Monday, January 9, 2012

Why it Still Matters: The Legacy of My Uncle Pete

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. 

with Adeline Manila

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.



  1. I agree, your Uncle's story needs to be retold often. We often hear about POW camps, but don't often get the small details that make such a difference. I was struck by the image and thought of your Uncle making the crosses for the deceased POWs. What a sad, yet moving, sight. People's lives go in so many directions, touching others they don't even realize.

  2. Thanks Joanne-and I love the thought you said at the end here, that people touch others in ways they never could have realized. So true:) The least I can do for Pete is to keep telling his story.

  3. You are doing an awesome thing, Valerie - both through this blog and in your vintage sewing - and remembering him. And may I say that you're also carrying on your uncle's memory by being a very kind and compassionate person yourself? You are, you know! :-)

  4. Melissa is right.
    You are fabulous!

  5. Love reading about Pete. The things he must've endured and seen!

  6. Thanks, each of you! I just want to do this so that Pete won't be forgotten as time goes by. It seems unreal to me now that those guys had to suffer like they did.

  7. Wow. Those pictures are pretty shocking. I am so sorry for what your Uncle Pete went through, but it also sounds like he helped many of his fellow soldiers.

    I think it's wonderful his story is being passed down and that your are now carrying on the legacy of your Uncle Pete.

    Keep telling his story:~)

  8. I know I have said this before, but if you ever write a story, this should be it.

  9. Thanks Sara-I will keep on telling it:) And Tina, some day I hope to do just that:)

  10. Such a beautiful tribute - he'd be so proud to have you honour him this way. I agree that the story needs to be told and told. He sounds like a wonderful human being.

  11. Thank you Kim. What a sweet comment to leave, and I appreciate it, my friend:)


  13. Thanks for the link to the clipping regarding the mass grave containing the remains of men killed in the bombing of the Enoura Maru. My Aunt Virginia told me that the body of my Uncle Pete was was one of the few that was able to be identified when this grave was found. Thanks for providing yet another piece of the puzzle!

  14. My Uncle, CMM Vernon F Puckett, was on the Enoura Maru, as well, after surviving the sinking of the Oryoku Maru. He now rests in the same ground as your Uncle Pete. I also lost three more uncles in that war. Marvin in Italy, and Ernie and Wilmer in France. I pray daily for them and all of our young men and women in harm's way now. God bless them all.

  15. Steven, I profusely apologize for not seeing your comment until today, and I just want thank you for visiting my blog, and commenting too.

    The loss of your four uncles is a high price to pay in any circumstance, but knowing that they died defending our freedom makes me forever grateful. I won't forget them!

    Thanks so much again for leaving your comment!

    Blessings, Valerie