| Bryan A. Bruner
February 27, 2003
Atrocities Towards Prisoners Of War
The Allied established the Geneva Convention to protect wounded soldiers in 1864. They amended it four times with the fourth time following some of most atrocious acts against prisoners of war during World War II. I will provide evidence of what I believe led to the modifications of the Geneva Convention in 1949 to protect POWs. I will present the reasons behind the amendment and accounts of the 6th Bomb Squadron 29th Bomb Group 314th Wing during World War II. Finally, I will discuss the modifications that resulted from these acts of violence.
Several nations failed to abide by the Geneva Convention during World War II. As a result of this, the convention met for the fourth time to redefine and establish the rules to protect future veterans. (Simpkin) There were 130,000 POWs captured during World War II. Japan killed the most American POWs with a staggering rate at forty percent of 27,465. (Reynolds 10) It was these outrageous events of World War II that led to the Geneva Convention of 1949, which righted the wrongs of the previous conventions. (Geneva Conventions 864) So how bad were POWs treated? I am going to tell the accounts of one of the most severe acts against mankind that occurred during World War II.
An interview by an Army special agent with pilot Marvin S. Watkins revealed the following events that occurred following a bombing run in Japan.
On May 5, 1945, the 6th Bomb Squadron 29th Bomb Group 314th Wing had just completed a bombing run on Tachairai air depot and was returning to our base in Guam. The following crew members were onboard: William R. Fredericks, Co-Pilot; Howard T. Shingledecker, Bombardier; Charles Kearns, Navigator; Dale Plambeck, Radar Navigator; Teddy Poncezki, Engineer; John Colehower, Gunner; Cpl. Johnson, Gunner; Cpl. Oeinck, Gunner; Cpl. Czarnecki, Gunner; Robert Williams, Radio Operator; and myself as pilot.
At 0800, we were ten to twenty miles away from the target when a twin-engine enemy fighter attacked us over the island of Kyushu. One of our engines caught fire, which required the crew to abandon. The engineer and I remained onboard and we continued our flight for another five miles until we lost a wing. We then bailed out and parachuted safely before the plane crashed near the town of Taketa. I evaded capture for eight hours. I was blindfolded, handcuffed, and taken by train to a camp. I know that Lt. Plambeck, Cpl. Colehower, Sgt. Poncezki and Lt. Fredericks were confined at this camp.
They placed me in a cell with Sgt. Poncezki and asked me to care for him because he had a stab wound. I remained in the cell until 8 May 1945 at which time I was transferred to Kempi Headquarters in Toyko.
A Japanese civilian known as Whiskers interrogated me for two hours. I was severely beaten in the head and hips with a short stick. I observed two prisoners beaten outside of our cell for talking by Japanese guards. I also know that two prisoners suffered from severe burns and they died because they for lack of medical treatment. Two others, one with a broken ankle and the other with a broken arm did not receive any medical attention.
I remained at that location until 15 August 1945 when I moved to another camp on an island outside of Tokyo. On 29 August 1945, the Navy released me from the camp. I did not have information about my crew from the time that I left their camp. (Injerd)
The events that the pilot experienced are in themselves inhumane. All of the injuries he observed did not receive medical attention nor were supplies provided for the soldiers to treat themselves.
An interview of Japanese Dr. Toshio Tono revealed the fate of the remaining crewmembers of the B29 bomber.
Dr. Tono explained that he could never again wear a white smock because of the gruesome acts that he witnessed. The prisoners traveled from their camp to Fukuoka, Japan to the Kyushu Imperial University medical department. They never struggled because they thought we were going to treat their injuries. They never dreamed that they would be vivisected.
The eight American aviator prisoners were torn apart organ by organ while they were still alive. These atrocities are largely forgotten in Japan and are virtually unknown in the United States. Most of the physicians and assistants did their best to hide the evidence of what they had done.
On 17 May 1945, doctors removed a lung from two POWs. While the first victim was still alive, Ishiyama removed the ligatures on the pulmonary arteries, and Komori scooped blood out of the chest cavity with a cup. On 22 May 1945, operations were done on the stomach, heart, and liver of two victims. Ishiyama at one point returned to the first prisoner, opened his chest, incised the heart, sutured it, and then had two associates do the same to demonstrate that a puncture of the heart is not always fatal. On 25 May 1945, the objective of the surgery was to reach the trigeminal nerve from the top of the brain. A hemorrhage killed this POW. The final three POWs had surgery on 3 June 1945. One man had his stomach removed, another had his blood drained and replaced with seawater to see if it could substitute a sterile saline solution, and the third had several operations affecting the gall bladder, liver and heart.
Yakumaru Katsuya, Chief of the National Defense Guard, went with Sato to see an operation on a POW. They arrived in the autopsy room while the surgeons performed a liver operation. After removing the liver, Komori turned his head and said to me, "This is a removal of the liver and we are going to see how long the man would live without his liver." There was an allegation of cannibalism regarding ingestion of human liver by some of the accused. There is testimony in affidavits about a social event at which cooked human liver was supposedly served to the guests.
All eight flyers died before leaving the operating room. After their deaths, they severed their heads and dissected their bodies. Staff members of the anatomy department cremated all bodies, minus the removed portions. False records were prepared to indicate that the flyers were transferred to Hiroshima and had all died when the atomic bomb exploded on 6 August 1945.
The word finally leaked out and everyone who played a part in these experimentations was brought to justice on 11 Mar 1948. However, General Douglas MacArthur reduced these sentences in September 1950 because Japan became our allies. (Injerd)
As I mentioned earlier, the treatment of these American POWs and others like them resulted in the 1949 Geneva Convention. As stated in Article 13, no POW should be subjected to physical mutilation or medical experiments. Furthermore, no country is allowed to retaliate against a POW for their actions during war. (Geneva Convention Relative)
These men paid the price of war with their lives, but they did not die while defending their country. They were brutally murdered. Because of these events, the government sent a Purple Heart to their family. They also received a letter from President Harry S. Truman expressing his sorrow for the loss of their family member while serving their country.
The initial letters sent to family members declared the soldiers missing in action, but they were not officially declared killed in action until 1946. Shortly after the war ended, the mother of one of the soldiers received a news clipping from someone in Colorado mentioning the medical experiments on their family member. After receiving this clipping, the mother wrote many letters to the government with questions about the supposed experiments. The government did not acknowledge these brutalities until 18 November 1947. At this time, they were informed that they likely died as a result of medical experimentation. This was not confirmed until a letter received on 9 January 1950 validated the previous claim of the experimentations.
I have personal ties in this matter, as my grandfather was one of the men who died because of the medical experimentations. Dale E. Plambeck was twenty years old when he was vivisected. It is hard to believe that things of this magnitude occurred. These atrocities drove changes in the Geneva Convention and these changes still stand today. It is the foundation for the treatment of humankind in warfare. No human deserves this type of treatment. God bless those who have served and are currently serving our country.
Simpkin, John. "Geneva Convention." 15 Feb. 2003 <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/EUgeneva.htm>.
"Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War." 15 Feb. 2003
Reynolds, Gary. "U.S. Prisoners of War and Civilian American Citizens Captured and Interned by Japan in World War II: The Issue of Compensation by Japan." Jul 2001. 15 Feb. 2003 <http://www.fas.org/man/crs/RL30606.pdf>.
Injerd, Wes. 15 Feb 2003 <http://home.comcast.net/~winjerd/Page05.htm#Vivisections>.
"Geneva Conventions." World Almanac & Book of Facts 2003: 864-866.
Email from Bryan's mother (Dale Plambeck's daughter):
Bryan is going to make some additions to this paper, about how the families were not told, and if hadn't been for an article at the end of the War in a Denver newspaper and Grandma Plambeck constantly writing Washington and insisting on the truth, we would probably not have received the letter admitting to it in Jan. 1950. The fact that Grandma Plambeck only and not Mom received this letter, leaves me to believe that most families still do not know.
Bryan's American history teacher, like all the ones I have ever talked to, had no knowledge of this at all. His history teacher plans to add this information to his class from now on.
March 3, 2003