- Historic Sites
The Horrors of Bataan, Recalled by the Survivors
December 1981 | Volume 33, Issue 1
First thing we would try to do is get all the men who were in the worst shape up to the front of the columns. That way as they got tired, and the men who were helping them wore out, we could pass them slowly back through the column taking turns holding them or helping them. We knew if a man reached a point where he couldn’t walk any more, he was going to be killed. So we tried to take turns helping the sick and injured. Sometimes we would prevail upon the guards to let us regroup and we’d be able to put the sick back up front. Sometimes we couldn’t.
I don’t know if the guards were Korean or Taiwanese. I was so miserable on that Death March that I couldn’t tell you what they were. I know one thing about them, though—they were mean, sadistic, brutal. And yet, on the March I was befriended.
I had been hit at Cabcaben and had a piece of Corregidor shrapnel in my leg. It was the size of a piece of pencil lead and was laying along my shinbone. I had wrapped an old white towel around it and had managed to walk about fifteen miles, but I was getting weaker and more feverish the further I went. I was in bad shape. Guys had to help me. They would kind of hold onto me. If you fell, you were dead. They bayoneted you right away. … If you fell, bingo, you were dead.
We finally stopped for the night near a small stream and I laid down. About an hour later this guy comes crawling along. He looked like an Italian, swarthy, kind of muscular. “Hey, fellows, any of you guys need any help?” he was whispering. “I’m a doctor.” Didn t give us his name. When he got to me, he stopped and I told him about my leg. Just then a young guard saw us and came over. The first thing they did was hit you with their rifle butts. He spoke atrocious English and he yelled for us to separate. The doctor kept talking, and asked him would it be all right if he took the shrapnel out of my leg. “Wait, wait, wait,” and he ran out into the road to see if anyone was coming. Then he came back and said, “Hurry, hurry. ” I remember the doctor saying, “Soldier, this is going to hurt. If you can take it, I’ll get it out.” He never had to worry about me hurting. As soon as he touched it, bam, I passed out. He took it out and wrapped a hand towel around my shin. When he left he said, “Yeah, well, I hope to God you make it. God bless you.” He disappeared and I never got to know his name.
The Jap guard came up to me during the night and gave me a cup of sweetened chocolate, tasted like milk. I hadn’t had any food and no water for days. I didn’t speak one single word of Japanese then, but he could speak a little English, but with a really horrible accent. “Someday me go Hollywood, me going to be movie star.” That’s the way he talked. He made me laugh. All through the night he gave me something, because he knew I needed strength. In the morning he was gone. His squad had been replaced by another. The orders were given, “Everybody up, up, up. ” We got in line and I found I couldn’t walk. My leg hurt so much. Some guys held me up and I was carried about a hundred feet to the road. There we were told to stop and sit down. Then we were told to get up. We waited about a half an hour before we were permitted to sit down again. Then we were turned around and marched back to where we started. Wait… rest … wait … turn around … go back. We did this the whole day. I never had to walk, and by the time we started out the next day I had enough strength to limp along on my own. I’m not a religious man, but God said keep those men there, we want to save that man. I don’t know what it was. I know I wouldn’t have made it, if I had to march that day.
Maybe a day or so later we came to a river. I was still in fairly bad shape. There were a lot of little rivers, and because it was the dry season, they were shallow. The bridge had been knocked out and the Japanese had reconstructed an engineering bridge. Since their troops were crossing it when we arrived, we were made to march down the bank, cross the river, and march up the other side. Sounds simple. We were told not to touch the water. Some of the guys managed to drag their towels in the water and got some water that way. One man, however, reached over and tried to cup his hands and drink some. He was twelve feet from me. They shot him. Some guards on the bridge just popped him off. Going up the other side was hard for me with my leg. I kept sliding on the slimy clay. Finally some guys helped me up.
When we got to the top of the bank, there was a little bend in the road before it crossed the bridge. At that point some Jap sentries were stationed and they were laughing at our struggles. When I got to the top—mind you, I was still crippled—for some reason, maybe because I needed help, one of the sentries took his rifle by the barrel and swung it at me and broke the ribs on my right side. Then I walked with broken ribs and a wounded leg. But I got to San Fernando. Had lots of help. But, hell, guys got there with less than me.
There was something I couldn’t figure out. Looking down, I saw one footprint in the dust. It was dark and it was a perfect footprint shape. Only one, though. Now, I couldn’t imagine how a one-legged man could be walking. Finally, I saw a man in front of me limping badly and his leg had blood running down it. Then I figured out how I could see one print. It was being left by the blood. A mile or so later his limp was so bad that he dropped out of the line.