On the morning of the 15th, with Allied POWs still imprisoned within the hulls, the ship was making slow progress towards the Japanese Naval repair station at Olongapo on the south side of the Bay, when once again it was attacked by aircraft from the USS Hornet. A direct hit on the aft hull, resulted in the immediate deaths of over 250 POWs.  The ship caught fire and began to sink.

 

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 Approximately 11A.M., December 15, 1944.  In this reconnaissance photograph taken from a Hellcat fighter from the USS Hornet, clearly visible are the splashes (left of the burning ship) created by surviving POW's swimming ashore from the burning A. Oryoko Maru. B. marks the location of the infamous Tennis Court on which the POW's were held captive for six days.  C. The present site of the Hellships Memorial.

Only then were the surviving POWs permitted to abandon ship, and while under gun fire, forced to swim to nearby Alava beach. After being tightly packed together on a former tennis court with little food or water for six days, the prisoners were trucked to San Fernando (Pampanga) railway station. From there they were transported north to San Fernando (La Union), where they were once again crammed into two more unmarked POW Hellships, the Brazil Maru and the Enoura Maru. The former was bombed and sunk (again by aircraft from the USS Hornet) a few days later, after reaching Takeo Harbor in Formosa with the loss of over 500 additional POW lives. After a grueling voyage, the Enoura Maru eventually reached Moji, Japan on January 29th 1945. Of the original 1,619 POWs who left Manila the month before, only about 490 remained alive.

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Former POW’s (Prisoners of War) 

From the left: Mr. Courtney Krueger ( a WWII U.S. Army Air Force radio operator/technician); Mr. Spike Nasmyth (a Vietnam War USAF F-4 Phantom pilot) and Mr. Malcolm Amos (a WWII U.S. Army Medic), photographed at  the Subic Bay International Hotel, Delta Building, Olongapo, Zambales, Philippines on April 10th 2008.

 

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As a U.S. Army Air Force radio operator/technician, Mr. Courtney Krueger (above) was reassigned from Manila to Del Monte Plantation in Bukidnon, Mindinao, at the outbreak of the war.  There he was part of a team that successfully establish radio communications between General Jonathan Wainright’s  Bataan/Corregidor Battle Front; Major General William F. Sharp’s Visyan – Mindinao Force (headquatered at Malaybalay), and from March 1942, General Douglas McArthur’s Allied  Forces Command in Melbourne, Australia. Pvt. Krueger was taken prisoner on May 10th 1942, when the Visyan -Mindanao Force, was compelled to surrender as part of the Japanese’s Corregidor capitulation dictates. He survived two years of captivity at the Malaybalay POW camp and the Davao Penal Colony (where he developed dengue fever)  on 750gms of rice a day, which he supplemented with boiled weeds for soup. Under unbearable conditions, Mr. Krueger then survived a hazardous voyage to Japan aboard a former coal carrier, turned Hellship, which was crammed with some 1,000 other prisoners. Mr. Krueger’s POW identity photo (above) was taken at the camp in Japan, where he was forced to work in a nearby acid factory. He suffered dysentery and beriberi to the point of exhaustion and when sent to sick bay, had his daily rice ration cut to 450gms. Only when administered Vitamin B-1 (which arrived in a Red Cross care package on December 21st 1944), did he begin a slow recovery.  At the time of his liberation on September 4th 1945, his body weight had dropped to 65 pounds. Mr. Krueger was awarded the Bronze Star.

 

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Retired USAF Vietnam Veteran, Major Spike Nasmyth, with wife Lucile, daughter Maebelline and pet dog, Kiekie at home on the Subic Bay Freeport Zone (the former US Naval Base), Zambales, Philippines. Spike is a highly decorated, former F4 Phantom fighter-bomber pilot, who was shot down September 4th 1966, just north of Hanoi, during the Vietnam War. He subsequently spent 2,355 days as a POW (Prisoner Of War) of the North Vietnamese in the notoriously named “Hanoi Hilton” POW camp. An active pilot, Spike is also author of several books: the riveting “2355 Days”, which details his experience as a POW;  the very entertaining “So You Want To Be A Ferry Pilot” and “The Boys Who Bring in The Crop”. Spike is currently working on his fourth novel, “Reunion”, a reflective and often amusing recounting of his and his fellow POW’s experiences as “guests” of the North Vietnamese. All books may be purchased directly, by emailing Spike at : spikefly@subictel.com .

Spike Nasmyth  is a leading member of a team presently engaged in the search for missing WWII US Army Air Force pilot, 2nd Lt. Earl R. Stone Jr. (17th Squadron, 24th Pursuit Group Philippines).  On February 9th 1942,  2nd Lt. Stone’s P40E “Warhawk” fighter plane was lost over the Cogon Tarak Ridge area of Mt. Mariveles volcano, during an aerial engagement with a Japanese Nakajima Ki-27 fighter (designated the “Nate” by the U.S. military or “Army Type 97” fighter, as it was known to the Japanese military). piloted by Sgt. Toshisada Kurosawa (50th Senti of the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force), The aerial battle engagement also resulted in the loss of Sgt. Kurosawa and his aircraft.

In early 2007, the crash site of the Japanese aircraft was rediscovered. On February 9th 2008 (the 66th anniversary of the aerial battle), partial remains of what are believed to be those of Sgt. Kurosawa were recovered. (Please see “NEW IMAGES” February 2008, on this website for a full report).

Earlier this month (April 2008), the surviving younger brother and sister of Sgt. Kurosawa were successfully located in Japan. Please see “NEW IMAGES” May 2008, on this website for a report on the latest developments.

 

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