|Lt. Col. Curtis Thurston
Lt.Col. Curtis T. Beecher was born on October 28,
1897, in Chicago, Illinois, to Bryant L. Beecher and
Grace Turston-Beecher. With his five sisters, he
was raised at 1619 South 8th Avenue in Maywood,
Illinois. He attended local schools and
graduated from Proviso Township High School in 1915.
On April 27, 1917, Curtis enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, as a private, and did his basic training as a member of Company I, Marine Barracks, Port Royal, South Carolina. A few months later, he was in Europe as a member of the 82nd Company, 6th Regiment, 2nd Division, American Expeditionary Force, at Marnines Aef, France. During this time, he was promoted to sergeant in October 1917, and 2nd Lieutenant on August 1, 1918. When World War I ended, he remained in Europe until he returned home on December 8, 1920, at Hoboken, New Jersey.
During the 1920s and 1930s Beecher had multiple deployments in the United States and overseas and in September, 1921, he was promoted to Captain. It was also during this time period that he married Juanita A. Trelease on May 7, 1931. Once again, he had multiple deployments during the 1930s. It was while he was commanding the Marine Detachment , Receiving Ship, Destroyer Base, San Diego, California, that he was promoted to Major. The date of the promotion was November 26, 1934. On June 29, 1938, he was promoted to Lt. Colonel while deployed at the Marine Barracks, Naval Ammunition Depot, Puget Sound, Washington.
Beecher's next deployment was with Headquarters Company, First Battalion, Fourth Marines, at Shanghai, China, in October, 1941. His time in China was short when the 4th Marines sailed for the Philippine Islands on November 28, 1941, arriving on November 30th. From there, the Marines where sent to Olongapo Naval Station, from there they would be moved to Corregidor. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. What Beecher did from this date until the surrender of Bataan is not known.
After Bataan fell, the Japanese were able to focus their attack on Corregidor with constant bombing and shelling. On May 5th, the Japanese landed on the island and fierce fighting took place. According to Beecher, General Johnathan Wainwright called him in to his office and said, "This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life." With ammunition, food, and water almost gone, Wainwright had Beecher send two officers with white flags to attempt to contact the Japanese command to arrange for the surrender of Corregidor on May6, 1942.
The Japanese moved the new Prisoners of War to a beach were they held for 48 hours, without food, water, or shelter, and with the sun beating down on them during the day. The sick and wounded lay among the POWs without medical care. He recalled, "We were then dumped ashore to Manila and marched through the streets on exhibition apparently to impress the Philippine people that we were defeated Americans. On the march we what we were to experience many times thereafter. If a man fell out, he was kicked, worked over with a gun butt, then prodded with a bayonet. If the man failed to respond, he was picked up later by a Japanese truck. Many of those picked up were corpses."
Beecher and the other prisoners from Corregidor were taken to Camp 3 at Cabanatuan. The POWs who had surrendered on Bataan were in Camp 1. Being that they did not experience the same type of march, they were in better shape then the men who had fought on Bataan. "We were lucky at Camp 3. We had only 30 deaths from June 1942 to January 1943. Camp 1 had 2800. There were 6000 in each camp in quarters built for 2000, but we at Camp 3 hadn't been kicked around quite so much."
Beecher believed the situation the Americans found themselves in were the result of the Japanese not being able to adjust to a situation. The Japanese carried out their orders to the letter, but, in his opinion, had no initiative to to change a plan. The only way the Americans were able to get concessions was to suggest an idea in such a way that the Japanese believed it was their idea.
As work details went out and fewer men remained at Cabanatuan, Camps 1 and 3 were combined with Beecher as the commanding officer of the camp. He recalled that the Camp 1 POWs were walking skeletons without medical supplies, and at the camp also had a permanent burial detail of 80 men who buried as many as 40 men a day.
In Beecher's opinion, what made things better for the POWs was a change in the Japanese command that allowed more food to be given to the prisoners, and the fact that they received their first Red Cross packages. On that day, no POWs died in the camp.
During his time as American camp commander, the POWs were allowed to keep gardens, have entertainment, and religious services. He also had more latrines, deepen drainage ditches from the latrines, to stop the spread of disease, and wooden walkways added.
Beecker recalled that a hidden radio let the POWs know how the war was going. On one occasion, American planes shot down a Japanese plane near the camp. The Americans cheered but were never punished because the guards had been concerned about their own safety.
In late 1944, Beecher was taken to Bilibid Prison for transport to Japan. On December 12, 1944, the POWs heard rumors that a detail was being sent out. The POWs went through what was a farce of an inspection. They were told cigarettes, soap, and salt would be issued. The POWs were also told that they would also receive a meal to eat and one to take with them. The Japanese stated they would leave by 7:00 in the morning, so the lights were left on all night. At 4:00 a.m. the morning of December 13th, the other POWs were awakened.
By 8:00, the POWs were lined up and roll call was taken and the names of the men selected for transport to Japan were called. The prisoners were allowed to roam the compound until they were told to "fall-in." The men were fed a meal and then marched to Pier 7 in Manila. During the march down Luzon Boulevard, the POWs saw that the street cars had stopped running and many things were in disrepair.
The Americans saw that the American bombers were doing a job on the Japanese transports. There were at least forty wrecked ships in the bay. When the POWs reached Pier 7, there were three ships docked. One was a old run down ship, the other two were large and in good shape. They soon discovered one of the two nicer ships was their ship.
It was at this time that the POWs were allowed to sit down. Many of the POWs slept until 3:45 in the afternoon. They were awakened about 5:00 PM and boarded the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan. Being a officer, Beecher was put into the ship's forward hold. The sides of the hold had two tiers of bunks that went around its diameter. The POWs near the hatch used anything they could find to fan the air to the POWs further away from it. The ship left Manila on December 14th, at about 3:30 AM, as part of the MATA-37 a convoy bound for Takao, Formosa. By the swells in the water, the POWs could tell that the ship was in open water. The POWs received their first meal at about 3:30 that afternoon. Meals on the ship consisted of a little rice, fish, and water. Three fourths of a cup of water was shared by twenty POWs.
At dawn, the POWs had just eaten when they heard the sound of anti-aircraft guns. At first, they thought the gun crews were just drilling since they hadn't heard the sound of planes. It was only when the first bomb hit that they knew it was no drill. The POWs heard the change in the planes' engines sound as they began their dive toward the ships in the convoy. Explosions were taking place all around the POWs. Bullets from the planes ricocheted in to the hold causing many casualties. In all, the POWs would have to sweat out five air raids. The one result of the raid was no evening meal. After the first raid, the ship was left alone by "playing possum" in the water.
The attacks came in waves of 30 to 50 planes and lasted from twenty minutes to a half-hour. After each wave, there was a lull of a half-hour before the next attack took place.
The fighters went after the other ships in the convoy. At four-thirty in the afternoon, the ship experienced its worse attack. It was hit at least three times, by bombs, on its bridge and stern. Most of the POWs were wounded by ricocheting bullets or shrapnel from explosions. Bombs that exploded near the ship sent turrets of water over it. Bullets from the fighters hit the metal hull plates at an angle that prevent most from penetrating the hull. Somewhere on the ship a fire had started but was put out after several hours. Overall, six bombs hit the ship. One hit the stern of the ship killing many. The POWs in the holds lived through seventeen attacks from American planes before sunset. The attacks ended as dusk fell.
The moaning and muttering of men who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night. That night 25 POWs died in the hold. POWs were reported as drinking urine and howling. The ship reached Subic Bay at 2:30 in the morning. It was a suitable landing place. During the night, the medics among the POWs were ordered out of the holds to tend to the Japanese wounded. One medic recalled that the dead, dying, and wounded, were everywhere. Sometime after midnight, the POWs heard the sound of Japanese women and children being evacuated.
The POWs were told, at 4:00 in the morning, that they would be disembarked after daybreak. It was December 15th. The POWs were still sitting the hold hours after daybreak when the sound of planes was heard. When the attack resumed, the ship bounced in the water from the explosions. The attacks again came in waves. During one attack, a bomb came through the side of the ship blowing a large hole in the aft hold and resulting in the deaths of many POWs. The POWs noted that attack was heavier then the day before. In the hold the POWs crowded together. Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling. After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started. A Catholic priest, Fr. Duffy, began praying, "Father forgive them. They know not what they do."
At 8:00 AM, a Japanese guard yelled to the POWs, "All go home; Speedo!" He also shouted that the wounded would be the first evacuated. As the POWs were abandoning ship, the planes returned. The pilots of the the planes had no idea that the ship was carrying POWs. About a half hour later, the ship's stern started to really burn.
The POWs made their way on deck, went over the side, and swam to shore near Olongapo Naval Station, Subic Bay, Luzon. As they swam to shore, which was about 300 to 400 yards away, the Japanese soldiers fired on the POWs to keep them in the water so they would not escape. It was at this time that four American planes flew over them at a low altitude. The POWs frantically waved and shouted at the pilots hoping to prevent them from strafing. One plane veered off and returned flying even lower over the POWs. This time, the plane dipped its wings to acknowledged he knew the men in the water were Americans. The attack was ended and the ship was later sunk after it had been abandoned.
Once on shore, the POWs were herded onto tennis courts at the Olongapo Naval Station at Subic Bay. It was noted by the POWs, when they reached shore, that much of the ship's stern was blown away.
While the POWs were at Olongapo, a Japanese officer, Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart, that those too badly wounded to continue the trip would be returned to Bilibid. Fifteen men were selected and loaded onto a truck. They were taken into the mountains and never seen again. What was learned is that these men were taken to a cemetery and shot. They were buried at a cemetery nearby. The remainder of the POWs remained on the tennis courts for five or six days. During that time, they were given water but not fed.
The POWs remained on the tennis courts for nine days. During their time on the tennis courts, American planes attacked the area around them. The POWs watched as the planes came in vertically releasing their bombs as they pulled up from their dives. The POWs watched as the planes went into dives and released their bombs as they pulled out of their dives. On several occasions, the planes dove right at the POWs, dropped their bombs, and pulled out. The bombs drifted over the POWs and landed away from them exploding on contact.
Since the POWs had no place to hide, they watched enjoyed the show. They believed that the pilots knew they were Americans but had no way of knowing if this was true. But what is known is that not one bomb was dropped on them even though they could be seen from the planes.
The evening of December 16th, 50 kilo bags of rice. About half of the rice had fallen out of the bags because of holes. Each POW was given three spoons of raw rice, and a quarter of a spoon of salt.
At about 8:00 AM on the morning of December 22nd, 22 trucks arrived at the tennis court. Rumors flew on where they were going to be taken. At about 4:00 PM, a Taiwanese guard told the POWs, in broken English,"No go Cabanatuan. Go Manila; maybe Bilibid." The guard knew as little as the POWs.
On December 21st, the POWs were taken by truck to San Fernando, Pampanga, arriving there about four or five in the afternoon. Once there, they were put in a movie theater. Since it was dark, the POWs saw as a dungeon.
During their time at in the barrio, the POWs lived through several air raids. The reason for the air raids was the barrio was military headquarters for the area. Most of the civilians had been moved out of the barrio. Many of the Americans began to believe they had been taken there so that they would be killed by their own countrymen.
At 10:00 P.M. on December 23rd, the Japanese interpreter came and spoke to the ranking American officer about moving the POWs. The Japanese loaded the seriously ill POWs into a truck. Those remaining behind believed they were taken to Bilibid. The remaining POWs were moved to a trade school building in the barrio.
The POWs were taken to the train station on December 24th at 10:00 A.M. The POWs saw that the station had been hit by bombings and that the cars they were to board had bullet holes in them from strafing. 180 to 200 were packed into steel boxcars with four guards. The doors of the boxcars were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible. Ten to fifteen POWs rode on the roofs of the cars along with two guards. The guards told these POWs that it was okay to wave to the American planes.
On December 25th, the POWs disembarked from the train at San Fernando, La Union, at 2:00 A.M. They walked two kilometers to a school yard on the southern outskirts of the barrio. From December 25th until the 26th. The POWs were held in a school house. The morning of December 26th, the POWs were marched to a beach. During this time the prisoners were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water. The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater. Many of those men died.
The remaining POWs were boarded onto a second ship, the Enoura Maru, On this ship, the POWs were held in three different holds. The ship had been used to haul cattle. The POWs were held in the same stalls that the cattle had been held in. In the lower hold, the POWs were lined up in companies of 108 men. Each man had four feet of space. Men who attempted to get fresh air by climbing the ladders were shot by the guards.
The daily routine for the POWs on the ship was to have six men go on deck and pull up the dead by rope. They also pulled up the buckets of human waste. Afterwards, the men on deck would lower ten buckets containing rice, soup, and tea that had been prepared by other POWs assigned to cook.
During the night of December 30th, the POWs heard the sound of depth charges exploding in the water. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on December 31st and docked around 11:30 AM. After arriving at Takao, Formosa, each POW received a six inch long, 3/4 inch wide piece hardtack to eat. This was the first bread they had since receiving crackers in their Red Cross packages in 1942. During the time in the harbor, the POWs received little water. From January 1st through the 5th, the POWs received one meal and day and very little water. This resulted in the death rate among the POWs to rise. On January 6th, the POWs began to receive two meals a day.
The Enoura Maru was attacked by American planes the morning of January 9, 1945. The POWs were receiving their first meal of the day, when the sound of ship's machine guns was heard. The explosions of bombs falling closer and closer to the ship was also heard. The waves created from the explosions rocked the ship.
One bomb hit the ship and exploded in the corner of the forward hold killing 285 prisoners. The surviving POWs remained in the hold for three days with the dead. The stench from the dead filled the air. On January 11th a work detail was formed and about half the dead were removed from the hold. The dead were unloaded from the ship, and a POW detail of twenty men took the corpses to a large furnace where they were cremated. These men reported that 150 POWs had been cremated. Their ashes were buried in a large urn. Later in the day, the survivors of the forward hold were moved into another hold.
The surviving POWs were moved to a third ship, the Brazil Maru on Saturday, January 13th. The ship sailed at dawn on the 14th as part of a convoy. Sometime afternoon, the POWs received their first meal of a quarter cup of red rice for each POW. The POWs found the first night on the ship was extremely cold. What made it worse was that most of the POWs had dysentery. During the trip, the POWs received two meals a day which consisted of each man receiving a third of a cup of rice and eight teaspoons of tea.
During this part of the trip, as many as 30 POWs died each day. The ship also towed one or two other ships which had been damaged. Of the original 1619 men that boarded the Oryoku Maru, only 459 of the POWs had survived the trip to Japan.
Once on shore, the POWs were put into a movie theater. They remained there until the were divided into detachments and marched to the train station where they boarded a train that took them to the various camps along it. In Beecher's case he was taken to Fukuoka #3. He remained in the camp until the Japanese decided it was time for those that were suppose to go Manchuria to be sent there. He was boarded onto another ship, the Otaro Maru.
According to records, after arriving in Korea and sent to Jinsen POW Camp. Most of the POWs in the camp were officers. He remained there until the end of the war.
After the war, Beecher left Korea on the U.S.S. Noble on September 16, 1945, and returned him to the United States. After liberation, Beecher was promoted to Colonel and Brigadier General effective May, 1942.
He retired from the military and moved to Roseburg, Oregon, where he became involved in politics and charitable fundraising. On February 23, 1984, Curtis Beecher passed away in Roseburg, Oregon. he was buried at Roseburg National Cemetery in Roseburg. Oregon.
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