The diaries of the US Naval aviator in command of the Wake Island garrison lend further credence to the controversy that Marine Major James Devereaux overestimated the strength of the Japanese invasion
Commanding Officer, 14th Naval District, Adm. Claude C. Bloch, would write in his own hand the following on Cmdr. Cunningham's 28 November-23 December 1941 fitness report: "This officer was sent to Wake Island to command on 27 November 1941. He performed his duties in an outstanding manner and, in conducting the defense of Wake Island, lived up to the best traditions of the Navy. He is physically qualified for any duties ashore and afloat of Flag Rank."
Cunningham's Commanding Officer, Adm. Bloch, would rate Cmdr. Cunningham "within the top 10%" for reactions during emergencies, performance at battle station or in battle duties, assuming responsibility when specific instructions are lacking, exercising judgment, inspiring subordinates to work to the maximum of their capacity, maintaining discipline among those under his command, and military conduct. Admiral Bloch would conclude the fitness report by stating, "I have not seen or heard from this officer, since he left Pearl Harbor for Wake in November 1941. In making this report I have been largely governed by my belief, that the outstanding service of Cmdr. Cunningham should be recognized."
During the first few weeks of captivity, most of the Americans on Wake still believed the United States would rush to their rescue. They expected to awaken any day to see the US Navy ringing the atoll, but each day they were more and more disappointed. John Rogge, the civilian construction worker from Idaho, served as Cunningham's orderly after the surrender and lived in the cottage with him that served as their prison. Cunningham and the other officers spent hours discussing the recent surrender and what they should or should not have done. Rogge heard Capt. Platt blame himself for not somehow sending word to Devereux of his success on Wilkes. Platt believed that if he could have done so, he could have shifted his men to Wake, where the combined forces might have eliminated the rest of the opposition. According to Rogge, Cunningham hated yielding the atoll, but did not place all the blame on himself. Cunningham and Platt agreed that the relief force "turned chicken."
The grueling years of imprisonment were about to begin. On 12 January 1942, it was announced that the prisoners would be leaving on the ocean liner Nitta Mam to begin their confinement in prisoner-of-war camps. Three hundred civilians were kept on the island as a labor force in clear violation of international agreements. Two hundred of these civilians were later transported to imprisonment, but 98 were found murdered on the island after the war. The 98 civilians had been lined up and shot in 1943 when the Japanese feared an American invasion was imminent.
The captives were ordered to pass through two lines of the ship's crewman. Cunningham described the scene this way: "I had barely picked up one of my bundles when a Jap struck at my hands and tore it from them. It was like a signal. The double line erupted in hate and, as we ran the gauntlet, we were dealt kicks, blows and slaps by men who had no part in our capture. Near the bottom of the last ladder, we were all sprayed with a disinfectant, but in my case it was hardly effective, since I was wearing a topcoat."
Winfield and 29 other officers were herded into the ship's mailroom. They were lucky. It was near the engine room, so it remained warm. The enlisted men and civilians were confined in the cold cargo spaces in the hold. In the months ahead, they were to find out that keeping prisoners half-starved was a studied policy. The Mita Maru's crew were masters at it. Winfield said, "In all our long record of semi-starvation as prisoners-of-war, the twelve days we spent in the voyage from Wake were, at least in my estimation, the worst."
If you did not follow directions fast enough, a resounding slap on the face would follow. Winfield said, "Since none of us knew any Japanese, we had difficulty understanding what was expected of us. There was a great deal of slapping. Captain Platt was taken out into the passageway one day and beaten with a club for excessive talking. There was a lack of officer supervision, and the guards took it upon themselves to beat the prisoners." The guard commander, Toshio Saito, was especially cruel. He relieved Cmdr. Cunningham of his Naval Academy ring "in the name of the Emperor." The Emperor never received the ring. Cunningham's yeoman, Glenn Tripp, had his high school ring taken by the same guard commander. After the war, both rings were found in the residence of the former commander of the guard. Authorities were looking for Saito to try him for war crimes when Winfield's ring was discovered. Saito, on the other hand, was never found. (Author's Note: Adm. Winfield Scott Cunningham's 1920 Naval Academy ring is in the possession of the author.)
During the long trip, Toshio Saito showed just how cruel he could be. He gathered 150 spectators together on the ships deck around five bound and blindfolded American Wake Island prisoners and announced, "You have killed many Japanese soldiers in battle. For what you have done, you are now going to be killed for revenge. You are here as representatives of your American soldiers and will be killed. You can now pray to be happy in the next world." Each one in turn was then beheaded, bayoneted and mutilated before they were thrown overboard. Now you understand why they were looking for him after the war. Such brutality was a trademark of many Japanese soldiers.
During a two-day layover in Yokohama, Japan, propaganda pictures were taken and sound recordings, some including Cmdr. Cunningham, were made that were used for radio broadcasts back to the United States. An NBC reporter, after hearing the broadcast recordings, said that the speakers sounded sad and dispirited. The 19 January 1941 broadcast from Cmdr. Cunningham said, "This is Cmdr. Winfield Scott Cunningham, United States Navy, age 42. At Wake Island, I was in command of all the Naval and Marine Corps forces. My home address is Annapolis, Maryland. Since the capture of Wake, the prisoners, including myself, have been fairly treated and are in good health, looking forward to getting back to our homes. To my wife in Annapolis, Maryland, I wish to send my best greetings and hope for her welfare and that of our child, and I also wish to assure her that I am in perfect health and expect to be so for a long time." This forced statement about being "fairly treated" at least let the family and friends know that he was safe for now.
On 21 January 1942, Mrs. Cunningham would receive her first official written notice that her husband was still alive and a prisoner of war. The letter was from Capt. L. E. Denfeld, Assistant Chief, Bureau of Navigation, and it stated, "From the latest report which has been received, it appears (italics added) your husband, Cmdr. Winfield Scott Cunningham, USN, was at the Naval Air Station, Wake Island, at the time of the capture by the Japanese military forces. As his name does not appear on any casualty list thus far received, it is probable that he is now a prisoner of war." It took the 19 January broadcast by the Japanese reporting the capture of Cmdr. Cunningham for the Navy to confirm his apprehension at Wake Island.
Long days of worry and dread were taking place at the home front inflicting punishment of a different kind for the family and friends of the prisoners. When Wake Island was captured, Mrs. Cunningham at first could not receive any word concerning her husband. The Navy reported to her that they could not confirm if Cmdr. Cunningham was on Wake Island at all. The Japanese played the tape recording of "the captured Commander of Wake Island, Cmdr. Cunningham" on 19 January 1942. The Navy Department again said, "We can not confirm that anyone by that name had been on Wake." It was not until 29 April 1942 that the Navy could finally "confirm" Cmdr. Cunningham was a prisoner of war and was at Wake Island.
Captain L.E. Denfeld wrote to Mrs. Cunningham again and said, "Information has just been received from official Japanese sources, via Geneva, to the effect that your husband, Cmdr. Winfield Scott Cunningham, USN, is a prisoner of war in the Shanghai vicinity, but the exact locality of internment is not known at this time. This confirms (italics added) our previous letter to you dated 21 January 1942, indicating that he was probably a prisoner of war, as he was at the Naval Air Station, Wake Island, at the time of the capture by the Japanese military forces on 23 December 1941." It is no wonder Cmdr. Cunningham did not receive any credit for the defense of Wake Island. The Navy could not even give his wife definite answers about his whereabouts, let alone the nation. They left it to the Marine Corps' Publicity Department to take full dominance of publicity for the defense at Wake and left little room for the Navy and Army personnel to receive deserved and equal credit.
The Navy permitted Wake to become distinctively a Marine saga and Maj. James P.S. Devereux was identified as the island commander. After the war, Cmdr. Cunningham would state, "During my years of imprisonment, I was concerned how the public felt about my leadership of Wake Island, but after the war I discovered that most of my countrymen did not know I even existed. To others, I was a shadowy figure whose very presence on Wake had not been confirmed until the enemy identified me, and whose apparent function had been that of a well-meaning figurehead who left the conduct of the battle to his subordinates. Wake Island had developed into a massive legend of Marine Corps heroism, and there was no room for a Navy officer in that legend, even if he had happened to be in command of the Marine heroes."
After the Yokohama layover, the Nitta Maru continued on its journey and arrived on 23 January 1942 at the final destination of Shanghai, China. They still had a few miles march to their first POW camp, but brutality was the first thing that greeted them when they disembarked the Nitta Maru. Commander Cunningham said, "One of the guards, a buck-toothed petty officer wearing glasses, ran up and down the line of prisoners, dealing out blows and kicks for no apparent reason other than to satisfy some sadistic cravings."
The camp was located outside Woosung, China, and was a few miles down river from Shanghai. They were marched the 5-mi to the camp in the freezing cold. When they arrived at the camp, the enlisted men and civilians were packed 36 people to a barracks and officers were quartered two or three to the smaller rooms. All were unheated and extremely uncomfortable. Colonel Yuse commanded the prisoners' new home. Commander Cunningham was senior officer present until 31 January 1942 when the Marine Guards from Peking and Tientsin arrived under the command of Col. W.W. Ashhurst.
The responsibility for Wake's surrender bore down on Cmdr. Cunningham unrelentingly. Cunningham kept thinking, "I thought of the brave men who had died under my command, and the others who were now mistreated prisoners because I had made the decision to surrender. Over and over, I reviewed that decision and others I had made, and I wondered whether different ones might have saved us." His thoughts began turning to escape. Winfield believed it the duty of every prisoner to try to escape, but Cunningham had an extra reason to escape. He wanted to get back to the war and fight again and avenge the humiliation of Wake's defeat.
Cunningham's cellmate was L/Cmdr. C.D. Smith of the Naval Reserves who was called to active duty a few weeks before Pearl Harbor to take over all US Navy interests in Shanghai when R/Adm. William Glassford sailed for the Philippines. He also commanded the gunboat USS Wake that was in Shanghai harbor waiting for demolition if the Japanese attacked. Commander Smith hatched a plan of escape and Cunningham jumped at the chance. Commander John Woolley of the Royal Navy Reserve, Superintendent of the Wake Island contractors Dan Teters, and a Chinese boy named Loo who was from the area and ship boy on the USS Wake rounded out the plotters.
On the night of 11 March 1942, they made good on their escape. They avoided the guards and carefully dug under the electrified fence. They reached the banks of the Yangtze and Smith convinced everyone to move downstream in search of a sampan and ride the tide to Pootung and the friendly Chungking Chinese. The Chinese boy tried to convince the group to go west. Later, after they were captured, Cunningham thought to himself, "Strangely enough, we paid no attention to Loo. Convinced that Smith knew what he was doing, we ignored the advice of a man native to the area and took the word of the Occidental who said he knew better."
They followed the river to a point near the confluence of the Yangtze and Whangpoo Rivers. After hours of searching for a sampan without luck, they decided to try and contact a local Chinese farmer for help. They took shelter in a farmer's barn near the city of Powashan. They thought they found someone sympathetic, but the local betrayed them to the Wang Ching-wei Chinese government troops. They tried to bargain with them with rewards, but their dreams of freedom were soon dashed when they saw Japanese troops appear and surround them.
They were taken to the city jail in Woosung and interrogated by the feared Kempeitai who were the army elite. Surprisingly, no brutalities occurred. Winfield said, "Our interrogators actually seemed to be in good spirits about something." They learned later the reason they were so happy. It was the simple fact that the Kempeitai looked with disdain on other army elements, represented in this case by the miserable Col. Yuse. Winfield learned, "The fact that we had escaped from him and then recaptured by them filled them with such glee that they were almost grateful to us for the chance to humiliate him." They rubbed it in Col. Yuse's nose one more time when they were brought back to the camp to show how easy it was to escape.
Flying Sergeant Robert O. Arthur remembered that day years later, as a retired Major, by saying, "On 11 March 1942, Cmdr. Cunningham and three others escaped from Woosung prison, near Shanghai. At once, the Japanese insisted that we all sign a paper saying we wouldn't try to escape or we would be killed. The Wake Island personnel refused to sign, even though we knew we would not be held to this. So we were labeled 'dangerous prisoners' and shipped to a prison camp at Kawasaki, a town between Tokyo and Yokohama. That would be my home for almost four years. We were quartered in a flophouse with bedbugs and lice, eight men to a room with one small window for air. It turned out that after ten to twelve hours of work on the railroad, we were so tired we just didn't care."
Commander Cunningham and his fellow escapee's luck were running out. They were all taken to Shanghai on 13 March 1942 to be confined in the infamous Bridge House, headquarters of the Kempeitai and scene of its most terrible torture sessions, to await trial for their crimes.
Smith, Wooley, Teters, Loo and Cunningham were all placed in different cells that contained about 20 prisoners. They were required to keep seated at all times except for a few exercise periods, when they walked Indian-file around the cell. No talking was permitted. Winfield said, "It was hard to keep still, for the cells were full of lice and the odor of filth and decay was always present. Sitting for 18 hours a day was hard on the legs and back. Plumbing facilities consisted of a wooden bucket in the corner of the cell. Most of the prisoners were Nationalist Chinese soldiers and they were receiving exceedingly brutal treatment. They were given no baths, no medical treatment for injuries or disease, and were constantly being beaten. On two occasions during the first ten days I was there, I woke up to find one of the prisoners dead." The food provided to foreign prisoners comprised of approximately a pound of bread with about two ounces of sugar daily.
They stayed 33 days at the Bridge House before being transferred to the Kiang-wan Military Prison on the outskirts of Shanghai on 15 April 1942. After being stripped for a physical examination by Japanese non-commissioned officers, they were brought before a Japanese Army court-martial. They were now considered part of the Japanese Army, because they were now captives of the army. The trial lasted several hours. The escapees were not given a public defender. The court officers were attempting to find the ringleader, but the escapees stood by their story that all were equally leaders except in the case of Loo. The court decided that they would all be punished as ringleaders and deserters from the Japanese Army. They were forced to wait seven weeks in solitary confinement in rooms that were 4-1/2 by 9 until they would receive their sentences. The cells had concrete walls and wooden floors. No furniture was provided and the one window was 9-ft above the floor. Being alone averaged out to be around 23-hrs and 45-mins a day. Winfield said, "A single day of solitary confinement can be torture in a cell that had a small window that was too high to look out of. Seven weeks can feel like a lifetime."
They were brought before yet another court of officers on 2 June 1942 and tried again. Apparently, the Japanese were not happy with the first trial. The defendants tried to bring attention to the various international conventions concerning prisoners of war, which prescribed 30 days solitary confinement as the maximum penalty for escape attempts, but the Japanese contended that they were not signatories of the Geneva Convention and were not bound by its provisions. They were tried under provisions of the Japanese military law as deserters from the Japanese Army. The military members of the escape party, Woolley, Smith and Winfield, would receive ten-years imprisonment. Dan Teters was given two-years and Loo one. Winfield was actually relieved, "It didn't sound good, but it was a lot better than being shot. We almost beamed at the senior officer."
Seven days later, they were moved to the Shanghai Municipal Gaol, also referred to as Ward Road Gaol, to serve their sentences. Commander Cunningham was able to send out one notice to his family, which in part released his affairs to his wife just in case something bad happened. The post card was dated 9 June 1942 and the heading read, "Shanghai Municipal Gaol. Ward Road. Foreign section." It said, "My dear wife and daughter, I hereby give my wife, Louise Cunningham, full authority in all financial matters affecting me. I am very well, my darlings, and feel that some day everything will be all right again. Your daddy, W.S. Cuningham." Written on the bottom left corner on the post card read, "From: Winfield Scott Cunningham, Commander, US Navy." This last part showed how Cmdr. Cunningham saw himself, but the Japanese saw and treated him so much different.
Commander Cunningham was required to wear the uniform prescribed for criminal prisoners. The governor of the gaol was a Japanese named Tsugai, a former municipal police official. They were no longer treated as prisoners of war, but as troublemakers who lost their combatant status and were serving out criminal terms. They settled into the routine of long monotonous days (18- to 20-hrs per day spent in a cell) indistinguishable from one another, but the conditions were generally better than they had experienced up to this point. For the first time since the fall of Wake, they were given the opportunity to write home once a month. As punishment for escaping, they were not allowed the use of tobacco products, or receive packages from home or the Red Cross, but they could receive short return notes from their families.
On 9 July 1942, four enlisted Marines, CpI. Connie G. Battles, CpI. Charles W. Brimmer and CpI. Jerold B. Story, and PFC Charles A. Stewart, who escaped from the prison camp on 31 March , and who was recaptured on 17 April, arrived at the gaol. In Cpl. Story's signed deposition before the War Crimes Office, he wrote, "We had no counsel during our trial for escaping from Woosung. When the trial was over, we were informed that Battles, Steward and I were sentenced to four-years in prison and that Brimmer was sentenced to seven-years. Brimmer had admitted that he was the ringleader of the escape. Actually this was not the case, but Brimmer admitted to the fact to stop the beatings. When they told Brimmer that he got seven-years, we all started to laugh and told him he would be an old man before he left the prison. As we started to walk out of the courthouse, the Japs called us back and raised Brimmer's sentence to nine-years, evidently because we had laughed." In July of 1943, American civilian Pat Herndon, who received a two-year sentence for fighting with other prisoners, joined the group at the gaol.
Spare time was spent reading. A copy of Dale Carnegie's book How to Win Friends and Influence People made the rounds. Winfield said, "The good Mr. Carnegie's advice on the achievement of popularity was being absorbed by an audience the author had never dreamed of acquiring, and the progress of the book from prisoner to prisoner was accompanied by a marked upswing in the polite virtues. Eventually, the book's happy influence wore off and all hands became their old combative selves again."
As before, thoughts soon turned again to escape. No one had ever escaped from the Shanghai Gaol, but Winfield was determined to be the first.
While Winfield languished in prison and was beginning to become quite sick, his wife received the following letter from R/Adm. Randall Jacob, Chief of Naval Personnel, dated 21 June 1943: "My Dear Mrs. Cunningham, I take pleasure in forwarding to you the citation of the Navy Cross awarded your husband, Cmdr. Winfield S. Cunningham, US Navy, reported as a prisoner of war, in recognition of distinguished and heroic conduct in the line of his profession against enemy Japanese forces in the defense of Wake Island, 7 December 1941 to 22 December 1941." The citation was also forwarded from Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, and "For the President." Mrs. Louise Cunningham's response to them both stated, "It gives my daughter and myself, as well as all the members of our families, great pleasure to have this honor bestowed upon Cmdr. Cunningham. If he could know this, it would bring him the greatest pleasure he has ever experienced. My only regret is that he is not here to receive this award personally."
From 3 March 1942 to 4 October 1942, some of the prisoners were allowed to purchase, on credit, additional supplies through the American Association of Shanghai, 51 Canton Road, Shanghai, China, and were paid for by the Swiss Consulate-General office. A letter from Whiteaway, Laidlaw & Company, Limited, Shanghai, was delivered, c/o Shanghai Municipal Gaol, to Cmdr. Cunningham that stated, "Dear Sir, Under instructions from our supervisors, we regret no further goods can be supplied on credit from this company." It seems that the Japanese decided that no more privileges were to be given to any prisoner.
The total bills paid by the Swiss Consulate were $1275.40 for W.S. Cunningham, $2945.56 for C.D. Smith and $2072.63 for N.D. Teters. It is interesting to note the high prices charged to the American prisoners: One Pipe-$100.00; 1-lb. Tobacco-$150.00; One Warm Slippers-$250.00; One Marking Pencil $8.95; Four Pair Woolen Ankle Socks-$100.00; Three Palmolive Soap-$5.50 (each); and One Hair Brush-$35.00.
It would not be until March 1944 that the prisoners were allowed to start purchasing food through the Swiss Council.
In July 1943, Cunningham acquired a severe case of diarrhea and, by February 1944, Winfield's physical condition had deteriorated badly. Escape plans were put on hold. He weighed only 129-lbs, as opposed to his normal weight of 185. Cunningham hid his true condition from his wife by trying to bring her some cheer in prison postcards that he was allowed to mail home. He wrote on 6 October 1943, "Dear Gals and Pals, Autumn has arrived in Shanghai with a bang, or as they told Napoleon about winter in Russia, like a bombshell. It is plenty cool, just right for football and such like sports; and I hope that the hunting will be good this season. It looks as though it might. Our garden is not in such good shape this season; it doesn't look as though the chrysanthemums will do well. We can't have everything. Well, we hope this may be the last winter we shall have to endure under such conditions. I think that one's health is apt to be less and less equal to the task of coping with the bad food and living conditions as time goes on. Out of the dungeons by Xmas '44, we hope. With Love, Daddy (signed on the side, W.S. Cunningham, Cmdr. USN)."
The Chinese doctors diagnosed Winfield as having nervous indigestion and he was sent to the Police Hospital on 23 February 1944 for three weeks. He returned to the Ward Road gaol on 15 March when his diarrhea stopped and a new rule, which allowed them to purchase food through the Swiss Consul, brought his weight back up to 167 by September 1944.
Two more arrivals came in May 1944 when Marine Sgt. Coulson and PhM2c Brewer, arrived to serve two-year sentences for attempting to escape from the prison camp.
As Winfield's strength returned, so did his efforts to escape. A second attempt was made to escape on 6 October 1944. Two Danish citizens, Borge Theodore Johan Petersen and a Mr. Olafsen, were released from the Shanghai Municipal Gaol in September and told Cmdr. Cunningham that he would throw several hacksaws onto the prison grounds at a pre-arranged time. The hacksaws were delivered as promised, but a competing escape group (Smith, Woolley, and Story) must have made a new deal with Petersen before he left the prison, and they obtained the saws first. Cunningham's group (Cunningham, Coulson, Brewer, Brimmer and Stewart) could hear the hacking away of the prison bars and could not stand the thought of being left behind. Commander Cunningham decided to confront Cmdr. Smith. Cunningham pointed out that he was senior officer and leaving a fellow countryman behind would not look well when he reported the situation to the Navy Department. Commander Smith and Woolley decided, after heated discussion between them, to ask Cunningham to be the fourth escape member of their group. Cunningham insisted it would be all eight Americans. They were furious at first, but Cunningham offered an alternate plan. They would let Smith's group leave first, giving them an hour's head start. They reluctantly agreed.
The American prisoners were able to cut the bars of their cell windows. Eight of the nine military POW confines made the attempt with Cunningham. The other escapees were Cmdr. Woolley, L/Cmdr. Smith, Marine CpI. J.C. Story, CpI. C.W. Brimmer, Marine Sgt. R.F. Coulson, Marine Pvt. C.A. Stewart, and PhM2c A.T. Brewer. Only CpI. Battles remained behind, because he was suffering from epilepsy. They split up into two groups and tried to make it to the friendly Nationalist Chinese in the countryside. Only one of the groups (Woolley, Smith and Storey) was successful. Cunningham's group made it as far as the Soochow Creek before local police cornered them in a cul-de-sac, and they became prisoners again. Cunningham's freedom was short lived, but he believed it was worth the try.
The Japanese Military Police also picked up Petersen and Olafsen later that day. They were tried on 11 December 1944 for helping the escapees and sentenced to two-years at the Ward Road Gaol. After the war, Petersen wrote a letter to Cmdr. Cunningham on 29 December 1945 asking for assistance in becoming an American citizen. He said, "We were taken to the Ward Road Jail and given two blankets, no hot water, and one-half to one-pound of bread a day. We were given no exercise, and were unable to wash for five months. When the Japanese left, the Chinese took over. I was finally released on 16 August 1945. As you know, Cmdr. Smith came back to Shanghai, but both Olafsen and I have no use for him. He talked to much, and it was his fault that we were caught that night." Cunningham believed Petersen betrayed him, but he did write a letter confirming his help in the escape attempt and asked the authorities to help in his bid to come to America.
Cunningham wondered what would happen to someone who escaped twice. Would the Japanese anger lead to the death penalty?
Cunningham was confined again in the Bridge House for the investigation until 3 November 1944. The diet was solely rice, salt, and tea. The cell was crawling with lice and he was confined only with Chinese prisoners with the same rules and treatment as before. On 3 November, he was transferred back to the Kiang-wan Military Prison in the care of the Kempeitai. Winfield went back into solitary confinement for eleven weeks of cold, hunger and sickness. Nervous indigestion overtook Cmdr. Cunningham again and it persisted until March 1945. He wasted down to 115-lbs and commenced experiencing systems of beriberi. Cunningham said, "The only thing that gave me cheer during the frightful winter of 1944-1945 were the bombings of the prison area. Eight days after I arrived at the prison, the bombs started falling. Some were close enough to shake the building."
Six weeks later, on 11 December 1944, they all went before a general court-martial. This was Cunningham's third trial. As usual, there was no defense for the Americans and Cunningham was given life imprisonment. Cunningham said, "I was relieved that it wasn't death. This was the third time that I faced hard-looking Japanese Army officers. I am prepared to claim the honor among United States Navy officers of having been court-martialed the most times by the Japanese." Cunningham was surprised that CpI. Brimmer also received a life sentence, since Cunningham was considered the ringleader. He later found out that Brimmer was tortured into a confession of his earlier escape, so he was considered a ringleader in this attempt also. Stewart, Brewer and Coulson received eight-year sentences.
Japanese officers studiously ignored all prisoners. There appeared to be a calculated policy of exhibiting contempt for prisoners of war. Japanese referred this as part of Bushido, which is translated as "the way of the warrior." The treatment of the prisoners throughout their confinement showed that the detentioners regarded the imprisonment as a merited punishment, rather than a detention due to the misfortunes of war. Commander Cunningham said, "On several occasions during my imprisonment, the Japanese informed me that my imprisonment was a personal disgrace, and failing to achieve death in battle, I should have killed myself."
Thirty-nine days after the trial, on 19 January 1945, they were taken to the rail station and rode 200-mi to Nanking. They were delivered to the Nanking Military Prison. By now, Cunningham became so weak. Winfield said, "I weighed about 115-lbs and suffered unceasingly from my stomach. The weather was desperately cold, I had heard no good news from the fighting fronts, and the loneliness was overwhelming. I was starting to lose the will to live." The Japanese did not expect Cmdr. Cunningham to live through the winter.
Cunningham did survive the harsh winter and was finally taken out of solitary. He was put in the cell of former Ward Road prison mates Pat Herndon and Marine CpI. Battles. He soon served as the mediator between the two cellmates who were not on speaking terms. Cunningham also learned that four of the Doolittle flyers were in the prison. For the offense of being present in a cell when a window was broken by another prisoner, on 25 June 1945, Cmdr. Cunningham was fitted with a heavy leather belt and his hands were shackled to the belt with handcuffs. This punishment continued for 15 days.
By the spring of 1945, Cunningham started to recover from his illnesses and was cheered by the heavy bombing in Nanking. They all yelled when a P-51 sprayed the prison yard with machine gun bullets. On 1 August 1945, all the prisoners in Nanking and were all moved by train to Peiping, China (present-day Peking). Commander Cunningham was handcuffed to another prisoner for the 46-hr trip and his arms were lashed together by a rope secured above his elbows and across his back. He stayed in a closely-confined cell in the military prison at Peiping, China, from 3 August to 18 August 1945. The five minutes daily that was given for washing was the only interruption during this confinement.
On 13 August, Cunningham saw a lot of ashes floating in the air made by burning paper. Ordinarily paper was never burned in China, for it was too valuable. Cunningham said, "We deduced that the Japanese were burning records, and our spirits soared." Around noon on the same day, the prisoners were forced to stand at attention in their cells. After the war Cunningham concluded, "It must have been at the same time the Emperor's broadcast accepting the surrender terms was put on the air."
On the night of 18 August, the 1330th night of Winfield's confinement and his 29th anniversary of his entry into the Navy, the Americans at the camp were brought before the prison commander. His speech was brief; "The war is over. We hope the Americans and the Japanese will shake hands and become friends again."
They were moved that night to a civilian internee camp known as Feng-tai west of Peking. It was here that Cunningham finally realized he was free. Winfield said, "Before I turned in for the night, I took a stroll around the camp. It was something I had not been able to do for three years and eight months. I reveled in the sight of the stars, not just a few as seen through a barred window, but all of them. For the first time I could walk as long as I liked and stayed up as late as I chose. Glorying in this apparently trifling privilege, I found myself realizing at last that I was free." Unknown to Cmdr. Cunningham at the time, a notice was being sent to his home announcing his temporary promotion to Captain, back dating the effective date to the 10th day of June 1943.
If you would like to see an immortalized image of Winfield Scott Cunningham looking out the bars of his small prison window go to the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida. A full-length painting by K. Doyle Ford is on display next to the "Remember Wake Island" display.
An Army Emergency Liaison Team contacted Cmdr. Cunningham on 23 August 1945 at the Feng-tai prison camp. He had lost over 70-lbs and he still suffered from beriberi. Cunningham did not notice the Doolittle Flyers in the camp and informed the Army Team. The Japanese were surprised that anyone knew about the Doolittle members. They were forced to produce the flyers at once.
Vice Admiral Randall Jacobs, Chief of Naval Personnel, would send the following cable to Mrs. Louise Cunningham on 23 August 1945: "Unable to contact you by phone. I am pleased to inform you that a US Army Emergency Liaison Team from China in Peking area has contacted your husband, Cmdr. Winfield Scott Cunningham, who is a prisoner of war of the Japanese. You will be promptly informed when additional information is received."
Captain Winfield Scott Cunningham was evacuated on an Army B-24 to Siam in Free China, on 24 August 1945. On 25 August, they flew to Chunking, where the Doolittle Flyer prisoners left to leave on a different route, and the rest went to Kunming, on the Burma Road, and remained there for eight days. On 2 September, Capt. Cunningham left Kunming for Calcutta, India, then to Agra, Karachi, Abidjan, Cairo, Tripoli, Casablanca, the Azores, and Newfoundland. They arrived in New York City on the 7th of September and then arrived in Washington, DC, later in the day. This was the same day Wake Island was formerly surrendered by the Japanese. He would arrive safe and sound back at his home in Annapolis, Maryland, on Saturday, 8 September 1945.
Cunningham's orders from the Bureau of Naval Personnel were received on 10 September stating, "The unexecuted portion of your orders of 31 October 1941 is hereby cancelled. Report to the Medical Officer in Command of the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, for a complete physical to determine your fitness for all duties."
After his physical checkup at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda on 10 September 1945, Capt. Cunningham reported to temporary duty in the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Navy Department, Washington, DC, in November 1945. On 5 December 1945, Capt. Cunningham received a change in the date of his rank. Instead of 20 June 1943, his rank to Captain was now dated effective 20 June 1942. The 14th of December 1945 brought orders sending Cunningham to the US Naval Air Training Base, Pensacola, Florida, to receive refresher aviation instruction. From 22 January-1 May 1946, Capt. Cunningham continued with refresher instruction on the latest Naval Air innovations. Cunningham missed a lot in those 3-1/2-years of Japanese confinement. Commanding Officer L.T. Hundt, Naval Air Training Base, reported in Capt. Cunningham's fitness report dated 4 May 1946, "Captain Cunningham is an excellent pilot, and is considered qualified and is recommended for promotion when due." Cunningham completed ten-hrs flight time in N2S, 50 in SNJ, 15 in SNB, and 15 in VPB aircraft. He was rated an HTA pilot under his rating of technical competence in specialty.
On 3 May 1946, Cunningham received orders sending him back to sea duty, but his time as Commanding Officer of the USS Curtiss (AV-4). On the way to his new duty station, Capt. Cunningham would stop in Boston, Massachusetts, for CIC indoctrination for Commanding and Executive Officers, San Diego, California, at the Training Command, Pacific Fleet, for two-week instruction in Emergency Ship Handling and at the completion of that training he reported to San Francisco, US Naval Training and Distribution Center, Treasure Island, for instruction in Damage Control.
Captain Cunningham received a letter dated 8 May 1946 from an old classmate, Capt. Benny Decker, who worked with Commander Fleet Activities, Yokosuka, Japan. He forwarded a letter addressed to Cunningham from a Mrs. Kay Nogami who was working as an interpreter for the Woman's Club of Yokosuka, which was doing charitable work for the poor of the city. The letter said, "Dear Cunningham, I was lucky to meet an old classmate of yours. I would like to know how you are enjoying your life after all these hard years for you. I returned to Japan on 24 August 1945.1 am all right, but how things have changed. I did not feel that I came to my hometown, but to some strange country. Japan and Japanese have changed. Everyone is having a hard time now. I do not complain, because I have learned good lessons. I was the only one who returned out of the Kempei Staff Hospital. Do you communicate with Smith, Wooley, or Teters? If you do please tell Wooley whether he still remembers to return to me a golden fork. Didn't we have miserable times there? I just have same old time now. I cannot write very much now, but will soon. This is the time you have to help me to smuggle in some food to keep me out of starvation. Best wishes. Kay Nogami."
Captain Cunningham wrote back to his friend Capt. Decker, "Dear Benny, In regard to Mrs. Nogami I strongly urge that you give her serious consideration in the matter of employment. She was in a position to help me and several other war prisoners who had been recaptured after escaping from the Japs. She did give us substantial help, which I recall with great appreciation. I believe she has a great deal of liking and sympathy for Americans and can probably be trusted as far as any Japanese who is not an American citizen. I am enclosing $25.00, which I wish you would use to furnish Mrs. Nogami with food and any other supplies which you may see fit to do." Good deeds receive good deeds in return.
On 15 July 1946, Capt. Cunningham was forwarded the Presidential Unit Citation, Ribbon Bar and Bronze Star from Capt. W.C. Thomas, Director, Medals and Awards. President Franklin Roosevelt awarded the Unit citation to "The Wake detachment of the 1st Defense Battalion, US Marine Corps, under command of Maj. James P. S. Devereux, US Marines and Marine Fighting Squadron 211 of Marine Aircraft Group 21, under command of Maj. Paul A. Putman, US Marines and Army and Navy personnel present for 'The courageous conduct of the officers and men who defended Wake Island against an overwhelming superiority of enemy air, sea, and land attacks from 8 to 22 December 1941, has been noted with admiration by their fellow countrymen and the civilized world, and will not be forgotten so long as gallantry and heroism are respected and honored. They are commended for their devotion to duty and splendid conduct at their battle stations under most adverse conditions. With limited defensive means against attacks in great force, they manned their shore installations and flew their aircraft so well that five enemy warships were either sunk or severely damaged, many hostile planes shot down, and an unknown number of land troops destroyed. Franklin Roosevelt.' "
President Roosevelt personally signed the citation soon after the capture of Wake Island when the whereabouts of Cmdr. Winfield Scott Cunningham was uncertain. In fact, the citation was written for the President by the Marine Corps public relations department. They might have "overlooked" the actual Navy Commander of Wake Island who was in charge, but when asked by the author in 1982 about his being "overlooked," retired R/Adm. Cunningham would say, "The Marines like to forget the fact that they are part of the Navy." On 3 February 1947, then-Capt. Cunningham, Commanding Officer, USS Curtiss, wrote the Chief of Naval Personnel, Adm. T.L. Sprague, in part the following: "2. It is noted that the names of two subordinate officers in the Wake detachment are prominently mentioned in the Presidential Unit Citation, whereas the name of the commander of the entire detachment does not appear anywhere. 3. An opinion is requested as to whether the facts as stated in the above paragraph do not constitute a case of omission serious enough to warrant correction."
Admiral Sprague would write the following to The secretary of the Navy: "Subject: Professional Record of Originator. 1. Forwarded. 2. It is the carefully considered opinion of the Chief of Naval Personnel that in the official history of World War Two, Capt. Cunningham should be given full and equal credit along with Maj. (now Brig/Gen.) Devereux and Maj. (now Col.) Putnam for the defense of Wake Island. Moreover, it is recommended that an appropriately phrased Presidential Unit Citation be awarded to the Defenders of Wake Island under the command of Capt. Winfield S. Cunningham."
This was good news for Capt. Cunningham. The official records would be changed to reflect the actual events. Good news until 6 March 1947 when the official reply came from John Sullivan, secretary of the Navy. It stated, "1. Enclosure is returned. 2. It is regretted that your name was omitted in the subject Presidential Unit Citation whereas two officers subordinate to you were mentioned therein. In view of the fact, however, that this citation was signed by the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt, it cannot be withdrawn and corrected. 3. The secretary of the Navy fully appreciates the fact that you were in command of the US forces at Wake Island during the period 8-22 December 1941."
New official rules in the issuance of Presidential Unit Citations where only unit names and not individuals are mentioned, and the fact that a historical document could not be changed became the official line. The Navy would know of Cunningham's heroic efforts, but the public would forever know the Defense of Wake Island as a "strictly" Marine affair.…