Web Pulls All Strands Together
by Captain George Duffy

Two circumstances of recent years have quite unexpectedly come together to alter the depth and direction of my personal life.

The first was the acceptance by The Daily News of Newburyport, Massachusetts in September 1994 of my initial "As I See It" article.

The second occurred in early 1998 when daughter Maryellen added an e-mail box onto her computer and I became geoduffy@amesbury.net.

Now thanks to this Web site and the technical assistance of Toni Horodysky, I have rewritten and expanded, or combined, a number of my earlier newspaper columns. Color photos and maps provide added interest.

The results are fabulous!

Persons all over the world read me and contact me. This past Memorial Day weekend, a Dutch banker named Erik Moen, then based in Java, wrote to tell me he had found "Life and Death on the Death Railway Through the Jungles of Sumatra." Amazingly, this man's father, Emile Moen, although I didn't know him, was also a prisoner of war of the Japanese and worked on the same railway on Sumatra as did I!

Most of the prisoners building that railway were originally held on Java, from where they were transported by ship. Unfortunately, two ships were torpedoed by British submarines. One of them, the Junyo Maru, was carrying 2,200 prisoners, most of whom were of Dutch nationality, and 4,300 young Javanese men. Only 680 prisoners and a mere 200 of the Javanese were rescued by two escorting gunboats. Eight Americans died, including four from my ship. Incredibly, among the survivors was Emile Moen.

Map of Sumatra showing location of sinking of Junyo Maru
The + marks the location of the sinking of the Junyo Maru

In 1984, on the 40th anniversary of the Junyo Maru sinking, I attended a memorial service in Nijmegen, Holland. This was organized by two Nijmegen police officers, Ed Melis and Wim van Wamel, who had lost relatives in that disaster. On a subsequent visit to Holland, Margaret and I had breakfast with these two gentlemen. Since then we have not been in contact. It is not known if Emile Moen attended that service. He passed away last year.

Early in June 2000, a small Dutch navy squadron participating in joint maneuvers in Indonesian waters was scheduled to visit Jakarta. Somehow learning in Holland that these ships would sail close to the site of the Junyo Maru sinking, Ed Melis suggested that a memorial service be conducted at the actual latitude and longitude and, with two other countrymen, he flew to Jakarta to take part. These plans came to the attention of Erik Moen, who contacted the military attache at the Dutch embassy and was invited to join the ceremony. He then e-mailed me, asking if I wished that he "commit something to the waters".

Quickly, I dispatched the names of the eight Americans, offering that he attach the list to a flower to be cast into the Indian Ocean during the service on Sunday, June 4. On the morning of June 5 (Java and Sumatra are 12 times zones ahead of us) I opened my e-mail to discover the following message and three color photos.

Dear Capt. Duffy;

I am just back from the ceremony in the Indian Ocean aboard HNMS DeRuyter where a memorial service was held above the spot of the sinking of the Junyo Maru. The formation of five vessels included 3 Netherlands ships, 1 Belgian ship and one Indonesian ship.

Through courtesy of the Royal Netherlands Navy I added a hand written ribbon to the wreath placed on behalf of the survivors of this tragedy.

This group was referred to in the roll call as the US Merchant Navy and your name was mentioned as the person on whose behalf this ribbon was attached. I will try to get a soundbite of this roll call as soon as I can as well as a video if possible.

Although I will write you more extensively soon I just want to send you a few pictures to give you an impression of the ceremony which I found extremely moving and which was fully supported by Cmdr Brandt and his entire squadron.

Kind Regards
Erik Moen

The ships in the squadron with white-uniformed crewmen manning the rails

ships with white uniformed crewmen manning the rails

My old acquaintance Ed Melis, with a Dutch naval officer, preparing to drop an enormous ribbon-festooned floral wreath into the sea

Ed Melis dropping wreath into sea

Close-up of a horizontal red, white, and blue ribbon inscribed with the names of the eight Americans

ribbon inscribed with the names of the eight Americans lost on Junyo Maru Willie H. Dryer
Moody H. Harrison
Walter H. Lee
Philip P. McKeever
G. R. Miller
Owen H. Reed
J. R. Sokolowski
Frank E. Stallman


The subject of my article "Of Stars and Planets - and a Lost Father" was Philip McKeever, whose daughter Elizabeth Gardner lives outside New York City. I e-mailed the pictures to her, to which she replied, "It is a story that never ends ... Thank God there is a person like you."

Sumatra map adapted from http://www.lib.utexas.edu/Libs/PCL/Map_collection/cia99/Indonesia_sm99.jpg

A similar version of this story appeared in The Daily News of Newburyport, Massachusetts

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