SEARCHING FOR HUREL

WWII Japanese POW

By

Mrs. Marjorie Hopkins Nicholson

With Assistance from

Douglas Hopkins and Mrs. Margie Freier Robertson

 

                                             

Like putting together, the pieces of a puzzle with no picture on the box, we have read the stories told in books by former prisoners of war, plus the research of others through web sites and the military history of Hurel.  We have speculations, theories and even conclusions of what happened to our Uncle, Son, Brother, Husband and Father, Hurel Lee Hopkins.  “1940 – 1945”

 

To begin....

 

Hurel Lee Hopkins was born in the year, nineteen hundred and thirteen in Lily Kentucky.  He grew up in a small town in Washington State.  He was twenty seven when he enlisted in the army on November 13, 1940, completing basic training at Fort George Wright in Spokane with training in the medical field.  A picture taken August 21st, 1941, shows Hurel with a group of about fifty seven others with the Medical Detachment at Fort George Wright.   He departed the United States on October 5th, 1941, arriving in the Philippines October 25th, 1941.  His assignment was Medical Hospital #2 in the Bataan (Batan) Peninsula.  These are facts gathered from the Military Services.

 

The capture of the Bataan Peninsula, Philippine Islands, by the Imperial Japanese Army, would forever change his life.  Between the period beginning with April 9, 1942 when he was captured, to early September 1945, when he was rescued, his ordeal was mostly unrecorded.  It’s that period of time that has become the focus of this research primarily conducted by his niece, Marjorie E. Hopkins Nicholson with assistance from her brother Douglas W. Hopkins and their cousin Margie A. Freier Robertson.

 

This story will not relate all the Hell that our soldiers were subjected to but will help to clear up what happened to them after the Japanese takeover of Bataan.  You can pick up any book by a former prisoner of war, captured by the Japanese Army and they will tell you the same stories of the horrific conditions they suffered at the hands of the guards.  The beatings along with starvation and diseases they suffered were beyond anything one could imagine. And through all this, they were ordered to work for the Japs.   Building bridges, landing strips, working in the mines, and vegetable gardens, sometimes enduring extremely hot weather or extremely cold weather and with outdated tools or their bare hands.   Many of these men could not talk of the times they spent as captives.  Hurel was one of them.  As one prisoner stated, “if we had not been rescued when we were, there would have been no one to rescue”.

 

It was not long ago that we were given the wrong information that Hurel was captured when Corregidor was surrendered on May 6th, 1942.  That led us in a different direction, since we were of the belief that he was in the Death March which would have put him in Bataan.  None of the Corregidor prisoners were in what was later called the “Death March”.   Hurel was one of the soldiers doing duty in the Bataan Peninsula, when on April 9th, 1942, the United States Army under the command of Major General Edward King was forced to surrender.  Just less than a month later, this was repeated on the Island of Corregidor under the command of General Jonathan Wainwright.

 

Other than information retrieved from the Internet Web sites, two of the biggest helpful resources were a book titled. “The Sequential Soldier”, by Dr. Herbert W. Coone, acquired by Hurel’s nephew Douglas Hopkins.  The other resource, two pieces of paper that revealed much information we otherwise would not have found.  They were included with papers requested from the Military.  We felt we had something here critical to Hurel’s time after his capture.   There was a slight problem since the writing was in Japanese.  More research found a voluntary organization in Oregon that was extremely helpful and patient in transcribing almost all the writings since some were in “Kanji” which are old and no longer used characters.  We are grateful to these volunteers that gave their time, especially to Kiyo who kept us informed.  These two resources along with the many web sites visited have filled in a lot of blanks.  Following are the Japanese translations returned through email exactly as written.

 

Oct. ’43: replace one place and one paper, (no idea what this means)

10-26-1943: Dispatch to the 22nd flying group, 21st Depot Battalion

09-18-1944: Came back

10-01-1944: Boarded Hokusen Maru

11-09-1944: Taiwan POW camp #4 officially expropriated. (transferred)

01-11-1945: Taiwan POW camp #4 officially expropriated

 

A separate paper has: January 11, 1945: transfer to Taiwan POW Camp #4.

(key word here is to) End of translation.

 

I believe the first line “replace one place” refers to changing camps and the next line would be the camp Hurel was dispatched to.  Third line may be that he came back to the prior camp he was in and we know for a fact that on 10-01-44, Hurel boarded the Hokusen Maru.

 

After the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, our enlisted men’s safety in the Philippines was drastically changed.  Enjoying the good times in Manila, they were living in a peaceful land with the friendly and hospitable Filipinos.  Food was abundant with tropical fruits to enjoy, along with no lack of entertainment, there were polo games and golfing.  With the beautiful surroundings, the scene was one of a relaxing nature, with no worries of impending war in those days before December 8th, 1941, when news reached the Island that Pearl Harbor had been attacked and shortly after, Clark Field and Fort Stotsenberg in Luzon was heavily bombed, with the devastating loss of lives and most of the airplanes blown to bits.  Between the 8th and 31st of December, great confusion existed.  Neither the military nor the civilians were prepared for the onslaught of the daily bombings.  Ships in the bay and the Port area were attacked, fires were burning from the explosions and air raid warnings were constant.  Fort McKinley, just seven miles from Manila was wrecked within the first five days.  Manila was being destroyed and the Japanese forces were advancing.

 

Lt. Col. James Gillespie, Chief of Medicine at Sternberg General Hospital in Manila, helped to secure buildings to be used as hospitals.  They were called Annexes of Sternberg, naming them as “Manila Hospital Center”.  By the end of December, all equipment and hospital supplies had to be taken to the Bataan Peninsula to set up General Hospital #2.  Gillespie later became the Commanding Officer of that hospital in early March ’42.

 

Dr. Waterous, assigned to Hospital #2 say’s in his opinion, “The establishment of Manila Hospital Center was absolutely ridiculous.  It was obvious from the date the Japanese landed at Lingayen and Antimonan that it was only a matter of days until they would take over Manila.  An enormous amount of work was done for something that would never be used.  Establishment of this Hospital Center and the use of equipment originally destined for Bataan and Corregidor created a situation which brought great hardship for Hospital #2 in Bataan.”

 

“From Manila, the road to Bataan was not the best to travel.  Narrow and choked with the traffic of army jeeps, gun carriers, tanks, buses, cars and carabao-driven carts.  The dust and fumes were nearly asphyxiating to the foot soldiers and civilians.  Drivers lost their way, tempers frayed, engines overheated, fuel was depleted and vehicles broke down.  Bridges were blown, leaving marching men on the wrong side of the river.”  This quote tells just a part of the chaos after the bombings.

 

There were two General Hospitals in Bataan.  Until the end of January, one of these, General Hospital #1 was located at Limay on the Eastern coast of Bataan in the South Mariveles Mountains.  This hospital took all battle casualties requiring surgery.  In a period of one month, more than 1,200 injured were admitted for major surgery.  Before the war there were two Hospital “packages” sent to Manila.  At the time, this was thought to be the place to set up two hospitals.  After Pearl Harbor was bombed, plan orange was put into action and the decision to move to southern Bataan was made.  Dr. Paul Ashton, working under Major Duckworth had orders to find territory for the hospital which became Hospital #1.  He needed hills to hide, foliage to cover from above and a good source of water supply.  By the first of January ’42, the hospital was ready for patients.  It was a week or two later that General Hospital #2 was set up, located near Cabcaben, a small fishing village south of Limay.  Hurel most likely worked at this hospital.  Both hospitals were equipped to handle one thousand patients each.  By the end of March, twenty four thousand were sick.  After a withdrawal of our men,  Hospital #1 was moved back to Little Baguio, on the slopes of the Mariveles, just west of Hospital #2.  It was clearly marked with a large cross.  Yet twice, the Hospital was hit.  We believe that Hurel was on duty at the Base Hospital #2 in the southern tip of Bataan about three miles south of Cabcaben in the bamboo thickets and jungle along the Real River.  This provided concealment from an air observation.  A fresh water supply from the river which was filtered and chlorinated was stored in a three or four thousand gallon storage tank.  Buses,  from what was once a bus line were used, taking the seats out to put in folding beds for some of the patients.  Clothes boxes were turned into filing cases for the patient’s records.  This hospital was entirely open air, unlike Hospital #1, which was enclosed.  Luckily it didn’t rain until about May 10th.

 

Before Bataan was taken, General MacArthur had orders from President Roosevelt to leave for Australia.

 

General Jonathan Wainwright was commissioned to take his place, leaving General Edward King in control of Bataan where he had to make the decision to surrender Bataan.  General Wainwright now in control of Corregidor, had to make the same decision less than a month later on May 6th, 1942.

 

It was an excruciating, most difficult decision for Wainwright to either surrender, or see all of his men killed.   The men were in no shape to hold off the Japanese soldiers since for months their rations of food and medicine had been cut drastically.  Most had lost a great deal of weight and were suffering from Malaria and other diseases.  They fought with outdated artillery and ammunition.  Their planes and tanks were bombed and the promise of help never came.  Most of them did not have the strength to fight.  They had been stretched to the limits of human endurance.  I admire General King for telling his men that they did not surrender, that he did and he alone would take any blame.

 

Martin Wasserman, a medic, states that his medical detachment “bivouacked in an area next to HQ Company on the west side of the Bataan Peninsula.”  Around three a.m. on April 9th, 1942, they were informed of the surrender.  Martin and other medics remained together on the Death March.

 

From what was learned of the Japanese translations, Hurel was “captured on April 9th, 1942 on the Bataan Peninsula at the 2nd Army Hospital.”  Also that he had a “stab wound in the upper left chest, in (or near) the heart, a scar on the right eyebrow and left femoral”.  They describe Hurel as having “blue eyes, brown hair, ruddy face, medium build, 176.2cm” (approx. 5’9) and 75.6kg” (166 pounds).  Assuming this is what he weighed when captured.  It is not clear if he got these wounds at the time of capture or at a later time.  On this paper it shows he was “sanitized for an operation or treatment”.

 

Jack Schwartz, Chief of Surgical Service, Bataan General Hospital #2, in his affidavit states he was captured at the hospital.  Japanese officers entered the area giving instructions as to future conduct in that area.  Filipino patients were advised to leave immediately.  He states, “The rest of the original Bataan General Hospital #2 group, remained together.”  None went to Camp O’Donnell.  One of the patients there said they were near starvation.  The Japanese troops, an older bunch, were unpredictable, sadistic and undeserving of being called soldiers. 

 

Taken from Dr. Paul Ashton’s book….On May 7th, Hospital #2 evacuated all bed patients to Hospital #1, leaving the ambulatory to remain.  All medical personnel were transferred to ammunition sheds near Hospital #1.  By May 10th, all medical personnel except for two Doctors and a few corpsmen moved to an area next to Hospital #1.  This date was also when the rains came.  They set up a dispensary.  May 28th, some of the personnel from Hospital #1 were evacuated to O’Donnell.  The Japs kept the hospital in Bataan to ensure their own health from their firings on Corregidor.  After the fall of Corregidor, the hospital was moved to O’Donnell.  On June 2nd, the severely disabled, about 650 in all were transported to Bilibid Prison in about one hundred Japanese trucks by 19 corpsmen and one officer, Capt. Ashton.  Several days later the medical personnel of Hospital #2 was also transported to Bilibid.  On July 2nd, #1 Hospital in its’ entirety, equipment, medication and staff were sent to camp O’Donnell.  Up until that time, they had no knowledge of the Death March.

 

Little did Hurel know at the time of capture of the years ahead what his fate would be.  His family back home knew nothing of the days, turning into years, of what would be the worst one could imagine.  Of the inhumane treatment they received, and beyond comprehension how the prisoners of war endured this treatment for as long as they did.  Many of them could not.

 

After his capture in the Philippines, Hurel’s family heard no information about where he might be, how he was being treated or even if he was alive.  Did he get the care packages that were sent.  I remember the Hershey bars and cigarettes in the packages and I doubt that he received any of them.  Hurel’s sister, Lucy received a postcard on January 18th, 1945.  It was from a Philippine Military Prison Camp No. 10-C.  There was such a camp at Clark Field just south of Camp O’Donnell in Luzon that was called Camp 10-C.  A fellow POW Anthony Czerwien, sent a postcard around December, 1943 to his parents.  The card was from the same camp at Clark Field.  Was Hurel there or was this a place that cards were sent from.

 

Nurses at the hospitals had been evacuated to Corregidor the night before the surrender.  The Japanese forces moved to the southern tip of Bataan, setting up artillery positions encircling the hospital area.  With no let up, they fired on Corregidor day and night.  Fearful of killing or wounding their own, the men on the Island waited several days to return the fire.  For the next three weeks the Hospital was under constant fire from Corregidor, while most of the artillery shells were “over’s” or “shorts” with a few casualties from shell fragments spraying the Hospital.  On the 29th of April, shells landed in a ward killing five patients and wounding others.  On May 12th, the hospital was closed.  All patients and personnel were marched to the area of Bataan General Hospital #1. (this hospital had been bombed earlier) American patients that had recovered numbered seven hundred and were left behind.  Enclosed in barbed wire, they were designated as a prison camp.  On May 26th two weeks later, “unmolested” by their captors, the hospital group was transported by the truck convoy to Bilibid Prison in Manila which at that time contained about six thousand American prisoners.  Three days later they were moved to Cabanatuan #3 in metal boxcars.

 

The Japanese underestimated the many troops on Bataan.  This was one of the first things General King told the Japanese General at the time of surrender.  One source claims the Philippine force to be 79,550 soldiers in all.  The largest American Military in history to put down their arms.  They were not prepared to deal with their prisoners.  The Japanese military entered Cabcaben near Hurel’s station, General Hospital #2.  The men surrendering near Cabcaben were the first to begin the Death March.  The march began at Mariveles in the Bataan Peninsula on April 10th after spending more than 24 hours in the hot sun with no food.  Captives from other areas joining in the march would increase the total time of the march,  usually six days depending on the starting point.  By the 24th of April, most were at Camp O’Donnell.  Without enough vehicles to transport them, the prisoners were marched in groups of abut forty, with about ten rows, four in each row.  The safest place to be was in the middle, since the Japanese guards who were on horseback would ride by and whack the men on the outside with their swords as they rode by.  The march was continuous day and night.  It was difficult to see where you were going at night.  Some lost track of their friends, never to see them again.  They walked the sixty five miles to San Fernando, then by train in hot metal boxcars the twenty miles to Capas in Tarlac Province.  They then marched seven miles to Camp O’Donnell.  They were not given food or water for the entire march.

 

A few were lucky to ride or drive the trucks part of the way or even all the way to O’Donnell.  They arrived days before the others.  General King with his group of officers had 34 cars and two trucks.  Fifty five thousand Filipinos and eight thousand American POW’S entered the camp.  Some escaped up into the jungle and many died on the march.

 

In his book, “The Hard Way Home” by Colonel William Braly, he states that Colonel Jim Gillespie, the head of Hospital #2, (known later to be at a Cabanatuan Camp in June of “42) came into Bilibid from Bataan along with other medics, including Colonels Hugh Dumas, Don Hilton, ED Atkinson, Frank Brezina and George Kusek.  Hurel may have been in this group.  Bilibid Hospital was a clearing house for various prison camps and work details throughout the Island, also to determine if the prisoners were healthy enough to transfer to Formosa or Japan.  Before the prisoners were to be loaded onto ships sailing to Japan or other camps they were sent to Bilibid.

 

The first camp for the prisoners to be interned after the long march was at O’Donnell in Bataan.  An estimated 1,600 Americans died in the first forty days and 20,000 Filipinos died in the first four months.

 

The Japanese were disorganized and incompetent in handling their captives.  They had no plans for what to do with them.  Some prisoners were moved many times from camp to camp while some stayed in only one or two different camps.  Prisoners were sent to different camps to work for the Japanese, building railroads, airstrips, working on farms, in mines and working in the sugar cane fields.  It was either extremely hot or the rain poured making the fields muddy.  Either way they were torturous working conditions and little food or medical supplies to sustain them.  The biggest camp in Luzon was in Cabanatuan #3, which most of the prisoners at one time were in.  There were three camps, numbered one, two and three.   On June 6th, 1942, truckloads of American survivors from Camp O’Donnell began to arrive at Cabanatuan #2.  The Filipino prisoners were left behind at O’Donnell.  The new arrivals were in much worse condition than the group already at Camp #1.  About forty of them died on the trip.  There were more than two thousand sick American prisoners with only two hundred fifty Medical Department personnel to look after them.  A small hospital was across the road from Camp #1.  In just three months, approximately eighty men died.  Conditions of Camp #1 were fair.  The camp, being on the whole, was well organized and administered.  Seven thousand prisoners from Corregidor were sent to Camp #3 from Bilibid.  The camp was closed several months later.

 

According to Anthony Czerwien, author of “Tears That Never Dry”, he thought he would not survive if he stayed at O’Donnell.   He volunteered to go to another work detail on May 2nd, 1942.   “We were fortunate to get into one of the best prison camps we could be transferred to.  The guards were less vicious, water was plentiful and we slept in better quarters.”  The name of the camp was Clark Field.  In his book there is a picture of the postcard which is identical to the one that Hurel sent.   He mentioned the men gambled and played a lot of cards and I like to think Hurel was in those games just as he was after he retired from the service.

 

Czerwien also states there were two medics available at the camp, but they had no proper equipment, drugs or medicines.  One prisoner came down with appendicitis needing an operation or he would die.  One of the medics volunteered to do the operation, being only slightly acquainted with operating room techniques back in the states, never operating on anyone before this.  The only cutting instrument he had was a long handled shaving razor and no anesthesia or drugs available.  The medic performed an excellent incision, and the patient lived to tell the tale.

 

In the fall of 1942, the healthier prisoners from Cabanatuan were sent out in work details.  By October 8th, 1942, close to three thousand men were shipped out to other camps.  The remaining POW’s went to Camp #1.  Camp #3 was then closed.  By the end of 1942, Camp #2 was closed.  Early in 1943 Camp #1 was divided into three groups of about fifteen hundred men.  A dispensary in each group had a staff of four to six physicians and dentists plus five or more medical corpsmen.  Each group had their own officers, chaplains and physicians.  A large hospital separate from camp but next to it, had two thousand patients with four hundred medical personnel.  Medical supplies were extremely limited.  It’s possible that Hurel may have been in Cabanatuan at this time.

 

We don’t know how often or when the POW’s received supplies from the Red Cross but one story tells of a shipment sent in 1942 that was partially held back and not received until years later.  By then, much of the contents were spoiled.  Following the surrender, the Japanese produced seven crates of Red Cross medicines they had concealed in the hills and many crates of meat, both which were desperately needed for survival.  This act was most likely repeated throughout the war.

 

A very good book, “Death on the HellShips” by Gregg Michno tells the stories of our soldiers sailing on the many Japanese transporter ships.  Some will say it was the worst period they experienced in the years they were captives of the Japanese.  Worse than the infamous “Death March” that lasted about six days for most prisoners.  Following is a quote from one of the passengers on the Hokusen Maru, the ship that Hurel was on.  “On October 1st, 1944, we marched out of Bilibid Prison in Manila and were herded onto transports to be moved to Japan.  Little did we know what a horrible place Hell really was.  Defining a word like “Hell” is one thing, living it, quite another.  Our Armed Forces started unwittingly slaughtering POW’s on these transports as they were being moved to Japan.  It would be two weeks before our convoy would see the same unbridled fury as unleashed on the earlier convoys.  Before we would arrive at our destination in the Tokyo area, it is estimated that an excess of over 4000 Allied POW’s would meet their maker at the hands of our own submarines and aircraft.”

 

Admiral Halsey’s fleet of carriers and Admiral Spruance’s submarines were sinking almost all shipping and war crafts in the Philippines.  It’s been written that General MacArthur was aware of the passengers on those ships.

 

 September 14th, 1944, a truck convoy pulled the POW’s out from Clark Field taking them to Bilibid.  On October 1st, 1944, at approximately one p.m. after being fed, they were counted and commanded to move.  Arranged in columns of four, they marched to Manila Bay.  They then boarded the Hokusen Maru.  Records on a web site showing the last camp known for Hurel before boarding the Hokusen on October 1st, 1944 was at Clark Field.  September 21st, 1944, one hundred and seventy planes from the Admiral’s seventh fleet task force bombed Manila.  The port area and Clark Field were severely damaged.

 

A quote from Henry Clay Henderson, “October 1st, 1944, our group of one thousand was taken to the docks to board a transport bound for Japan.  We were scheduled to take a very large, modern ocean liner but a Japanese Colonel pulled rank on our Japanese Major.  By now there were 1,165 men when adding survivors of a transport that was sunk by our planes.  We were put on a small miserable ship, “City of Sidney”, captured from Australia for our voyage to Japan.”  This is a first mention of this ships name, otherwise referred to as the Hokusen Maru.  Others say there was no name on the ship.  The transport had been used for hauling horses and coal.  Henderson states that on October 8th, they were at the northern coast of Luzon where they ran smack into a Japanese battle fleet and U.S. Submarines.  They changed course and headed for Hong Kong as a haven for safety.  On October 13th, 1944, the ship anchored in Hong Kong harbor. 

U.S. P-51 fighter/bombers and submarines kept them see-sawing back and forth.  Air alerts continued as long as they were in the harbor.  November 5th, 1944, they sailed for Takao, Formosa arriving three days later.

 

Henderson says, “After pulling into port and getting off the ship, we marched to a small compound where for three months we worked in a sugar mill and on a vegetable farm.  After several months we boarded a train to the northern end of the Island.  January 25th, 1945, we boarded a Japanese transport.  There were sick men on board that were taken off.”  The camp was Toroku.  Hurel was not with this group, as his name does not appear on that camp’s roster.  Dr. Herbert Coone in his book claims he went by train to Shirakawa after leaving the Hokusen and later was to board the same transport mentioned above in January, but was pulled off the ship to care for prisoners with encephalitis and diphtheria.  He later went to Taihoku Camp #6.

 

Hurel was in at least two places with Dr. Coone.  One was Shirakawa Camp #4, believed by the Dr. to be known also as Camp 616.  The other was the Hell ship.

 

A total of 294 of the almost one thousand POW’s leaving the ship in early November went to Toroku while some went to Shirakawa and other camps.

 

Michael Hurst, the Director of the Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society, (www.powtaiwan.org) informed me that Hurel was at Shirakawa until August 26th, 1945.  This was great news since Shirakawa was “basically a hospital camp” and it is likely that being a medic, he was sent there off the Hokusen Maru with Dr. Coone.  Michael also told me that Hurel had not gone to Japan.  After the Japs surrendered in mid-August all the prisoners at Shirakawa were sent north to Taihoku.  It was previously believed that the men had been returned to Taihoku and been put in Camp #6 there, but later this was found to be untrue.  Camp #6 was found to be inadequate to hold all the additional men from Shirakawa.  Instead they were sent to a special holding facility called the Maruyama Evacuation Camp in Taihoku, also known as Taipei.  The men were basically free and spent the next 10 days while awaiting evacuation by the allies.

 

Joseph Horan was at Shirakawa Camp #4, Taihoku #6, Toroku and also sailed on the Hokusen Maru.  He was also a medic at Hospital #2.  He was a medical corpsman at McKinley and a good friend of Dr. Paul Ashton.  His name is just after Hurel’s name in the rosters from Dr. Coone’s book.  Borrowing the book from a library, I saw that Horan’s name had been spelled “Hornn”.  Someone had penciled the correct spelling next to his name.  I wondered who had the book before I checked it out!

 

The Japanese were ordered to kill all POW’s in the last days of the war.  Instructions issued (can be found on the web) at Camp Taihoku for prisoners to be disposed of an annihilated individually or groups, mass bombings, poisonous smoke, poisons, drowning, decapitation or what, aim is to not allow escape of a single one.  And not leave any traces.  Most notable was the execution of one hundred and thirty eight on December 14th, 1944 at Palawan.

 

More of the Japanese translation papers:  September 5, 1945 – September 7, 1945:  Hand over to U.S. Marine Major General Ketcham.

 

Rear Admiral Dixwell Ketcham was given command of Aircraft Carrier Division 27 which included seven CVE carriers.  He chose to have the flagship of his carrier division to be the USS Block Island CVE 106.  Also joining with CVE 106 in the rescue was the CVE 29 Santee and four additional Destroyer Escorts, the USS Thomas J Gary, the USS Kretchmer, the USS Finch and the USS Brister.  Marine Colonel A.D. Cooley, from the Admirals Command, led the POW recovery operations on the Island of Formosa (now Taiwan).  More than 1,200 allied prisoners of war were liberated in Formosa by Marines and airmen from a small task force of aircraft carriers.  Each of the four Destroyer Escort ships would carry approximately 50 men.

 

Before dawn on the fifth of September off the coast of Formosa, the Thomas J. Gary and Kretchmer were detached from the escort carrier task group.  Combat Air Patrol planes provided cover while minefield sightings were relayed as the escorts made their way through the hazardous approach to Kiirun.  An officer from the USS GARY took over local Japanese radio to insure reliable communications between the task group and Japanese authorities in Kiirun for the duration of the evacuation operation.  Hurel was taken to Kiirun on September 6th by train and quickly transferred to the waiting destroyer escort, arriving in Manila on the 9th where he went to the American medical treatment center before being repatriated home to the USA.

 

The Manila Times of September 12th, 1945 had an article about the rescue.  The headlines were “Rescue of Formosa POW’s results in Navy Citation.”  The article told of the Allied units being the first to enter the heavily mined waters of northern Formosa at Kiirun on September 5th, successfully evacuating 1,200 Allied Prisoners of war.  The commanders and men of the USS Kretchmer and the USS Gary, two destroyer escorts, as well as the destroyers (escorts) Finch and Brister and the transports (escort carriers) Santee and Block Island have been cited by Rear Admiral D. Ketcham, of the United States Navy.  After praising the officers and men of the ships, he then said, “I pass to you the message of the Commander of the Seventh Fleet”.  “Prompt and determined action in the Formosa evacuation under difficult circumstances was a magnificent performance and a God-send to our prisoners.  Well done…Signed Kincaid!  (Admiral Thomas Kincaid)

 

Hurel’s military records show that on September 9, 1945 he was at a replacement depot (near Manila in the Philippines after rescue).  Later, on October 6, 1945 he was at Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco.  In 1945 the hospital received more than 73,000 patients.  October 21st to November 13th, 1945, Hurel was at Madigan General Hospital at Fort Lewis.   Two days later on the 15th of November he was at the reception station No. 13 at Fort Lewis.

 

Hurel met his future wife, Lillian Calder while visiting his sister where she worked at a café in Spokane.  They were married December 9th, 1945.  Lillian wrote a very compelling story of their lives together that was put into the Hopkins Ancestors and Descendants book.  Hurel re-enlisted in January, 1946 to train as a surgical technician.

 

Hurel and Lillian were sent to many places in the USA and abroad as she depicted in her story of their lives serving their country once more.  Like many others, Hurel didn’t escape malaria and other diseases suffered by being a prisoner of the Japanese.   He had to retire on a disability due to heart disease on December 20th, 1960 while at Andrews A.F.B. Washington D.C.  By June of 1962, they were back in Washington State.  In October they bought a modest home in Spokane where Hurel played a little golf with his friends and neighbors.  After suffering heart failure he needed to rest much more.  October 6th, 1965 (ironically 20 years from the date he arrived at the hospital in San Francisco) he was downtown, playing cards.   Sadly, it was his last game.    On October 9th he had a military funeral and was laid to rest at Fairmont Cemetery.

 

 

A moving poem by Henry G. Lee who survived the Oryoku Maru, only to die on the Enoura Maru, written in Cabanatuan on November 11, 1943 reads like an epitaph for the Hellshlip victims.

 

 

We’ll have our small white crosses by and by

Our cool, green lawns, our well-spaced, well cared trees

Our antique cannons, muzzles to the sky,

Our statues and our flowers and our wreaths.

We’ll have our bold-faced bronze and copper plaques

To tell in stirring words of that we saved

And who we were, with names and dates; our stacks

Of silent rifles, spaced between the graves

We’ll have our country’s praise, here below

They’ll make a shrine of this small bit of hell

For wide –eyed tourists; and so few will know

And those who know will be the last to tell

The wordless suffering of our lives as slaves,

Our squalid deaths beneath this dripping sky,

The stinking tangle of our common graves,

We have our small white crosses by and by.

 

******************

 

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact

Mrs. Marjorie Hopkins Nicholson

or

Douglas Hopkins

at

 dhopkins@gbis.com