The Men of the Lost Battalion
Became like Brothers in Captivity, Brothers Ever Since
The men of the Lost Battalion (2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery) comprised a Texas National Guard unit (36th Infantry Division) that mostly went through boot camp as a cohort in early 1941. In August 1941, the unit participated in the Louisiana Maneuvers, two months of war games in the rain-soaked bogs at Camp Beauregard near Lake Charles, LA. Accounts from survivors indicate that the unit comprised the “blue team” that captured the enemy, thus winning the war games. The reward for their performance? The unit was nationalized, mobilized, and shipped out the Pacific just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
When they went to war, the original strength of the unit was 558 men. Of those, three were killed in action when the Japanese invaded Java. Of the 534 taken prisoner, 89 died in prison camps and 445 were repatriated after the war.
Ever since the end of World War II, the Lost Battalion has always included the Marines and Navy service members from the USS Houston that were imprisoned with them.
Two plaques at the Thai-Burma Railway Centre in Kanchanaburi Thailand recognizing the groups are connected with a small engraved marker indicating, “Became like Brothers in Captivity, Brothers Ever Since.” There were originally 74 Marines and 937 Navy men on the USS Houston.
Anyone who attended the reunions between the mid-1940’s and the turn of decade could easily observe the fraternal bond of the Army, Navy and Marine servicemen, relationships forged in the crucible of Japanese POW camps.
The 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery is the “Most Decorated Unit in Texas” in any war, and the USS Houston (CA-30) is the “Most Decorated” vessel of its class in the U.S. fleet. The men of the Lost Battalion and the USS Houston are heroes to all who knew them. We are grateful for their service to the Country, as we are grateful to all veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Nearly 120 men comprised the Headquarters Battery, most of them from the Wichita Falls and Decatur communities in Texas, northwest of the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. The function of the HQ Battery is to provide command, control/administration supervision and service support for supply functions for the Field Artillery units.
Service & Ammunition Battery
The function of the Service Battery is to provide administrative and logistical supports and supply functions for the Field Artillery units. While most of the nearly 75 men in the Service Battery hailed from the Lubbock and Plainview (TX) communities, men from other areas of the State were assigned to the Service Battery owing to special administrative or logistics skills they maintained.
D, E, and F Batteries collectively make up the Field Artillery Battery which operates as a tactical unit. These batteries are usually positioned for the most effective response and support to other units, commensurate with the terrain and combat mission. Just over 100 men were assigned to D Battery, most of them from the Wichita Falls, TX area.
D, E, and F Batteries collectively make up the Field Artillery Battery which operates as a tactical unit. These batteries are usually positioned for the most effective response and support to other units, commensurate with the terrain and combat mission. Nearly 100 men were assigned to E Battery, most of them from the Abilene, TX area.
The majority of the men in E Battery did not work on the Thai-Burma Railway but were shipped to Japan and worked on industrial projects during the war. Historian and researcher Marianne LeButt has compiled information on the Officers and Enlisted men of E Battery. To learn more about the E Battery group, click here.
D, E, and F Batteries collectively make up the Field Artillery Battery which operates as a tactical unit. These batteries are usually positioned for the most effective response and support to other units, commensurate with the terrain and combat mission. Just over 100 men were assigned to F Battery, most of them from the Jacksboro, TX area. There were commonly known as the “Jacksboro Boys”.
Fifteen (15) men comprised the Medical Detachment of the 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery. Their contributions to the unit were most critical in the POW camps where living conditions, forced labor and lack of food led to significant health declines of the men in the unit. The Medical Detachment worked closely with a Dutch physician, Dr. Henri Hekking, to find natural remedies for dealing with the tropical diseases running rampant in the camps. The contributions of Dr. Hekking were never forgotten by the men of the Lost Battalion and he was revered by them throughout the remainder of their lives.
The 2nd Battalion of the 131st Field Artillery was led by a complement of 28 commissioned officers. Lt. Colonel Blucher S. Tharp (later promoted to Colonel) was the senior officer and Captain Arch Fitzsimmons was assigned by the Japanese to oversee the Americans assigned to the Burma portion of the railway building.
While the Officers maintained different roles in the POW camps, the stories of the men reflect their more direct relationships with specific Officers. Not all were originally with the 131st - 2nd Lt. Roy E. Stensland from Sioux Falls, SD was assigned to the 147th Field Artillery (South Dakota National Guard) but was captured on Java when on a special mission “to procure ships and small boats to run the blockade at Bataan in the Philippines” (http://www.rightsidesd.com/?p=20033).