FINDING DAD

It was a tough decision but in the end it would help their situation considerably. Bernice Hansen would take care of the three kids, Harriet, Mary Anne and John, while her forty year old husband, Peter Hansen, went to work overseas to make good money. When he got back they would have a nice bank account with much more money in it than if he had stayed in the States and worked. Peter Hansen went tro work for the Morrison - Knudsen Company.

For information on the Morrison - Knudsen Company follow this link >

His contract with the Morris – Knudson Company was in days, two hundred and ninety two of them and the money had built up in savings, less what Bernice had been using to maintain things at home. The construction project he was assigned to had been underway since January and he joined it a little later in late March when it had been up-scaled from an eight-hour, five day per week project to one that was ongoing around the clock, seven days a week. He originally signed on as a carpenter.When they learned he knew how to operate heavy machinery, that was what they had him doing. He was making more money that he had imagined. The days, weeks and months passed quickly. Soon he was scheduled to fly home.

Peter Wales Hansen

Bernice Hansen couldn’t wait. In just under three weeks her husband would be home and their children would again see their Daddy. The family could get on with their lives together. Peter Hansen was counting down the days in the upper right hand corner of his letters. His last letter noted 273 days down just 19 to go before his December 23rd ticket home. The family would be able to spend Christmas together.

But that family Christmas never happened …….you see, Peter was a civilian contractor working for the United States Navy on Wake Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and the year was

1941

......John..... Harriet......Mary Anne and Bernice Hansen

However difficult Bernice Hansen thought she had it, raising three kids alone for the past nine months was a walk in the park compared to what she was about to face.

 

For a history of Wake Island follow this link >

Wake Island is way out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It’s strategic importance became obvious after Pan American Airways began flying its famed Clipper service from San Francisco to the Philippines and China in November, 1936. Using stops in the Hawaiian Islands, Midway Island, Wake Island and Guam Island spread over six days the Pan American Clippers completed their journey after 60 flying hours. That was a marked improvement over the three week steamship trip that was standard until the Pan American Clippers had brought the Orient closer.

 

 

 

 

 

A Pan - Am Clipper arriving in the Orient

The U.S. Navy, which administered the Islands, saw the implications and began the construction project of which Peter Hansen was a part. It was a long budgetary process and then plans had to be drawn and contracts signed. Construction did not start until 1941. The initial plan called for facilities for PBY seaplanes and some submarines. There were also plans for the construction of an airfield. The Navy’s strategy was to use Wake Island to secure Hawaii from intrusions and to protect the line of communications to the Philippines which at that time was under American control, a result of the Spanish American War.

Wake Island as seen from the air. (This photograph was taken after the war)

Three days after Peter Hansen wrote his wife the letter telling her ..it won’t be long now, …good-bye to all, for this time, the construction crews, military and civilian, working on Wake Island facilities were given a rare day off as they had worked hard non-stop over several weeks. The day was a Sunday.

Wake Island is on the west side of the International Date Line and thus it was one day ahead of the United States, that Sunday was December 7, 1941. The next morning it was the same date in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii! The next morning, word quickly spread of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The work crews were awakened with the news and quickly jumped to do what was needed. The battle stations on the island were still under construction as were the airbase facilities. Efforts were made to get them ready for what was surely coming. Civilian contractors with military experience reported to the U.S. Marine Corps commanders to offer assistance, other civilians were organized and redirected to finish defensive positions.

Some of the Americans thought all the running around and preparations were un-necessary, they felt the attack on Pearl Harbor was a one shot incident. A sneak attack is one thing but mounting a full scale war against The United States of America was quite another.

At noon the Japanese came to Wake Island. Twenty seven Japanese bombers shook the island and the Americans into the reality that war had come to their remote and isolated outpost. The Japanese bombers concentrated their efforts on the under-construction air field. Seven of the eight aircraft on the ground were destroyed, most when the main fuel dump exploded and spread 80,000 gallons of gasoline all over the runways. Some aircraft escaped damage since they were in the air at the time of the attack. It was just a matter of time before there was ground follow up.

On December 11th, a Japanese naval task force was observed positioning itself to support a landing force invasion.USMC shore batteries with accurate fire sank one destroyer, damaged two cruisers, two destroyers and a transport ship. The three or four American aircraft that were in the air at the time of the Japanese bomber attack were able to sink another destroyer.The Japanese pulled back to soften up the island. For eleven days Wake Island was bombarded, destroying all above ground facilities. The remaining military aircraft that had been spared during the bomb attack were spared no longer – all were destroyed.

Wake Island defensive positions from a map supplied the Temple University, History Department by Hyperwar, Patrick Clancey and the United States Marine Corps to accompany a published report of the reminisces of Lt. Shigeyoshi Ozeki, a Japanese leader of the Japanese Naval Landing Force.

A U.S. Navy Task Force was enroute to Wake Island with re-enforcements. It was within 425 miles of the island when word came on December 23rd, the day Peter Hansen was to have left Wake Island, the Japanese had mounted a full scale invasion and had overrun and taken control of the island.

Two aircraft carriers, additional destroyers and cruisers a seaplane tender and other, smaller ships were in the Japanese Naval Task Force. One hundred and nine Americans died defending Wake Island, 47 of them civilian workers. Japanese losses were estimated at 700 men.

There were about 1,500 American men on Wake Island during the battle. Only 400 0f them were military. The civilian work force had done well in helping the mostly U.S. Marines hold off the invading force for sixteen days since Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Now they were all prisoners of war (POWs).

The Japanese and American cultures had different views about being a POW. Most of the Americans thought it was just bad luck that they had been captured, reinforcements would soon be along to right the problem. They had done a good job under the circumstances and were following orders when they surrendered. They felt no dishonor in being prisoners. Their attitude puzzled the Japanese as the Americans were actually able to make jokes about their situation and that of the Japanese. The Americans told the Japanese, who understood English, that they had better not stick around, that some American hospitality was on its way.

When the Japanese informed the Americans that Pearl Harbor and the American Navy docked there was in shambles and that Kwajalein, Guam and now Wake were occupied by the Japanese, the smiles gave way to looks of determination.

The Japanese on the other hand had been raised and trained that it was shameful to be made a prisoner. If you were taken a prisoner it suggested you had not done all you could in defending your post including giving one’s life. Thus they could not understand the behavior of the captured Americans who were often smiling and telling jokes. This made the Japanese think even less of the Americans in their charge, had they no shame?

The next month, January, 1942, all the military prisoners and about 750 of the civilian were transported by ship to POW camps in China (occupied territory of the Japanese) and Japan. The civilian prisoners remaining on Wake Island were used to rebuild fortifications until September when all but 98 of them were taken to POW camps in China. The 98 were heavy equipment operators who were used to finish defense preparations. They were all executed by the Japanese in October, 1943.

Back in the States, Bernice Hansen of course knew of the events in the Pacific and she was desperate to know what had happened to her husband. A few days after Christmas she got that last letter that her husband, Peter, had written. It was dated December 4th and had the days Peter Hansen had remaining in the upper right of the page. He wrote, I LOVE ALL OF YOU MORE THAN YOU COULD POSSIBLY IMAGINE (his capitization). A line of Xs and Os were at the bottom of the letter. How Bernice Hansen must have felt, getting the letter, noting its date and contents while knowing Wake Island had fallen to the Japanese! It must have been a roller coaster of emotions. How to tell the children what had happened to their father?

It wasn’t until three years later in January, 1944 that Bernice Hansen learned her husband had been captured and imprisoned at a POW camp in Fukuoka, Japan. She wrote him a brief post card thinking he might never see it. In April, 1944 Bernice got a post card back from Peter saying: Happy to have an opportunity to let you know I’m alive…..The post card showed her he was in Fukuoka Camp #1. She received another post card dated October, 1944 that had the closing statement Our happiness will be heavenly. Bernice received that letter on May 29th, 1945. Five months later she was notified by the U.S. Navy that her husband had died at the POW camp and that his body was cremated and placed in a memorial.

Bernice Hansen (photograph taken in 1950) >

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph of front and back of first post card from Peter Wales Hansen

FAST FORWARD FIFTY FIVE YEARS TO JULY,

2000

A Mrs. Mary Anne Stickney calls the Japanese Consulate in Houston, Texas and asks for their assistance. She explains that her mother, Bernice Hansen, is in her nineties and is dying. Before she goes, Mrs. Hansen wants to visit the gravesite of her husband, Peter Wales Hansen, who died at a POW camp in Fukuoka, Japan. Could the consulate assist in determining the location of the memorial mentioned in the Department of Navy notification of death.

 

 

The request is a first of a kind for the current staff at the consulate. Mrs. Chisato Tasai, to whom the call is routed, who is from Fukuoka, would normally have redirected Mrs. Stickney’s call to U. S. government sources as all immediate post war activities and even later were controlled by the occupying United States Army under General Douglas McArthur. Instead she decides to ask Major Moran the consulate security officer if he will try to help the woman. Major Gerard P. Moran works for BP Security & Investigations.

A private security company, BP Security & Investigations provides security at a number of other places in the Houston area. You will find BP Security & Investigation officers at City Hall, Jones Hall, home to Houston's symphony; the Wortham Center, home to Houston's grand opera, the Houston Center for the Arts, Bayou Place, an entertainment center; the George R. Brown Convention Center, some exclusive residential areas and Prairie View A&M University to name a few locations.They have had a contract with the Japanese Consulate for more than a year.

Major Moran had lived in Fukuoka, had served as an officer in the U. S. Army and had been a long time employee of a defense contractor to the U.S. Navy.To provide the best answer possible will probably require the assistance of someone familiar with the bureaucracy of the United States Department of Defense, the U.S. Army and Fukuoka. Major Moran could do this. He had also already demonstrated to the Japanese that he was a tenacious researcher and could probably field this question from the American caller.

Major Moran took all the information and promised Mr. Stickney he would do what he could to get her an answer.He cautioned her to not get her or her mother’s hopes up as there were many factors that might make locating the memorial an impossible task.

Immediately after the war, both sides worked hard to remove visible signs of the war from the sight of the population to effect a spirit of cooperation in the rebuilding of Japan.This and the fact that Mr. Hansen was a civilian and therefore probably not as well documented in official records as military prisoners may prove to be a problem.

Major Moran took to the internet to determine all he could about the POW camp in Fukuoka and to look for the U.S. government agencies that might be able to help him track information about civilian prisoners of WWII.The consulate assigned Mr. Ogawa to contact the Japan side of the equation to see if there would be anything in Japanese government archives about the location of the cemetery or a memorial for American prisoners of war in the Fukuoka POW camp.

Major Gerard P. Moran and his trusty laptop at the Japanese Consulate, Houston in Summer 0f 2000

Almost immediately, Major Moran was able to determine the task was going to be even more difficult than he had imagined. Fukuoka had multiple POW camps. Mrs. Hansen had been able to determine from her father’s communications from Japan that he was held in Fukuoka POW Camp #1. Unfortunately,Major Moran learned that that camp had been moved three times in a ten month period from March of 1944 to January of 1945. He learned that last piece of information from Vincent Cooper, Head Teacher of an English language school in Kagoshima, Japan.This was confirmed with information from Marsha Coke of POW MedSearch. She offered descriptions of the POW camps in Japan for sale but said there were no rosters of POWs in the camps.

Arial photograph of one of the camps in Fukuoka

Mr. Cooper had logged a message on the internet stating who he was and that he was researching the experiences of POWs in wartime Japan and that he would focus on the camps in Fukuoka. Mr. Cooper had lived in Fukuoka before his move to Kagoshima. Major Moran asked for his help and asked for anything Mr. Cooper may already have found in his research that might help find the memorial.

Mr. Cooper’s response to Major Moran’s request was positive, but offered some details the family might never want to know. Besides informing Major Moran about the camp being moved three times, Mr. Cooper mentioned conditions appeared to have been brutal. There were unpunished public stoning of the prisoners and ghastly medical experiments carried out on some of them. Vincent Cooper concluded his message with the following:

I will be moving to this city (Fukuoka) at the beginning of next year and will of course try to locate the former camps. I do not currently know therefore if there is any memorial to the former POWs, though information I have received in regard to other camps both in and out of Japan would suggest that isn’t likely.

Former camps have been difficult to locate even by former occupants. The problem is compounded on the Japanese mainland by widespread lack of recognition of the war in most forms except the dropping of the atomic bombs.

The older generation simply don’t pass information on and the younger generation are still taught history somewhat selectively. Please feel free to keep in touch and I will let you know what I find in and around Fukuoka city.

In other searches on the internet, Major Moran came across different organizations with different pieces of the puzzle. He came across the American Consulate in Fukuoka web page during his research and requested their assistance in locating the memorial. Over the next several weeks he continued to garner information on Japan’s treatment of American POWs, the siege of Wake Island, the construction projects on the island and information on Fukuoka POW camps.

He wasn’t sure he wanted to share what he found with the Hansen family. American POWs in Germany suffered a death rate of approximately 4 percent, Americans POWs in the care of the Japanese had an astonishing 34 percent death rate! The medical experiments were done in Fukuoka and included dissecting U. S. prisoners while they were alive and without anesthetic.

U. S. government agencies which concerned POW affairs effectively told Major Moran that because of budgetary restrictions they were focusing their efforts on the Viet Nam years and to a slight degree on Korea that WWII issues were considered finished.

The U.S. and allied governments have not been particularly helpful to POW survivors or their families either in seeking compensation for the years lost. During the war, the Japanese held more than 140,000 Allied prisoners. Many of these Allied prisoners were forced to work long and hard under dangerous, unsafe conditions for Japanese companies. There has been little support over the years for the survivors in winning compensation from those companies from their governments.

The United States government right up to the Clinton Administration believe there are no reparations due from Japan over treatment of Americans they imprisoned during the war. They cite the San Francisco Treaty of 1951 which waived all reparations. In reality the government has not supported the claims of its people because, as was stated earlier, we were attempting to rebuild Japan in a sprit of cooperation. During the Cold War the U. S. government needed Japan in the fight against the spread of Communism most notably during the Korean War and then there were the ongoing negotiations for the keeping of U.S. bases in Japan

The POW survivors and their families are now turning to the court system for relief. In 1999 a class action suit was brought against the Japanese companies Mitsui, Mitsubishi and the Nippon Steel Company.In February, 2000 it was announced that Australian survivors of Japan’s POW camps were suing Japanese mining, construction and manufacturing companies and in March, 2000 survivors of the infamous Bataan Death March filed a joint suit against five Japanese companies for slave labor.

A breakthrough in what was seen as the Japanese government's intransigent behavior brought about by these lawsuits was seen by Major Moran when he noted an article reprinted from a May, 2000 Japanese newspaper (Asahi) stating that Prime Minister Obuchi had apologized to the Netherlands for the Government’s “heartfelt remorse for the pain and hardship caused by Japan to many war victims, including Dutch people.” Mr. Obuchi’s remarks were an out growth of a lawsuit brought by Dutch survivors against Japan. The resulting thaw resulted in a monument being built in Fukuoka honoring the lives of the 869 Dutch POWs who died in Japanese hands.

Here was hope, maybe the line was now open to get more cooperation from the Japanese or American governments on where the Fukuoka POW Camp #1 memorial was located.

Almost a month passed before Mrs. Stickney called to ask Major Moran if he were able to find anything. Not wanting to share the gory details of what he had found and not wanting to admit he had nothing yet from either government side, the Major told Mrs, Stickney that these things take time to wind through the bureaurocracy of two governments. He told her he did have some information but that it wasn’t much and that he preferred to follow out some leads he had and to wait until he could give her what he had plus whatever Japan might deliver to Mr. Ogawa. “Please be patient” he said, these things take time. Mr. Ogawa confirmed that there was nothing from the Japan side yet.

An American professor of English at a Japanese university in Kyoto, Dr. Jason Good, came through the Japanese Consulate in Houston for a visa to return to Japan for the next term.While he was in the consulate he and Major Moran got to talking. Major Moran told him of the Hansen’s family plight and the difficulty he was having of getting pertinent information from Japan. It seems Dr. Good used to work at the American Consulate in Fukuoka and he felt he still had some good contacts there. He volunteered to contact the consulate and ask if they received Major Moran’s request for assistance when he went back to Japan in about a week.

Mrs. Stickney called the consulate again in September. Major Moran told her of Professor Good's willingness to help and of Vincent Cooper’s e-mail. He offered to share with her what else he had but that maybe she would rather wait on the response from Japan and get it all at once. She said no, she would like what he had now and would take what came later…later.

That night Major Moran did one more search over the internet. In one of his searches and knowing that Dutch and British POWs were at Fukuoka Camp #1, he decided to see what those queries would bring up. One of the things he found was that there was in the United Kingdom section of the Commonwealth war cemetery constructed in 1945 near Yokohama by the Australian War Graves Group an urn that was “recovered from two of the camps in the prisoner of war center at Fukuoka”. It contained the ashes of 200 British POWs, 50 Americans and 20 Netherlanders.The names of those whose ashes were known to be contained in the urn are inscribed on the wall in a shrine in the British section. Another urn containing mostly American ashes recovered from Fukuoka was reported to have been sent to the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.

The next day Major Moran duplicated all the information he had, composed a cover letter to Mrs. Stickney and sent it all to her. She was thrilled when she got the package. She read for the first time of the valiant resistance of the civilian contractors at Wake Island. She saw some of the details of where the Fukuoka Camp #1 was located at different times and read where people in Japan ( Vincent Cooper and Jason Good) were going to help find her father’s final resting place.

Mrs. Stickney took it from there and began following up on some of the leads in the material Major Moran had provided. She bought the description of Fukuoka Camp #1 from Mrs. Coke. Mrs. Coke told her of an organization, The Association of the Workers of Wake, Guam and Caviti and gave her the name of the President of the organization. She sent off letters and e- mail to him and others.

Mrs. Stickney wrote a letter of thanks to Major Moran for his efforts and of the Japanese Consulate and sent along, as he had requested, copies of the letters and post cards sent from Japan by her Dad as well as the notification from the Navy of his death, a copy of the Description of Fukuoka Camp #1 she had gotten via e-mail from Mrs. Coke and a copy of a review of a book she had found on the internet by Gregory Urwin, Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island. She also sent along information about The Association of the Workers of Wake, Guam and Caviti as well as telling him about a “blue book” issued by Morrison-Knudson (the construction company doing the project on Wake Island and the other islands) with a listing of most of the people who worked on the projects and a picture of each.

A week and a half later on October 5th, Mrs. Stickney called Major Moran with the most amazing news.The letter she had shotgunned out to a number of people asking for help in locating her father’s grave had gotten a more than hoped for response. A Mr. Randall Watkins with the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery e-mailed her to tell her that her father’s ashes were among those received at the cemetery at the end of WWII. His e-mail read in part – “our records reflect that your father, Peter W. Hansen, is interred in Section 82, Grave 1B-1D…attached you will find two pictures of his headstone….”How Mary Anne must have felt the moment she read that – happiness, sadness, relief and excitement knowing what she had to tell her mother. Mary Anne had found her Dad and her mother’s husband and he wasn’t in a foreign country after all. He was right here in the United States. Mr. Watkins explained in his e-mail that Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis was selected as it was in the central United States and because the remains in the urn could not be identified and returned to individual families.

The American Consulate in Fukuoka responded to Jason Good’s inquiries stating there was no record of the e-mail from Major Moran but that they would be glad to be of help.They gave the request for information about the memorial to Wes Injerd an area local who had done some work previously for the consulate with regard to American POWs in Fukuoka.

Wes Injerd and his family in May of 1999: Wes, his lovely wife Tomiki, Jeremy, Ken and in front Sarah and Luke beside his mother.

 

Mr. Injerd provided some insight at what the POWs were forced to do in the POWs camps from interviews he had made with survivors and documents from the National Archives of official government interviews done after the return of POWs to the United States. There is a link to Wes Injerd's website about the Fukuoka POW camps on the page before this (Miscellany) and his site has several links to other POW sites. Mr. Injerd sent Major Moran a U.S. Army document that he had obtained from the National Archives listing the cause of death of American POWS in Fukuoka. The original document must have been from Japanese sources as the dates were in the Japanese calendar. Peter Hansen was listed as having died of colitus on March 21, 1945.That was the same date the U.S. Navy provided so many years earlier. Major Moran forwarded the document on to Mrs. Stickney.

After fifty-five years of not knowing for sure, Mary Anne and her family finally knew where her Dad was and even what caused his death.The family made plans right away to visit the grave in St. Louis.The family went to St. Louis and visited the grave in early November, 2000.

Below is a picture taken during the visit of Mary Anne pointing to her father's name on the memorial monument to the Fukuoka POWs. Further below is a picture of the portion of the monument with his name (on some monitor screens you will need to scroll right).

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After she returned to Houston, Major Moran asked Mrs. Stickney in an e-mail how she felt when she was facing the marker. Her response came in an answering e-mail where she wrote:

I sat on the ground and just weeped over my daddy's grave. Those years
forever gone. How much I missed him. My life would have be so different
had he returned. How different? we'll never know but I can't help but
feel it would have been more complete. It's strange how the pain of grief
can hurt so deeply after so many years. It's as if the grief were
fresh....as if he died just yesterday. That 10 year old didn't cry so it's
time now to cry those tears I didn't shed 55 years ago.

Mrs. Stickney wrote an e-mail to Major Moran and Mr. Injerd in which she wrote:

Tears are healing and I shed plenty at the gravesite last week. I had no idea how deeply this yearning to find my father has been buried. I thank my heavenly father for you both.

She also wrote that she wanted to thank and recognize the part played by the Australian War Graves Group in finding her father's remains. Each Veteran's Day, November 11, there is a ceremony at the gravesite for "The soldiers who died while in captivity during the period July 1944 through April 1945 in a Japanese Prison Camp, or camps , in the Fukuoka Region of the Island of Kyushu." It is conducted by the nations in honor of the 100 men interned in the mass grave.

Wreaths are laid by representatives of the USA, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and "any other persons". There is an ode recited as a part of the ceremonies:

They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn

At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We shall remember them


Lest we forget

Because there may be others out there who have suffered similarly, Mary Anne Hansen Stickney wanted her story to be told and the names of the others known to be in that urn to be published in the hopes that someone reading this story will find the name of a lost Dad, husband, uncle, brother or friend that was so unexpectedly, so unfairly taken from their lives so long ago. Here then are the names of the others who died at Fukuoka Camp#1 and possibly other Fukuoka POW sites were cremated and their remains placed in an urn that was sent to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.

Follow this link to the List Of Fukuoka POWs Cremated Remains >

Map of POW Camp #18 in Fukuoka >

The story as told by Mary Anne Stickney after her trips to Japan, Wake and Jefferson Barracks,

The Mary-Anne Stickney Story >

Follow-Up Stories

 

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