With the fall of the Philippines in April 1942, thousands of American military personnel were captured by the Japanese. Most were brutally tortured and murdered. At a POW camp on the island of Talawan, located on the Western perimeter of the Sulu Sea, more than 100 American prisoners were ordered into their air raid shelters. Suddenly, 50 to 60 Jap soldiers doused the wooden shelters with buckets of gasoline and set them afire. As men, engulfed in flames, broke out of their fiery deathtraps, the Jap guards machine gunned, bayoneted, and clubbed them to death. The Japs had a celebration following the massacre. Several Americans managed to escape to tell the horrifying story.
After the war, only 16 Japanese officers and soldiers stood trial for the massacre. Six of the defendants were acquitted of the charges against them and the other 10 were given sentences of from two to five years.
The torture and murder of captured military personnel was not only an accepted practice of the Japanese, but one in which they seemed to take great delight. Decapitated American prisoners, with the rest of their bodies hacked to pieces in bayonet practice were not uncommon discoveries.
Throughout the war, 33,021 American military personnel were captured by the Japanese. Of this number, more than 40% died while prisoners. In comparison, of the 96,614 American military personnel held prisoners by the Germans during WWII, only 1,121 or less than 1%, died in captivity.
(Reprinted from "War Stories" in the Santee Reunion newspaper)