by Paula L. Pedene APR, Fellow PRSA
The Arizona Republic Veterans Voice Columnist
This week, my heart is a bit heavier as I share the loss of one of my friends, Henry Ong Jr.
I met Ong in 2002 when he became one of the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade Veteran Grand Marshals. That year we honored six ex-Prisoners of War. Ong, a Chinese American, and U.S. Army Tech Sergeant was captured during World War II when his plane lost altitude and he parachuted to safety, unfortunately landing on enemy soil.
Although he faced many challenges from the year-long suffering he faced as a Prisoner of War, Ong persevered in life. He believed in making the world a better place. He did so through successful business ventures, through community leadership and by being a gracious example of a stalwart friend to the many lives he touched, including mine.
In recalling his service during World War II, Henry Ong Jr. wrote: “It is still painful to recount the ordeal of August 6, 1943, the prison camps, the Force March and World War Il in general. We were young and strangers to each other, but by the grace of God, we were assembled as a crew and developed a bond of trusting comradeship that would stay for the rest of our lives. I am proud of the members of my crew, the B-24, the Trade Winds, and the B 17. We were the best crew in the Bomb Squadron and had the most completed bombing missions flown before being shot down.”
Ong was liberated by the British Army on May 4, 1945, and reunited with the U.S. troops later. He celebrated the VE-Day (Victory Europe May 8, 1945) in Brussels, Belgium, precisely a year after his first bombing raid when the target was the Brussels railroad depot.
He returned to the U.S. via a Liberty Ship in June of 1945. He was honorably discharged in October 1945 and was the only Chinese American captured as a prisoner of war in the state of Arizona.
Ong and I served on the Phoenix Military Veterans Commission upon its creation in 2004. I said farewell to him before his passing on July 2 at the age of 98.
As a tribute, I have posted his story a War Remembered below.
As we close out the celebrations of our Independence Day, I hope we will also remember the service of those who fought so diligently to defend our freedom.
A War Remembered
By Henry Ong Jr.
Henry Ong was born in Phoenix, Arizona. His parents valued the Chinese traditions, so they took the family back to Canton, China, for the education of the children. Henry and his siblings attended Dr. Sun YatSen University in Canton, and he graduated from Middle school. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen University, with its school systems, was considered one of the most prestigious schools of higher learning at that time in Canton, China.
When Japan invaded China and started to bomb Canton, the southern part of China, and gateway to Hong Kong, in 1938, the family returned to the United States. Henry continued his education at Phoenix Union High School.
When World War Il started, Henry was inducted into the United States Army Air Corps in September 1942. He received his basic training at Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Missouri. He went to radio school at Scott Field, Illinois, and gunnery school at Tyndall Field, Panama City, Florida. While attending radio school, Henry had one of the best passing grades in his class. He was able to receive 25 words-per-minute in copying the Morse code.
He was assigned to a B-24 crew and took training at Davis-Monthan Air Base, Tucson, Arizona. His final training before being sent overseas was at Alamogordo Air Base, New Mexico. This training involved high altitude flying in formations, cross country flying, target bombings, and many actual combat bombing missions.
The crew members were: Pilot-Lt. Jay J. Hatfield; Co-pilot-Lt. Clarence McGinn; Navigator-John F. Mumm; Bombardier-Lt. Edward Reichel; Flight engineer-T/Sgt. Richard Conway; Radio/Gunner-T/Sgt. Henry Ong, Jr. Nose-gunner-S/Sgt.John Taber; Tail-gunner-S/Sgt.Joseph Kazmouz; Waistgunners S/Sgt. Charles Jamison and S/Sgt. Cecil Glover. T/Sgt. Conway would be the Top-turret gunner at the time of the attack. The ground crew chief was Sgt. Haley, who did an excellent job in preparing the planes to keep them in top flying condition.
The crew was assigned Number 7014 while in training and received a brand-new B-24 Liberator from the factory for which they were all excited. The B-24 was used mostly in the South Pacific during the early part of the war, so the crew speculated that they would be sent to fight the Japanese in Southeast Asia. They christened their new B-24 ‘The Trade Winds’ and painted a beautiful girl wearing a sarong by the beach to reflect the South Sea islands.
The order came for the crew to leave for combat duty. There were no doubts that the destination of Europe to fight the Nazis was a surprise. Nevertheless, the crew flew to England via the southern route to South America and spent two or three nights at Trinidad, Belem, and stayed at Natal almost a week due to bad weather before crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Marrakech, Morocco. Bad weather again prevailed, and 7-10 days there enabled the crew to experience a different culture. They flew next to Scotland, then to Lavenham, south of London, the home base of the 487th Bomb Group, the 8th Air Force. The crew was assigned to the 837th Bomb Squadron. The new crew designation was #87-7-14, #8837.
The crew experienced the first actual combat mission on May 8, 1944. The target was the railroad depot in Brussels, Belgium. When the flight formation crossed the English Channel toward the target, flak from antiaircraft guns was all over the sky. This scenario would become a similar pattern for all subsequent bombing missions. The crew flew in many day-night bombing missions, including the invasion of Normandy Beach on D Day, June 6, 1944. After 24 successful bombing missions had been flown with the B-24, the Trade Winds, the 8th Air Force decided to use B-17s for the rest of the 48? Bomb Group. The crew had to give up the old faithful, the B-24 Trade Winds and was again assigned to a brand-new B-17 Flying Fortress, #433785. The crew resumed bombing missions after a short length of training on the B-17.
Each bombing mission usually lasted around 8 to 10 hours, flying deep into enemy territory. On one occasion, when the target was near the southern part of Germany, the plane was hit, and one engine was disabled by antiaircraft guns. Since it was quite a distance to fly back to their base with the remaining three engines, the crew contemplated flying to Switzerland and staying there for the duration of the war. They finally decided to take a chance and flew back to their base. Henry had to radio his base requesting aerial support from U. S. fighter planes. “Trade Winds” was the last to get back to the base, but everyone aboard was saved!
After the D Day landing, they saw jet fighter planes for the first time. The jets traveled so fast that they had a hard time tracking them. The crew had to take extra target practice to familiarize themselves with the speed of the jets. It was quite an exciting thing to see jets flying at that time!
On August 6, 1944, the crew was scheduled to fly on their last mission, the 30th, before returning to the U.S. for reassignment. The designated target for that morning was an engine plant in Berlin. After releasing the bombs over the target, the plane was hit by enemy antiaircraft guns. The nose section of the plane where Lt. Reichel and Sgt Taber were stationed was hit and damaged the most as well as two of the four engines. Lt. Hatfield saw two parachutes opened and knew that Eddie and John had bailed out.
The plane continued to lose altitude. Lt. Hatfield was not able to control the plane, and it dropped from 27,000 feet to around 4,000 feet. When he was able to level the plane for a moment, Lt. Hatfield ordered the rest of the crew to abandon ship and bailout. He was the last to bailout, and the plane exploded moments later.
Everyone except Lt. Reichel and Sgt.Taber was captured by the German soldiers immediately. Henry was wounded by flak and sustained multiple cuts and bruises but he did not receive any medical treatments.
*Switzerland was a neutral country during WW Il. Any airman or allied soldier who wound up there could not be turned over to the Germans.
After days of interrogations by German Intelligent officers, they were sent to Dulag Luft in Wetzlar, a transit camp for airmen. The crew split up after Dulag Luft. Lts. Hatfield and McGinn were sent to officers’ camp, whereas Conway, Ong, Kazmouz, Jamison, and Glover were sent to a brand new Stalag Luft (a camp for airmen) near Luxembourg, east of Belgium. The camp was not ready to house thousands of POWs. After three weeks of suffering in that camp, they were again on the move. Conway and Henry were put in a railroad boxcar and traveled from the southern part of Europe to the Baltic Sea, to an established camp near the town of Grosstychow, which is part of Poland today. The camp, Stalag Luft IV, would be home for thousands of POWs.
While traveling to Stalag Luft IV in the boxcar, the POWs encountered the most inhuman living conditions. It was so crowded that POWs were forced to stand most of the trip. There was hardly any food or water and no toilet facility. This awesome trip would certainly count as one of the worst experiences of being a POW.
Conway, POW #4310, and Ong, #4126, were assigned to Lager C, Barrack 3, Room 12. The room was without bedding, and everyone had to sleep on the floor. It was cold, and the food was very inadequate. They got Red Cross parcels but had to share with others, and the parcels did not come regularly. Holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year were particularly hard for all POWs.
Around the 1 st of February 1945, the Russian offensive units threatened to engulf the eastern front, and their advance involved many POWs camps. The Germans hated the Russians and did not want to surrender to the Russians. They decided to evacuate all the camps around that area, Stalag Luft IV included. Thus, began the infamous “Forced March” of thousands upon thousands of POWs marching on foot in the brutal winter of 1945. Day and night, they marched on the road for nearly over 100 days, from the eastern front to the western front and doubling back on the eastern front to stay away from the Russians. The march covered over 1,000 miles. They lived in filth, slept in barns or open fields, and dodged aerial strafing from enemy fighters as well as ours. They suffered diseases and body lice and nearly froze to death. Everyone was plagued by dysentery. Blisters became infected, mud and cold brought frostbite. The POWs made up a slogan: “Keep on marching, and your blisters will turn into calluses and your aches into hard muscles.” They did not dare to take a shoe off because once it came off, they would not be able to put it back on. Many POWs did not survive the more than a three-month ordeal
Henry was liberated by the British Army on May 4, 1945, and reunited with the U.S. troops later. Henry celebrated the VE-Day (Victory Europe) May 8, 1945) in Brussels, Belgium, exactly a year after his first bombing raid when the target was the Brussels railroad depot!
Henry returned to the U.S. via a Liberty Ship in June of 1945. He was honorably discharged from the service in October 1945. Henry was the only Chinese American captured as a prisoner of war in the state of Arizona.
Henry was a Technical Sergeant, Radio Operator/Gunner for B-24 and B-17 heavy bombers. He was the recipient of the Prisoner of War Medal, the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, the Purple Heart, the Presidential Citation for meritorious achievements while participating in heavy bombardment missions over enemy occupied Continental Europe and the Good Conduct Medal.
After the war, Henry enrolled in UCLA and met his future bride, Priscilla (Pat) Fong, from Sacramento, California. She was also attending UCLA.
Henry and Pat were married in Sacramento, CA, in 1947. They have four children: Pamela Wong and her husband, Truman, are both pharmacists. Michael is an attorney; his wife, Darlene Chew, is a nurse. Curtis (Buddy) is an architect, and Kevin is a Certified Public Accountant. They also have four grandchildren: Natalie Wong Wales, and her husband Scott, are both attorneys. Jonathan Wong, Crystal Ong, and Sarah Ong.
Henry is a retired Real Estate and Insurance Broker.
Henry is a life member and past Commander of the American legion; life member of the American Ex-Prisoners of War, presently serving as Junior Vice Commander of American Ex-Prisoners of War, Department of Arizona and Commander of the POW-WOW Chapter (Ex-POWS) in Phoenix; member of American Ex-POWs, Stalag Luft IV; member of the 487th Bomb Group (H) Association; life member of the Caterpillar Club (members whose lives were saved using the parachutes); iife member of the Disabled American Veterans; life member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart; life member of the Masonic Order; member of the York Rite of Freemasonry; member of the Board of Trustees of the Arizona Baptist Children Services, 1972-1978; member of the Board of Trustee of the Grand Canyon University, 1979-1986; member of the Gideons International, served as Arizona state president for three years; General Chairman for the 82nd Gideons International Convention in 1981 ; Deacon of the Royal Palms Baptist Church; past President of the Ong Ko-Met Family Association; past President of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Arizona.
We never found what happened to our old faithful B-24, the Trade Winds. What a marvelous plane!
While all POWs were awaiting transportation to return to the United States, the Commander- in- Chief of all Europe, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the future 34th President of the U.S., visited the camp (we called it Camp Lucky Strike) with several members of the U.S. Congress, including Senator Ernest McFarland of Arizona. I had the distinct honor to shake the hands of the future President of the United States and Senator McFarland. They later became governor and also served as Supreme Court Justice of the State of Arizona. It was quite a memorable moment.
The boxcars used to transport POWs during the war were name later by POWs as the Forty & Eight, so named because the Germans can transport either 40 prisoners or eight horses in a car. To POWs who rode on the cars certainly dispute the numbers of humans “stuffed” in a car for days!
After my discharge from the service, I visited Joe Kazmouz in New York. We drove to Asbury Park, New Jérsey, to visit our pilot, Jay J. Hatfield, his wife Irene and baby son. We kept in touch for many years until Joe and Jay passed away. I exchanged holiday greetings every year with Richard Conway and his wife, Helen. They lived in Glendale, New York. Richard passed away four years ago, but I am still keeping in touch with Helen. I lost track of McGinn, Cecil Glover, and Charles Jamison after the war. I also learned that Eddie Reichel died two days after being shot down. The German medical officers refused to treat him because of his Jewish faith. John Tabor was also injured and had his leg amputated while in a prison hospital. He was repatriated from Germany in the early part of 1945. John and his wife Anne returned to live in Oklahoma. He called, and we talk many times, but we never got to meet again. He passed away in 1984. After arriving in England, our Navigator, Lt. John F. Mumm, was assigned to other duties within the Squadron and never flew with the crew.
It is still painful to recount the ordeal of August 6, 1943, the prison camps, the Force March, and World War Il in general. We were young and strangers to each other, but by the grace of God, we were assembled as a crew and developed a bond of trusting comradeship that would stay for the rest of our lives. I am proud of the members of my crew, the B-24, the Trade Winds, and the B 17. We were the best crew in the Bomb Squadron and had the most completed bombing missions flown before being shot down.
We were anticipating receiving The Distinguish Flying Cross and promotions, but the timing was against us, and we never did receive those honors.
The horror of war is real. The experience as POWs will not fade away. At our recent POWs Stalag Luft IV Reunion, we all exchanged greetings, and many of us still had tears in our eyes when we recalled our ordeals.
I had kept silent about my POW experience for over forty-plus years, keeping it to myself. My parents, my wife, and my children never asked. All these past events came to light on my birthday. John Lord, my former cellmate from Stalag Luft IV, called me from Pennsylvania. We had lost track and had not seen nor heard from each other since the Forced March in 1945! Words cannot express my excitement when I received a long-distance call!!. John was gracious enough to accept my invitation to attend my birthday celebration. John and I were not in the same bomb group, but we were both in the 8th Air Force. He also was a radio/gunner on a B-24 and was shot down and captured. He was injured badly, but a POW doctor from England treated him while in prison. We were incarcerated in the same Lager C, Barrack 3, Room 12, and went through the same ordeals.
We had quite a reunion with John Lord. My family fell in love with John immediately. He was so good at recounting the wartime events. He told my family about the B-24s, the missions, the imprisonments, the hardships, and the Forced March. My family heard the wartime experiences for the first time. John Lord made my birthday the best.
The revelation of the wartime experience had lifted the burden within me. I felt more at peace with myself. I can talk about it more freely now and have encouraged other POWs to speak about their own experiences.
I felt especially bad and have regretted that my parents did not have a chance to hear my story. They were the ones who suffered the most when word came that I was missing in action. Weeks passed before the telegram arrived saying I was captured and was a prisoner of war. My mother lost part of her hearing from worrying about my incarceration.
My parents were one of the very few families who had four sons in the Armed Forces at the same time during World War Il.
I am glad that I have trusted the Lord Jesus to guide my life. I have the most wonderful and beautiful wife, wonderful children, and grandchildren. Life has been the most enjoyable.
I dedicate this memoir to my wife, my children, and their children. They are my pride and joy.
I am indebted to JOHN LORD for his unselfish and beautiful friendship. He unshackled my burden and brought back my self-esteem.
HENRY ONG, JR. 2301
NOVEMBER 11, 2002
- The CITY OF PHOENIX AND THE VETERANS AFFAIRS MEDICAL CENTER 2002 VETERANS DAY PARADE: AMERICAN EX-PRISONERS OF WAR GRAND MARSHAL.
2004 TO PRESENT:
- APPOINTED BY THE MAYOR OF PHOENIX AND THE CITY COUNCIL AS A COMMISSIONER OF THE MILITARY VETERANS COMMISSION.
NOVEMBER 11, 2005
- The CITY OF PHOENIX AND THE VETERANS AFFAIRS MEDICAL CENTER 2005 VETERANS DAY PARADE: WORLD WAR 11 VETERAN GRAND MARSHAL.
- INDUCTED INTO THE ARIZONA VETERANS HALL OF FAME, CLASS OF 2005.
JANUARY 16, 2007
- THE MAYOR AND THE CITY COUNCIL PROCLAIMED JANUARY 16, 2007 AS HENRY ONG, JR. DAY IN PHOENIX.
- 2003- WING-ON LAE, WOOLONG, KAIPING CITY, GUANGDONG, CHINA PROVIDED FUND TO BUILD THE ENTRANCE GATE TO THE VILLIAGE (WING-ON LAE), THE BIRTHPLACE OF MY PARENTS.
- FAMILY AND FRIENDS CELEBRATED THE 60TH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY OF PAT AND HENRY.
MAY 27, 2012
- FAMILY AND FRIENDS CELEBRATE THE 90TH BIRTHDAY OF HENRY AND THE 65TH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY OF PAT AND HENRY.
- THE WARTIME EXPERIENCE AND OTHER ARTICLES OF
- HENRY ONG, JR. ARE PRESERVED IN THR UNITED STATES LIBRARY OF CONGRESS UNDER THE VETERANS HISTORY PROJECT.