We Must Not Forget

Bill Neinast


Monday was the 69th anniversary of liberating the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.  That camp was only one of many torture and death camps operated by Germany throughout Europe.  It then became the poster or most often used name for what has become known as the Holocaust.

Mass torture and murder, however, was not limited to German occupation.  Joseph Stalin was carrying on similar programs in Russian occupied areas, but not quite on the same scale as Hitler.  

Genocide was also occurring on the other side of the world.  Hampton Sides’ Ghost Soldiers is a cannot-lie-down, blow-by-blow recounting of the holocaust perpetrated by the Japanese. 

The book is the history of the 1945 rescue of the Bataan Death March survivors remaining in their death camp. The operation is considered the greatest rescue mission of WWII.

Reading that history spawned a longing for a do-over.  That desire for a do-over is not a wish for recreating any of the horrors, tragedies, or triumphs documented in the Sides’ book.  The history, however, refreshed memories of a case passing through my hands as Chief of the Army’s Litigation Division in the Pentagon in 1974.  

The claimant was a Filipino claiming reimbursement for service as a Philippine Scout in World War II.  There were, however, two major problems with the claim.

First, the 30 year old claim was way past the time limit established for filing such claims.  The lyrical plea for ignoring or waiving the time limits, however, was a classic, and I wish I had retained a copy.

Second, the evidence in support of the claimant’s service was sparse, shaky, and weak at its best.  That is why I would like a do-over.

No one considering the evidence had any real knowledge of the role the Philippine Scouts played in harassing, sabotaging, and disrupting the Japanese forces occupying the Philippines for almost four years.  The rescue of the prisoners from the Cabanatuan POW camp with the death of only two U.S. soldiers and two POWs would not have been possible without the assistance of two Philippine Scout units and many Philippine civilians manning water buffalo carts to evacuate very weak, sick, and disabled prisoners.

Had I had an appreciation of those facts in 1974, I would have taken a closer look at the claim to determine whether there was a factual basis for the claim and, if so, whether there was a way to get around the time bar.

Ghost Soldiers is a must read for history buffs.  The book reminds readers that atrocities occurred in and around the Pacific as well as in and around the Atlantic. As just mentioned, Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia normally come to mind whenever atrocities are mentioned. The hatred in those theaters was directed mostly at minorities like Jews, gypsies, and dissidents.

This book demonstrates that there was just as much virulent hatred within Japanese military ranks.  In that case, every non-Asian was considered subhuman.  Starvation, beheading, disembowelment, refusal of water and shade,  fatal “water treatments” (not the benign water boarding of Iraq), confinement in unventilated spaces with too many prisoners, many of whom suffered from dysentery, for anyone to sit or lie down, refusal of medicine, and doctors required to amputate limbs without anesthetic are just some of the things considered to be normal treatment for any non-Asian by Japanese soldiers.  The only reason the Japanese atrocities did not rise to the numerical number of those in Europe is that the population of the hated non-Asian minorities was much smaller than that of the subject minorities in Europe.

Another little appreciated fact found in Ghost Soldiers is that there was a WWII American Mata Hari.  Claire Phillips was an American living in the Philippines in 1941.  Her husband was in the U.S. Army and became one of the casualties of the Bataan Death March.  

As Phillips began to hear of the mistreatment of the POWs, she lay nude in the sun to get a tan so she could claim to be Italian.  She then opened a cabaret in Manilla under an Italian alias, staffed it with exotic dancers, and built it into an exclusive club for senior Japanese officers.  

She and her dancers milked the officers of all types of military intelligence that would be passed on to the Philippine Scouts.  She also used profits from her cabaret to buy medicine, food, and other life essentials that she had smuggled into the POW camps.

Because she kept notes on the information gleaned from the Japanese in her brassiere, her code name was High Pockets.

Phillips was identified as a spy by the Japanese, tried, and sentenced to death.  For some reason, the death sentence was not executed.  She survived the war and returned to the U.S.

So here’s the perspective.

The stoic suffering of those who died in or survived the sadistic confinement by the Japanese and the bravery, endurance, and tactics of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Mucci and Captain Robert Prince with their small band of Army Rangers and two small units of Philippine Scouts is all the evidence needed to understand why those Americans who lived through the Great Depression and then went on to free the world are called the Greatest Generation.

Holocaust type atrocities were not assigned to the dust bin of history with the end of WWII.  They continue today wherever Muslim Jihadists have a toe hold.  The minorities in the dross hairs of those beasts are non Muslims and other Muslims who do not share their radical beliefs.  Beheadings, indiscriminate killings with suicide bombers, and torture are commonplace.

We must not forget.


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