Survivors celebrate liberation

August 17, 2005

By Mary T. Previte

Push bombings and hurricanes and grief off the front page.

Today is the anniversary of our Liberation Day: August 17, 2005.

The day the American heroes came.

What does a child remember from almost three years of imprisonment in a Japanese concentration camp?

Yesterday, I remembered the gut-wrenching hunger, guard dogs, bayonet drills, prisoner numbers and badges, daily roll calls, bedbugs, flies, and unspeakable sanitation. Yesterday, I remembered the Japanese soldiers commandeering our school, marching us, shipping us, trucking us to internmemnt camp. Guards with unfettered power over 1,500 prisoners. Yesterday, I remembered my 5 1/2 years separated from my missionary parents, with warring armies keeping us apart.

But not on Liberation Day.

Today, a world away, we children (all senior citizens now) will stand in that place in China where we saw American liberators parachuting from the skies. We will gather in Weihsien, coming from the United States, Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong. We will stand where winds buffeted the parachutists as they drifted down beyond the barbed wire and the barrier walls. We will tumble our memories of six gorgeous, sun-brionzed Americans. Bless them!

Someone will remember the ragamuffin crowd of scrawny prisoners stampeding through the gates -- stumbling past Japanese guards -- into the open firelds

Screaming, Dancing. Weeping. Hysterical with joy.

Teddy Pearson from Montreal will remember 21-year-old Peter Orlich, the team's radio operator, standing by a crumpled parachute in a field of corn stubble.

"I was the first to reach him," he will say. He will remember Orlich's brush-cut -- 1945 flattop -- and his glasses taped with pink "medical tape" around his temples. In 1945, the 10-year-old walked Orlich back to the camp, chattering with a hero.

My brother, Jamie, from Hong Kong -- imagine it! -- finding himself locked outside the camp. As the stampede dashed out to welcome the liberators, Jamie raced with his classmates through the wide-open gate, through he fields, running to explore the sleepy, farming town nearby. When they returned, after almost three years of being locked in, they found themselves locked out!

And, yes, someone will remember the Salvation Army Band playing a victory medley. The Salvation Army had guts. The band coupled hymns of the failth with the national anthems of America, China, England and Russia. "One of those will rescue us," members said. Every Tuesday night, right outside the Japanese commandant's office, they practiced the medley. And on Liberation Day, up on a mound by the gates, they blasted away, "O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?" A teenager in the band crumpled to the ground and wept. We were free.

Someone will surely remember the Juicy Fruit gum the Americans gave us children. They chewed it, then passed the sticky wads from mouth to mouth.

I remember trailing these gorgeous librators around. My heart went flipflop over every one of them. I wanted to touch their skin, to sit on their laps. We begged for souvenirs, begged for their autographs, their insignia, their buttons, pieces of parachute. We cut off chunks of their hair. We begged them to sing the songs of America. They taught us "You are my sunshine." Sixty years later, I can sing it still.

Only three of our heroes are alive today -- all 85 years old. They are too frail to join us in China. Jim Moore in Dallas, we will remember you, honor you, thank you again today, and Jim Hannon in Yucca Valley, Calif., and Tad Nagaki in Alliance, Neb. Just like today, our heroes came from all across America.

O, yes, America has heroes. I know their names.


Assemblywoman Mary T. Previte writes from Haddonfield, New Jersey.


... parachutes drifting down from a U.S. B-24-bomber over Weihsien Concentration Camp on August 17, 1945.


Mary Previte addressing the audience - August 17, 2005 in Weifang ... 60 years later.


© David Beard's photos of the 73rd-B-29-Bomber Wing.
Click on the magnifying glass to see the picture un full size and notice the Camp inmates on the road and in the fields. As well as the numerous Chinese-Style graves in the gao-liang-fields.

Teddy Pearson photographed and sketched by William A. Smith - U.S. war correspondent.


... Weihsien’s 60 anniversary reunion was a time for tears and a time for joy. Former internee Mary Previte from USA weeps on the shoulder of her brother, Dr. James H. Taylor of Hong Kong.