Friday, April 08, 2011

Fullbore Friday

In war there are some things that can haunt you. One is to have your sacrifice forgotten or even unknown - another is to feel shame that for some reason, you did not do enough.

At the start of WWII as we conducted an measured retreat to defendable lines, leaving many behind to their fate. Most know about the sacrifice of the people who defended Wake Island. There is a another group that most know nothing of - Marines who didn't even have a chance to fight back.
In November of 1941 the 1200 men of the US Fourth Marines in Shanghai were withdrawn and sent to the Philippines. This left only the men of the North China Marines in Peking, Tientsin, and Chinwangtao, by then totalling only 203 men. They were to depart China on the 10th of December, 1941. In preparation for this move all but their personal gear and weapons had been crated and sent to Chinwangtao to be loaded aboard ship for the move to the Philippines.

On the morning of 8 December 1941 (7 Dec stateside time) each of the units woke to find themselves surrounded. At Peking the Japanese had mortars and machine guns mounted on the Tartar Wall bordering the US compound. Given the number of Japanese, the number of Marines, the lack of weapons, and the distance to any friendly forces, Colonel William Ashurst had no choice but to surrender. Col Ashurst surrendered under the impression the Japanese would abide by the Boxer Protocol of 1901, which, it was assumed, contained a clause granting diplomatic status to the Marines. This meant they would be repatriated with the diplomats at the embassy in Peking and the consulate in Tientsin. (No documents seem to actually have had such a clause. This belief in a repatriation clause may have prevented a mass escape while enroute to Shanghai. See Escapes and Deaths page. Some sources say repatriation of military guard units was the norm at this time and that some nation's guard units actually were repatriated. The five men of the 4th Marines still closing up business in Shanghai were repatriated from Woosung in June 1942-McBrayer book page 97.) Upon surrender, the small unit at Chinwangtao was sent to join the men in Tientsin. (There were 140 men in Peking, 48 in Tientsin, and 15 in Chinwangtao. The total of 204 men included a 14 man Navy medical detachment consisting of 3 officers and 11 enlisted men.) The Marines in Peking were kept in their compound until 10 January 1942, at which time they also were sent to Tientsin. In late January the entire group of 204 Marines was sent by train to the Prisoner of War camp at Woosung, outside Shanghai. They joined there the approximately 1100 Marines and civilians captured earlier on Wake Island.

From this time until their rescue in September of 1945 the Marines were used as slave labor by the Japanese.
The China Marines.

Another little known fact is that not all POWs were the same. Many have a vague understanding of what it meant to be held by the Germans vice the Japanese - but let's let the numbers speak for themselves.
Official figures below provided by CFIR, Inc

US military captured
Died while POW
1.1 %
Alive January 2002
US civilians interned
Died while imprisoned
Alive January 2002

In World War II the United States had approximately 16.5 million men and women in uniform. Of these about 2% were killed. In World War II the US Marines had approximately 669 thousand men and women in uniform. Of these about 3 1/2% were killed. In World War I 3% of US Marine particpants were killed. In the Korean War 1% of US Marine participants were killed. In the Vietnam War 1.6% of US Marine participants were killed. What is my point? The POWs in the Pacific faced death and disease on a daily basis for almost 4 years. They died at a higher casualty rate than any war of the last two centuries. Since returning home they have died at a rate 3 times that of POWs from the European Theater of Operations. Yet many of them came away from that experience with a sense of shame, with a feeling they had not done enough. The Japanese constantly told them they did not deserve to live because they had surrendered. Try to find mention of them in history books, especially the North China Marines. Our government did little if anything to help them adjust when they came home. They did not receive their full back pay until 57 years after they returned home, and then in 1942 dollars and with no interest. (Feb 2010 - Now evidence has arisen they were not given the promotions they were actually due.) Interest was finally paid in 2007-to surviving POWs or their living spouses, only 17 North China Marines were still living.

Pay them a visit and stay awhile.

Reunion 2007 above. L to R Frank Prater, Frank Kossyta, Ray Haberman, Wilbur Ditewig, Charlie Darr, Chester Biggs. Wheelchairs were borrowed to help keep the group on schedule.
Hat tip Brian.

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