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Forever bound: Decatur to host 73rd annual Lost Battalion Reunion

By Austin Jackson | Published Saturday, August 4, 2018
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Lost And Found

LOST AND FOUND – Carla Womack, curator of the Wise County Heritage Museum, stands in the Lost Battalion room located at the hisotric Decatur Baptist College Building. The Museum will host a memorial and silent auction for the Lost Battalion Reunion on Aug. 11. Messenger photo by Austin Jackson

Forty-two months of anguish, starvation and experiencing the depths of man’s depravity created bonds that could not be broken between the members of the Lost Battalion, a group of 902 men imprisoned by the Japanese Army during World War II.

The survival rate of the Lost Battalion, comprised of the 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery, 36th division, as well as the men who swam ashore from the Cruiser USS Houston (CA-30) after it sank, was unprecedented. The men were mostly farmers based out of Wise and Jack counties, said Rosalie Gregg, whose late husband was in the Lost Battalion.

Since 1945, survivors of the brutal imprisonment maintained those bonds – which gave them hope and life during the darkest times – by gathering for annual reunions.

For the first time in 73 years, they’ll be reuniting closer to where many of the Battalion members and their families call home – Wise County. The reunion is Aug. 9-11 at the Decatur Conference Center.

Reunion President Terri Shields, whose father was a member of the Lost Battalion, said every reunion is important, but this year is special.

“All of them are important, but to have it here in Decatur, in our museum, it’s incredible because the next generation can see the history and hear the stories of these men firsthand,” Shields said. “We want to continue remembering and honoring the stories of these men, and not let them die. They went through so much for our country, suffering through such brutality. I don’t know where our country would be without them.”

Carla Womack, curator of the Wise County Heritage Museum, said the reunion in Decatur has been made possible by the recent opening of the Fairfield Inn. The event will begin Thursday as families and members arrive. On Friday, there will be a business meeting, as well as dinner and dance at the Conference Center. On Saturday, the reunion will move to the Wise County Heritage Museum for a memorial and silent auction to fund future reunions.

One of the four surviving members of the Battalion, Army veteran Rufus Choate, 95, is expected to attend.

Choate was one of 534 Army Texas National Guardsmen who were imprisoned for more than three-and-a-half years and one of the 443 who returned home, one of the highest survival rates in history for prisoners of war.

In addition to the the Army servicemen, 335 members of the Navy and 35 Marines were imprisoned to make up the Lost Battalion. Two hundred sixty-three members of the Navy returned home and 28 Marines.

Gregg said the men’s bond is what carried them through, and the reunions have fostered bonds between wives and families as they shared in dealing with the horrors brought home from Japan.

“We’re all like family now,” Gregg said. “Battalion brothers, sisters and cousins.”

The Wise County Heritage Museum, operated by the Wise County Historical Society, is located in the old Decatur Baptist College building, and it has a room on the second floor dedicated to the Lost Battalion.

The museum, 1602 S. Trinity St., is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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