USS HOSTON CA 30
"The Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast"
Melfred 'Gus' Forsman
was born March 22, 1921 in Alpena, South
Dakota to Gustave and Nellie Forsman. On April 18, 1939 “Gus”
left his home in Iowa Falls,
enlisted in the Navy at Des Moines, Iowa.
After training as a Seaman at Great Lakes, Illinois and Bremerton, Washington
in ship repair; he was assigned to duty aboard the Cruiser, USS Houston.
March 1, 1942 when the ship went down in the Java Sea
he became a Japanese prisoner of war. On March 14, 1942 the Navy
Department notified his parents that he was “missing following action in
the performance of his duty and in the service of his country”. It
would be 15 months before they received word from “Gus” that he was
Melfred was moved from Serang to Batavia on Java, and from there to the slave
labor camps building the “death railway” through Burma and Thailand.
In January 1945 he was at a place called Kanchanburi,
north of Bangkok. He was
working as a goat herder when he was approached by a Portuguese doctor in the
French Indochina underground who was asking for information about the
camp. After being given permission by Captain W.D. Parker and Major W.M.
Rogers he carried news of the camp to the doctor and began smuggling in
newspapers, which contained war news, as well as medications into the camp in a
hollowed out bamboo pole. His smuggling activities were discovered by the
Japanese Kempei Tai (secret
police) and he was arrested along with Major Rogers and Captain Parker.
He was sent to Bangkok to appear
before a Japanese military trial and was sentenced to 6 years solitary
confinement. He was taken to Outrum
Road Jail and for the next 6 months was held in solitary confinement in a 10 x
4 foot cell. Sometime after August 20, 1945 he, along with other
prisoners, was released They
then made their way to Changi
jail where they were liberated by American troops and then airlifted to Calcutta, India.
returning to the United States,
Melfred was discharged from
the Navy in 1946 and married Dilene
Jean Schuler on September 30, 1947. In 1948 he applied to Spartan School of Aviation to become an
A&P mechanic, but when Dilene
became ill they returned to Iowa
where he drove a cab. In 1949 he joined the Army. In 1954, while
stationed in Paris, France,
his twin daughters Dawn and Diane were born. In 1956 he was stationed at
Ft Rucker, Alabama working in
Army Aviation, testing the CH 37 helicopter. The family then headed to Mannheim Germany
until 1962 when they returned to Ft Rucker. In 1964 Melfred retired from the Army.
1969, he was recalled to active duty and sent to Vietnam
as part of the 242nd Air Assault Support Helicopter Company of the
Black Barons 269th Combat Aviation Battalion. Gus was crew
chief flying in a CH-47. They were known as the Muleskinners. He
completed his tour of duty and returned to the states in 1970. He was a
National Guard advisor in Norman, Oklahoma
until his retirement in 1972.
November 1997 his lovely wife, Dilene
died from lung cancer, 2 months after celebrating their 50th wedding
anniversary with family and friends. On May 16, 1998 – 56 years
after Melfred’s POW
experience – at a special ceremony at the Veterans Center in Midland, Texas
he was awarded a Purple Heart. Receiving the award, Melfred said, “I gratefully accept this
award on the behalf of my over 700 shipmates
still standing watch in the Sundra
He was also honored by a proclamation from the Mayor who declared the 16th,
“Melfred Forsman Day in Midland”.
December 1, 2005 Melfred
passed away at the Kerrville VA Hospital in Texas.
He was 83 years old.