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Old 09-19-2006, 05:43 AM
GyBill GyBill is offline
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POWs Visit Depot for Annual Reunion

POWs Visit Depot for Annual Reunion

MCRD San Diego, CA. - Seven of the original 203 U.S. Marines stationed in North China who were captured by the Japanese the day Pearl Harbor was bombed graced the depot with their presence as part of their annual reunion on Sept. 8.

On Dec. 7, 1941, just two days before the Marines were scheduled to leave China, they awoke to see Japanese surrounding them with weapons in hand. After being forced to give up their rifles, the Marines officially became prisoners of war.

From that day in 1941 through Sept. 15, 1945, the North China Marines were subject to slave labor and humiliation.

“We were forced to work in coal mines and Japanese-owned factories doing iron work, cleaning bullet shells and even building a replica of Mount Fuji,” said Charles Darr, retired chief warrant officer.

“After spending more than three years and seven months as a POW in four different camps, the experience still affects me to this day,” continued Darr.

For the first two weeks of World War II, the North China Marines remained at their barracks before being transferred to Japanese-run POW camps in China by freight train. After less than four weeks in a camp in Beijing, some of them were separated and sent to other camps throughout China and some were even to sent to camps in mainland Japan.

During the four-year course of World War II, it was not unusual for a North China Marine to be transferred to three or four (of the nine) different camps before being released in 1945, said John Powers, historian and author of

While their time spent in the camps was nightmarish due to malnutrition and harsh living environments, the training the Marines had prior to this experience helped them to adjust to the Japanese’s harsh treatment limiting the POW death toll to nine during the course of the war.

The hardest part of being a POW was the hunger and humiliation, said Darr. Some meals would consist of as little as two spoonfuls of rice.

The North China Marines were abused and treated as slaves over their time spent in captivity. The abuse even went as far as death for Pfc. Max Neuse. In October 1944, Neuse was severely beaten with a steel bar by a civilian foreman, Yamasta, for not issuing a salute as he walked by.

Yamasta screamed the Japanese word for salute and Neuse replied that he did not understand. He was then beaten to the point of unconsciousness. Neuse died a month later from internal injuries as a direct result of that beating.

On Sept. 15, 1945, the last of the North China Marine POWs were all released after the Japanese emperor, Hirohito, made his speech of unconditional surrender following the atomic bombs dropped by the United States on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The North China Marines were left at the abandoned camps for about three weeks after the surrender and subsisted on food that was air-dropped by U.S. aircraft before they returned home to the United States.

Today, only 23 of the original 203 Marines captured by the Japanese on that fateful day of Dec. 7, 1941 live to tell the tale of what life was like in Japanese POW camps during World War II.

Since 1963, survivors who are in good enough health to do so reunite with each other annually to bond and bear in mind the years of agony they endured. They come together for three days to spend time with Marines who felt the same pain and lived the same nightmare.

Now, more than 60 years after they graduated boot camp, the North China Marines came back to visit the depot they called home for three months while attending recruit training. The tradition of coming together each year will continue for the few North China Marines who are still able to attend to this day, as it has for the last 43 years.

As the Marines left, they took with them the memories they have from the past and present. Until next year, and the next reunion, the Marines of North China spend their days knowing they survived some of the toughest years of their lives with their brothers by their sides.
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