Few veterans of any service in any war have endured the extreme cruelty and brutality of the Japanese POW camps and yet survived to share their story. This was Melfreds experience.
On April 18, 1939, Melfred Forsman left his home in Iowa Falls and enlisted in the Navy at Des Moines, Iowa. After training as a Seaman at Great Lakes, Illinois, he was assigned to duty aboard the Cruiser, USS Houston; which at that time was flagship of the “Asiatic Fleet” in Manila.
At the outbreak of WWII, the Houston was one of the few warships deployed to confront the Japanese advance and it fought in the Battle of the Java Sea in February 1942. Soon afterward, Houston, in company with the Australian Cruiser, HMAS Perth, was ordered to sail from Java to Australia. As the two cruisers were passing thru Sunda Strait on the night of February 28th, the Allied vessels suddenly found themselves in the darkness, in the middle of a large Japanese fleet that was landing troops on Java. In an incredibly intense action at short ranges, Houston and Perth blazed away, sinking 11 vessels and heavily damaging 10 others; before both cruisers were themselves sunk in the brief 1-hour, 15-minute engagement known as the Battle of Sunda Strait. Some 721of Houston’s 1,087 crew died in the fighting or drowned in the sinking. Seaman First Class Melfred Forsman, with fragmentation wounds in his back and lower legs, was one of 366 survivors that swam ashore and were immediately taken prisoner by the Japanese landing force.
Melfred was moved from Sarang to Batavia on Java, and from there to the slave labor camps building the death railway through Burma and Thailand. In January 1945, Melfred was courts-marshaled, together with Major W.M. Rogers and Captain W.D. Parker, for smuggling medicine and news into the camp. The two officers were executed and Melfred was sentenced to 6-years in prison. Today, Melfred describes in detail the routine beatings, forced labor on starvation rations; and his brutal torture during interrogation by the Japanese Secret Police. When liberated on August 20, 1945, Melfred Forsman was serving his courts-martial sentence in the Outrum Road Jail in Singapore. Held in solitary confinement, completely naked with only a wooden board to sleep on, he had not seen another human for six months. Debilitated in physical and mental condition, he weighed only 80 pounds.
Melfred, who was discharged in January 1946, says, I was not given a physical by the Navy after my return to their control at the 142nd Field Hospital in Calcutta, India, and was not placed in a hospital upon my return although I needed help physically and mentally. After trying to have someone listen to him for over fifty years, Melfred Forsman wrote to (Chapter 1919 membership chairman) Frank Cortez in September 1997 asking for assistance and saying, As I grow older my need for my country to recognize my faithful service is consuming me.
In March, when the Navy Board for Correction of Records approved the Purple Heart for Melfred Forsman, he was in Audie Murphy VA Hospital in San Antonio. Frank Cortez visited him there and told him of his award. Frank and Olga Cortez drove out to Midland to be at the Veterans Center on Saturday, May 16, 1998 for the ceremony conferring the long-overdue Purple Heart to this distinguished veteran. Receiving the award, Melfred said, I gratefully accept this award on behalf of my over 700 shipmates still standing watch in the Sunda Strait. He was also honored by a proclamation from the Mayor who declared the 16th, Melfred Forsman Day in Midland.
Melfred Forsman provided this Purple Heart story for publication in the July-August 1998 issue of PATRIOT BULLETIN. Melfred passed away in December 2005.