The Hellships Memorial Inscription

Dedicated on January 22, 2006
Subic Bay, The Philippines


This Memorial honors the thousands of World War II Allied prisoners of war transported under horrific conditions by their Japanese captors on "Hellships" and scattered all across Asia to work as slave laborers in factories, shipyards, and mines to support the Japanese war effort.

Many thousands of men were carried on these ships and thousands of those perished from murder, starvation, sickness, and neglect - or were killed when friendly forces unknowingly attacked the unmarked ships.

These heroes came from different homelands, different backgrounds, and different circumstances, but they shared a love of freedom and a dedication to protecting their homelands.

Truly, the Hellships remain among the most senseless atrocities of World War II, as so many lives were destroyed for no purpose or reason.

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As early as the spring of 1942, only a few months after the fall of Allied territories in the Far East, the Japanese began moving POWs by sea out of the conquered areas and sending them to Thailand, Taiwan, Burma, China, Korea, and Japan itself, to be used as slave labor.

A thousand or more men were crammed into a cargo hold, often with only enough room to stand for a journey that could last weeks. The heat was stifling, the stench unbearable. Even the most basic sanitary and medical provisions were refused. Hundreds of men, already weak and suffering from disease after years in POW camps, succumbed. Hundreds more went out of their minds

Added to these inhumane conditions was the extreme brutality of the Japanese guards. Those who survived the unimaginable nightmare of the Hellships describe their time aboard as the most horrific chapter of their wartime captivity.

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In the final months of the war in the Pacific, with the Allies closing in, the Japanese began to escalate the movement of POWs on Hellships. While Japanese weapons transports bore Red Cross markings, ships carrying prisoners of war went purposely unmarked and were unknowingly targeted by Allied aircraft and submarines. Dozens of Hellships were attacked, killing hundreds of Allied POWs.

More than half a century later, many of the men lie beneath no headstone or other marker, their bodies impossible to recover from their watery graves. This is the only Memorial they will ever have.

The Japanese committed many atrocities against POWs; but the decision to transport them on unmarked prison ships, making them legitimate Allied targets is beyond comprehension.

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This memorial will offer a place of quiet reflection to future generations who must discover the extraordinary sacrifice of these heroes, not only that they may draw inspiration from their example but also to reaffirm the enduring hope of a world set free from war.

The Hellships Memorial will forever speak of this hope, serving as an anchor holding fast against the slow currents of complacency and forgotten loss.

This memorial was established and is supported by former prisoners of war of the Japanese, family and friends of those who died, and those who survived the endless nightmare of being a POW.

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Captain Duane Heisinger USN (Ret.), whose father died on a Hellship,
 at the dedication
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Prayer by Father James Reuter

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Lord God,
Look down on us
who are praying for the men
who suffered and died here
61 years ago. 

We pray for those who died
and for those who survived—
for those who swam ashore,
and were taken prisoner again,
and went on in other prison ships 

Some died in the holds of these ships
and some went on to die in prison camps
in Japanese territory. 
For them this beach and their agony here,
was like your first fall under your cross
on your way to Calvary.

You went on to die for all your children
whom you loved. 
They went on to die for their country,
for their people for those they loved.

The Americans enlisted in the military
to protect their native land,
the land in which they were born,
to protect their homes, their families,
to protect the poor, the powerless,
all over the world
to save them from tyranny and oppression.

The Japanese who died here
enlisted in the military
because they believed their leaders
who said that they were fighting for their human rights.
Lebensraum, room to live, freedom, liberty, equality,
a place in the sun. 
The Japanese fought and died with the same courage,
and with same idealism, as our own American boys.

It was a tragic moment in the history of our word. 
We are here to remember it, and to pray over it
in the hope that it will not happen again.

Lord God, please touch our minds and hearts. 
Give us the light to see the wisdom
of the words you spoke to Peter
in the garden of Gethsemane on that first Holy Thursday. 

You said to him when he had cut of the ear
of the servant of the high priest
gPut down the sword!  Those who take the sword
will perish by the sword!h

All of us know that this is true 
All of us are waiting for the day
when some Colonel in some unknown country
will panic and press the button on his atom bomb.
Then all the other Colonels in al the other countries
will pres the button on their atom bomb. 

And when the smoke settles,
nine out of ten of us will be dead,
and the tenth, who is alive, will be envying the dead! 

Lord, you created all of us as your children. . . . .
You want us to live as one family 
brothers and sisters reaching out to each other
suffering with each other
rejoicing with each other
helping each other. . . . .
Sharing and caring,
living in friendship
living in love.

Help us to break down the walls between us,
between nations, between rich and poor,
between different religions.

Help us to build bridges
among all the Christian sects,
so that we will be truly one! 
Help us to build bridges
between Christians and Muslims,
between Buddhists, Taoists and Jews,
so that all of us will live together in reconciliation,
unity and peace.

Give us the light to understand
the wisdom of your words,
gLittle children, love one another, as I have loved you!h 

Give us the wisdom to live that way with everyone
so that there will never be another group like us,
standing on a shore, on a beach that once was red with the
blood of those we love, weeping over their death.

Give all of us the grace to live like this always
so that there will never be another Oryoku Maru.

 

Father Reuter was interned in Los Banos civilian camp during WWII and his best friend died on a Hellship.
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