Wed, Jun 24, 2015 - Page 12 News List

In remembrance of a
‘needless sacrifice’

Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society held on Saturday its third memorial for the 14 American airmen executed in the Taihoku Prison just 58 days before the end of World War II

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society director Michael Hurst displays photos of some of the executed airmen during Saturday’s memorial.

Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times

It was early June, 1945, and World War II was nearing its end. In what was then known as the Taihoku Prison, 14 condemned American airmen wondered when their execution would take place. Just a week earlier, they had been brought before a Japanese War Disciplinary Tribunal, and after a brief, mock trial, they were convicted of “indiscriminate bombing” and sentenced to death.

The moment came in the early hours of June 19, as the 14 men were brought into the prison courtyard to face a Japanese army firing squad. Most were between the ages of 19 and 24.

NEVER FORGET

On Saturday morning, 70 years and one day later, about 50 people stood silently under the sweltering sun in the parking lot of Chunghwa Telecom (中華電信) on the corner of Aiguo East Road (愛國東路) and Jingshan South Road (金山南路).

Michael Hurst, director of the Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society (TPCMS), was wrapping up his speech to the crowd.

“It was a needless sacrifice of these young men,” he said. “This morning, we want to remember that as we stand in this place.”

As the somber yet majestic melody of Amazing Grace, played by bagpiper Mal Turner, fills the parking lot, it’s still hard to imagine that this very spot was the execution grounds of the Taihoku Prison.

Two 100-meter-long stone walls are all that remain of the prison, which once held a number of Allied airmen who were shot down or crashed over Taiwan during World War II. Only 11 made it out alive.

This was society’s third memorial for the 14 executed — the first taking place on the event’s 60th anniversary in 2005 and the next one in 2009 when a memorial plaque was dedicated on the prison’s north wall.

Old newspaper articles, such as one in the Pittsburgh Press, show that the executions remained unknown to the US until that October, when 14 urns containing the ashes of the airmen were flown from Taiwan to Shanghai, where their identities were confirmed.

Their lives may have been cut short, but they are certainly not forgotten. After paying tribute at the execution grounds, the crowd headed toward the prison’s north wall, against which rested a row of 14 tiny wooden crosses each adorned with a single red flower — a “remembrance poppy,” inspired by the World War I poem In Flanders by John McCrae.

On each cross, written in black ink, is the name of one of the fallen: JC Buchanan. Delbert Carter. Donald Hathaway. John Parker. Wayne Wilson. Harry Aldro. James Langiotti. Freddy McCreary. Charles McVay. Harwood Sharp. Ralph Hartley. Bobby Lawrance. Merlin Riggs. Harry Spivey.

The 40-minute ceremony included speeches, poems, prayers, music and the laying of poppy wreaths by representatives from organizations including the American Institute in Taiwan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Chunghwa Telecom.

Hurst also emphasized the incident’s proximity to Father’s Day, as most of these men never had the chance to be fathers. While no relatives of the deceased were present, master of ceremonies Jerome Keating read three of their letters, sent from the US.

“The shabbiness of how his life was taken magnified the tragedy of losing him so near to the end of the war,” wrote BJ LeJeune, a niece of Ralph Hartley.

LESSONS FROM HISTORY

While many attendees represented various organizations, which also included the British and Australian offices in Taipei, the Salvation Army and the Republic of China Air Force, others came to pay their tributes or just happened to be passing by.

This story has been viewed 6291 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top