POW- MIA SPEECH
by former POW Joseph Q. Johnson
Thank you Sgt. Cooke, General Neubauer, distinguished guests and fellow patriots.
We gather here today to honor our POW’s and MIA’s from the
Past, and Present .
In W.W.II there were approx. 126,000 American POW’s. There were approx. 30,000 American’s listed as missing in action.
In Korea there were approx. 8000 American POW’s. There were approx. 5000 Americans listed as missing in action.
In Vietnam there were Approx. 770 Americans POW’s. There were approx. 1800 Americans listed as missing in action.
I represent an era of W.W.II that many in our present generation are not aware of.
I’m speaking of the Defense of The Philippines at the start of W.W.II.
When the Japanese attacked Hawaii on the morning of
Dec. 7th 1941, at the same time they were attacking the Philippines. Within hours the Japanese were
landing at Hong Kong, Malaysia, Borneo, Java, Indonesia, and other islands in the Far East. Because of the International Dateline it was Dec. 8th
in the Far East. At the start of W.W.II there were approx. 23,000 American servicemen of all branches of the service in the Philippines.
I was 15 years old when the war started. I had been in the service for almost a year and had been stationed in Manila assigned to the only American Infantry Regiment in the Far East.
The first American ground combat in W.W.II was the defense of the Philippines. After about a month of fighting the Japanese landings, we withdrew into Bataan Peninsula. Bataan is a small peninsula bordered on the east by Manila bay and on the west by the China sea.
The Battle of Bataan lasted almost 4 months.
The first 3 Medal’s of Honor of WW
II were awarded on Bataan. The 1st Army Air Corps hero of W.W.II, was Colin Kelly, who gave his life while piloting a B-17 defending the
I turned 16 while fighting on Bataan. When Bataan was surrendered, approx. 300 of us American servicemen made it to Corregidor. Corregidor
was an Island Fortress at the mouth of Manila Bay. It was approx. 5 miles across from the tip of Bataan.
Once on Corregidor many of us were assigned to a Marine Regiment defending the beaches of Corregidor. On May 6th 1942 after one month
of fighting, Corregidor was surrendered and I became a prisoner of War.
One of the most degrading events that can befall any American serviceman or servicewoman is to become a prisoner of war. No amount of training can prepare you for this experience. It affects your emotions, both physical and mental.
At first I felt disbelief, then anger and defiance. Then as hours passed, and reality set in I felt humiliation and shame.
I was to spend almost 4 years as a Japanese POW. The first couple of years working as a slave laborer on various work details in and around Manila.
In 1944 as MacArthur and his forces came closer and closer, the Japanese crammed
all the able bodied American POWs they held in the Philippines
into the holds of unmarked Japanese merchant ships in an effort to transfer us to Japan to work as slave labor in their mines and factories.
I was on three of these unmarked ships, I survived the sinking of two ships and finally arrived in Japan on the third ship. Other unmarked ships were sunk by American submarines or aircraft. Several thousand American POWs lost their lives in the holds of these ships. Those of us who survived these
hell ships were put to work in factories and coal mines.
When Japan surrendered in August of
1945 I was 19 years old. I had matured both physically and mentally during those trying years.
When I entered the service I was 5 ft 7 and weighed 135 lbs. When I was freed from Prison camp, I was 6 ft 3 and weighed 115 lbs.
I was lucky or blessed, probably both. Of the approx. 30,000 servicemen captured by the Japanese in the Far East by the Japanese in W.W.II,
only about 12,000 came home alive. Less than 300 of us are alive today from the Philippine Campaign, Our average age is middle to upper 80’s.
We know that war not only affects the serviceman, it affects those at home who were close to him. It affects mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, neighbors and friends They all suffer the ordeal of separation, the uncertainty, the anguish and heartache.
I was listed as missing in action for over a year before the War Department notified my family that I was a Prisoner of War.
The joy of finding out that I was
still alive was tempered with the uncertainty of my health and treatment.
Through recent wars, many American families have suffered this emotional distress, Sometimes false hopes and heartbreaking rumors have
plagued their lives. After all, those three words, “ Missing in Action “ offers some hope.
These families pray that somewhere, somehow, their loved one , by some Miracle, is still alive and struggling to make it back home.
We Americans today enjoy blessings & freedoms that those who are still listed as “ MISSING IN ACTION “ fought for.
I am confident that this present
generation and future generations will fulfill their duty and make sure that all Americans
will still be enjoying these same freedoms in the years to come. It is our obligation and duty to never give up hope on
any fellow serviceman who might still be alive somewhere in this world.
We must try and write a final chapter for each missing servicemen. Their families deserve a final closure.
America is a caring Nation. America is a Selfless Nation. America is a Loving Nation. America is a Giving Nation
and America is a Forgiving Nation
May God continue to shower down his love and blessings on this Great Nation.
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