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Posted: March 22, 2018 11:05 a.m.
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Following the Bergamini Family in WWII

Our influence in the South Pacific is hotly contested. The United States has been involved militarily in this region three times during the last century. 

The United States remains involved today because more than one trillion dollars of trade transits the shipping corridors of the South China Sea annually.  The United States' interests in the region goes back to 1898 when the Treaty of Paris ended the Spanish-American War. This treaty granted the United States sovereignty over a number of former Spanish colonies. These former colonies include Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam. Today, the region of the South Pacific is once again in the news cycle. 

The United States, China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea all pursue their own national interests while dealing with the current North Korean wildcard. Army Chaplains like to tell stories. 

Let me tell you a story about an American boy named David Bergamini. Bergamini was a boy living with his parents in the Chinese city of Hankow in 1937. He was born in Japan, but had lived throughout Asia. His father was an engineer and architect. When the Japanese invaded China, the Bergamini family was forced to flee.

Bergamini remembers saying to an English boy: “Of course I want the Japanese to win, the Japanese are clean and the Chinese are dirty. The Japanese work and the Chinese beg. The Japs make machines and the Chinese only break them.” The other boy replied, “I should say you’re a bloody Nazi.”  With this the two boys exchanged blows; this fistfight occurred one week before the first Japanese raid on China in 1937. The boys were nine years old. 

Eventually the Bergamini family and other Westerners were evacuated through Japanese and Chinese lines to Shanghai. From Shanghai, they traveled to the United States' possession of the Philippines.

War in the South Pacific followed the Bergamini family.  Japan’s intention was to become the major, dominant power in the South Pacific. The United States intended to remain a major power in the South Pacific. 

On Dec. 7, 1941 Japan brought war to the United States by attacking Pearl Harbor. The United States lost 3,581 persons; these were all killed or wounded.  

Two military chaplains died at Pearl Harbor. Father Aloysius Schmitt died when the USS Oklahoma capsized after three torpedoes ripped her underside. 

Survivors of the Oklahoma reported that Chaplain Schmitt died “assisting several other sailors to get through a porthole before he drowned.” 

Chaplain Thomas Kirkpatrick died when the USS Arizona went down; there is no record of his last few minutes.

On Dec. 27, 1941, the American protectorate in the Philippines was attacked by Japanese forces. 

Bergamini, his family, and 300 other American expatriates were formally made Japanese prisoners of war. 

More on this story in future issues of  The Frontline.

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