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Apr-14-2010 00:03printcomments

The Other Heroes of the Pacific

Men suffered body and soul for more than a thousand days where no Geneva Convention rights were extended to them.

Gen. Edward King surrenders to the Japanese.
Gen. Edward King surrenders to the Japanese.

(LOS ANGELES) - Today, common knowledge of America’s WWII fight in the Pacific seems to have evolved into a set of bookend events called “Pearl Harbor” and “Hiroshima.” But as we commemorate one of America’s darkest anniversaries – the 1942 surrender of US forces in the Philippines to the Japanese. It was the largest surrender of US forces in history.

While the mention of war in the Pacific always turns my thoughts to Marine Corps landings and Navy salvos and Army Air Corps B-29s bombing the Japanese homeland, there were 1000s of nearly forgotten American heroes who endured horrors that can only be compared to those of the Holocaust. They were known as “the battling bastards of Bataan.”

I have had the privilege of interviewing dozens of World War Two veterans from the first moments of war to the final victory. Recently I met several survivors of Bataan -- resilient men who reflected a resilient time. The USA didn’t just become a world power from that test of fire…it became THE world power. WWII isn’t merely an echo of history. It resonates. That war was the blast furnace that forged the new America.

The US forces in the Philippines witnessed and endured unspeakable atrocities, including the infamous “Bataan Death March” – a 55 mile journey into hell. At least 75,000 American and Filipino soldiers laid down their arms on the Philippine peninsula of Bataan and were marched for ten days without sleep in 99 degree heat and 90 percent humidity. Postwar official reports tabulated that only 54,000 prisoners survived long enough to reach their initial destination. Tens of thousands more died before their ultimate liberation in 1945.

The hardships endured by these men is unfathomable. Men suffered body and soul for more than a thousand days where no Geneva Convention rights were extended to them…it was our own scaled-down Nanking with the cruelest of conduct by their captors. They were starved on contaminated rice, riddled with malaria and dysentery, left to share a dripping spigot of water for 1000 men waiting on a line that would last for days before reaching the front.

Those strong enough to survive the initial camps were shipped off to Japan as slave labor. They were crammed into overcrowded cargo ship whose holds were packed to standing-room on steel decks caked in feces and blood.

But as history recedes, those heinous events are being lost to the sands of time…though its survivors still march among us, and 22 of them were recently honored in White Sands, New Mexico.

Over 5,700 men, women and children went on the 21st Annual Memorial March to remember these heroes -- men who once shared grains of rice and sips of water as they faced a fearsome enemy who would bayonet their victims in order to save a bullet. The memorial marchers were a mix of military and civilians…but mostly military whose policies have undoubtedly been forever amended by that 1942 surrender.

Yes, WWII is long over, but these men of Bataan – ordered to surrender by their commanders – are long overdue for their proper place in the sun. With the success of “The Pacific,” it is time to rekindle the memory of those POWs who languished and starved but could not be exterminated by the inhumanity they suffered.

The men of Bataan are some of our oldest veterans – enlistees who were the tip of the spear in the Pacific and are now in their mid-eighties and even older. Every year there are less of them, and every year we are taught about even less about them. As we continue into this century, let us not forget the men who helped us get here.

Peter Hankoff is an award-winning director/writer/producer whose work has taken him everywhere from Area 51 to Auschwitz and Iwo Jima and his programs have aired on the National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Military Channel and History Channel. Peter lives in Los Angeles.

Peter definitely knows a thing or two about conspiracy theories. He’s a documentary filmmaker whose work has taken him everywhere from Area 51 (Roswell) to Dealey Plaza (Site of the JFK assassination). In addition, his programs have appeared on the National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Military Channel and History Channel. And he was recently at Ground Zero in New York City to film 9/11 artifacts for an upcoming program on a major cable network.

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Coral Anika Theill April 15, 2010 5:06 pm (Pacific time)

Thank you for this article! I lived in Corvallis, Oregon and was Major Ivan Weikel's neighbor for seven years. Major Weikel was one of the Bataan March survivors. After his wife, Esther passed, in the 1980's, Major Weikel would join us for dinner and my children and I had the privilege of hearing his stories of survival and heroism. His memory was incredible as he could recall each date when he transferred from POW camp to the next. I met Major Weikel when he was in his 80's. He spoke about the thousands that died as POWs from brutality, starvation, disease, and sanitation. Major Weikel's march lasted 6 days, with little or no food or water. He marched 140 miles to his first POW Camp O’Donnell. Over a thousand men, including Major Weikel would be transferred to the POW camp at Cabanatuan. He recalled that many of the young men just gave up and died. Capt. Ivan Weikel miraculously survived. In 1943, he was taken by ship to POW camp Shikoku, on the homeland of Japan at Zentsuji. Major Weikel said that he and his fellow prisoners would have frozen to death if they had not been liberated by U.S. forces. Major Weikel returned to his wife, Esther and family in Corvallis. He had serious medical problems, including being nearly blind from vitamin deficiency. He lived to be 90 years old. Major Weikel a member of the Corvallis American Legion Post 11 for 53 years. It was an honor and privilege to know both Major Weikel and his wife.

G 2/3; April 15, 2010 1:24 am (Pacific time)

that's classified.

Editor: Roger that Lance Corporal!

G 2/3; April 14, 2010 6:33 pm (Pacific time)

They are not forgotten. W.E.B. Griffin's series "The Corp's" covers events surrounding this time, an excellent read. Semper Fi and thank you for this article,and Elizabeth van Kampen,thank you for the comment. These are and were real people in a time called hell. One day I've been told there will be no more war. I pray for peace every day.

Editor: Is that you  Ken “Killer” McCoy?

Elizabeth van Kampen April 14, 2010 1:50 am (Pacific time)

I am 83 years old and I hope that you don't mind me telling you that I was in a Japanese concentrationcamp on the island of Java in the former Dutch East Indies (today Indonesia.That my father was killed by the Kempeitai. Will you please read my website ? Thank you so much!! Greetings from Holland. Elizabeth van Kampen

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