A veritable blizzard of media accounts followed the death on 26 December 2023 of Tom Smothers, the senior half of the famed Smothers Brothers, whose show-business credentials date to the 1960s. The purpose of this post is not to add to that blizzard; on the contrary, my initial intention was simply to briefly highlight that the brothers (in what I thought was a not-well-known fact) had been evacuated from the Philippines not long before the Pearl Harbor attack brought the U.S. into WWII; and — a slightly better-known fact — that the brothers’ father, a Major in the U.S. Army, later died while in Japanese captivity. My initial post, consisting of a grand total of four lines, has since been transformed into this somewhat more extensive report.
Why the changed plans, and what did that involve? My initial reaction soon changed when I looked through the flood of accounts about Tom Smothers and his family. I then decided to look more closely into the whole family’s history prior to the immediate post-WWII period. Given that context, my revised decision resulted from the fact that virtually all of the stories about the Smothers family displayed one or more of the following shortcomings — information was either non-existent, incomplete, and/or just plain wrong. (That verdict applies, for example, to the article whose link is attached at the bottom, along with two illustrative paragraphs from the article, which are excerpted from about 1/3 of the way into the article. The verdict even applies to the Wikipedia entry on the brothers.)
To make it clear at the outset, however, this narrative does not seek to present a comprehensive review of the family’s history; nor does it deal in any way with the Smothers Brothers’ show-business history, which, as noted, has been covered by innumerable writers. Its purposes are twofold: to present the highlights of the missing and thus almost completely unknown record of the head of the Smothers family prior to his arrival in the Philippines in 1940; and to clarify the almost always incorrect, and often even badly-garbled “facts,” relating to the Smothers children’s births and their arrival in and later evacuation from the Philippines.
Former internee Leanne Blinzler Noe details her family’s experiences in Santo Tomás Internment Camp (STIC) in a recent article at HistoryNet titled At Eight-Years-Old this Girl Survived the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines, written by Barbara Noe Kennedy in January 2024.
Leanne and her younger sister, Virginia, were both born in California where their father, Lee Edward Blinzler, was working for a mining company in Yreka. After that mine closed, Lee moved the family to the Philippines. Soon after, Leanne’s mother died and Leanne and her sister were boarded at the Holy Ghost College, Manila, to be taken care of by German nuns. Leanne continues her story to tell how she, and her sister, eventually ended up in Santo Tomás Internment Camp (STIC) in December 1944.
The Blinzlers were repatriated on the U.S.S. Admiral W. L. Capps, leaving Leyte, 20 March 1945, arriving in San Francisco on 8 April 1945 (see additional passenger list for Lee Edward Blinzler).
In 2012 Leanne wrote the book MacArthur Came Back: A Little Girl’s Encounter With War in the Philippines.
The above photo is courtesy of Barbara Noe Kennedy and the article contains several other photographs covering before the War, during and after liberation in January 1945.
Link to the complete article online.
CPOW Commander, Sally Meadows, is set to speak Los Altos, California, at noon on Friday, 19 January 2024. Sally will be delivering a talk on “Former civilian POWs and their internment by the Japanese during Japan’s Occupation of the Philippines in World War II.”
The program is hosted by the Los Altos Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). The Chapter focuses on local historic preservation projects, genealogy research, fundraising for a Foothill College scholarship fund, environmental conservation, service to veterans, and other community projects. The talk will be held in the Apricot Room of the Los Altos Community Center, 97 Hillview Ave, Los Altos.
According to the announcement:
“The presentation will explore a largely unknown facet of World War II in the Pacific: the fact that thousands of civilians, including Americans and citizens of other Allied nations, were held captive by the Imperial Japanese military in internment camps throughout Asia – specifically, those who were interned in the Philippines and how they survived over three years of captivity. The stories include why these people were in the Philippines when the war started, how the internment happened, life in camp, and the eventual liberation by General MacArthur’s forces.”
Link to the complete article online and to register for the event, visit bit.ly/POW-19.