Lined-up Coffins - Palawan Massacre

Lined-up Coffins - Palawan Massacre American History Famous Historical Events Social Studies World History World War II Visual Arts

When U.S. forces arrived at Palawan Island, in early March of 1945, they discovered evidence of atrocities (which had earlier been disclosed by an escaping prisoner of war). 

Part of the story is told in the “Report on the Destruction of Manila and Japanese Atrocities:  February 1945.”   Hereafter is an excerpt:

...150 American soldiers, sailors, and marines slept in the American prisoner of war stockade in Puerto Princesa.  All had surrendered on Bataan in April, 1942.  The prisoners hand-labored in building Japanese airstrips until 14 Dec 1944 when, without warning or explanation, the Japanese herded them into air raid shelters and burned them alive, except for the seven or possibly ten who got away. (See the image description, at page 131 of the Report.)

When the Allies recaptured Palawan Island, they found charred bodies of executed prisoners of war. They placed those remains, which were very difficult to identify, in coffins covered with American flags.

The image, at the top of this page, depicts that scene.

In 1952, many of the Palawan-massacre victims were buried in a common grave at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery near St. Louis, Missouri.

We learn more about that event from the "National Register of Historic Places Registration Form," for the Jefferson Barracks Cemetery, at pages 25 and 26:

The largest World War II group burial in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery was made on February 14, 1952, when the remains of 123 victims of a December 14, 1944 Japanese attack on Palawan Island were reverently interred in a mass gravesite in Section 85.

The servicemen were killed in a Japanese prison camp. The men were from 42 states and the Philippines. Three were from the St. Louis area.

They had been prisoners in Camp Princesa on Palawan Island in the Philippines. After a number of air raid alarms, Japanese guards forced them into tunnel shelters and trenches they had been forced to dig and set buckets of gasoline afire.

One small shelter was at the edge of a cliff. After POWs had earlier made an opening to the cliff by removing a small piece of coral. Eleven got through and escaped by swimming across Subic Bay, although several were wounded or otherwise disabled.

The escapees were picked up by friendly Filipino guerillas, who took them to U.S. Rangers. Later, the Rangers caught the prison camp commander and 39 of the guards who took part in the killings. All were tried, convicted and hanged.

The [American] bodies were buried in 109 caskets in a mass grave.

A plaque, in their memory, which is on display in the memorial chapel, was a gift of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, a national organization of former prisoners of the Japanese. The plaque reads as follows:

In Memory of
139 Americans
Who Were Massacred While They Were Prisoners
Of War By The Japanese On Palawan Island In
The Philippines In December 1944
123 Of These Victims Are Interred In Section 85,
The Largest Group Burial In Jefferson Barracks
National Cemetery

These days, around dusk, deer are often seen as they feed on the grass, between the headstones, at Jefferson Barracks.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Jan 20, 2020

Media Credits

Image of Palawan-victim coffins online, courtesy U.S. Naval Institute.org



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"Lined-up Coffins - Palawan Massacre" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Jan 20, 2020.
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