2009 POW-Site Report # 02

POW Site Update #02 - Team Review of the Proposed POW/MIA Mission Plan
07 March 2009 - by Mark Swank

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Today began with another fine breakfast cooked by Flip around 8:00 a.m. and we were soon ready to get down to some business. After about an hour of getting things sorted out we finally managed to get the projector Katie brought along working and were able to project our laptops onto the wall where all would be able to view. Technology, isn't it great? There we were, all 9 of us with our laptops in hand just a plucking away.

I had planned that it would take me about an hour or so to review the testimony maps and complete my Powerpoint Presentation of the plan for targeting Police Hill. Wrong again! I was pleasantly surprised at all of the input I received from the entire team as we slowly and meticulously reviewed every single hand-drawn map (some 20+ maps in all) of the Kempei Tai headquarters, missionary (prisoner) barracks area and the execution sites.

I should step back for a moment to explain how it was that BentProp came into possession of these most important maps. For years the team worked off of just a couple of maps that were included in the Guam War Crimes trials transcripts. As it turns out, the key map the team had been using for the previous 10 years was drawn by a Sgt Maj Sugimoto and was very vague and misleading. All that changed when Katie identified a set of documents that were part of the War Crimes Evidence files. Katie found the references to these documents in a book detailing Japanese War Crimes and published by NARA to help researchers consolidate all of the War Crimes documents. What a gold mine that book and these newly found documents turned out to be. It never dawned on me that there would be much more information in the evidence files than in the actual trial transcripts. I obviously would have failed the INVESTIGATOR 101 course!

I suppose the prosecution team for the trials only included those statements that enhanced their case for conviction. The rest were filed away for years in the Supreme Commander Allied Powers (SCAP) boxes at NARA until Katie sniffed them out. So there we were at NARA, Jim Woomer and myself, reviewing the files Katie had identified. I clearly remember Jim saying "Here's a map, is this good?" I practically fell out of my seat when I saw it. That was only the beginning. Then he said "How about this map?" BINGO, another map nobody had seen in 60 years. I looked at how thick the files were and then up at the clock on the wall. It was 4:30pm. NARA closes at 5:00pm on Saturdays and we had five half-inch thick folders to get through, one for each of the Palau cases. Jim and I tag-teamed the folders and began to quickly and meticulously photo each and every page. Then the public address system rang out "The archives will be closing in 15 minutes. Please return all items to the research counter now". We kept on getting photo images even as the senior researcher came by and looked at us with that "Didn't you hear the PA system" look. I looked up at him and said "We're almost done... 5 more minutes". I knew Katie had found a gold-mine, but didn't have the time to review a single document before being pushed out the door.

All in all we ended up with over 370 documents. That was November 1st, 2008. Over the next 5 days I would send over 50 emails that included the documents that we had found. You can imagine the flurry of emails between the team as we all digested the new documents and maps.

I think one of Pat's favorite was the statement of Lt Col Yajima. He was the Intelligence Officer for the Japanese 14th Division. In his statement he admitted to the falsified stories of prisoners being placed on ships and sent to the Manila or Davao to cover up their executions. That was vindication for Pat since he NEVER believed a single POW had left the island alive. Pat has another theory about the suicide of Colonel Miyazaki, the unit commander for the South Seas Kempei Tai. He's thrown me a bone and asked me to follow it. I think I'll take him up on that. But that's for another day...

So there we were in the team room in Palau reviewing the maps one by one and identifying key features in the maps. After a couple of hours we took a quick lunch to give everybody a chance to stretch their legs and get a quick bite to eat.

Next I began the Powerpoint presentation and walked the team through the details of those individuals that we knew from War Crimes Trials had been executed, those POWs that we knew were last seen in the Police Hill area but never heard from again, and the gems of information we were able to derive from all of the documents we had acquired during our trips to NARA over the previous 3 years. When I reviewed the maps I came up with six key features that appeared over and over in most of the maps. They were the Kempei Tai headquarters, Misuzu bridge, Missionary (known as Nantaku) barracks, Aikoku bridge, a cross-over road between the main road to Mizuho and the ridge road we had walked and finally the execution jungle. My plan was to start by locating the Kempei Tai headquarters area where it would have been located in September of 1944. Several of the maps showed both the Kempei Tai headquarters and the execution sites and they appeared to be parallel to each other with the headquarters being on the main road and the execution sites being along the ridge road.

I should add that we had the benefit of a hand-drawn map that was later identified as being drawn by a Lt (jg) Haller of the US Navy. He was the original investigator charged with gathering evidence on the execution of 6 Jesuit Missionaries. Fortunately for me, he went out to the Police Hill area in the latter part of 1946 and located three different Kempei Tai headquarters areas (based on a timeline of when they were occupied) as well as the prisoner barracks area used to hold the missionaries and an area he thought was the execution site. I had previously recognized the barracks area that Lt. Haller had drawn from a photo the team had acquired from the Bishop Museum in Hawaii several years ago. Haller also was kind enough to note the distance from the barracks to the Kempei Tai headquarters as being 7/10ths of a mile south on the main road. I now had a starting point (the barracks area) which would allow me to narrow down the search area for the Kempei Tai headquarters. If we could find the Kempei Tai headquarters area today, then we would have an anchor point to tie the remaining key land features with that would hopefully lead us to the execution jungle.

A key requirement from Flip and Pat in tasking me with the POW portion of the land mission was to have multiple alternate plans in the event that my plan didn't pan out. Believing in the authenticity and the truthfulness of several of the maps led me to believing that the execution site would be on the east side of the ridge road directly across the valley from where the Kempei Tai headquarters would be located. There were only 4 jungle areas between the missionary barracks area and the 1000-meter reference point used in several of the maps and testimony statements. I labeled these areas A, B, C and D accordingly with A being my first choice, B second and so on. The key was finding the Kempei Tai headquarters and we had a plan on how to implement it. After completing my presentation I think everybody was pretty much on board and willing to follow me into any jungle if it might lead to the discovery of our fallen comrades. I was ready to trade my tennis shoes on the spot for hiking boots and head up to Police Hill. Pat nixed that idea because it was now past 2:30 p.m. and I had taken up over 5 hours with the land portion of the POW mission. Hey, what can I say... I talk a lot.

With the remaining time that day Rick Smith presented his plan for the water mission and we pretty much called it a day. I'd give more details on Rick's mission but will leave that to him to update everybody after he gets back from Palau.

Next Installment: Finding the Kempei Tai Headquarters.

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