|Harold Whittington (left) and Otto Whittington (right) in Manila, 1945|
As many of you know, I am currently documenting the story of two brothers who served during WW II, Harold and Otto Whittington. I am 70,000 words into the novel now and remain in awe of these remarkable people. For this months' post, I decided to share just a glimpse into the book, a passage written by Otto Whittington. Otto fought in the Battle of Bataan, was part of the Death March, was held in various POW camps before being sent by Hell Ship to work as a slave in the Japanese steel mills. The book contains the details of his captivity and his eventual reunion with his brother, Harold, in Manila after his liberation from slavery in Japan in September, 1945. For most of us, being thankful for our freedom this time of year is taken for granted; however, for Otto, it was an incredible gift he never forgot. Please enjoy Otto's take on the holiday season as he penned it in 1995.
I sent the following message to my friends via the Veterans’ Bulletin Board. It was posted on December 20, 1995: “To all the Bataan Board Bunch, friends, comrades, and all pilgrims who may pass this way. Christmas Past:
“Christmas day broke bright and clear after over two weeks of clouds shrouding Wolf Pinnacle, Ochuatia National forest with blowing grey fog. The rocky pinnacle jutting above the timber line had been covered with inches of ice for more than two weeks. Making it imp[ossible for the truck from Eagle Gap Ranger Station to get food and supplies to me. My station consisted of a small one-room cabin with wood heating stove, kerosene cook stove, kerosene lamp, no electricity or radio. It was miles from another living person. Plus, a sixty-four-foot steel tower that I climbed on a narrow steel ladder, which was covered with ice made the climb very treacherous.
“Christmas Eve I received a call from the ranger station inquiring about my food supply. They advised, if necessary, they would send men to climb the mountain with backpacks to bring supplies. Knowing it would be an all-day job climbing the tall ice-covered mountain and not wanting the men to be away from their families on Christmas day, I told them I was okay. My total food supply consisted of a half can of Vienna sausage and about a dozen crackers. They said they would definitely get supplies the day after Christmas. I decided to eat my sausages and crackers the middle of the afternoon for my Christmas dinner. That night, looking out across ice glistening on the forest, I could see the lights of small villages in the distant valleys. Suddenly I was st5ruck with the most intense feelings of hunger and loneliness. I could imagine the houses fill of warm family and friendly festivities with a bountiful table of food.
“The next day in the middle of the afternoon I saw the Forest Service truck with chains and ice tires slowly coming up the road out of the timber. The foresters were more welcome than Santa Clause.”
“T’was the night before Christmas and hell-bent for Bataan,
“The army was moving every damn man.
“The barbed wire was strung by the soldiers with care,
“In hopes that the convoy would soon be there.”
“POW Fukuoka Camp 3, Kokura, Japan. After twelve hours of back-breaking work in Yawata Steel Mills and an hour ride to camp in open gondolas and freezing sleet, we forgot about it being Christmas Eve. We lay on bed bug-infested straw mats trying to get sleep and rest for our worn out bodies while the bugs drained our anemic blood. We were awakened with clubs and rifle butts by the guards about two in the morning. We were driven out of the barracks and into thirty degree icy sleet and forced to sing Christmas carols as the guards laughed. This was their idea of a cruel joke and insult to our Christmas customs. On being allowed back in the barracks after nearly an hour of freezing sleet, we found a Japanese tube sock with one rice cracker on each man’s mat. We knew we could barely get our frozen bodies warm before we would be rousted out before daylight for another freezing ride and another twelve hours of slave labor in the steel mills on Christmas day.
“With all these Christmas’ past, I do not need a fat man in a red suit, jingle bells, and reindeer manure one day a year to celebrate. With the four Fs (precious Freedom, sincere Friends, loving Family, and nourishing Food), every day is Christmas day. As a king-sized version of dickens’ tiny Tim hobbling around on a crutch, and as Tiny Tim would say in modern jargon, I wish one and all a ‘Cool Yule.’ And not just a happy 1995, but a very healthy and happy rest of your life.
“Mabuhay, The Happy Horse Soldier”
Thank you all for stopping by. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May the gift of freedom be with you all the days of your life.
James L. Hatch