BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. As a result of an overwhelming positive response to my article last on Hell Ships, I am going to carry on this week telling the story and hopefully answering some of your questions concerning this great atrocity and war crime.
Of the dozens of positive responses I received there was only one negative one and ironically that was from a person I work with who felt I committed an ethical breach by not declaring that the opinions expressed were mine and not the agency I work for. Problem solved, I have removed the reference to that agency in my byline and profile.
Let me begin by saying I am very proud of the reconciliation that has come about in a relatively short period of time. This only happened because good men and women from Japan and America came together to recognize the wrongs on both sides and to put them behind us. They did not forget or deny them, they forgave them. On a personal note I don’t know of anyone who has written more articles and stories praising our Nisei than myself.
Many letters and emails I have received in the last week were from grandchildren of someone who perished on a Hell Ship. Many say it was not talked about in their families and wanted to know more about these “Hell Ships”.
This is a brief overview of these ships and what life was like aboard them.
While the nightmarish horrors of the Bataan Death March and Camp O’Donnell have captured popular notoriety, survivors of Japanese POW camps typically recount their time aboard POW transport ships, the “Hell Ships”, as being the most terrible experiences of their captivity. Hell Ships were Japanese cargo ships that carried Allied POWs to locations throughout the Japanese Empire to be employed as forced labor supporting the war efforts of the Japanese military and civilian corporations. Because the transports were unmarked, many were attacked and sunk by Allied submarines and aircraft with the result that over 21,000 Allied Prisoners of War and Asian forced laborers perished at sea. The Hell Ships remain one of the least known tragedies of the Pacific War.