Monday, May 11, 2015

Ordinary People; Extraordinary Times

Today, I offer a look into my new WW II novel, Ordinary People; Extraordinary Times. I have never tried non-fiction. It is difficult, and the stories can bring tears to your eyes. Here's an excerpt from Otto Whittington's first-hand account of the Bataan Death March.
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.
Later that night some additional troops came in and we started marching again. My mouth was parched from lack of water, so I put a flat, smooth pebble inside my cheek to keep my tongue from swelling. We marched all that night. We were tired, but we weren’t in the sun. They gave a rest around midnight while they cooked some rice. We got nothing.
The next day, they marched us by a native shack where some girls brought out some food wrapped up in banana leaves—kind of like a soft rice cake or poi with sugar mixed in. The guys grabbed the food because they were all starving, but the Japanese took it away. Then the guards ran into the shack, dragged out two young Philippine girls and an elderly woman…and bayonetted them.
We marched through the day and into the night. I managed to pick a few blades of grass to eat along the road, but most of the vegetation had been beaten down by war and traffic. There wasn’t much. We marched all the next day until we got into Balanga, the capital of Bataan.  A little later, Balanga became a hell hole, a staging area where prisoners from all over Bataan were brought in. Many of them were sick with dysentery and the place became unbearable with stench and filth. We were lucky. As the vanguard of the death march, we had arrived before the big bunch came in.
The next day, many of the guys were falling out. We didn’t think we were going to make it. I was in bad shape because I had been on the front lines longer than most. We ate grass and tree leaves, snakes, monkeys, and such. The third day, they brought in some trucks and loaded us up. We rolled into a little area where a little Philippine boy ran up with a canteen. The guards saw that the men were getting water, and hit the boy with a rifle butt, knocking him to the ground.
The Japanese were severe, probably a result of fear. They seemed to fear everything—their officers and even the American soldiers held in captivity. To prove their manhood, they were especially brutal to those who could not fight back. Another soldier came up and began beating the boy and eventually crushed his skull with the butt of his rifle. The boy died in agony; fear will make anybody brutal.
As we rolled out, the people along the way opened their grass shutters in the shacks and began throwing rice cakes and bananas into the trucks. The guards were furious, and began firing into the shacks. We don’t know how many of those people died inside.
           We continued on into Camp O'Donnell in Capas, the terminus of the Bataan Death March, without further incident. The camp was a former Philippine Army facility designed to accommodate about 10,000 men, but the Japanese crammed about 60,000 survivors into it. There was little running water, sparse food, no medical care, and only slit trenches along the sides of the camp for sanitation. The heat was intolerable. Flies rose out of the latrines and covered what little food the prisoners got. Malaria, dysentery, beriberi, and other diseases swept through the crowds of men. The camp was the hell hole of creation.
The picture above was taken after Otto's brother, Harold, found Otto in a relocation camp in the Philippines after the second atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. Otto died in 1990; Harold is now 90 years old. I am trying to get the book finished now, just so Harold can hold it in his hands before he passes on. 

Thanks for reading,

James L. Hatch


jean hart stewart said...

That must have been hard to research.So much evil, and yet to me the good outshines the bad.

James L. Hatch said...

Hi Jean. Yes, I've gone through hours of recorded interviews and lots of writings. Frankly, I long to get back to writing fiction ... where accuracy doesn't matter. Thank you for stopping by.