Chris Keuker

Rifle Team as a Plebe.

First Classmate to go to Vietnam – First Classmate to become a prisoner of War – although not in that order.

by “Bob Carroll” ’62

March 7, 1940, Chris was born in Bombay, India. He lived in Rawalpindi, India (now Pakistan). with his father, a Dutchman, (who later became an American citizen), his Mother, an American, and three older siblings.

Summer of 1941, Chris’s Father was transferred to Batavia (now Jakarta) on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). The rest of the family stayed in Rawalpindi.

December 4, 1941, Chris’s Mother decided to take the four children to the US. They shipped their possessions to the US and travelled by rail from Rawalpindi to Calcutta. Through a British travel agency, they had booked passage from Calcutta to the US via the Pacific, because the Atlantic was too dangerous.

December 8, 1941, the family arrived in Calcutta, the day after Pearl Harbor. Chris’s Mother made the decision to go to Batavia.

January 1, 1942, the family left Calcutta via Royal Dutch Airlines, but unable to get a fuel stop in Rangoon, returned to Calcutta. The next day the family again left Calcutta, this time via Sumatra, and landed in Batavia after a nose dive to avoid a Japanese fighter plane.

January 21, 1942, the Japanese attacked the Dutch East Indies: A large dog fight in the skies over Java on February 19, 1942 netted 75 allied plane losses and only a few for the Japanese. The Battle of the Java Sea (February 27- March 1, 1942) was a decisive naval victory for the Japanese. On March 1, 1942 Japanese troops landed on Java. And on March 8, 1942 the Dutch surrendered.

March 1942 was the start of 3 1/2 years of life under Japanese occupation for the Keuker family.

In May 1942, Chris’s Father was incarcerated.

Fall of 1942, Chris’s Mother and the four children were moved to an internment village/camp called Tjideng. It was enclosed with barbed wire with a gate; inmates were allowed to leave to shop for food. The family stayed in this camp in a small room of a house with about 50 other people for almost three years. They slept on and under a double bed, rigged with a mosquito net: two boys (5 and 7) on the top bunk, Mother and Chris (2 1/2) on the bottom, and older sister (13) under the bed. But compared to others in the camp and at other camps, the Keukers had it pretty good.

Spring of 1943 the Japanese claimed all women and children in Tjideng to be “‘prisoners of war”. This started the 2 1/2 years of Chris’s POW experience. They were no longer permitted to leave the barbed wire enclosure. They ate at a camp soup kitchen. Chris with all the others was forced to stand in a reveille formation every morning when the camp commander called the group to attention and read off each name. Boys over 12 were taken away and imprisoned with the adult males and girls over 16 were taken away to become “comfort women”. Malaria, hunger, diphtheria, and dysentery caused many deaths. On one extended reveille formation, lasting all morning, the camp commander berated the inmates (in Japanese, translated into Malay). He then approached a woman holding a handkerchief and cut off her hand. Chris was too young, but his older sister remembers well.

August 23, 1945, eight days after the Japanese surrendered, the POW camp Tjideng was liberated.

September 21, 1945, Chris’s Mother with the four children left Batavia for a long journey to the US. Chris’s Father saw them off at the airport, but would not see them again until 1947. The family flew in a United States Army Air Force C54 to Saigon to pick up another American family. The Keukers spent the night in a hospital in Saigon. The next day on to Calcutta.

October 21, 1945, the family left on the USS Patrick for a 26 day voyage to the US, via the Indian Ocean, the Suez Canal, the Straits of Gibraltar, and the Statue of Liberty.

November 16, 1945, Chris arrived in CONUS at age 5 1/2. He lived subsequently in the Bronx, Syracuse, and Buffalo.

June 6, 1962, Chris graduated (48 out of 603) from West Point.

March 14, 1967, Commanding A/1/22 Inf of the 4th ID in the Republic of Vietnam, Chris was severely wounded, evacuated, awarded the Silver Star, and medically retired as a Captain.

August 3, 2010, Chris is doing quite well in Englewood FL.

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