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The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992

Lone Star POWs: Texas National Guardsmen and
the Building of the Burma-Thailand Railroad,
1942-1944
RONALD E. MARCELLO*
ON SEPTEMBER 15 AND 16, 1944, AN AMERICAN SUBMARINE WOLFPACK
attacked a Japanese convoy in the South China Sea and sank two
freighters laden with 2,000 British and Australian prisoners of war
bound for Japan. Four days after these vessels went down, the sub-
marines rescued some 250 survivors who subsequently recounted the in-
humane conditions they experienced while building a railroad through
Burma and Thailand to connect Rangoon and Bangkok. Allied author-
ities had known that a railroad was being constructed through this area
by POW laborers and assumed the prisoners were remnants of British
and Commonwealth troops captured in Singapore. What they now
learned was that approximately 600 Americans were also involved.
These men came from two separate units. One was an army outfit, the
Second Battalion, 131st Field Artillery, which had surrendered on Java
in early March 1942. The other consisted of navy and marine person-
nel who had survived the sinking of the cruiser USS Houston in the
Sunda Strait in February of the same year. Almost all the artillerymen
came from West Texas, and some of the Houston sailors and marines
also hailed from the Lone Star State.'
The Texan POWs have received little attention probably because
their numbers were so small in comparison with the thousands of other
allied POWs who worked on the railroad. In describing the defense of
*Ronald E Marcello is an associate professor of history and director of the Oral History
Program at the University of North Texas in Denton He is the coauthor of Remembering Pearl
Harbor Eyewztness Accounts by U S Military Men and Women (1991) He is currently at work on a
full-length history of the Lost Battalion
'See Joan and Clay Blair, Jr., Return from the Rzver Kwai (New York: Simon and Schuster,
1979); Edward F. L. Russell, The Knights of Bushido (New York: E. P Dutton and Co., 1958),
64-65. A total of 903 Americans were captured (531 army and 372 navy and marine person-
nel). Of these, 608 helped construct the Burma-Thailand Railroad, 235 went to Japan to work
in coal mines, shipyards, steel mills, and so on; and the rest remained in the Netherlands East
Indies. For a statistical record of these POWs, see Roster, Lost Battalion Assoczation, 1985 (listing
distributed occasionally by the Lost Battalion Association).

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117153/. Accessed May 3, 2016.

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