Wrong place at the wrong time

Conrad MeijerConrad Meijer was a Dutch civilian teenager who spent much of World War II as a prisoner of the Japanese. (Photo by Patrick Dennis, used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.)

By George Morris

As a Dutch teenager who never took up arms in World War II, Conrad Meijer seemed unlikely to end up in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Meijer, however, was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Meijer grew up in India, where his father, Johan, built sugar refineries. In 1938, his parents sent him to a boarding school in Indonesia, which then was a Dutch colony. Meijer was at the school when they heard radio reports of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Java, Indonesia’s most populous island, is a long way from Hawaii, but it didn’t take long for World War II to arrive. Within hours of its strike on Pearl Harbor, Japan attacked the Philippines and Southeast Asia.  Singapore was captured on Feb. 15, 1942, and Japanese forces moved into Sumatra and Java.

Meijer (pronounced MY-er) later learned his father had sent money to the school to pay for his evacuation, but it didn’t arrive in time.

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Gen. Troy Middleton: Right man at the right time at the Bulge

Gen. Troy Middleton: Right man at the right time at the Bulge

middleton-eisenhower-1944                    Gen. Troy Middleton, right, with Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

By George Morris

When Maj. Gen. Troy H. Middleton awoke on Dec. 16, 1944, in Bastogne, Belgium, he knew something was wrong. His attention turned east. Sunlight had not yet pierced the fog, but Middleton could clearly hear what he couldn’t see. Artillery.

This was a surprise — especially here, certainly now. For seven months, the Allied forces had beaten German forces across France,Belgium and Luxembourg. To the east, Russia troops had taken the Balkans, the Baltic states and pushed their way into Poland.

Now, a bitter winter was gripping Europe. Certainly, Hitler was preparing a desperate, yard-by-yard defense of the Fatherland. That made the most sense. What Middleton heard this morning, however, did not sound like defense.

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Watching the attack on Pearl Harbor

pearl_shaw-explodingUSS Shaw explodes during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941 (National Archives)

By George Morris

The day that helped define the 20th century started as a typical Sunday morning in 14-year-old Janice Hobson’s home in Honolulu, Hawaii. An Ink Spots song, “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire,” was playing on the radio. The only oddity was that her dad, usually the first one up, was sleeping late. It was almost 8 a.m.

But it wasn’t a normal Sunday. Someone was setting the world on fire.

Janice heard a car horn blowing across the street. From a window, she saw a neighbor, Edward Bogan — who, like her dad, Sebaldus, served in the Navy — running with his young daughter in his arms.

“He jumped out of the car, grabbed the little girl and went up these steps to our house screaming, ‘The g-d Japs are bombing the hell out of Pearl Harbor!’” she said.

It was Dec. 7, 1941, and Baton Rouge resident Janice Hobson Wall Monro remembers it well.

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