Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day 2011 - Remembrance

February 23, 1945

The mountain? Suribachi

The island? Iwo Jima

The battle? WWII’s Battle of Iwo Jima

An American flag on a makeshift pole and six servicemen raising the flag of the United States of America

Of the six men pictured -
Michael Strank (26), Rene Gagnon (20), Ira Hayes (22), Franklin Sousley (20), John Bradley (22), and Harlon Block (21) - only three (Hayes, Gagnon, and Bradley) survived the battle.
Strank was killed six days after the flag raising when a shell, likely fired from an offshore American destroyer, tore his heart out. Block was killed by a mortar a few hours after Strank. Sousley, the last of the flag-raisers to succumb in the battle, was shot and killed by a sniper on March 21, a few days before the island was declared secure.

Following the war, plagued with depression brought on by survivor guilt, Hayes became an alcoholic. His tragic life was memorialized in the folk song "The Ballad of Ira Hayes", written by Peter LaFarge and recorded by Johnny Cash in 1964:

Then Ira started drinkin' hard
Jail was often his home
They'd let him raise the flag and lower it
Like you'd throw a dog a bone!
He died drunk early one mornin'
Alone in the land he fought to save
Two inches of water in a lonely ditch
Was a grave for Ira Hayes

Likewise Rene Gagnon's last years were bitter and alcoholic before his death in 1979 at the age of 54.

Following the war, John Bradley was staunchly tight-lipped about his experiences, often deflecting questions by claiming he had forgotten. During his 47-year marriage, he only talked about it with his wife Betty once and never again afterwards. Within the family, it was considered a taboo subject.

Following Bradley's death in 1994, his family went to Suribachi in 1997 and placed a plaque (made of Wisconsin granite and shaped like that state) on the spot where the flag raising took place. At the time of his death, Bradley's son, James Bradley knew almost nothing of his father's wartime experiences. As a catharsis, James Bradley spent four years interviewing the families of all the flag raisers, and published Flags of Our Fathers, a definitive book on the flag raising and its participants.

Flags of Our Fathers

"On February 19, 1945, as part of their island-hopping strategy to defeat Japan, the United States invaded Iwo Jima. Iwo Jima was originally not a target, but the relatively quick fall of the Philippines left the Americans with a longer-than-expected lull prior to the planned invasion of Okinawa. Iwo Jima is located half-way between Japan and the Mariana Islands, where American long-range bombers were based, and was used by the Japanese as an early warning station, radioing warnings of incoming American bombers to the Japanese homeland. The Americans, after capturing the island, deprived the Japanese of their early warning system, and used it as an emergency landing strip for damaged bombers, saving many American lives.

Iwo Jima is a volcanic island, shaped like a trapezoid. Marines on the island described it as "a gray pork chop". The island was heavily fortified, and the invading United States Marines suffered high casualties. The island is dominated by Mount Suribachi, a 546-foot (166 m) dormant volcanic cone situated on the southern tip of the island. Politically, the island is part of the prefecture of Tokyo. It would be the first Japanese homeland soil to be captured by the Americans, and it was a matter of honor for the Japanese to prevent its capture.

Tactically, the top of Suribachi is one of the most important locations on the island. From that vantage point, the Japanese defenders were able to accurately spot artillery onto the Americans - particularly the landing beaches. The Japanese fought most of the battle from underground bunkers and pillboxes. It was common for Marines to knock out one pillbox using grenades or a flamethrower, only to have it begin shooting again a few minutes later after more Japanese infantry slipped into the pillbox using a tunnel. The American effort concentrated on isolating and capturing Suribachi first, a goal that was achieved on February 23, 1945, four days after the battle began. Despite capturing Suribachi, the battle continued to rage for many days, and the island would not be declared "secure" until 31 days later, on the 26th of March."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Final Disposition of Fugitives

January 9, 1945, General Douglas MacArthur waded onto the shores of Luzon in one of the largest land invasions in the Pacific War. There are more than 7,000 nicked and wrinkled islands in the vast archipelago of the Philippines with Luzon the principal isle and Manila it's capital.
General Tomoyuki Yamashita commanded the Fourteenth Imperial Army and was waiting for MacArthur with a quarter of a million men.
The invasion at Lingayen Gulf was anticlamatic as Yamashita planned to wage a defensive war in the highland jungles in the north of Luzon. American troops waded ashore on the Lingayen beaches that were eerily empty.
With the Japanese refusing to join the battle at the coast, the Americans were left with two separate goals: pursue Yamashita north into the mountains and drive south for Manila. Winning Manila had to come first, but there was an obstacle.

American guerilla leader named Robert Lapham had spent the last three years living in the shadows, directing a band of Filipino insurgents in a protracted fight against the Japanese occupation. They had discovered 500 American soldiers in a squalid prison camp near the city of Cabanatuan.

These prisoners had been captured by the Japanese after the fall of Bataan and Corregidor. Many of them were survivors of teh Bataan Death March. For three years they had starved and slaved. Their fellow prisoners had died by the thousands because camp commandant refused to give them medication. At one time the Cabanatuan camp had been the largest POW compound in all of the Philippines, housing as many as 8,000 Americans. In recent months the Japanese had been sending able-bodied prisoners to work on ships and in the coal mines in Japan. Those left at Cabanatuan were the sickest and the weakest.

The guerrillas had been keeping a close eye on the camp and since the invasion of Lingayen Gulf, they'd become increasingly worried about the fate of the prisoners. The closer the Sixth Army drew to Cabanatuan the greater the chance the Japanese would massacre these prisoners.

They had every reason to worry. In August 1944, the War Ministry in Tokyo had issued a directive to the commandants of the various POW camps, outlining a policy for what it called the "final disposition' of prisoners. Bearing a chilling resemblance to actual events at Palawan, the directive stated:

When the battle situation becomes urgent the POWs will be concentrated and confined in their location and kept under heavy guard until preparations for the final disposition will be made. Although the basic aim is to act under superior orders, individual disposition maybe made in certain circumstances. Whether they are destroyed individually or in groups, and whether it is accomplished by means of mass bombing, poisonous smoke, poisons, drowning, or decapitation, dispose of them as the situation dictates. It is the aim not to allow the escape of a single one, to annihilate them all, and not to leave any traces.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Massacre at Palawan

"If you break our rules,
we will kill you
or we will do something worse."
They did something worse.

Puerto Princesa Prison, Palawan Philippines

Within days of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the Empire of Japan bombed the Philippines (a Spanish possession for three hundred years until America defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War). These actions against the Philippines, and those that followed, led to disaster for thousands of American and Filipino forces stationed in the country.

The Americans captured in the Philippines were initially detained in filthy, overcrowded POW camps near Manila, but eventually most were shipped to other parts of the Japanese empire as slave laborers.

American prisoners remaining in the Philippines were 346 men who were sent 350 miles on August 1, 1942, from the Cabanatuan POW camps north of Manila, and from Bilibid Prison in Manila itself, to Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan.

Palawan is on the western perimeter of the Sulu Sea, and the POWs were shipped there to build an airfield for their captors. Although the prisoners' numbers fluctuated throughout the war, the brutal treatment they received at the hands of their Japanese guards was always the same. The men were beaten with pick handles, and kickings and slappings were regular daily occurrences. Prisoners who attempted to escape were summarily executed.

At the Palawan compound food was minimal; each day, prisoners received a mess kit of wormy Cambodian rice and a canteen cup of soup made from camote vines boiled in water (camotes are a Philippine variant of sweet potatoes). Prisoners who could not work had their rations cut by 30 percent. If POWs were caught stealing food, they were whipped and beaten unconscious and revived to undergo further beatings. When American POWs were caught taking green papayas from a tree in the compound, their left arms were broken with an iron bar.

On September 1944, 159 of the American POWs at Palawan were returned to Manila. The remaining 150 men could complete the arduous labor on the airfield (1,530 yards long and 75 yards wide), hauling and crushing coral gravel by hand and pouring concrete seven days a week.

As American bombers and liberators sank ships and damaged planes at Palawan, POW morale in the camp soared. But the treatment by the Japanese grew worse and their rations were cut. The Japanese reluctantly allowed the Americans to paint American Prisoner of War Camp on the roof of their barracks. This gave the prisoners some measure of protection from American air attacks. The Japanese then stowed their own supplies under the POW barracks.

The constant presence of Allied aircraft overhead caused the prisoners to construct three shelters, each 150 feet long and 4 feet high, for their own protection during air raids. The Japanese had ordered that the entrances at each end of the shelters be only large enough to admit one man at a time. The shelters were roofed with logs and dirt and were located on the beach side of the camp.

On December 14, Japanese aircraft reported the presence of an American convoy, which they thought was destined for Palawan. All prisoner work details were recalled to the camp at noon. Two American Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter aircraft were sighted, and the POWs were ordered into the air raid shelters. After a short time the prisoners re-emerged from their shelters, but Japanese 1st Lt. Yoshikazu Sato, whom the prisoners called the Buzzard, ordered them to stay in the area. A second alarm at 2 p.m. sent the prisoners back into the shelters, where they remained, closely guarded.

Suddenly, in an orchestrated and obviously planned move, 50 to 60 Japanese soldiers under Sato's leadership doused the wooden shelters with buckets of gasoline and set them afire with flaming torches, followed by hand grenades. The screams of the trapped and doomed prisoners mingled with the cheers of the Japanese soldiers and the laughter of their officer, Sato. As men engulfed in flames broke out of their fiery deathtraps, the Japanese guards machine gunned, bayoneted and clubbed them to death. Most of the Americans never made it out of the trenches and the compound before they were barbarously murdered, but several closed with their tormentors in hand-to-hand combat and succeeded in killing a few of the Japanese attackers.

A Marine survivor described escaping from his shelter as coming up a ladder into Hell. The four American officers in the camp had their own dugout, which the Japanese also doused with gasoline and torched. One officer, his clothes on fire, ran toward the Japanese and pleaded with them to use some sense but was machine-gunned to death.

About 30 to 40 Americans escaped from the massacre area, either through the double-woven, 61ΕΎ2-foot-high barbed-wire fence or under it, where some secret escape routes had been concealed for use in an emergency. They fell and/or jumped down the cliff above the beach area, seeking hiding places among the rocks and foliage. Several attempted to swim across Puerto Princesa's bay immediately, but were shot in the water. The continuing butchery could still be heard going on above. The Japanese were even using dynamite in forcing some of the men from their shelters. The stench of burning flesh was strong and the Japanese began moving in groups among the rocks dragging the Americans out and murdering them as they found them.

The slaughter continued until dark. Some of the wounded Americans were buried alive by the Japanese. Men who attempted to swim to safety across the bay were shot by soldiers on the shore or on a Japanese landing barge. A witness saw a party of five or six Japanese with an American who had been wounded, poking him along with bayonets that was drawing blood. Another Jap came up with some gasoline and a torch, and the American begged them to shoot him and not to burn him. The Japanese threw some gasoline on his foot and lit it, and the other Japanese 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 Japanese then threw the whole bucket of gasoline over him, and he burst into flames.

When the Japanese ended their search for the surviving prisoners, there were still a few undiscovered Americans alive. Several prisoners hid in a sewer outlet. When the Japanese shone lights into the pipe, the POWs ducked under the water and were not discovered. After nightfall, they attempted to swim the bay, which was 5 miles across at that point. Of the 146 enlisted men and four officers held in the Palawan prison camp, only 11 men survived the massacre on December 14, 1944. Most of the survivors swam across the bay and were rescued by the inmates of Palawan's Iwahig Penal Colony, where several of the officials in charge were involved with the local resistance movement.

Filipino civilian prisoners at the colony, who were interned during the Japanese occupation of their homeland, fed and clothed the American POWs and contacted local guerrilla leaders on their behalf. The guerrillas escorted the Americans down the coast to Brooke's Point, where they were evacuated by a U.S. Navy seaplane to Leyte. There they told their story to U.S. military authorities.

Those who suffered at the hands of the Japanese government, like the POWs of Palawan, received some retribution at the War Crime Trials held in Manila and Tokyo after the end of World War II. Altogether, 5,000 Japanese were arrested for individual acts of brutality which had taken the lives of over a half million people from Asia and the United States. About 4,000 Japanese were brought to trial. Of the 4,000, 800 were acquitted, 2,400 were sentenced to three years or more in prison, and 809 were executed.

Palawan Massacre Memorial
Commemorative Research Project - Pictorial Archive
Bataan Death March - The Great Raid

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ed W. "Too Tall" Freeman

Ed W. "Too Tall" Freeman

(November 20, 1927 - August 20, 2008)

Ed Freeman was a United States Army helicopter pilot who received the U.S. military's highest decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his actions in the Battle of Ia Drang during the Vietnam War. During the battle, he flew through gunfire numerous times, bringing supplies to a trapped American battalion and flying dozens of wounded soldiers to safety. Freeman was a wing-man for Major Bruce Crandall who also received the Medal of Honor for the same missions.

You're a 19 year old kid.

You're critically wounded and dying in the jungle somewhere in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam.

It's November 11, 1967. Your unit is outnumbered 8-1 and the enemy fire is so intense from 100 yards away, that your CO (commanding officer) has ordered the MedEvac helicopters to stop coming in.

You're lying there, listening to the enemy machine guns and you know you're not getting out.

Your family is half way around the world, 12,000 miles away, and you'll never see them again.

As the world starts to fade in and out, you know this is the day.

Then - over the machine gun noise - you faintly hear that sound of a helicopter.

You look up to see a Huey coming in. But.. It doesn't seem real because no MedEvac markings are on it.

Captain Ed Freeman is coming in for you.

He's not MedEvac so it's not his job, but he heard the radio call and decided he's flying his Huey down into the machine gun fire anyway.

Even after the MedEvacs were ordered not to come. He's coming anyway.

And he drops it in and sits there in the machine gun fire, as they load 3 of you at a time on board.

Then he flies you up and out through the gunfire to the doctors and nurses and safety.

And, he kept coming back!! 13 more times!! Until all the wounded were out. No one knew until the mission was over that the Captain had been hit 4 times in the legs and left arm.

He took 29 of you and your buddies out that day. Some would not have made it without the Captain and his Huey.

In memory of Medal of Honor Recipient, Captain Ed Freeman, United States Air Force, who passed away at the age of 70 in Boise, Idaho.

May God Bless and Rest His Soul.

Ed Freeman's Medal of Honor citation reads as follows:

Captain Ed W. Freeman, United States Army, distinguished himself by numerous acts of conspicuous gallantry and extraordinary intrepidity on 14 November 1965 while serving with Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).

As a flight leader and second in command of a 16-helicopter lift unit, he supported a heavily engaged American infantry battalion at Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley, Republic of Vietnam. The unit was almost out of ammunition after taking some of the heaviest casualties of the war, fighting off a relentless attack from a highly motivated, heavily armed enemy force. When the infantry commander closed the helicopter landing zone due to intense direct enemy fire, Captain Freeman risked his own life by flying his unarmed helicopter through a gauntlet of enemy fire time after time, delivering critically needed ammunition, water and medical supplies to the besieged battalion.

His flights had a direct impact on the battle's outcome by providing the engaged units with timely supplies of ammunition critical to their survival, without which they would almost surely have gone down, with much greater loss of life. After medical evacuation helicopters refused to fly into the area due to intense enemy fire, Captain Freeman flew 14 separate rescue missions, providing life-saving evacuation of an estimated 30 seriously wounded soldiers, some of whom would not have survived had he not acted. All flights were made into a small emergency landing zone within 100 to 200 meters of the defensive perimeter where heavily committed units were perilously holding off the attacking elements.

Captain Freeman's selfless acts of great valor, extraordinary perseverance and intrepidity were far above and beyond the call of duty or mission and set a superb example of leadership and courage for all of his peers. Captain Freeman's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.

Preserving the legacy Ed Freeman
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