Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Fall of Bataan

My newest novel is a true story titled "Ordinary People; Extraordinary Lives." It follows two brothers, Otto and Harold Whittington, through their youth, in and out of WWII and the Korean conflict, and into old age. Otto died some time ago, but Harold is still alive. The last chapter, "The Imprisonment of Old Age," as told by Harold, is especially moving.
Harold was in the navy, Otto the Army. Otto fought at Bataan and subsequently became part of the Death March. After being used as forced labor to build roads in the Philippines, he was shipped to Japan by Death Ship. The Japanese steel mills where he worked as a slave were twice targeted by nuclear bombs at the end of the war, but the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki instead. The nuclear bombs liberated the Japanese POWs, and Otto made his way back to the Philippines. Harold served on the only refrigerated supply ship in that area, and never gave up searching for his POW brother whenever the ship reached port. After many years, Harold, found Otto outside Manila in a tent encampment set up for POWs. The story is both poignant, uplifting and, at times, difficult to read because of the inhumanity Otto endured. Here is a short sample of the text--Otto's account of events immediately following the fall of Bataan:  
After they gathered us back up, the Japanese forced us to begin the Bataan Death March toward San Fernando, about 65 to 70 miles away. We started walking late that afternoon. Everyone was quiet, afraid to speak or talk because the guards would hit us if we did. Our feet became bloody and sore; one man died due to thirst. In the tropical heat, his tongue swelled up and his lips cracked. The man made a run for an artesian well off the path, fell on his knees, and began drinking. The guard caught up with him and bayonetted him in the back. They usually didn’t shoot prisoners to save ammunition, so they would bayonet or beat them to death. We all learned not to fall out of rank.
Trucks started coming in, bringing more Japanese troops toward our rear echelon to round up men left behind. We were lucky in one respect, being captured on the front line, because others had about twelve more miles to hike. Also, as the last combat unit, we received a little respect from our foes. Even enemy combat soldiers have a little respect for other combat soldiers. Japanese from farther back behind the fighting were driving the trucks; however, and they didn’t share that respect. They would try to run us down with the trucks. I knew a guy who went down but couldn’t help him because the guards ran a bayonet through him.
We marched into the darkness without food or water. In the middle of the night, the Japanese guards herded us into a big, fenced compound with a generator and surrounding lights. An English-speaking Japanese soldier announced they were looking for all 31st men because they had wreaked havoc on 14th material army at the Buchi Haucienda. They then announced they wanted to execute all the 31st men.

At that point, I didn’t fear death. Death just puts an end to a lot of pain, suffering, and misery. We started screaming that they should shoot us all now and used choice words against them. Instead, they lined up a bunch of Philippine Scouts across the road and shot them. The next morning they marched us across where the bodies of the Philippine Scouts were still lying. The stench was already beginning to rise in heat under the tropical sun. They lined us up in a vacant field across from a machine gun emplacement. We thought we’d all die there. Instead, they told us to sit down. They took our hats and other head covering to expose us to the sun. We had no water. One man jumped up screaming, like he had gone insane, and they shot him. I told the guy next to me that I didn’t think the dead man had gone crazy. I thought he had committed suicide.
As soon as I have a publisher, I'll let you all know.

Thanks for reading,
James L. Hatch


Tina Donahue said...

Congrats on your newest project, James!

James L. Hatch said...

Thanks, Tina!

jean hart stewart said...

Harrowing to even read, but the story can't be told often enough...

James L. Hatch said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jean. Yes, the story is gripping, especially so because it is all true. It gives me chills thinking how much pain some of our men endured.