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Rescue from Culion











 In 1939 the Hanks family moved from Arlington, VA to the island of Culion in the Phillipines to study leprosy and work at a leper colony located there.  In 1942,  following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Hanks family became prisoners of War and were held on Culion by Japanese forces. 

 In a daring operation in 1945 the Hanks family was rescued from their imprisonment by members of the Third Emergency Rescue Squadron (the 3rdERS) using their distinctive Catalina PBY flying boats. 

 Recently John King Hanks, who was 10 at the time of the Japanese takeover, wrote a book chronicling the ordeal and rescue titled - Boy P.O.W.   The website, www.boy-pow.com  contains photographs taken during the rescue. 

 Visit the site and whet your appetite, then buy and read the exploits of a young American boy held prisoner by the Japanese on a South Pacific Island, Boy P.O.W.


 John K. Hanks recently published an autobiography, “Boy P.O.W.”, chronicling the life of his family before, during, and after WWII. In 1939, the Hanks family moved from Arlington, Virginia, to the tiny island of Culion in the Philippines, where John’s father, Dr. John H. Hanks, was planning the study and research on leprosy for three years in association with Dr. M. V. Wade.

 For two years, the family enjoyed an idyllic life on Culion, while the father engaged in  his research at the leprosarium there. After Pearl Harbor, however, they were trapped on Culion and became de facto prisoners of war. Initially, their lives were little affected by the Japanese Occupation. A hands-off policy relative to the Americans on Culion was followed, a reflection of Japanese fear of the leprosy colony there. As the war raged on in the outside world, shortages of food and other goods began to creep into daily life on the island. The Hanks family was forced to raise their own food - fishing, gardening, and cultivating a small farm tract on a nearby island. For three years, John K. and his younger brother, Jim, assumed adult responsibilities in the farming, even though they were only 10 and 9 years old when the Japanese occupation began. 

 By late 1944, progress of the war indicated that continued presence of the Americans on Culion was becoming increasingly dangerous. Gen. MacArthur’s GHQ ordered an evacuation mission and, on Feb. 10, 1945, a 3rd ERS Catalina (pilots Dick Taggart and Bob Fraser) removed the Americans to Mindoro. The events of that day are covered by author Hanks in a 7-page chapter which includes four pictures. The text of this chapter is almost entirely an excerpt from the 3rd ERS Unit History (A Walk Through the Valley, pp. 69-71). Two of the four pictures in the biography did not appear in the Unit History.

 For many years after WWII and through seven 3rd ERS reunions, the Squadron.  knew almost nothing about the Hanks family and often wondered about their fate. John Hanks’ book offers an engrossing description of their life on Culion, contacts with the Japanese, and a brief indication of the family fortunes after they bid farewell to their 3rd ERS rescuers on the tarmac at Mindoro. There is a culminating description of their presence at and participation in the final reunion of the 3rd ERS at Fort Rucker, Alabama, in September, 2007. John’s book, “Boy P.O.W.” , soft cover, 125 pages, many pictures, is available from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

 Further, John and his wife, Beverly Hanks, have now posted a website on the Internet (www.boy-pow.com ) which makes a fitting addendum to the book and contains several more pictures not previously published.

submitted by Bill MacDermott, 3rdERS Historian




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Last modified: 12/18/09