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World War II veteran recalls time spent as Japanese prisoner of war

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Clarence "Skip" Schilperoort lived to tell of his experience as a Japanese prisoner of war. He was held captive for more than three years before being liberated by U.S. Marines.

Clarence "Skip" Schilperoort grew up in Sunnyside and left for the Navy with his twin brother, Lawrence, at the age of 19 in 1936.

His story begins with his being stationed on the USS Mississippi.

Schilperoort spent approximately four years on the battleship. He left that ship when it was docked at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in 1940. The USS Mississippi served in several battlefronts in the Pacific following Schilperoort's departure.

He was then assigned to the USS Houston, a Navy cruiser, and was scheduled to travel to a China battle station.

The USS Houston was at Panay Island the night Pearl Harbor was attacked, Dec. 7, 1941. The ship was sent to Darwin, Australia with other fleet units before joining the naval force at Surabaya.

When the Japanese were reported to be at Blikpapan, the Houston and the other ships it was with traveled there, engaging in battle. It returned to Australia after having suffered damage to its number three turret.

The USS Houston and the Naval fleet received information that the Japanese invasion forces were approaching Java.

The HMAS Perth, HNMS De Ruyter, HMS Exeter, HNMS Java and 10 destroyers were in the Battle of the Java Sea with the USS Houston.

The destroyers were destroyed by torpedoes, with only the Encounter left to pick up survivors of the Kortenaer.

The Perth and USS Houston were among four remaining ships to stop the invasion of Java. They were ordered into the Banten Bay. First the Perth was sunk as a result of gunfire and torpedo hits and the Houston fought alone in the bay.

The date of March 1, 1942 will live on in Schilperoort's memory, as it was the day the Japanese sunk the USS Houston.

After suffering four torpedo hits, the Houston lost her battle and the world did not know her fate for nine months.

Schilperoort was among the survivors of the USS Houston. He said approximately 1,000 officers and men had been on the ship when it met its fate. Of those, approximately 700 of the crew was lost in the battle.

He said he and the others who survived were taken to Burma in 1942, where they served as slave laborers on "the Railway of Death" and the Bridge on the River Kwai.

Schilperoort said the movie, The Bridge over the River Kwai, portrays a fairly accurate account of what the prisoners of war like himself encountered.

"We lost about a quarter of the survivors building the railroad (in Burma)," said Schilperoort.

All told, he said less than 300 survivors came home to the U.S.

In February 1943, Schilperoort said those who had served to build the railroad were transferred to Saigon, where they served in any labor capacity the Japanese saw fit.

"I worked on building an airport," Schilperoort recounted.

He said he was liberated by U.S. Marines in 1945, after the war had ended.

"Ship of Ghosts by James Warren pretty much tells the story," Schilperoort said.

While visiting relatives in Sunnyside recently, he visited one Marine, whom he again extended thanks. That Marine, Hank Bogert, is someone who also grew up in Sunnyside and served during World War II.

Schilperoort said he feels a depth of gratitude for all Bogert did during the war.

In the few moments the two men were together, Schilperoort was able to tearfully say, "I wanted to thank you again. I appreciate everything you did for our country."

As for the memories of the war, Schilperoort said he acknowledges there are few left to tell the stories, but he says he is grateful for those who have been willing to record the history of those like him who lived the battles and served to fight for the United States.

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