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POW to personal triumph

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. (AFNS) --

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.  

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.

"I still panic when I hear fireworks; it reminds me of bombs and gunshots," Kubat said. "I can still remember the smell of death."

Kubat's parents were captured in December of 1941 when the Japanese military attacked the city formally named Batavia, a Dutch colony in Indonesia. The next four years to come would 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.

"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.

"There 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 said. "When prisoners tried to escape, Japanese 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. 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 five."

Shortly after Kubat and her mother returned, Kubat's father was found at a field hospital in Manila, Philippines, in critical condition. He was sent back on a stretcher to be reunited with his family. Kubat said she came to find out he had spent those missing years working on diamond mines and building a railroad.

"In 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."

Kubat 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, Wash. 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."

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