American POW registration cards

On May 29, 1942, the S.S. Stanvac Calcutta, an American custom-built tanker owned by the Socony Vacuum Company, steamed out of Montevideo, Uruguay bound for Caripito, Venezuela. Eight days later on June 6, while the ship was 500 miles off the Brazilian coast east of Recife, a German commerce raider, the Stier, attacked the tanker during a rain squall, peppering the Stanvac Calcutta‘s hull with gunfire and scoring hits on its bridge and forecastle. The naval armed guard and the merchant marine crew responded with gunfire, but the stricken Stanvac Calcutta began to list to heavily and soon began to sink. After the crew abandoned ship, they were taken aboard the Stier as prisoners. The prisoners, including Hershel Langston, the crewman listed on the POW registration card above, ended up at a prisoner of war camp in Fukuoka, Japan, where they remained through the end of the war.

Interestingly, the American war correspondent George Weller, one of the very first Allied journalists who made it into Japan the week after that country formally surrendered to the Allies on September 2, 1945, mentioned meeting Hershel Langston among a “party of four vagabond prisoners from camps whose Japanese commanders and guards have simply disappeared.”

During the war, Japanese military authorities maintained the collection of POW registration information in which I recently ran across Hershel Langston’s registration card while I was searching for information on another American POW who had been held in Manchuria.