Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

8-17 The Long Wait For Liberation

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- In the days following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, New Mexico's many prisoners in work camps throughout Japan and northern China got a rest.
With the Japanese high command in total disarray, orders were not getting sent down the chain of command. Word of the super bomb was spreading quickly. And American planes were constantly overhead dropping food, clothing and medical supplies.
It was becoming painfully obvious to the Japanese that the Allies were winning. But the planned mass execution of prisoners was not occurring. Prison officials likely were aware by this time that Japanese treatment of prisoners was becoming an issue worldwide.
Members of the German military already were being tried for war crimes. So a mass slaughter, at this point, would be highly risky. A few slaughters did take place, mostly in outlying areas where Allied airmen had been shot down. They bore the brunt of our incendiary bombing of cities.
The food situation did get even worse. Meals stopped completely until food drops began. But for the Bataan survivors, the end of work details and beatings was a welcome change.
The prisoners had been forced to labor in mines, factories and on the docks. Although it was hard work, our men were determined that it would not aid the enemy war effort.
They did their part fighting the war by goofing off, theft and sabotage. That's when the beatings happened, but the Japanese were running so short of labor that they still kept trying to get some productive work out of the prisoners.
In "Beyond Courage," Dorothy Cave has a delightful chapter titled "Nipping the Nips" recounting many of the antics of our troops. It went from minor annoyance to major destruction as our guys fought the war on their own front.
The news that the war was over came to each factory and prison camp in different ways. For those working in factories at noon on August 14, Emperor Hirohito's surrender speech was the signal they didn't have to go back to work.
As soon as it appeared the guards were no longer around, the first order of the day in every camp was a flag ceremony. Most of the flags were hand made, some from parachutes used to drop food. The ceremonies were moving. Everyone who could walk went outside to salute Old Glory.
The food, medicine and rest began making some of the men a little rambunctious. They were itching for freedom, fun, whiskey and a quick trip home.
So some set out on their own despite warnings from the Office of Strategic Services team members who had parachuted into their camps to keep the prisoners together until they could be liberated.
Some of those who left went looking for additional food and supplies because their camps had been overlooked. The magic words in those instances were 200th and 515th. The New Mexicans were still looking after each other.
* * *
The 200th Coast Artillery had a 26-man band from Albuquerque when it left for the Philippines. Once the Japanese landed, however, nearly everyone became infantry.
In "Beyond Courage," Dorothy Cave relates an interesting sidelight to the band's story. Our troops embarked from Angel Island outside San Francisco. It wasn't easy for a National Guard unit, to be around regular Army troops who looked down on them. Several fist fights broke out as a result.
But the commanding officer at Angel Island was particularly fond of the concerts the New Mexicans gave during the days they were being cleared to head for the Philippines. He asked the New Mexico National Guard's commander, Col. Charles G. Sage, to allow the band to be reassigned to Angel island.
Sage snapped, "Where I go, my band goes." And that ended the discussion.
WED, 8-17-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



Post a Comment

<< Home