70th Shinyo Maru Commemoration in Sindangan

On September 7, 1944, the Japanese warship SS Shinyo Maru was sailing for Manila. The vessel was one of the “Hell Ships” used by the Imperial Japanese Navy and Army to transport Allied prisoners from the Philippines to elsewhere in the Japanese empire. Unaware that it was carrying 750 prisoners of war, mostly American survivors, the American submarine USS Paddle SS263, which was tasked to search for the Japanese ship, attacked it. The US submarine torpedoed the Shinyo Maru about a mile or two away from Sindangan point in Zamboanga del Norte. Of the 83 prisoners of war who made it to the shore, one died after they came ashore and was buried on the hill of the town of Sindangan. The 82 remaining survivors were cared for by the locals of Sindangan.

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Now, in the same site, under a grove of coconut trees facing the Sindangan Bay, lies a commemorative marker in honor of the bravery and heroism of the Shinyo Maru passengers and the people of Sindangan. The site in Barangay R.G. Macias is where survivors were sheltered and fed by the locals, and where they were picked-up by another US submarine.

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The marker was unveiled by the municipality of Sindangan in partnership with the Department of Tourism Region IX and the Zamboanga del Norte provincial government to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Shinyo Maru incident on September 7, 2014.

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I was fortunate enough to be invited to cover the event along with other members of the media. In attendance was Randy Anderson, the Project Leader for the Hellship Memorial, families of the Shinyo Maru survivors, representatives from the Department of Tourism, and local officials from Sindangan and Zamboanga del Norte.

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After a short program, the marker was unveiled. The marker reads:

This Commemoration Marker is dedicated in honor of the residents in the Liloy-Sindangan Area of Mindanao, Philippines whose demonstration of Filipino hospitality and care saved 82 prisoners of war, all citizens of the United States of America, from recapture by the Japanese authorities seventy years ago, when the SS Shinyo Maru Sank on 7 September 1944.

Installed and dedicated this 7th day of September 2014.

70th shinyo maru commemoration 04According to DOT Region 9, the marker was constructed to serve as a landmark and to recognize the significant contribution of the people of Sindangan during the historic World War II event. An exhibit of historical documents that chronicled the incident was displayed during the the reception dinner hosted in the hacienda of the Macias family overlooking the bay.

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The exhibit also displayed proposed plans for a complete Shinyo Maru Memorial designed by Architect Jose O. Martinez III, who also designed the marker. Proposed plans show an art gallery, administration and tourist information center, shrine, museum and memorial square surrounding the marker. The DOT Region 9 hopes to complete the memorial by the 75th anniversary of the Shinyo Maru incident in September 2019.

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14 thoughts on “70th Shinyo Maru Commemoration in Sindangan

  1. My cousin Major Robert B. Blakeslee was one of the 83 survivors. I never knew him personally but found out about him in doing my family genealogy. I just recently was able to locate his son. I just want to thank those on the island who’s family members played a significant role in taking care of them once they hit shore. Freedom comes at such an expense for we must all be thankful for the outcome. We must never forget the cost and should be educating our younger generations who have no clue REALLY as to the cost. They only know of the word, for the definition of the giving of one’s life needs to be more readily emphasized.

  2. My uncle, Eldon Chastain, was one of the Marine Corps POWs who was killed on the Shinyo Maru. I never met him–I remember being a little girl when my mother showed me his name on a memorial in Arkansas and told me he was “buried at sea”. A few years ago, I decided to see what I could find out and was able to contact one of the former POWs he was imprisoned with. The things he told me still give me chills. Though Uncle Eldon didn’t make it to shore, this story proves the incredibly brave, selfless people who risked their lives to help the other survivors would have been there for him, too. They are heroes in the truest sense of the word and I thank them for daring to reach out and help the survivors of this tragedy. As Ross said, “we must never forget the cost” of freedom–and the sacrifices made by those who came before us.

  3. My first cousin, Marcus Newton Simkins, was one of the 83 survivors of the Shinyo Maru. After World War II was over he always lived in California and died there in 1964 at age 44 so I never got to meet him. My mother and father did tell me a few things they knew about him though. I was able to finally find a photo of him in an article in The San Bernardino County Sun newspaper in an article about his time as a POW of the Japanese.

    • Mr. Young,
      Marcus Newton Simkins happens to be my Grandfather. I never met him and only heard stories from my late father when I was young. If there is anything that you can share with me that would be great.

      • Mike,
        I am so happy to hear from you. I had though that Marcus’s descendants were lost to me since he lived in California and died so young. I did know his parents, though their visits were few and far between and I went to their funerals when they died. I can tell you some things about your grandfather that you may or may not know, but I can tell you a lot about you grandfather’s ancestors all the way back to the early 1800s in Cape Charles, VA. And share family photos, too, that you most likely do not have. I have been working on the family genealogy since the summer of 1972. please e-mail me at
        ” eyoung1962 @ gmail.com ” without the spaces or course. I will give you my address and phone number in case you want to call and talk. You have a lot of family here in Texas. I look forward to your e-mail.
        Your cousin,
        Ernest

  4. Ernest–It’s sad that, after surviving so much, your cousin passed away at such a young age. I have to wonder if what he endured as a POW–and escaping the barbaric, brutal torture on that truly hell-ish “hell ship”, had anything to do with his death. You’re fortunate to have found a photo–Since I was born long after he died, I have no photo of him so I have no idea what he even looked like.
    I am truly sorry you never had the chance to meet him. I know how much it hurts when you read or hear about what was done to him and his fellow POWs. I hope it gives you some comfort knowing he was shown kindness and given protection by the people who met him on shore after he escaped those horrors.

  5. Yvonne,
    Thank you for your comments. I’m so sorry for your loss. I looked at the memorial page on Find A Grave for your uncle, PFC Eldon Tobias Chastain. The creator of his memorial did a very nice job.
    I have no doubt that Marcus’ time as a POW and the extreme hardships he and the others on that ship endured both in the prison camps and after being loaded on that ship had some part in his early death. Even after Marcus escaped that ship he spent about six weeks living with friendly Filipinos in the jungle until he was rescued in late Oct. 1944 and shipped home. Marcus was in the Medical Department, so I like to think he helped POWs who were ill or injured in some way as much as he could.
    My mother told me that Marcus said they would get only a rice ball and a canteen of water for the day when they were forced to work in the jungle. Some of the men would empty the water out of their canteen and capture bugs and small snakes, placing them in the canteen. Later at night back at the camp, they would cook them and eat them. Marcus said there was one long green bug, that when cooked, tasted like French-fried potatoes.
    Marcus also served in the Army again in the Korean War. I’m sure that war experience didn’t help him health wise either.

  6. Hi Ernest: Ross here Fredericksburg, VA. Not sure as to how I got your message and that’s OK. I had a cousin also Captain Robert Blakeslee who was a POW on this ship. He did write an account of his experience. However, after reading other accounts I really don’t think he expressed the really terrible things the Japs did to them. If you would like a copy of his account would need your email address or mailing.

    • Ross, I would like a copy of Captain Robert Blakeslee’s experience. My e-mail address is “eyoung1962 at gmail.com”, But use the @ symbol instead of the word and spaces in my e-mail address.
      I’m not sure how you got my reply to Yvonne in her Nov. 1 post to me, but it was my first time to reply to reply to a post and I must have hit something other than the correct button.
      There is a paperback book titled “Survivor” by John C. Playter, published in 2000 by Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri. You can contact their Office of Public Relations for information about it. It is his personal memoir of the Battle for the Philippines, the Bataan Death March, Japanese Slave Labor Camps & Escape from the Japanese Hell Ship, the Shinyo Maru. You may be able to still locate a copy if you are interested.
      Thanks again
      Ernest Young
      Floresville, TX
      Thanks for the copy of the document Blakeslee wrote.

  7. Hi Ross, I have read Captain Blakeslee’s account of his time as a POW (www.hfcsd.org/ww2/interviews/robert%20blakeslee/robert%20blakeslee.htm)–and I spoken to other former POWs about what they were subjected to while in the prison “camps” and on the “death march” with my uncle, Eldon Chastain. I’ve been searching for as many accounts of what they endured as possible because, like me, most of my cousins were born long after Uncle Eldon’s death and I don’t want him, or any of the other heroes who paid such a tremendous price, to be forgotten. I will never forget the day my mother held my hand and pointed to some writing on a massive rock and said “This is your uncle. He’s buried at sea.”–I was too young to read or comprehend that it was a memorial for soldiers from our area who were killed in the war. I didn’t know until many years later that none of my mother’s family knew much more than what she’d told me that day. I don’t want my family to lose him again.

    I agree with your assessment–I think what we’ve been told has been “sanitized” because the truth is much more horrific than the survivors want us to know. I still cringe when I think about what I’ve learned. I can’t find strong enough words to sum up how inhumanely they were treated.

    Thank you for sharing. Your cousin, and all the other American heroes who have served our Nation, must never be forgotten. Their stories need to be told, often. They paid a HUGE price for the rights many people take for granted these days.

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