This is a repost from a year ago-I thought it was well worth repeating. I’ve added a few more details and some additional photographs, as well.
If my Uncle Pete were alive today, he’d be 98. By now, he would have accumulated a lifetime’s worth of stories and memories. He would have a past that would go beyond his trials as a POW, and though forever changed by those experiences, he would be defined by other, happier times, too.
Instead, my uncle died January 9, 1945. Sixty-seven years ago today. Killed while aboard the Enoura Maru, a POW transport ship, or Hell Ship, when it was bombed as it sat in Takao Harbor, Formosa.
The sinking of the Enoura Maru. It was tied up along side a Japanese oil tanker, making it an attractive target. The Enoura Maru had previously been employed as a livestock transport ship. It was filthy when the prisoners were crammed on board-packed in so tightly that many could not sit down. They were given practically no food or water. My uncle died when the hatch cover over the hold where he was confined was hit by a bomb and crashed down, killing many men.
In the couple of years before the war, Pete, a Pharmacist's Mate, was attached to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Canacao, in the Philippines. He was wounded in the attack on Manila on December 10, 1941 and became a prisoner of war when the Islands eventually fell to the Japanese . He spent most of the war interned at the Bilibid prison camp in Manila, and at this camp, a hospital was set up to care for sick and injured prisoners.
Bilibid Prison Hospital, where my uncle would have worked. Note how emaciated the prisoners are.
Wooden crosses marking the graves of deceased POWS. My uncle had carpentry skills and was given the job of making these crosses.
Years ago, my Aunt Virginia, Pete’s sister, dedicated herself to the task of finding as many of Pete’s friends and acquaintances from his WWII past as she could, asking them for any information they might have about her brother. Over time she developed friendships with some of the men and women who had known Pete.
I have Virginia’s collection of letters, given to me after her death. Reading through them, they all mention the same thing about Pete. That he was one of the kindest, most compassionate individuals they had ever known. He had a particular concern for those fellow prisoners who were the worst off, both emotionally and physically, and tried his hardest to help them survive, putting their needs above his own.
I’ve read accounts of the conditions at prison camps like Bilibid, and how the prisoners were treated. I can’t even begin to imagine the trials and horrors that POWs such as my uncle faced. But this is what I find to be such a testament to Pete: that he never lost his own humanity even when all traces of civility broke down around him.
January 9, 1945 may have been a long, long time ago, but Pete’s story deserves to be told over, and over, again. Not only because he was my uncle, and I want to remember him and honor him. But because kindness, compassion and humanity are as relevant today as they were sixty-seven years ago.
My Uncle, Roland Erich Going PHM2, US Navy, Honolulu
Pete’s grave marker at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Oahu.