Survivors Mark Anniversary of USS Houston Sinking
Today, March 1st, is the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the Navy cruiser USS Houston off the coast of Java during World War II.
Some of the handful of survivors are in Houston this week to remember their comrades who didn’t make it, and tell the remarkable story of what happened to them as prisoners of war.
Fifteen of the original USS Houston crew members are still living, but only two are expected to make it to the reunion of their survivors association this weekend. On Saturday, they will join relatives of their shipmates for a memorial service at a monument dedicated to the ship in Sam Houston Park downtown.
The ship had a crew of 1,068 sailors and marines, but only 291 survived the sinking. The survivors were picked up by Japanese ships and became prisoners of war. Most went to POW camps in Japan where many died under harsh treatment and conditions.
Others were sent to labor camps in Burma, where they spent more than three years building the Burma Railway, and the bridge that was made famous in the 1957 movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai.”
The destruction of the heavy cruiser hit the city of Houston hard, and it ignited a patriotic frenzy that culminated in a mass recruiting drive for volunteers to replace the lost crew. One thousand men enlisted in one day, in what was described as “the greatest single mass recruiting drive ever seen in the United States.”
It also launched a fundraising campaign that raised $85 million to pay for building a new cruiser named for Houston, and an aircraft carrier, the USS San Jacinto.