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USS Houston Survivor Grouping - POW THAILAND / BURMA

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I was very fortunate to find this group on Ebay last week and it represents one of the most heroic naval battles of WWII and also " surrender and survival" by the ships chief medical officer.

 

Quoted from the Dicationary of American Naval Fighting Ships : " Receiving word that the major Japanese invasion force was approaching Java protected by a formidable surface unit, Admiral Doorman resolutely determined to meet and seek to destroy the main convoy. Sailing 26 February with HOUSTON, HMAS PERTH, HNMS DE RUYTER, HMS EXETER, HNMS JAVA and 10 destroyers, he met the Japanese support force under Admiral Takagi consisting of 4 cruisers and 13 destroyers. In the Battle of the Java Sea which followed, Doorman's forces fought valiantly, but were doomed by lack of air cover and communication difficulties. The ships met for the first time in the late afternoon, and as Japanese destroyers laid smoke the cruisers of both fleets opened fire. After one ineffective torpedo attack the Japanese light cruisers and destroyers launched a second at 1700, this attack sinking KORTENAER. EXETER and destroyer ELECTRA were hit by gunfire, ELECTRA fatally, and at 1730 Admiral Doorman turned south toward the Java coast, not wishing to be diverted from his main purpose, the destruction of the convoy itself. With dogged fighting spirit he dodged another torpedo attack and followed the coastline, during which time JUPITER was sunk, either by mine or internal explosion. Then ENCOUNTER was detached to pick up survivors from KORTENAER, and the American destroyers, their torpedoes expended, were ordered back to Surabaya. Now with no destroyer protection, Doorman's four remaining ships turned north again in a last gallant attempt to stop the invasion of Java.

 

At 2300 the same night, the cruisers again encountered the Japanese surface group. On parallel courses the opposing units opened fire, and

the Japanese launched a devastating torpedo attack 30 minutes later. DE RUYTER and JAVA, caught in a spread of 12 torpedoes, exploded and sank, carrying their captains and Admiral Doorman down with them.

 

Before losing contact with PERTH and HOUSTON, Doorman had ordered them to retire. This was accomplished, but the next day the two ships steamed boldly into Banten Bay, hoping to damage the Japanese invasion forces there. The cruisers were almost torpedoed as they approached the bay, but evaded the nine torpedoes launched by destroyed FUBUKI. The cruisers then sank one transport and forced three others to beach. A destroyer squadron blocked Sunda Strait, their means of retreat, and on the other hand large cruisers MOGAMI and MIKUMA stood dangerously near. The result was foreordained, but HOUSTON and PERTH fought valiantly. PERTH came under fire at 2336 and in an hour had been sunk from gunfire and torpedo hits. HOUSTON then fought alone, her guns blazing at the enemy all around her, a champion at bay. Soon after midnight she took a torpedo and began to lose headway. During this time HOUSTON's gunners scored hits on three different destroyers and sank a minesweeper, but suffered three more torpedo explosions in quick succession. Captain Rooks was killed by a bursting shell at 0030 and as the ship came to a stop. Japanese destroyers swarmed over her machine gunning the decks. A few minutes later the gallant HOUSTON, her name written imperishably in the

records of heroism, rolled over and sank, her ensign still flying.

 

HOUSTON's fate was not known by the world for almost 9 months, and the full story of her courageous fight was not fully told until after the war was over and her survivors were liberated from prison camps. Captain Rooks received posthumously the Medal of Honor for this extraordinary heroism.In addition to two battle stars, HOUSTON was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. "

 

655 out of the 1015 man crew were killed during the sinking, only to suffer for over 3 years as POW's working on the death railway in Thailand and Burma. Out of the 360 who survived the sinking, 75 of them died as POWs .

 

Cdr William A. Epstein began his career in the US Navy during WWI , and was the chief medical officer on the USS Houston when WWII started. He gave an eye witness statement shortly after he was liberated in Thailand. This is what he said :

 

STATEMENT OF WILLIAM A. EPSTEIN, COMMANDER (MC) U.S. NAVY

------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

After sounding abandon ship on the night of February 28, 1942, at about 2400, I, Commander WIlliam A. Epstein, went over the port side of the ship on the quarter deck. The Chaplain was near me at that time. While still on the side of the ship I was hit on the head by the double pontoon float and had a severe laceration of the scalp. Upon going into the water I managed to get ahold of an aeroplane float, to which Felix Yeo1/c, was holding. There were eventually seven men (Comdr. Epstein, Felix Yeo1/c, Hedrick QM2/c, Cooper P3/c, O'Brien Pvt., Willerton Yeo2/c, Beeson Sea1/c, a Chinese Mess Attendant, and Carter QM3/c) on the float trying to make Java, but the currents were too strong for us, and we could see a landing was being made. After about five hours in the water, we decided to try for the island with the light house on it, which was Topper's light house. After about four hours or 0900 on March 1, 1942, and with considerable difficulty we managed to get near the island and with help from Australian surviving sailors from the H.M.S. Perth get ashore. During the last hours Marsh Pvt, USMC, and one Chinese boy name unknown* died in the water, and the Chinese boy's body floated away. Marsh was buried on Topper's Island on 1 March, 1942. On March 9, 1942, we were machine gunned by two destroyers. Seven men (Willerton Yeo2/c, Hedrick AM2/c, Abrams Yeo3/c, Beeson Sea1/c, Cooper P3/c, Tiefel Sea1/c, and Carter QM3/c) decided to leave for Sanglang Island via raft on March 12, 1942. Four remained on Toppers Island until March 24, 1942, when we surrendered to the Asst., Wedana, who came to the island from Anjer. We left Toppers (Comdr. Epstein, Felix Yeo1/c, Goodson Sea1/c, O'Brien Pvt., USMC) on the morning of March 24, and arrived at Anjer later in the morning and arrived Serang at 1700 when we were put in the local prison.

 

Abrams Yeo3/c, Goodson Sea1/c, Tiefel Sea1/c, and Medrick QM2/c, had made the island with difficulty swimming.

 

Chaplain Rentz was unable to keep up and drowned sometime during the night.

 

* Chinese Mess Attendant was Ducy Tsao, CC2/c.

 

Wedana is "Chief of Police".

 

William A. Epstein

Commander (MC) U.S. Navy

 

Epstein_William.jpg

 

 

The following are items I acquired :

 

Letter of temporary appointment as Asst Surgeon ( LT JG ) in the Medical Corps of the USN dated June 1918 and signed by Acting Secretary of the Navy FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT ( Yes it is really his signature )

 

 

Houston_4.jpg

 

Houston_4a.jpg


!!!! WANTED !!!!

WWII Prisoner of War items : Medals, Mail, Diaries, Photos, Documents, Scrapbooks + More

WWII Naval Aviation Groupings : Medals, Documents, Scrapbooks, Photos, Flight Logs, Flight Jackets + More

 


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Transfer order dated April 1919 also signed by FDR as Acting Secretary of the Navy ( again , yes it is his real signature not an autopen or rubber stamp ) .

 

Houston_5.jpg

Houston_6.jpg


!!!! WANTED !!!!

WWII Prisoner of War items : Medals, Mail, Diaries, Photos, Documents, Scrapbooks + More

WWII Naval Aviation Groupings : Medals, Documents, Scrapbooks, Photos, Flight Logs, Flight Jackets + More

 


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Original copy of the Presidential Unit Citation for the USS Houston mailed to Cdr. Epsteins family.

 

Houston_7.JPG


!!!! WANTED !!!!

WWII Prisoner of War items : Medals, Mail, Diaries, Photos, Documents, Scrapbooks + More

WWII Naval Aviation Groupings : Medals, Documents, Scrapbooks, Photos, Flight Logs, Flight Jackets + More

 


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The first POW postcard mailed by Cdr. Epstein on May 19, 1944 2 years after he was captured. POW mail from Thailand and Burma is EXCEEDINGLY rare from Americans. There are quite a few examples from British and Commonwealth POW's around, but few are known from Americans. These are only the 10th , 11th and 12th examples I have ever seen and that includes those pictured in books. Its probably easier to find a D-bail M-1 .

 

Houston_1.jpg


!!!! WANTED !!!!

WWII Prisoner of War items : Medals, Mail, Diaries, Photos, Documents, Scrapbooks + More

WWII Naval Aviation Groupings : Medals, Documents, Scrapbooks, Photos, Flight Logs, Flight Jackets + More

 


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Houston_2.jpg

!!!! WANTED !!!!

WWII Prisoner of War items : Medals, Mail, Diaries, Photos, Documents, Scrapbooks + More

WWII Naval Aviation Groupings : Medals, Documents, Scrapbooks, Photos, Flight Logs, Flight Jackets + More

 


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This POW card is from Pvt Robert W. Kenny who was captured in Java serving with the 131st FA BN " The Lost Battalion " . The members of this outfit were from the Texas National Guard and were unfortunate enough to be sent to Java right before the war started . They also served on the death railways as POW's . The message on this card says " Write Mrs Epstein ... husband OK " . It was mailed from Burma . Based on the US censor mark, it would have been received in the USA in 1943- early 1944 .

 

Houston_3.jpg


!!!! WANTED !!!!

WWII Prisoner of War items : Medals, Mail, Diaries, Photos, Documents, Scrapbooks + More

WWII Naval Aviation Groupings : Medals, Documents, Scrapbooks, Photos, Flight Logs, Flight Jackets + More

 


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Letter Cdr. Epstein received from President Truman in 1946 welcoming him home.

 

 

Houston_8.JPG

 

In memory of the USS Houston

 

 

Houston.jpg


!!!! WANTED !!!!

WWII Prisoner of War items : Medals, Mail, Diaries, Photos, Documents, Scrapbooks + More

WWII Naval Aviation Groupings : Medals, Documents, Scrapbooks, Photos, Flight Logs, Flight Jackets + More

 


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Houston_9.JPG

!!!! WANTED !!!!

WWII Prisoner of War items : Medals, Mail, Diaries, Photos, Documents, Scrapbooks + More

WWII Naval Aviation Groupings : Medals, Documents, Scrapbooks, Photos, Flight Logs, Flight Jackets + More

 


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Is that hand-signed by Truman? Nice grouping!

 

-Ski


In Memory Of......
Pte Harold Griffiths, 1805, 1/6th Manchester Regt, KIA June 4th, 1915 in Gallipoli
Cpl Isaac Judges, 40494, 6th East Yorkshire Regt, KIA October 3rd, 1917 in Ypres
May they rest in peace.....

MSgt - USAF Retired

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Is that hand-signed by Truman? Nice grouping!

 

-Ski

 

I wish it was! Its a printed signature.

 

Kurt


!!!! WANTED !!!!

WWII Prisoner of War items : Medals, Mail, Diaries, Photos, Documents, Scrapbooks + More

WWII Naval Aviation Groupings : Medals, Documents, Scrapbooks, Photos, Flight Logs, Flight Jackets + More

 


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Hey Kurt,

Very nice group! A fellow from work just loaned me his copy of Ship of Ghosts the story of the USS Houston by James D. Hornfischer. I can't wait to read more about

Cdr. Epstein and the rest of the men that served aboard the Houston!

Thanks for sharing this group

CB


Seeking anything attributed to General Clifford Bluemel

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That i honestly one of the coolest groupings I have ever seen, very emotional. I envy you for having that collection. thumbsup.gif


Brandon Sivek "God Bless Texas, and these United States"

 

 

 

 

 

In loving memory: Great Cousin 2nd Lt. Louis E. Machala, B-17 Pilot

2nd Air Force, 331st BG, 461st BS

Killed near Glenrock, WY on Feb. 25, 1943 during night time practice bombing

ALWAYS LOOKING FOR WW2 ARMY AIR FORCE FLIGHT GEAR

 

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PROUD MEMBER OF THE COMMEMORATIVE AIR FORCE

PROUD MEMBER OF THE FELLOW WINGNUT ASSOCIATION,

WINGNUTS OF THE WORLD UNITE!

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Hey Kurt,

Very nice group! A fellow from work just loaned me his copy of Ship of Ghosts the story of the USS Houston by James D. Hornfischer. I can't wait to read more about

Cdr. Epstein and the rest of the men that served aboard the Houston!

Thanks for sharing this group

CB

 

Hi Charlie

 

Let me know if you find anything in the book! I have a different book, but not much in that one.

 

Kurt


!!!! WANTED !!!!

WWII Prisoner of War items : Medals, Mail, Diaries, Photos, Documents, Scrapbooks + More

WWII Naval Aviation Groupings : Medals, Documents, Scrapbooks, Photos, Flight Logs, Flight Jackets + More

 


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donation2012.gifdonation2013.gifdonation2014.gifdonation2015.gifdonation2016.gif
donation2017.gifdonation2018.gifdonation2019.gifdonation2020.gif

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That i honestly one of the coolest groupings I have ever seen, very emotional. I envy you for having that collection. thumbsup.gif

 

 

Thanks Brandon! I think it is important to remember the suffering these men went through and what a group like this represents.

 

Kurt


!!!! WANTED !!!!

WWII Prisoner of War items : Medals, Mail, Diaries, Photos, Documents, Scrapbooks + More

WWII Naval Aviation Groupings : Medals, Documents, Scrapbooks, Photos, Flight Logs, Flight Jackets + More

 


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Very nice find Kurt, You lucky B. THe documents are outstanding,And to see Roosevelts siganture on one. Thanks for sharing.

Nick


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Collecting Marine Raider Groups

On the battlefield, Pfc Edward Ahrens, an Able Company BAR man, lay dying, soaked in his own blood.

 

As his company commander, Lew Walt cradled him in his arms, he surveyed the scene around them. Nearby lay a Japanese officer, a sergeant, and thirteen enlisted men, all dead. Ahrens had been shot twice in the chest and bayoneted three times. He whispered to Walt, "Captain, they tried to come over me last night, but I don't think they made it." Choking back tears, Walt replied softly, "They didn't, Eddy. They didn't."

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Very nice! My great grandfather was Captain of the Galloping Ghost in China before the war.....congrats on a nice score!

 

chad


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Kurt, What a wonderful grouping! I can imagine it is tough to find any POW related material.

 

The only item I have related to this event is a self published short book or booklet by Lloyd Willey, a Marine that served aboard the ship. Kim

post-60-1211802261.jpg


A member of this fine site since December 16, 2006....Member # 60

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Kurt,

 

Very nice grouping. It must have been quite a struggle for those men. The Commander also appeared a little older than the rest.

 

I noted the Commander's address in Denver. At one time I lived in a house that would have been a few doors from him on Sherman.


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Collecting WWII Armor and Tank Destroyer Items

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Back to the top in rememberance of the Battle of Java sea! ( Feb 27-March 1, 1942 )


!!!! WANTED !!!!

WWII Prisoner of War items : Medals, Mail, Diaries, Photos, Documents, Scrapbooks + More

WWII Naval Aviation Groupings : Medals, Documents, Scrapbooks, Photos, Flight Logs, Flight Jackets + More

 


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Man from my town died at Camp 100 Kilo. Unimaginable. I hope that Japanese commander endeavored to cut his guts out in the traditional zig zag pattern. Canteen and movies my foot.

 

Favorite part of James Hornfischer's book was when two POWs cut the wires holding railroad ties down to a car to create a mess. Train lurched, ties slipped forward and catapulted through the caboose that was full of Japanese soldiers and engineers.


Looking for the following:

452nd and 447th Bomb Group items

Anything 12th Armored- especially uniforms

155th Assault Helicopter Company, Camp Coryell, or Ban Me Thuot Vietnam items[/center]


WWII US Navy Uniforms from the Battle Off Samar: USS Johnston DD-557, USS Hoel DD-553, USS Samuel B. Roberts DE-413, USS Heermann DD-532, USS Dennis DE-405, USS John C. Butler DE-339, USS Raymond DE-341, USS Fanshaw Bay St. Lo, White Plains, Kalinin Bay, Kitkun Bay and Gambier Bay...


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Neat group. Vet friend of mine's wife's brother was a KIA on the Houston he was USMC gunner on the ship.


Looking for any WWII 104th "Timberwolf" Division items.

Including items from the 413th, 414th, and 415th Infantry Regiments 104th Recon Troop, 329th Engineer Battalion, 329th Medical Battalion

385th, 386th, 387th, and 929th Field Artillery Battalions 804th Ordnance Company 104th Quartermaster Company 104th Signal Company

555th Anti-Aircraft Battalion, 750th Tank Battalion 692nd Tank Destroyer Battalion 817th Tank Destroyer Battalion

 

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Enclosure (a)(3)

 

STATEMENT OF WILLIAM A. EPSTEIN, COMMANDER (MC) U.S. NAVY

------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

After sounding abandon ship on the night of February 28, 1942, at about 2400, I, Commander WIlliam A. Epstein, went over the port side of the ship on the quarter deck. The Chaplain was near me at that time. While still on the side of the ship I was hit on the head by the double pontoon float and had a severe laceration of the scalp. Upon going into the water I managed to get ahold of an aeroplane float, to which Felix Yeo1/c, was holding. There were eventually seven men (Comdr. Epstein, Felix Yeo1/c, Hedrick QM2/c, Cooper P3/c, O'Brien Pvt., Willerton Yeo2/c, Beeson Sea1/c, a Chinese Mess Attendant, and Carter QM3/c) on the float trying to make Java, but the currents were too strong for us, and we could see a landing was being made. After about five hours in the water, we decided to try for the island with the light house on it, which was Topper's light house. After about four hours or 0900 on March 1, 1942, and with considerable difficulty we managed to get near the island and with help from Australian surviving sailors from the H.M.S. Perth get ashore. During the last hours Marsh Pvt, USMC, and one Chinese boy name unknown* died in the water, and the Chinese boy's body floated away. Marsh was buried on Topper's Island on 1 March, 1942. On March 9, 1942, we were machine gunned by two destroyers. Seven men (Willerton Yeo2/c, Hedrick AM2/c, Abrams Yeo3/c, Beeson Sea1/c, Cooper P3/c, Tiefel Sea1/c, and Carter QM3/c) decided to leave for Sanglang Island via raft on March 12, 1942. Four remained on Toppers Island until March 24, 1942, when we surrendered to the Asst., Wedana, who came to the island from Anjer. We left Toppers (Comdr. Epstein, Felix Yeo1/c, Goodson Sea1/c, O'Brien Pvt., USMC) on the morning of March 24, and arrived at Anjer later in the morning and arrived Serang at 1700 when we were put in the local prison.

 

Abrams Yeo3/c, Goodson Sea1/c, Tiefel Sea1/c, and Medrick QM2/c, had made the island with difficulty swimming.

 

Chaplain Rentz was unable to keep up and drowned sometime during the night.

 

* Chinese Mess Attendant was Ducy Tsao, CC2/c.

 

Wedana is "Chief of Police".

 

William A. Epstein

Commander (MC) U.S. Navy

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------


!!!! WANTED !!!!

WWII Prisoner of War items : Medals, Mail, Diaries, Photos, Documents, Scrapbooks + More

WWII Naval Aviation Groupings : Medals, Documents, Scrapbooks, Photos, Flight Logs, Flight Jackets + More

 


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Kurt is your last post from something in his service record or post-war interviews for awards or citations, POW interview, etc?

 

MW


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Kurt is your last post from something in his service record or post-war interviews for awards or citations, POW interview, etc?

 

MW

 

Hi Mike

 

It's from an interview (testimony) he provided right after he was liberated.

 

Kurt


!!!! WANTED !!!!

WWII Prisoner of War items : Medals, Mail, Diaries, Photos, Documents, Scrapbooks + More

WWII Naval Aviation Groupings : Medals, Documents, Scrapbooks, Photos, Flight Logs, Flight Jackets + More

 


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