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Mission to Mukden

by Nov 30, 2019

Former POW’s Lt. General Jonathan Wainwright, commander of Allied forces in the Philippines, and Lt. General Arthur Percival, commander of Allied forces in Malaya and Singapore, (standing behind General MacArthur) are honored guests aboard USS Missouri as World War II is formally concluded.

Following Japan’s acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration and the end of hostilities, locating and liberating Prisoners of War became a top priority for the Allied command.

Among those POW’s, were two senior officers, Lt. General Arthur Percival, former commander of Allied forces in Malaya and Singapore, and Lt. General Jonathan Wainwright, former commander of Allied forces in the Philippines.

Both officers had been taken prisoner by Japanese forces following the surrender of their commands in 1942.

At war’s end, after years in captivity, an OSS team was sent to find and liberate them only days after Japan’s initial capitulation.

The following account offers a glimpse into their mission, excerpted from a News Release published by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), as reported by Lts. Roger Starr and Fred Heckel, from Kunming, China.

“The Radio operator of the B-24 handed Corporal Leith, who was squatting beside him, the extra set of phones and motioned him to put them on. Leith did. It was shortly after six o’clock, China time, on the morning of August 16th [1945]. Over the radio, Prime Minister Atlee was making the first announcement of the Japanese acceptance of the Potsdam terms, and the end of hostilities. Leith listened to the whole announcement, and then handed the earphones back.”

“I hope the Japanese at Mukden know it’s over,” he shouted above the roar of the motors.”

The Japanese at Mukden didn’t know it was over, as the OSS team quickly learned, after parachuting into the heavily-guarded Japanese industrial center in broad daylight.

The operation was planned as a postwar rescue mission to speed the return of Allied prisoners of war from the Japanese prison camps in Manchuria. But the OSS team arrived too soon, the Japanese forces thought the war was still on.

As one of the rescued prisoners said later:

“We’d often wondered just how our jail term would end, but the real thing had our imaginations beat hollow. The ending was straight out of Hollywood.”

That ending was planned three days before the end of the war, at a conference in Chungking.

The chosen OSS team was led by Major James Hennessey, a West Pointer, along with Doctor, Major Robert Lamar, and Interpreter, Cpl. Fumio Kido, of Honolulu, and Radio operator, Cpl. Ed Starz, drafted in 1942, and Russian-speaking translator, Cpl. Harold Leith from San Francisco, and Chinese language interpreter Ching Shih Wu, on loan from the Chinese government.

The mission commenced at 3 a.m. on August 15, 1945.

Hoten P.O.W. Camp was the first known Japanese Prisoner of War Camp at Mukden, in Manchuria. American prisoners first arrived there in November 1942, quartered in a temporary camp, later relocated to a new camp on the outskirts of the city near the rail line to Harbin. The camp was in the middle of an industrial area where the prisoners worked.

The first occupants of the main camp were American officers and enlisted men captured in Bataan and Corregidor, along with Australians and Britishers captured after the fall of Singapore. A second group arrived in April 1945, and a third group in May, relocated from the camp in Cheng Chia Tun.

The OSS operation was designated Cardinal, their mission was to liberate Allied prisoners of war in Manchuria ahead of the advancing Soviet army.

On the ground, the prisoners had been hearing rumors of the end of the war. They knew something was up. Then, about midday on August 16th, they looked up to see parachutes descending.

Upon landing, the OSS team asked approaching farmers if there were Japanese soldiers nearby. There were.

Their initial encounter with Japanese soldiers was an uneasy one. All accounts indicate that they were very fortunate when a Japanese officer soon arrived who could confirm that hostilities had indeed ceased.

As the team later entered the main prison camp, they were greeted joyfully by the newly liberated prisoners of war.

But, they soon learned that the highest-ranking officers they were seeking, including Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright and Lt. General Arthur Percival, were being held at a separate camp, designated Camp 2B, at Sian, another day’s journey away by train.

After their capture in the Philippines, Generals Wainwright and Percival were among those imprisoned in Northern Luzon, then transported to Formosa [Taiwan], before finally arriving at Camp 2B in Manchuria.

OSS team leader Hennessy sent Lamar and Leith on to the camp at Sian accompanied by a Japanese escort. They arrived on August 19, finding General Wainwright, Percival, and other senior officers. General Wainwright was stunned to see them, reportedly asking: “Are you really Americans?”

The General also voiced a personal concern: “what do the people in the States think of me?”, having surrendered in the Philippines, and having agonized over that decision during his captivity. The OSS team members reassured him, Americans considered him a national hero.

The early arrival of the OSS contact team, and the subsequent arrival of the larger Allied Recovery Team No. 1, as well as the cooperation of arriving Soviet forces, all contributed to the safe evacuation of Allied POW’s from Manchuria.

Wainwright and Percival soon after their liberation

Arriving at Mukden, Generals Wainwright and Percival and other accompanying senior officers were taken to Pei-ling airfield where a C-47 and a B-24 were waiting to take them to Chungking [Chongqing]. From there they traveled on to Japan to an airfield near Tokyo, and from there by car to Yokohama where, on August 31, General Wainwright shared an emotional reunion with General MacArthur.

Two days later, during the formal surrender ceremony aboard USS Missouri, General MacArthur asked Lt. Generals Percival and Wainwright to step forward with him as he signed the Instrument of Surrender on behalf of the Allied Powers.

On September 19, 1945, during a ceremony at the White House, General Wainwright was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman. The Citation reads:

“The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to General Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright, IV, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty from March 12 - 7 May 1942, while serving with U.S. Army Forces in the Philippine Islands. General Wainwright Distinguished himself by intrepid and determined leadership against greatly superior enemy forces. At the repeated risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in his position, he frequented the firing line of his troops where his presence provided the example and incentive that helped make the gallant efforts of these men possible. The final stand on beleaguered Corregidor, for which he was in an important measure personally responsible, commanded the admiration of the Nation’s allies. It reflected the high morale of American arms in the face of overwhelming odds. His courage and resolution were a vitally needed inspiration to the then sorely pressed freedom-loving peoples of the world.”

Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright IV died on September 2, 1953. He rests at Arlington National Cemetery.

We Remember.