December 15, 1944 - Palawan, 153 American POWs set on fire in air raid shelter, only 10 survive.

January, 1945 - Sandakan-Ranau Death Marches begin eventually taking the lives of 4,000 Javanese, 1,381 Australians, and 641 British prisoners.

February, 1945 - Retreating Japanese forces in Manila massacre 100,000 Filipino civilians.

February 26, 1945 - The island of Corregidor is declared secure after a ten day battle.

March 9, 1945 - Day one of ten day firebomb barrage of Tokyo.

March 26, 1945 - The island of Iwo Jima declared secured after 26,000 Allied casualties, 7,000 fatal.

April 1, 1945 - 82 day Battle of Okinawa begins. Japanese will lose 100,000 soldiers and 10,000 will be captured or surrendered.

May 8, 1945 - VE-Day - The defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.

June 21, 1945 - Okinawa, the last and bloodiest battle of the Pacific ends. 12,000 US soldiers die as well as 150,000 civilians.

July 30, 1945 - Japan rejects the Allied force's Potsdam Declaration.

August 6, 1945 - Nuclear bomb detonates over Hiroshima.

August 9, 1945 - Nuclear bomb detonates over Nagasaki.

September 2, 1945 - Japan formally surrenders aboard USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

April 3, 1946 - General Masaharu Homma, commander of attack on Bataan and Corregidor is executed for war crimes.


Allied POWs were spread out all over Japan, small camps of only 500-1000 men. Outside the camps, the Japanese population was eating miserably and the POWs were hardly eating at all.

The POWs knew they had to slow down on their work details or they would never see the States again. By the end of 1944, the emperor of Japan knew that the war was lost but he encouraged his commanders for one final victory so that he may dictate the terms of peace. The emperor would never agree to unconditionally surrender, a decision that cost Japan millions of lives.

The Allied push to recapture strategic islands in the Pacific put Allied bombers within reach of Tokyo. POWs were beginning to hear and experience the bombings from the new B-29 Superfortress. These massive planes were delivering a payload of 4-5 tons, with air raids lasting several hours. The early months of 1945 began with a different method of aerial attack, incendiary bombing.

Modern Japanese cities were constructed mainly of wood and Japanese society would soon be burned to the ground. Along side any industrial district is heavily populated civilian areas. The industrial center of Tokyo had more than one million people living and working in a twelve mile area.

The night of March 9th of '45 saw the biggest air raid in history to that date, 279 B-29s turned Tokyo into a solar flare. Temperatures as high as 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit turned buildings into blast furnaces, cars simply melted and civilians disappeared. This single bombing raid burned sixteen square miles of Tokyo, 80,000-100,000 Japanese died, 40,000 Japanese burned and a million left homeless.

Downed aircrews who became POWs received the worst possible treatment. As early as 1942, the Japanese command classified them as war criminals. Any pilot or crew member captured were likely to be tortured or killed as soon as their parachute folded on the ground. In Singapore, four flyers were paraded through the streets naked and then had their heads chopped off in public. At Hankow in China, airmen were tortured and burned alive. At Kendebo, after a speech by a major general, a decapitated fighter pilot was cut up, fried, and eaten by 150 Japanese officers. Eight captured B-29 crewmen were turned over to the medical professors at Kyushu Imperial University. The professors cut them up alive, stopping the blood flow in an artery near the heart to see how long death took.

The fire bombing continued and by the end of June, 13 million Japanese were homeless. The B-29s were dropping bombs at the rate of 40,000 tons a month and all major industrial cities were left in ashes. A naval blockade completely surrounded Japan and on July 25th, the Potsdam Declaration had warned the Japanese that if they did not surrender unconditionally, their country would face 'prompt and utter destruction.' Japan was defeated but the devastation continued.

Allied commanders knew that an invasion into Japan would be difficult. When the tiny island of Corregidor was recaptured, five thousand Japanese defended for eleven days to the death and only twenty were taken prisoner. The battle for Iwo Jima captured 200 prisoners out of 21,000 Japanese soldiers. The capture of the island had cost nearly 25,000 American casualties.

On Okinawa, the carnage lasted for two and a half months. The total number of Japanese killed, 110,000 - Americans wounded, 37,000 - Americans killed, 12,500. Even more disturbing was the fact that Okinawans were coerced into killing their own family members. They were told by the Japanese command to expect rape and murder after the American occupation. 95,000 Okinawans were killed before the surrender of the island. The Japanese homeland was told to expect the same thing, they were told that the American forces were going to rape your daughters, kill your grandfathers and completely destroy all of Japan. The emperor expected all of Japan to resist to the death.

The Japanese command had a policy as of late 1944 that stated, 'prevent prisoners of war from falling into enemy's hands.' In the southern islands, Palawan was becoming very close to liberation. The Japanese gathered the remaining 150 prisoners into an air raid shelter, poured gasoline all around and lit the shelter and men on fire. As men scrambled out engulfed in flames, machine guns were waiting on them. Miraculously, ten of the men escaped. The men in the camp at Davao were not killed, just left for dead. On Formosa, an logged entry in the Japanese Headquarters journal recorded the policy. 'Whether they are destroyed individually or in groups, or however it is done, with mass bombing, poisonous smoke, poisons, drowning, decapitation, or what, dispose of the prisoners as the situation dictates. In any case it is the aim not to allow the escape of a single one, to annihilate them all, and not to leave any traces.'

At Sandakan, two thousand to three thousand Australian and British POWs were in the last stages of disease and starvation. In January 1945, the Japanese began a 175 mile death march to Ranau. Groups of fifty men were moved out in anticipation of an Allied invasion. About a month into the POW march, Australian forces were planning a rescue operation that would land only thirty miles from the camp. The supreme commander Douglas MacArthur refused to release any DC-3 airplanes to aid in the operation. This rescue operation in March would have liberated approximately one thousand POWs but instead the death march continued until August 1945. Only six prisoners survived the Sandakan-Ranau death march while almost 2,400 POWs were killed in the process.

One successful liberation by Allied forces took place at Cabanatuan. On January 30, 1945, the 6th Ranger Battalion along with twelve Alamo scouts went thirty miles behind Japanese lines and rescued all of the remaining 500 POWs. The Rangers wiped out all of the Japanese forces but lost two of their own in the rescue operation.

Then in early February, Bilibid Prison was liberated by an advance patrol of the Army's 37th Infantry. The Japanese had left only hours before leaving the prison unguarded and quickly the relief of being liberated began to overwhelm the four hundred POWs as well as a couple hundred civilian prisoners. In this group of liberated prisons was the mascot of the 4th Marines, Soochow. That small mongrel dog from Shanghai made it through the shelling of Corregidor, the disease and starvation of prison camp and now was free with his fellow China Marines.

The atomic age began on August 6th, 1944 when a single B-29 dropped "Little Boy" on the city of Hiroshima. The city was leveled in seconds and one hundred thousand Japanese were dead. One factor that favored Hiroshima as the target was the fact that Allied intelligence said there were no POWs in the city. However, twenty or so downed airmen were being held close to the hypocenter of the blast. The ones who did not die in the blast were killed in the streets, two beaten to death and another tied to a stake and stoned to death.

President Harry Truman gave notice to Japan stating they must give up or 'face a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.' The emperor chose to subject his people to more devastation. On August 9th, Nagasaki was hit with 'Fat Man', a plutonium bomb that killed another 40,000 Japanese. Thousands and thousands more would die later from diseases that ravaged their bodies.

On August 15th, Japan's national radio announced a broadcast of great importance and listeners were told to stand. After the national anthem was played, a strange voice began to speak about the complete destruction of the Japanese Empire. The voice said that Japan had surrendered unconditionally to the Allied forces. The voice they were listening to was the 'Son of Heaven', the emperor himself. Never in the history of Japan had the commoner heard the voice of the emperor, and on this occasion he spoke about Japan's complete defeat and the end of World War II.

The end of the war did not mean immediate liberation for all POWs. Several downed airmen and other POWs were killed the very afternoon after the emperor's radio broadcast. In Manchuria, the infamous Unit 731 laboratory machine-gunned the remaining 600 Chinese and Manchurian laborers and destroyed all human experimental subjects. Before the medical staff of two thousand deserted their laboratories, they released thousands of infected rats.

For most of the POWs, liberation did not come in a formal announcement from the camp commander. Instead, work details were cancelled and the guards gave excuses explaining why there would be no more work details. The POWs knew the war was over when American fighter planes and bombers began appearing overhead, thousands of seabags and 55-gallon drums full of food, clothes, and cigarettes were parachuted into the camps. In just seconds, the POWs finally had a full stomach after 3 1/2 years of starvation. However, the POWs were still being held by the Japanese and a nervous tension began to settle in with the prisoners. One of the most painful feelings the POWs had to endure the length of the war was never knowing what the Japanese were going to do next. Based on what they experienced with the Japanese, it would not have surprised any of the prisoners if the guards started to massacre each and every one of them.

For many of the POWs, they were told that they were going to be moved to another camp, they boarded trains and trucks and were driven to American forces. Now, finally the POWs knew they had survived and were going home.

"We had hope. Now that was the thing. If you gave up hope, then you'd die because there's nothing else to live for then. But every day was the end of the war, see, and you'd go day by day. At first you'd say, well, we surrendered in May and by Christmas the Americans are going to be here and get us out. Of course they never made it so then it would be the 4th of July and then it would be Christmas again. So it just kept you going all the time. . . . Oh, gosh the feeling that you had, boy, was just like somebody had 10,000 pounds on your shoulder and all of a sudden it was lifted. You were just elated that you were free and, people just don't understand that if you don't have your freedom, what it really feels like. It's just -- it's just bad. That's all it is. It just holds you down and everything else. And boy, from then lifting that weight and knew that the war was over with and that we were free and that we were going -- that we were going to go home and boy, you were just -- your smile was just moving your ears away. You know, in other words you're smiling so wide, you know, that it was really something though."
- Pete George

One year and nine months after the surrender of Corregidor, the 4th Marines were reactivated on Guadalcanal. Forming the nucleus of the new 4th Regiment were the Marine raiders, some of the Corps' most colorful and battle-hardened units. From the raiders the new 4th Marines inherited its famous regimental motto: "Hold High the Torch." The 4th Marines battled and fought through Emirau, Guam and Okinawa. After the surrender of Japan, Admiral Nimitz requested a regimental combat team for immediate occupation duty. General Shepherd was directed to furnish the team, which would be the first foreign troops ever to occupy Japan's own soil. There was a certain rightness to the fact that the 4th Marines received the honor.

As soon as the occupation regiment secured their positions in Japan, the new 4th Marines went out to claim their own. A few of the old 4th were already liberated and they got themselves to the 4th Marines area at the Yokosuka Naval Base. About 150 Marines of the old 4th were treated to a joyous reunion with the new 4th Marines. The number was but a fraction of the nearly 1,500 captured, of whom only about 1,000 survived to return to the States. The extreme hardships of life in the Japanese POW camps caused around 250 deaths. An additional 175 men lost their lives in the hellships unknowingly bombed or torpedoed by Allied forces.

The former POWs were treated to a full banquet with a military band and a particularly poignant moment to them was the receiving of new Marine Corps emblems, their cherished identification. The men of the Old 4th reviewed the New 4th as it staged a formal guard mount in their honor.

" . . a bunch of Marines from the new 4th division, came over and said, we want all of the old 4th Mariners out of Shanghai. They rounded up 125 of us, took us over to Yokosuka, and they had the Marine Corp band there. They had steaks. They had chicken. They had every kind of food you could think of. We could have anything we want and could request any music. Well, the music we knew was way back in the '40s. They didn't even know them. But the climax was that they threw a full battle dress parade for us. That's something that you don't get until you serve 30 years in the Marine Corp and we got a full battle dress parade. We had the commanding general there with us and Clement's, who was the one who organized the new 4th. And the irony of that was that when they organized the new 4th division, they took the flag and the standard which is a Marine Corp flag and kept them covered and encased. They made a vow that they would not uncase those colors until they came to Japan and liberated all of the 4th mariners and throw a big parade for us, and that was what they did. They unfurled those colors and I think that you could hear the uproar back in the States, you know. And they went through that parade for us and everything. Well, you cried really. Just no way that you could hold it back, you know. "  - Pete George

Just days after the war, reports of war crimes come pouring in by the thousands. Wherever Japan invaded, atrocities followed and not just against Allied prisoners. Men, women and children were beaten, shot, tortured and slaughtered. China by far suffered the most, Japan is to blame for over 10 million Chinese lives. A United Nations Report in 1947 estimated that 9 million Chinese were killed in the war, and "an enormous number" died of starvation and disease in 1945 and 1946 in the prolonged famine that occurred as a result of Japan's final devastating offensive in China. Japan's last, vicious assault swept through the rice-producing regions of China.

Indonesia suffered greatly as well, around 130,000 Europeans were interned and 30,000 perished, including 4,500 European women and 2,300 children. Between 300,000 and 1 million Indonesians were mobilized as slave labor, with many being sent outside the country to work on the Burma-Siam "railroad of death". After the war, the United Nations accepted a figure of 300,000 deaths among Indonesian slave labor during the Japanese occupation.

The International Military Tribunal of the Far East, IMTFE, was established in Tokyo. The Allies defined three classes of war crimes and criminals. Class A referred to the policymakers who conspired to wage war. Class B and Class C referred to the men who ordered atrocities, allowed them to happen, or actually committed them. Class A war criminals were convicted, sentenced and executed in Sugamo Prison.

Twenty five Class A criminals were convicted and sentenced, 7 of them to death, 16 to life. Five thousand seven hundred-plus Class B and C criminals were brought to trial, about 3,000 were convicted and sentenced, 920 were executed.

In peacetime, General MacArthur once again let down the men of Bataan and Corregidor. At Macarthur's insistence, the emperor was not held accountable for the actions of his island nation. During Imperial Japan's reign of terror, every facet of the war was committed in the name of the emperor. The general consensus of the Japanese was that as a nation they were not to blame for the slaughter committed during the war, only the militarists in the government were at fault. These post war feelings carry over to this very day, as many Japanese do not fault themselves and some even believe that their aggressive behavior was committed out of self defense and preservation of Asia as a whole.

MacArthur also cut a deal with the devil himself, the Japanese medical Unit 731 was never held accountable for the unspeakable horrors committed upon men and women as human guinea pigs. In a top secret research facility called Unit 731, Japanese doctor Shiro Ishii and his staff conducted diabolical weapons research that claimed the lives of untold thousands--perhaps even hundreds of thousands--of Chinese civilians. Unlike his equals in the Nazi death camps, his deeds were not exposed and no one was ever punished for the atrocities committed at Unit 731 and other similar camps, because the documents recording their grim findings were secretly sold to the United States in exchange for amnesty. Japan's Unit 731 were years ahead in the development of biology and germ warfare, and with the Cold War beginning as soon as WWII ended, MacArthur forgave these murderous doctors and scientists as long as the turned over their research data to American scientists.

The peace treaty of 1951, guided by MacArthur himself, was deliberately worded to tie off the issue of Japanese liability. During the war, POWs heard wild stories about compensation for their suffering: free homes, free cars and lifetime supplies of this and that when actually all they received was their military back pay. Japan was truly destroyed economically after the war but the years since the war has seen Japan rise to one of the world's strongest economies. Japan to this day hides behind the peace treaty as an excuse not to pay reparations to the men and women who suffered so badly.

As the POWs grew older and the effects of malnourishment, physical beatings, and emotional pain began to take their toll, a new fight laid ahead. EX-POWs had to fight the bureaucracy of the United States Veterans Administration for benefits and pension purposes. The VA was unresponsive, skeptical, and not ready to take a man's word about the beating he took that ruined his back or when a man had to survive 3 1/2 years on a vitamin deficient diet. To this day EX-POWs have to explain their ordeal to twenty and thirty year old VA doctors, many of whom have never heard of Corregidor, the hellships or Japanese slave labor camps.

All EX-POWs have one common goal to pass along to future generations, REMEMBER THEM. Remember the men who died in battle, remember the men who marched days upon days with no food or water, remember the men who were beaten when they worked and killed when they did not. Remember the men who had to wait to die in the Zero Ward, remember the men who lost their lives at sea after their hellship was sunk, and remember the men who survived their 3 1/2 year ordeal.

All prisoners of the Japanese will tell you, we can forgive but we can't forget.


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