Decades later, Marine tells prisoner of war experience

22 Dec 2010 | 9th Marine Corps District

At the Platte City library, Oct. 23, hundreds of veterans gathered to reminisce their days of service in combat. The event called Veterans Salute, is hosted annually and invites all war veterans to showcase artifacts and share their stories.

Although this year’s event highlighted the Korean War, there was one veteran present with a unique experience from World War II.

Ben Lohman, a survivor of World War II as a prisoner of war captured by the Japanese, continues to share his story decades later.

Lohman served with the 4th Marine Regiment, which was originally stationed in Shanghai, China.

“We were called the China Marines,” he said.

Because of the vulnerability to the Japanese, which were starting to pose a threat to Americans at the time, the Marines at Shanghai were eventually pulled out and sent to the Philippines. It wasn’t long before the U.S. would see a Japanese offensive.

“Two days after we landed in the Philippines, the Japanese attacked pearl harbor,” Lohman recalls vividly.

American forces in the Philippines were constantly attacked by the Japanese while in the Philippines. Until that time, the 4th Marine Regiment was commanded by the Navy. After the move control was transferred to the Army. After several months of continuous bombing, it was getting harder and harder for the troops to fight back. During most of the flights, enemy planes flew several thousand feet higher than the range of the American weapons. Although a lot of the bombs missed their targets, the frequency of the bombings made up for it.

Eventually, the American troops were surrendered to the Japanese by the commander, at the time an Army general. They now became prisoners of war.

“While we were in the Philippines, we all became POW’s for the Japanese,” said Ben Lohman, 91, a veteran of World War II.

He remembers that even though the Japanese severely punished the Filipinos for aiding the American POW’s, the Filipinos were eager to help however possible.

“They did whatever they could,” he laughed.

After several months as POW’s in the Philippines, the Japanese began to transport the POW’s to Japan. They were sent to several parts of Japan. Lohman was sent to Osaka to work on oil tanks.

“As we traveled, we made several stops were they needed some workers and they just dropped off 50 to 100 guys there,” recalls Lohman.

After arriving at Osaka, Lohman spent more than three years as a POW. He remembers working with rarely any days off.

“You really had to bear down on that training to survive,” said Lohman referring to basic training in survival.

He also admits that the leadership and his young age helped him face the tough times.

“I was a healthy guy,” he admitted. “If you put your mind to it, if you told yourself I’m going to survive, you would make it.”

One of his most memorable moment as a POW was his last day. During holidays, the Japanese would grant the POW’s a day off for rest. For this one day, he remembers the Japanese being more generous than normal.

“The man came in and said ‘you get one more day,’” he said. We thought wow they must have really had a party tonight,” he said as he laughed, although whenever he laughed he would stop as if the reality of it was not as amusing at the time. “Then he comes back again the next day… and says ‘from now on we will be friends’,” he said as he erratically explained that the message must have been related to the dropping of the atomic bomb.

The prisoners were dumbfounded. Not long ago they had been prisoners with limited rights. Now they were on their own, free, and with no direction.

“We just started to make our wake to Yokosuka naval base,” Lohman said.

After arriving at Yokosuka, they finally returned home. He remembers not having told his mother when he was back stateside.

“I had told my mother when I was in Japan that I was finally released,” he said. “But she had no idea when I was coming back. I remembered I had sneaked into the house. She was washing dishes at the time and she nearly dropped them.”

Lohman vividly remembers the days after he arrived home from the war. He talked about dealing with post traumatic stress disorder and how his time as a POW affected his life.

“I know a little about the service, a lot about survival and a lot about preparing to die,” he said. He paused briefly and added, “I didn’t want to know about (preparing to die),” he said as he laughed.

9th Marine Corps District