to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

6.7 Repatriation

LTC Tharp was quickly able to return to Bangkok from his final camp at Nakorn Nayok. He re-assembled his key officers there and dispatched small teams to the various camps to retrieve the US POWs. He arranged for the use of the same warehouses (go-downs) that the Japanese had used for the POWs as they transited through Bangkok to these camps. He was aided by the OSS members who were present across the countryside in identifying where US POWS were being held and in establishing communication with Rangoon and India to arrange for supplies to be ferried in and the men to be flown out. Even the contingent from Saigon soon found themselves back in Bangkok.

CPL Thomas Whitehead was one of four US POWs who had been sent as far east as the Ubon POW camp. In an interview (OH 366) by Dr. Marcello of North Texas State University, Whitehead relates the rapidity of his homeward movements. British Col Toosey had made his way to Ubon by train to arrange for the movement of the British troops there. On first train out were the men who were in the camp hospital. Knowing that Tharp was acting to quickly extract the US troops, Toosey also sent the four Americans. Whitehead describes how they had barely arrived at the go-downs when they encountered an AAF officer who was looking to round-up as many US personnel as he could squeeze onto his plane. With barely a moment in Bangkok, these four ‘jumped the line’ as it were and boarded that plane.

By the end of SEP 45, all the US TBR POWs were out of Thailand having been flown to the US 142nd General Hospital in Calcutta for evaluation, treatment and de-briefing before being handed priority passes for passage back to the USA.

The US personnel who were in Singapore at war’s end were also quickly transited to Calcutta. Those in the various islands of the Dutch East Indies: Java, Sumatra and Borneo took longer to identify and extract. Lastly, there were the hundreds who were scattered at camps all over Japan. Most of these had to await repatriation by ship. GEN MacArthur had amassed a vast armada of US NAVY ships in Tokyo harbor to make a statement about America’s might. Many of those departed carrying US POWs. Many passed through Guam for hospitalization, evaluation and treatment. 

The saga of the British and Australian ex-POWs is much longer. The Australians being the first to return to their homeland. It took the British many months to transit their many thousands of troops back home.

One interesting side-story to this saga is found in the Dutch POWs. The vast majority of these were what was referred to as ‘Dark Dutch’. They were either native Indonesians or mixed-race Eurasians. The social and political climate throughout the DEI had turned profoundly anti-Dutch and it became problematic to return them to their home islands. Add to this that their ‘home’ government in Europe was just recently liberated and still in a state of disarray and there were few advocating for them. In his book, Ubon: The Last Camp Before Freedom, Ray Withnall discusses their plight and the difficulties they encountered. Thousands of them were isolated in Thailand for many months as they watched other nationalities begin their journeys home.

Other stories of repatriation and camp life / treatment of POWs:

Then, of course, there were the romusha whose story is told in Section 20.

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