Fallen from the skies: forgotten souls of WWII in Taitung

2017/09/03 21:19:55 fontsize-small fontsize-default fontsize-big
U.S. Air Force archived photograph/Taken from Wikimedia Commons

U.S. Air Force archived photograph/Taken from Wikimedia Commons

By Ko Lin, CNA staff writer

Somewhere, nestled in the dense forests of Taiwan's central mountain range near Taitung County lies the wreck of a Second World War B-24 bomber, a site to which Liu Jui-cheng (劉瑞成) and his friends have come to pay tribute to the 25 people who died in the 1945 crash.

"We hope this bit of history will not be forgotten," said Liu, a history buff and a retired Republic of China Air Force major-general.

According to Liu, historical records show that just days after the end of WWII, on Sept. 10, 1945, one of two American B-24 Liberator bombers carrying 20 freed allied prisoners of war (POWs) on route to Manila from Okinawa ran into the tail of a typhoon and crashed into the mountains of southeastern Taiwan.

Aboard the plane were five crew members, and 11 American, four Dutch and five Australian POWs. The Liberator, with the serial number 44-42052, had belonged to the 494th Bomb Group.

"It's important that we learn about this history and honor the men who died here," he said.

Following a small ceremonial prayer offered by Liu and his friends, the retired general said debris from the plane and other remains are strewn across the side of the mountain.

(Liu Jui-cheng, left)

But besides the shredded steel sheets and rusted ruins from the bomber, Liu also pointed to a number of stone mounds piled up near the crash site, which he said appear to be artificially arranged and could have been a temporary burial spot for the dead men.

Based on historical records, he said, a recovery team was organized shortly afterwards on Sept. 18, made up of local Taiwanese and Japanese soldiers, who had yet to pull out of Taiwan after the end of the war.

However, a second recovery team sent on the mission was caught in a typhoon on Sept. 30, and 26 members of that team died, he said, noting that a third team was again deployed in October to bury the bodies near the crash site.

Between 1947 and 1948, the bodies were then recovered for reburial in Hong Kong, and a number of them were also taken to the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in the United States, he added.

"Besides the POWs, there is also little mention of the 26 rescuers who died here in the mountains of Taitung," Liu said.

"I believe we all owe it to them to honor their memories."

He further called on the government to erect a monument or pagoda near the crash site to honor the fallen -- both the rescuers and the POWs -- so that this bit of history will not be forgotten.

"It's the least we can do," he said.


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