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Back From Bataan

March 2023
1min read

My Hitch in Hell The Bataan Death March

by Lester I. Tenney, foreword by Vice Adm. James B. Stockdale, U.S.N., Brassey’s, 220 pages .

In October 1940 the twenty-year-old Lester Tenney joined the 192d Tank Battalion, hoping to get his year of National Guard service out of the way. When the Guard was federalized, Tenney went to the Philippines. The undersupplied and starving troops defending the peninsula fought bravely, but Bataan was given up in April 1942. As ordered, the troops destroyed their own tanks in a long, sad line; then Japanese planes strafed the unarmed units. Tenney carried a photo of his fiancée inside his boot on the twelve-day, sixty-mile “Death March,” often going days without water in hundred-degree heat. Like many others, he was beaten and forced to watch friends bayoneted, shot, beheaded, or buried alive for collapsing. When an officer slashed him with a samurai sword, his exhausted buddies carried him for miles rather than let him fall out of line. When the prisoners, now racked with malaria and dysentery, were forced into railroad cars, “Filipinos stood along the track and threw rice balls wrapped in banana leaves. … Their actions saved many of us from starvation.”

Tenney spent the rest of the war in a prison camp, shoveling coal under conditions so severe that men sought escape from the work by paying one another to break their bones. Only one in eight survived the march and the equally cruel three-year imprisonment. Tenney chose to revisit this ghastly period largely because of recent claims by some Japanese politicians that their country’s wartime atrocities were “fabrications.” “I feel I have been humiliated again by the Japanese, but this time I can say and do something about it without fear of retaliation.… I want the world to know just how we survivors feel, why we do what we do, why we say what we say, and why we live each day as if it is our last.”

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