2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery
USS Houston (CA-30) Survivors

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The 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery had been playing a lonely and hopeless role. A few days after their arrival in Java, the 19th Bombardment Group of the U. S. Army Air Corps, arrived under the Command of Col. (now Maj. General, USAF-Ret) Eubank. They had escaped the Philippines with a few B-170 bombers, pilots, co-pilots and whatever Crew members that managed to get aboard as the planes took off while under attack. Until this group evacuated to Australia on March 2, 1942, the 131st F. A. provided it with mechanics, ground crew, aerial gunners and a semblance of anti-aircraft weapons. Twenty-three men of the 131st F. A. transferred to the 19th Bomb Group and were evacuated with them. Two men were killed when they parachuted and were gunned down by Japanese fighters, from one of the B-17s on February 3, 1942.

When the Japanese invaded Java, the Battalion (less E Battery), used its artillery and 50 caliber machine guns (salvaged from wrecked B-17s) in support of an Australian "Pioneer Infantry" group which had arrived in Java just prior to the Japanese landing. With what the Aussies called "top-hole" artillery fire, they helped hold up the Japanese advance at Leuwilleng, near the Central Java City of Bandoeng.

Battery "E" remained on the eastern end of Java to guard the airfield at Malang and to support the Dutch troops in the Soerabaja area. Heavy ground action was experienced by Battery "E" prior to the surrender of the Island by the Dutch, to the invading Japanese, on March 8, 1942. The Japanese terms of surrender were "unconditional" and all troops were advised that any further resistance would be followed by instant reprisals against the civilian population, including women and children. Of the 558 men and officers who landed on Java on January 11, 1942, 534 became prisoners of war of the Japanese.

Within a few weeks, the Japanese had all of the American prisoners from the USS Houston and the 131st F. A. (less "E" Battery) together in the 10th Battalion Bicycle Camp, a former Dutch installation in Batavia (Jakarta) Java. Battery "E" remained in the Soerabaja area until moved to Nagasaki and other areas in Japan via Batavia and Singapore in November and December 1942. Thus, two Units of the American Armed Forces, consisting of 902 men, seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth (and became one unit), sacrificed in a clearly hopeless effort to save the Netherland East Indies from overwhelming numbers of the enemy. Now began an unbelievable string of events which, for some, would last three and one-half years and was to weld the "Phantoms" of the USS Houston (CA-30) and the 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery together in a Bond closer than blood. This Army and Navy group of POWs suffered together through 42 months of humiliation, degradation, physical and mental torture, starvation and horrible tropical diseases, with no medication. The hardest part was watching friends die slowly, day by day, with the survivors often thinking, fleetingly, that maybe they were the "lucky ones."

One of the toughest pills to swallow was not being able to communicate with families and loved ones at home. Sharing all this mental and physical anguish together built a special relationship among the survivors and each man knows how the other will react in almost any "chips-down" situation and most are pleased at what they have learned about their fellow survivors. Moving by ship from Java to Singapore and thence to Burma, Thailand or Japan, the men were packed like cattle in the lower holds, taking turns sitting, squatting, standing or laying down while suffering from sea sickness, dysentery, malaria or other tropical diseases, while standing in their own, or their neighbor's filth, because it was impossible, or not permitted to get to the ship side latrine on the main deck. Then, the men worked in the steaming jungles and the "monsoon" seasons of Burma chopping down jungle trees, hand building road beds and bridges and laying ties and rails with primitive tools in construction of the now infamous "Burma-Siam Death Railway". Some of the men were mining coal and/or working on the docks in Japan while living in sub-standard housing, without any heat or sufficient cover during two Japanese winters, where real starvation was a daily companion. Of the 902 men taken Prisoner, 668 were sent to Burma and Thailand and worked on the "Death Railway" (of Bridge on the River Kwaii fame). Of the total 163 men who died in Prisoner of War Camps, 133 died working on the railroad. After completion of the railroad, 236 of the men were disbursed to Japan and other Southeast Asian Countries to work in coal mines, shipyards, docks, etc. and a few remained at "Bicycle Camp" in Java.

Quite a few of the men were killed by American submarines while en-route to Singapore and Japan and more were killed by American bombers. When liberated, the men were scattered throughout locations in Southeast Asia: Java, Singapore, Burma, Thailand, French Indo China, Japan, China and Manchuria, to name most of them.

The wives of some of the men of the 2nd Battalion 131st F. A. arranged to have a "Welcome Home" celebration in Wichita Falls, Texas on October 23, 1945. The idea "snow-balled" and all survivors that had returned to the U. S. (and could be located) were invited to attend. Such a good time was had at this Reunion, that it was decided to meet every year, on the weekend nearest August 15th. The first Reunion was designed to Honor the 2nd Battalion, 131st F. A. survivors, who had been nicknamed "TEXAS LOST BATTALION," by the news media of Texas, since that Battalion had disappeared when the Island of Java had surrendered. No one knew where they were, apparently including the War Department and nothing was heard from them for about three years. Of course, the people who arranged for the first reunion, did not know of the existence of the LISS Houston prisoners, but the oversight was put to right by Battalion personnel, who invited some of their "buddies" to the first Reunion and made them permanent members of the "Lost Battalion Association" at the next reunion and the Survivors of the USS Houston (CA-30) voted to become a part of the Association.

So, each year since 1945, the survivors of the POW "hell" along with their families, meet in August to keep their Bond of Brotherhood inviolate and to remember and pay honor to the 163 who died in Prison Camps and the 504 who have died since liberation and the 646 who died in action, in a futile effort to save Java.

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