The story of the North China Marines sheds light on what it was like to be a prisoner of war in Japan at the end of World War II. | Monterey County NOW Intro

Dave Faries here, dusting off my master’s thesis in recognition of today’s anniversary of the end of World War II (official documents would be signed on September 2). This is a fitting occasion, because a year ago US forces left Afghanistan. The end of a conflict brings different emotions. This is just a tale.

My research was only groundbreaking in the sense that, at the time, mentions of a small unit known as the North China Marines were quite rare.. The thesis is titled Home is my only destination: William Harold Thomas, North China Navy, 1939-1945 and was never published.

The North China Marines consisted of less than 300 Marines detailed to guard the American Legation in what we now know as Peking, at the time called Beijing. The city was already occupied by Japan in 1939, when Thomas arrived after a training camp. The day Japan bombed Pearl Harbor—Dec. On the 8 1941 through the deadline, the Marines were captured and sent to POW camps in China, and then to Japan.

Thomas and the other survivors spent the entire war in often brutal captivity. In the case of my subject, he was detained in Niigata, Japan in 1945.

I present an excerpt below, cut in places:

News that the war was finally over first came to Niigata prisoners on leaflets dropped by the now ubiquitous B-29s. It was a crisp, clear morning, August 15th.

later this morning Thomas heard rumors from Emperor Hirohito’s radio broadcast the day before in which he informed his people that the war could no longer be continued. The evidence continued to accumulate: the prisoners were not called to work; Japanese authorities could be seen frantically packing up or destroying papers; the guards disappeared from the gates.

On August 20, news of Japan’s surrender officially reached the camp. “This maliciously lingering doubt has been eradicated,” Thomas noted in a diary started that day. Its existence was still marginal. He weighed a mere 112 pounds – a skeleton, really, with taut skin and protruding joints. The others staggered in the same state.

“Aug 25, 45 — Circa 09:00 Navy Grummans (12 to the count)—F4Us & F6F’s came and gave us a show. A pilot dropped a bunch of “lucky ones”. Maybe the big ones will come later. The most elated state of emotions I have ever endured… completely enveloped me during their stay. I can assure anyone that tears of happiness are entirely possible.

Another dozen Navy planes swung over the camp the next morning, flapping their wings and dropping a shower of cigarettes, rations, chocolates and a note that said “hang on to the men, it won’t be long now”. The evening brought a flight of TBF torpedo bombers flying over the camp, dumping more rations, as well as reading material – magazines and newspapers from the United States. “Never have I seen such happy POWs,” noted Thomas.

Large planes arrived within two days, dropping tons of food, medicine, and clothing. “More rice,” Thomas wrote with obvious exuberance. Private for so long, the recipients tended to overindulge, like children on Halloween or Christmas. It didn’t take much. “I ate two Red Cross candy bars,” Irving Akers recalled, “and I got sick as a mule.”

When Japan surrendered, only 42 camps existed in the islands of origin, Formosa and Manchuria. A condition imposed on Japan in the surrender agreement was that its government turn over to the American military authorities a complete list of prisoners and prison camps. The first such list was delivered on August 27, recording 73 camps – and it was by no means a complete account. Halsey’s reconnaissance flights discovered 57 more. Red Cross delegates, working diligently, compiled a prisoner count 7,000 more names than any previous list.

The Third Fleet faces enormous logistical difficulties, not just to locate the camps. The exercise of feeding, classifying and transporting men could easily stretch any task force. Commander Harold Stassen, now remembered for a series of futile post-war presidential campaigns, led the Third Fleet Liberation Parties and took up his mission with vigor. He flew to Niigata and organized the transportation of prisoners from there to Yokohama.

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“Mom, I’m comingwrote Thomas when the order to leave Niigata arrived.

The morning of September 5, 1945, Thomas finds himself once again in uniform under an American flag. It was a moment of indescribable relief. Like all other recovered Allied military personnel (or RAMP, their official designation in an acronym-loving military), Thomas was rushed through a clearing process that included a bath, a cursory medical, and a matter of clothing. clean. And they were fed.

The telegram arrived on the morning of September 7. Waiting for the news was about the only thing anyone in the Thomas family had managed to accomplish since the end of the war. They had no idea if Harold was alive.

So that morning his father and mother stood at the door unable to open the Western Union envelope., afraid of the words it might contain. Elizabeth remembers her older brother Bob, back from duty at an air base in Florida, finally taking the envelope and tearing its seal. For a moment, three and a half years of anxiety, of waiting, of memories held them spellbound. Then Bob burst out: “They found him! He’s going home !

The telegram read“Pleased to inform you of the release from Japanese custody of your son, Corporal William Harold Thomas USMC. He boarded an American ship on September 5, 1945. Further details will be provided to you shortly.

For 45 months, 1,357 days, Thomas had seen life recede and almost fade away. Now he was on his way back. The ozark traveled to Guam where its jubilant passengers spent a day of medical examinations. A snack bar remained open 24 hours a day for former prisoners, and doctors encouraged the men to eat as often as possible, but not to overeat.

That day in Guamon September 13, Thomas wrote again:

“Here it is, your first uncensored letter in over 3 and a half years. As you surely know, we prisoners of war have been liberated. I know Webster’s definition of “release” is inadequate – he was never a prisoner of war.

“I arrived in Guam yesterday…Leave here in a few hours for another stage closer to home. Considering everything, I am in excellent health. This service chow gains weight quickly.

“How is everyone there? Good I hope. We will have many pleasant hours in the very near future together. There is so much to ask and say that I won’t even begin in this letter. My feelings cannot be shown on paper.

“Tell your friends I’ll see them soon. Home is my only destination.

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