to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

6e. LIBERATION

John Coast, a British Lieutenant, relates the story of the arrival of two US paratroopers at the Kanchanaburi POW camp in mid-AUG in his excellent book: Railroad of Death. These turned out to be two American paratroopers, regular Army not special OSS agents. They had parachuted in some months before and had been watching over the various camps in the area. In his book Railway Man, Eric Lomax (also a Brit) relates a brief encounter with these two at the Khao Din rail yard just to the south of Kanchanaburi city. He was returned down a slope having delivered water to a Japanese anti-aircraft battery perched on a hilltop overlooking the yards. They had been frequent targets of P-38 long-range attack craft. As he shuffled along the path, he noted a movement in the bushes. Two white faces appeared and with fingers on their lips to instruct silence, waved him by. That was the first and last encounter until they drove into Khao Din one morning and picked up the 10 Americans who were there and rook them back to the main camp area.  

John Coast picks up the story a few days later. He heard it from a fellow Brit who had been a police officer in Penang Malay before the war. He decided that he wanted to go back there rather than be repatriated back to England. He made contact with the Governor of Kanchanaburi Province to see if he could assist that wish. The GOV discouraged such an attempt in that there were apparently many Japanese combat troops between them that had yet to capitulate. But in an effort to assist the GOV took this man on a day’s journey into the hill near Lat Ya. Part of the meager Thai Army had maintained a presence in Lat Ya which was astride the historical invasion route by the Burmese. Today, it is the site of the largest Thai Army base in the country as the HQ of the 9th Infantry Division. It is also the site where US Forces trained Thais who were deploying to Vietnam in the late-1960s. In the 1940s, Lat Ya had a primitive air strip that was apparently used by the Allies to land transport planes laden with supplies, weapons and ammunition for the ‘sleeper agents’.

After a multi-hour journey, first by car and then by horseback, they came to a clearing in the jungle where there were dozens of Thais undergoing military training. In a rather comfortable house sat the two American soldiers – referred to as only Hank and Dan. Over cigars and whiskey, they told their story of monitoring the camps and training a force that was to attack if it appeared that an execution was about to take place.

For their part, the US POWs at Kanchanaburi were as amazed as everyone else to find two America soldiers in their midst. The fact that they were driving Jeeps was even more strange since the Jeep had entered service well after they had been taken as prisoners. By the end of the war, there were only about 350 US POWs still at Kanchanaburi. Many had been sent on to Japan and Vietnam and some returned to Singapore. The paratroopers easily hired (procured / stole) trucks and took the now ex-POW to Bangkok where they stated in warehouses near the port – a place that became known as Harbor City. Within a matter of days, they were being shuttled out to Calcutta to the 142nd General Hospital for recuperation and treatment of their ills.

One short side-story to this side-story is worth telling. A AAF Major walked into a barracks area and yelled “Are there any Yanks here!” When a few identified themselves he told them to grab their gear and gather as many of their mates as possible. He had room for 40 to leave immediately. They carried some of the weaker men on stretchers to the plane. It seems that that pilot had made a few trips into the airport but there were only British troops awaiting evacuation. He said he was tired of carrying out Brits when he knew there had to be Yanks nearby.

LTC Tharp’s personal diary relates how he moved his HQ staff to Bangkok and began sending small groups to the other camps in Thailand to round up the American and bring them to Bangkok. CPT Fitzsimmons flew to Saigon to retrieve the TXNG men who had been sent there.

One of the most unfortunate stories is told elsewhere. It is the account of Ensign John Stivers who was diagnosed with a brain tumor and sent to the Nakorn Pathom hospital camp (about half way between Kan and Bangkok). He was quickly brought to Bangkok and spent a week or so at the Bangkok Nursing Home hospital (which still exists today). He was rapidly evacuated through Calcutta to New York where he died on 7 OCT 1945, barely two month after liberation.

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