Summary: Have you ever asked yourself, "Why did God permit me to wake up this morning? Why is my heart still beating? Why am I here? What is the purpose of my existence?" (PowerPoint available- #258)
MELVIN M. NEWLAND
RIDGE CHAPEL, KANSAS, OK
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(Slide #1 – We Remember)
As most of you here this morning probably know, my family – my parents, a younger sister, & two younger brothers – were prisoners of the Japanese during World War 2. When they set sail for the Philippines in January of 1941 I was left behind for further schooling – with plans for me to join them later.
But then came Pearl Harbor, the start of World War 2, & the Japanese invasion of the Philippines – & for most of the war years there was no news concerning what had happened to them. I didn’t know whether they were alive or dead.
I learned later that when the Japanese invaded their island of Cebu that they decided not to surrender, but to flee into the interior, to live & minister in the high jungles among the primitive mountain peoples.
After all, they had lived in the bitterly cold mountains of Western China & Tibet, so they figured that they would have no trouble surviving in the tropical mountains of the Philippines.
For 6 months they lived up in the mountains, & were even able to start 4 churches among the mountain peoples. Finally, the Japanese Army learned that they were still somewhere on the island & began extensive searches for them – but with no success for the mountain people hid them & protected them.
Then the Japanese printed leaflets & began dropping them by airplane all over the island setting a deadline for their surrender, & warning them that after that deadline no mercy would be shown & that they would be shot on sight.
So they finally surrendered, & did so in such a way that the Japanese would have no way of knowing where they had been, or what villages had sheltered them.
Thus began nearly 3 years of captivity. At first, as civilians, they were not too badly treated by Oriental standards. But then, when the tide of war turned against the Japanese, all foreign prisoners throughout the islands were moved to Manila.
And there the Japanese Army began taking out its anger on them, deliberately starving them – men, women & children – even while the prison storehouses were full of food.
For the last 10 months of their imprisonment they received only one watery cup of rice per person per day, plus salt & any weeds, grass, tree leaves or bugs that they could find to eat.
There were nearly 4,000 civilian prisoners in Santo Tomas, the name of their internment camp there in Manila. And during the last few weeks of their imprisonment an average of 7 men a day died of starvation.
My father, who normally weighed over 175 lbs., weighed only 95 lbs. when they were rescued.
Yes, they were rescued. On February 3rd, 1945, the American Army was still 60 miles away from Manila when they learned that the Commandants of the Prisons in Manila had received orders that on the next morning all male prisoners in both the civilian & military prisons were to be executed & that the women & children were to be used as human shields against the American forces.
That’s when 900 men of the 1st Cavalry Division were given orders to get into their tanks & trucks &, in the darkness of night, to barrel their way as fast as they could right down the highway through 60 miles of enemy territory, making as much noise as they could to make the Japanese think that the entire Army was behind them.
That night these 900 brave men, on what might have very well been considered a “suicide mission,” crashed though the enemy lines & charged into a city containing nearly 50,000 Japanese soldiers.
They broke into the military & civilian prisons & held them secure against repeated counterattacks for almost 3 weeks until the rest of the American forces fought their way into Manila to relieve them.
It was because of them that my family & many others were saved, & I will never forget their bravery & the sacrifice that they made.
(Slide #2 – Arlington National Cemetery)
So please understand me when I say that I have a little difficulty during this time of the year as our nation pauses to remember the price that has been paid for our freedoms, & not our freedoms only, but the freedom that many others now enjoy.