Near Nagasaki school, memorials honor POWs and supply mission
By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 6, 2016
Sleepy Koyagi Junior High School in southern Nagasaki, Japan, and nearby Mount Sashiki have long held little-known secrets from World War II.
Heroic and tragic tales of Allied prisoners of war fighting for their lives and their guardian angels in the sky who died bringing them lifesaving food and relief supplies after the war had ended once lay smothered below the surface in a blanket of heat and lush undergrowth, underneath the concrete walls and classrooms.
Koyagi Junior High is the unassuming former site of Fukuoka Prisoner of War Camp No. 2, established on Oct. 25, 1942. The camp was the last stop for many Allied prisoners of war as Japan’s imperial ambitions began to take off and eventually bore fruit.
At its height, the camp housed 1,500 prisoners. They were subjected to shocking conditions, starvation, abuse and forced labor at the nearby Kawanami Shipyard. Seventy-three men from the U.S., Great Britain, Australia and the Netherlands died at the camp before 497 were rescued in mid-September 1945.
Now, thanks to an unexpected sources — a Nagasaki cab driver and an elderly former city assemblyman — the camp, its victims and its story will never be forgotten. A memorial has been erected on the site and is open to visitors.
“In memory of those who lived in such harsh circumstances, to which some of them succumbed, and with a profound sense of remorse, we proclaim our fervent hopes for everlasting peace in the world,” the dedication statement reads.
In the wee morning hours of Sept. 4, 1945, nearly a month after the U.S. brought an end to WWII with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a B-29 superfortress from the 498th Bomb Group rumbled down the runway in Saipan en route to southern Kyushu and Fukuoka Prisoner of War Camp No. 2.
The trip took several hours.
When the aircraft and its 14 military passengers arrived over Nomo Peninsula, the camp was obscured by cloud cover. Knowing that many of the emaciated prisoners might not survive while the Navy feverishly tried to access the city and the camp through the heavily mined harbor, the aircraft, commanded by 1st Lt. George Alexander and piloted by 2nd Lt. Fred Riddle Jr., swooped in low.
The superfortress dropped its supplies but could not clear nearby Mount Sashiki to the southeast. The aircraft crashed on the 2,000-foot mountain’s west side, about 500 feet from its summit. All but one aboard were killed.
In the aftermath of the crash, locals — angry about the destruction caused by the atomic bomb — descended upon the lone survivor, Glen Holm. One woman attempted to strangle the young flight officer as he lay wounded on the ground. Holm was saved by the kindness of other local residents who had seen enough death. His deceased comrades were cremated and taken to the Oura Roman Catholic Church for a ceremony. Six who could not be identified, including Riddle, were cremated together. They were later buried in the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis.
Seeing the plane crash had a devastating impact on those awaiting rescue at the camp. They had already lost 72 friends, and now more were dying. One more would die from malnutrition and the conditions before they could be rescued just over a week later.
The site of the Fukuoka No. 2 faded into obscurity.
Years later, Koyagi Junior High School was built on the site. The small island was connected to the mainland with reclaimed earth.
In 1995, cab driver Akira Komatsu gave a ride to author and POW historian Stanley Guy, who was writing a book about POWs and was looking for a guard from the camp. Komatsu was so moved by the story that he dedicated the next 20 years of his life to researching the camp and the plane crash and trying to see the men honored.
Komatsu told Stars and Stripes he spent much of that time trying to get Nagasaki city officials to agree to a memorial for the victims of the camp and the crash, but there was no interest. In 2010, he linked up with former city assemblyman Toyoichi Ihara, who used his connections to get things moving.
The memorial was dedicated in September. The event was attended by surviving POWs and their families.
The granite monuments honor the 73 killed at the camp and the 13 American airmen who perished delivering the relief supplies.
Komatsu and Ihara lovingly look upon the memorial, proud of what they have accomplished against seemingly insurmountable odds. They intend to raise more money and make further improvements to the site.
The spirit of the locals who came to Holm’s aid is embodied in the two quiet, stone-faced men. The monument stands as a testament to the past, but also to the future — in peace and friendship between two former combatants.
Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.
Fukuoka Prisoner of War Camp No. 2
The memorial dedicated to the 73 Allied prisoners of war and 13 American airmen who perished on the site of Fukuoka Prisoner of War Camp No. 2 during and after World War II is located on the street just off the Koyagi Junior High School grounds in southern Nagasaki at 563-10 Koyagimachi, Nagasaki, Nagasaki Prefecture 851-0310
Since it is off school grounds, the memorial is always open. Park in front of a smaller building in front of the school and walk the sidewalk path perpendicular to the front of the school, around a smaller administrative building, toward the road. There, you will find the memorial.
Access is free.
There are no food or drinks available at the memorial.
For more information, testimonials and photos, visit www.tinyurl.com/j423zrz