Thursday, December 11, 2014

Be Thankful for Freedom

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


Fiona McGier said...

All 5 of my mom's brothers fought in WWII, as did my father-in-law. One of my uncles was in the Bataan Death March. I always wondered why he was a bit "off", and an alcoholic. Once I found out what he lived through, I no longer wondered. He was irascible and lively until the day throat cancer took him.

My father-in-law who had volunteered at age 17, helped to liberate one of the concentration camps. He never wanted to talk about it...said some memories were best left alone.

My dad was about 12, living in Glasgow, when the war started in Great Britain. He said they all got tired of running into the air-raid shelters in the middle of the night, so his older sister would refuse to join them, saying if the Germans wanted her that badly, they'd know where to find her: in her bed. Dad said he had to get used to stepping over the dead bodies in the streets on his way to school every morning.

He said that once the Germans hit a school filled with the children of parents who worked in the ship-building yards. The next day no one wanted to work. So after that, the ship yards' kids would go to school on alternate days: one side of the street on M, W, F, and the other side of the street on T, TH and SA, so that if it happened again, there would still be adults showing up to do the vital work of building ships for the navy.

But he also said he once watched as German planes flew over his head as he sat on the dock into the sea. The planes flew high until they were over the water, then they dropped their bombs where they couldn't hurt anyone, and turned around to return home. He figured that some Germans weren't so gung-ho about killing, so they'd drop their bombs then return, lying to their commanders about where exactly they dropped them.

War is a terrible creation of sick minds who don't value the humanity of others. I keep hoping that as a species, we'll eventually out-grow the need to wave weapons and threaten each other.

James L. Hatch said...

Wow, Fiona, what a story. I have been moved by what I have found in researching my new book, but it has NONE of the detail you have mentioned because it takes place on the other side of the world in the Pacific. My dad was part of the liberation of Manila, but he wouldn't talk about it. He also became an alcoholic. He was a sniper and an excellent shot. I think the killing must have got to him. Anyway, the story of the Whittingtons is fascinating. Those boys were not destroyed by the war as so many others were, but matured by it. Even after 3.5 years of torture and slavery, Otto returned relatively unscratched emotionally. I have passed the 80,000 word mark now and hope to have the story wrapped up in another 10,000 or 20,000 words. This is new for me. Lots of research and FAR less imagination. Frankly, I miss writing about Miss Havana.

Thank you for reading. I really enjoyed your comments.