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Cablegate: 60th Anniversary of "Siam-Burma Death Railway"

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS RANGOON 000549

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL MOPS BM
SUBJECT: 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF "SIAM-BURMA DEATH RAILWAY"
COMMEMORATED

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: COM, DATT, and others participated in a
May 1 Australia-organized ceremony commemorating the 60th
anniversary of the infamous Siam-Burma Death Railway. 133
Americas were among the estimated 12,000 Allied POWs who
perishing while slaving on the railway's construction. This
was the first time the GOB has permitted the C-12 out of
Bangkok to fly from Rangoon to Moulmein (Mawlamyine). The
usual high-profile presence of Military Intelligence minders
was largely absent during this trip and the GOB did not
attempt to place a "safety officer" on board the C-12.
Perhaps the GOB's lighter touch on this trip was an
outgrowth of the successful, confidence-building WWII
remains recovery mission concluded last month. END
SUMMARY.

2. (U) Four surviving Australian POWs were among the 60 or
so mostly Australian civilians who traveled to Thanbyuzarat,
the Burma terminus of the railway constructed with forced
POW and "native" labor in WWII. The COM joined the
Australian and British ambassadors for a short service at
the cemetery, at which former POW Dr. Rowley Richards was
the keynote speaker. The surviving POWs were the event's
center of focus and willingly shared their memories and
experiences. Dr. Richards recounted that, while en route to
a POW camp in Japan after the completion of the railway, his
ship was torpedoed by a U.S. submarine. He was fished out
of the ocean by a lifeboat and arrived in Japan just prior
to the nuclear attacks. As a prison doctor he undoubtedly
saved many American lives, commenting, "On my rounds I used
to linger longer than I should have with the Americans, as I
was fascinated by the accents of your chaps from the Bronx."

3. (SBU) This was the first time the GOB has permitted the
C-12 out of Bangkok to fly from Rangoon to Moulmein
(Mawlamyine). Flying on the C-12 saved the Embassy group a
15-hour round-trip drive over dangerous roads. Situated 100
miles and a 35-minute flight southeast of Rangoon, Moulmein
is Burma's fourth largest city and a former capital of
British Lower Burma. Airport formalities were non-existent
in Moulmein and apart from a slightly delayed takeoff
(caused by a dog napping on the tarmac), the flights were
without incident. The blacktop road running 40 miles south
from Moulmein to Thanbyuzarat winds through miles of rubber
plantations; although in past years the area has been
plagued by insurgency, the road featured only one security
checkpoint. Embassy Rangoon extends its thanks to Embassy
Bangkok, particularly to the DAO and C-12 crew, for the
generous use of the aircraft.

4. (SBU) COMMENT: We noted that the normal high-profile
presence of Military Intelligence minders was largely absent
during this trip. Further, the GOB did not attempt to place
a "safety officer" on board the C-12 this time. This was
also the first year the GOB permitted the Australian embassy
to host a formal ceremony at Thanbyuzarat. Perhaps the
GOB's lighter touch on this trip was an outgrowth of the
successful, confidence-building WWII remains recovery
mission concluded last month. End Comment. MARTINEZ

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