WWII prisoner's photo album returns to New Mexico roots
BY Kate Nash (With Permission)
for "The New Mexican"
DEC. 1, 2008 Roberta Koishi held the photo album in front
of a Santa Fe crowd that included World War II veterans and
slowly began to turn the pages.
From the outside, the album, which includes images of New
Mexico soldiers in the 1940s, might have seemed at first
glance like any other keepsake of wartime and military
Unlike other albums, though, this thick, time-worn tome
filled with black-and-white snapshots of people, horses,
training sites of another time, had just been flown across
the Pacific Ocean to Santa Fe. And the book is about to
start another journey one to find its owner.
A former member of the Imperial Japanese Army found it in a
bunker when he worked at a prisoner of war camp in the
Philippines. He searched for years for the owner, but only
recently discovered that seven of the names listed in the
album match records of former members of the 200th Coast
Artillery of the New Mexico National Guard.
Members of that unit were among thousands of U.S. and
Filipino soldiers who surrendered at the outset of the war
in the Pacific. The Japanese forced most of the weakened men
to march for several hundred miles what became known as
the Bataan Death March.
The man who found the album, Tokio Watanabe, enlisted a
Japanese man and his wife Roberta and her husband, Takao
to bring the book to Santa Fe.
The trip here ended Monday, with the Koishis presenting the
album at the Bataan Memorial Military Museum, where
Roberta's turning through the pages unleashed a flurry of
emotions for those who watched.
Ret. Tech. Sgt. William Overmier said he recognized some
things in the album, including a view similar to one he had
from the Mitsubishi shipyards while he was a prisoner of war
in the early 1940s.
All we had to do was look out the west and there it was, 60
miles away, every day, he said. I sure recognized that.
Overmier took his time looking over the photos. He even
recognized a car similar to the one he had owned in days
gone by a Chevrolet Club Coupe.
Others in the room recognized ships, a recreation area,
names of people lost. Their ships, their recreation spot,
None was the album's owner, however.
The people in the book whose names matched those of state
records are all dead, National Guard officials said. But
officials soon will start writing to family members to see
if they can determine where the album should go.
During the event, Roberta Koishi delivered a message from
Watanabe, who wrote a history book on the second world war.
He said he's so happy he can give the album back and he can
feel an ease in his own heart, she said.
For now, the book will be kept at the museum.
As some pieces of the mystery begin to fall into place,
National Guard Adjutant General Kenny Montoya said he's
optimistic the book will go where it needs to be.
I think what's going to happen is whoever owns it is going
to not come forward, he said. I've seen this over and over
with the Bataan veterans: They want to share.
If an owner comes forward and claims the book, the Guard
will hand it over. If not, it will go on display at the
museum, Montoya said.
The men whose names are in the album are Fred Swope, George
Milliken, Lloyd Harman, Walter Kiesov, Errett Lujan, Jesus
Silva and Francis Van Buskirk.
Van Buskirk, a 1939 graduate of Santa Fe High School, was
believed to be one of only a couple of dozen Bataan
survivors at the time he died here in February at the age of