Many people might associate the phrase ‘prisoner of war' with
service men and women, but a POW can also include non-combatants
such as women and children, and perhaps even a friendly face you see
George "Julie" Kubat, an Air Force spouse and a
member of the Fairchild Air Force Base family for roughly 40 years,
had a different childhood than one might expect. Her early years
began in an Indonesian POW camp with her mother.
panic when I hear fireworks; it reminds me of bombs and gunshots,”
said Kubat. “I can still remember the smell of death.”
Kubat's parents were captured in December 1941 when the Japanese
military attacked the city formerly named Batavia, a Dutch colony in
Indonesia. The next four years to come would grow to be remembered
as one of the most critical moments of Indonesian history.
Men were put to hard labor and women were kept behind wire. Kubat
said her father, who was in the Netherlands Army Reserves, was
working on a tea and coffee plantation when he was caught and taken.
At the time, her mother was five months pregnant.
George “Julie” Kubat, a member of the Fairchild family for roughly
40 years, stands in front of a helicopter at the Veterans Day
ceremony at Fairchild Air Force Base, Nov. 7, 2013. Kubat shares the
story of her early years which began in an Indonesian ‘prisoner of
war' camps with her mother. (U.S. Air Force by Senior Airman Taylor
“When they were separated, my mother yelled to my father
that if her baby survived, she would name it after him,
George. It wouldn't be for five years that my parents would
find each other again,” she said. “It's amazing they made it
alive, or that all three of us did, actually.”
According to Kubat, she was born at Boromeus Hospital in
Bandung, a village that was put behind barbwire until the
Japanese created an internment camp called Tjideng. She said
at first there was food and bearable living quarters, but
conditions quickly deteriorated and furniture and goods were
confiscated by the Japanese Armed Forces.
were many other babies in the camp,” Kubat said. “We were
packed into rooms with more than 200 people. Everyone began
to starve, and disease began to spread. After a year, we
were sent on a train to a camp in the jungle, and the women
were ordered to build the camp with their bare hands. People
everywhere were starving, and instinct became survival.”
Kubat spent the next two years traveling between camps
with her mother.
“There were bombs everywhere,” she
recalled. “When prisoners tried to escape, soldiers would go
after them, and you could hear the rifles. The thought of
bombardments stills keeps me up at night giving me chills.”
When the war ended in 1945, Kubat and her mother
were at internment camp Grogol in Batavia. The U.S. troops
liberated the camp, but Kubat and her mother stayed there
for another year until they got transportation to the
Netherlands on an aircraft carrier. When the five-year old
and her mother arrived at her grandparent's house in
Amsterdam, Kubat still hadn't learned to walk, and had
developed a disease from malnutrition called “beriberi.” She
was also unable to eat due to years of starvation.
“I can remember my grandmother force feeding me,” Kubat
said. “It was because of my grandma I was able to eat again.
I was also given shoes, which I had never worn before. My
grandma also taught me walk. I was 5.”
Kubat and her mother returned, Kubat's father was found at a
field hospital in Manila, Philippians, in critical
condition. He was sent back on a stretcher to meet she and
her mother, and be reunited as a family again. Kubat said
she came to find out he had spent those missing years
working on diamond mines and building a railroad.
my 20s, I began researching my past,” she said. “It was also
in my 20s I met my husband, Jerry Kubat, while he was in the
U.S. Air Force stationed in the Netherlands.”
said it was then she came over to America, spending years
traveling with her active-duty husband. Jerry was stationed
here at Fairchild in the early 1970's, and after retiring,
the Kubats returned to Spokane. Kubat spent her years as a
teacher, often sharing her story, reminding children not to
take life for granted.
“My mother and father never
liked to talk about those years, those were terrible times,”
she said. “But my parents lived long lives, and now my
husband and I are great grandparents. I tell my story to
remind people there is no better place to be then here in
America. I have a bed, food, clothes and family, and that's
what life is about.”
By USAF Staff Sgt. Veronica Montes
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