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The USS Benevolence Brings Home American POWs from Japan

On August 29, 1945, the USS Benevolence sailed into Tokyo Bay. She was the first American hospital ship to arrive in Japan to evacuate American, Allied, and civilian POWs from two internment camps following the end of WWII. After spending the fall onboarding patients and caring for them, the Benevolence set sail for the US on November 27, 1945. She reached San Francisco on December 12, 1945.  

Japanese surrender at Tokyo Bay

After Emperor Hirohito announced that Japan would surrender on August 15, 1945, military officials began moving 300 US Navy ships toward Tokyo Bay, where Japan would sign the official Instrument of Surrender on September 2. Among those ships were three hospital ships: the USAHS Marigold, the USS Rescue, and the USS Benevolence. The Benevolence was a new hospital ship, recently converted from the cargo ship SS Marine Lion. She had over 800 hospital beds, state-of-the-art operating rooms, labs, other medical facilities, and a highly trained medical staff. The ship included another revolutionary feature – air conditioning.

Master Sgt. Oliver C. Thomas, left, and ARM 3-C Alvin Hughes are treated aboard the USS Benevolence. Fort Worth Star-Telegram – September 11, 1945

Soon after entering the harbor, the Benevolence began receiving patients. Among them was Master Sgt. Oliver C. Thomas. Thomas enlisted in 1941 and served in the 421st Squadron, 504th Bomb Group, as a B-29 flight engineer. On May 29, 1945, his plane was hit by flak on a bombing run over Yokohama. Losing altitude, the crew of 12 jumped. Nine ended up in the same POW camp in Japan. Thomas described the conditions of his imprisonment in a newspaper interview following the war. “Sixteen of us were crowded into a cell 8 by 10 feet. Military police beat us on the heads with rifle butts… one crewman was beaten unmercifully with a bamboo rod.” During his imprisonment, Thomas lost 50 pounds. Despite the beatings, he fared better than many others.

Sgt. Harold T. Hedges – bottom row, second from right (no. 10)

Sgt. Harold T. Hedges served in the 500th Bomb Group, 882nd Bomb Squadron, and was the only survivor when a Japanese suicide plane rammed his B-29 over Nagoya on January 3, 1945. He endured horrific torture by his captors and was so severely beaten that he had to be carried aboard the Benevolence on a stretcher. Crew members reported the shock of seeing liberated prisoners’ thin and emaciated bodies.

In November, the Benevolence sailed toward California with 1,000 passengers. Medical personnel worked tirelessly to treat their precious human cargo.

On December 12, 1945, the Benevolence arrived in San Francisco, where all patients and passengers disembarked. Those needing further medical care were transferred to Base Hospitals. During her service in caring for liberated Allied POWs, the crew of the Benevolence screened 1520 prisoners of war and provided them with the best possible care.

To learn more about the USS Benevolence, search Fold3® today.


  1. I served in Sendai, Japan at the US Army 11 th Evacuation Hospital from 1955 to 1957 .
    While there , I heard stories that the Sendai area had served as a allied prison of war area,
    I never was able to find anyone who would talk about this time frame. My Japanese secretary told me that Sendai had been hit several times by heavy allied bombing prior to the surrender
    in 1945. Has any one ever heard of this Japanese POW camp?

  2. Jim says:

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    • rlf says:

      Thanks to Jim for putting this little advertisement for the VBC in this comments section. Thanks also to Todd DePastino for organizing and heading the VBC.

  3. JoAnne Gulliver says:

    My father-in-law, Robert S. Gulliver, USN served on the Benevolence qs a Pharmacist’s Mate from its time in the Brooklyn Navy Yard thru the late 1945 voyage to San Francisco. My COVID time project was to transcribe his letyers which ate now at the Nimitz Museum Archives in Fredericksburg, TX. He said he was popular because he had the recipe for gin!

  4. Greta says:

    I was born in the USA and have lived in Australia for most of my life. My Dad served in the US MARINES after the Korean War and two of my brothers have served in the US MARINES.
    My mother-in-law was in her early twenties at the end of WWII and said one of the men in the small town we live in came home from the war only 84 pounds in weight. He was a Japanese POW. He said they used to catch rats so they’d have some protein. He lived into his nineties and was a very hard worker up to the end. He used to own and operate a sawmill and then a bakery when I met him. I don’t know how they did it, but it goes to show how strong mentally some people can be!

  5. Thomas Croff says:

    great stories
    Tom Croff
    CoB. 3/506th 101st Airborne Division. US Army 67/68

  6. George Deaton says:

    My brother James Deaton, was killed on Bataan during the evacuation of th31st Army.Sometime after the end of the war, two soldiers from one of the POW Camps stop in Denver, Colorado. These two gentlemen contacted and spoke to my Father (Elmer Deaton) and my middle Brother ( Robert Deaton). This conversation was kept secret from me and my mother. I did not know the specifics of my oldest brother until FOLD 3 became available, I now wonder if I can find the identity of the two soldiers that were so gracious to stop and talk to my family members. I think one of them was Jim’s sargent.

    • Debbie Hahn says:

      My Dad’s first cousin James Frank Snyder (Snider) died in the camps in the Philippines. Survived the death March but very sick. Told a friend that if he didn’t survive to go to Dillsboro, NC and tell his father what happened to him. That person did just that.

  7. Kathryn E Nickey says:

    Is there a list of all personnel present on the USS Missouri when the surrender was signed? I’m trying to verify if Verone Carson, US Navy or Coast Guard was present. She originated in
    Cicero, Indiana. Kathryn Nickey, LT Col USAFR_Retired.

    • Pam Broviak says:

      Hello, the rosters appear to be on Fold3 here:

      I didn’t notice that name within that time period, but certainly could have missed it.

    • Lars McKie says:

      Not sure there was ever a list made, I’ve tried to find one but have not succeeded. One cannot go by USS Missouri muster rolls alone to determine who was present and not, although this would capture a big chunk, as an example one need to add Halsey’s COMTHIRDFLEET Flag which was around 140 men…

  8. Mary J. Melvin says:

    I lived in Japan (1957-59)with my husband who was in the USAF..& you could not have convinced me that this was where all of this terrible cruelty took place..from the people we met and became good friends didn’t knowingly come in contact with their soldiers, but War changes people..My Brother was a POW in WW 2 and there again …brutal treatment..war changes Mankind…When will the “Greed” stop

  9. Ron Oliver says:

    I knew two men who were civilian POWs, having been captured while working for Morrison Knudson Co (heavy construction) in Guam (I think). Harry Morrison, who had just left the island a few days before the attack, had it written into the company bylaws that those men would always have a job with them whenever they wanted. One of them, a neighbor, was still doing that in the 1970’s. The other on occasions. Both were “functioning” alcoholics. Courage and service come in a variety of packages.

  10. Ashly Mika says:

    Thank you all for your service

  11. D ALBERTS says:

    Thank you for your service

  12. Ted Johnson says:

    Was there a roster of the USS Benevolence when it arrived in San Francisco with the WWII POW’s? My father was a POW in Burma, liberated at the end of the war.

  13. Brian Ray says:

    Is there any information about the troops in Alaska during WW2?

    An uncle served with 194th Tank Bn from Brainerd Mn. Several of those service members were sent to Alaska from the unit. I was told once he served in the engineer corps on Aleutian Islands which is all I know.

  14. Gayla J Voss says:

    Is there a place that has the list of battles that each soldier went through as in the Korean War?

  15. Susan Smith says:

    Thank you seems trivial relatively speaking but not sure how else to thank you and those who gave the ultimate sacrifice…It may not seem like it but you are honored continually through the memorial, cemeteries, and ceremonies!!! You WILL NOT BE FORGOTTEN!!!!

  16. I am so thankful for God’s mercy on these men. My father, Albert H. Barnett, was in the war and was transferred from Phillipsberg, France, to a hospital in London, England where he spent a few months recovering before returning state side to Mom. He was extremely patriotic and went home to be with the Lord in Jan 2005.
    Thank you for your service and sacrifice. I sit her with tears streaming down my face as I type his message. Blessings to each one who servered.

  17. Jim says:

    Just read the article about the Benovalence and was completely impressed regarding their help and concern.

    Thanks for their service.

    I was a bulldozer operator in the Corp of Engineers and fortunately saw no action,which makes my service irrelevant compared to the POW’s My uncle who is gone now, helped build as well as served on the destroyer in the Pacific. I have his book from the ship, which will go to his daughter when I pass.

  18. Eridania Gonzalez says:

    That day when that was happening, I was born on August 29,1945 will never forget this information. God bless all those that fought for our freedom and the ones that didn’t make it home. May the Lord always bless the ones that served to continue for us to have freedom.

  19. Eridania Gonzalez says:

    That day when that was happening, I was born on August 29,1945 will never forget this information. God bless all those that fought for our freedom and the ones that didn’t make it home. May the Lord always bless the ones that served to continue for us to have freedom.