Yours Truly - 1991 - Mortar Gun Team Leader
In late December 1944, the Japanese began to see the writing on the wall. The United States had recovered from the December 7, 1941 and were now on the offensive. Artillery and air support on the beaches of the Philippines made it clear that the Japanese days were numbered. And initial movement for American P.O.W.’s was to put the ones in best physical condition on transport ships and get them mobilized as soon as possible to the motherland. By the 1000’s, the Americans were put in cargo holds where livestock had been staged. Crammed in so tight that if you over came the claustrophobia, you actually may succumb to suffocation….and after all that….many times prisoners still met their ultimate demise by U.S bombing the Japanese ships because of no known knowledge of Americans were on board. This was how my running buddy, Lynn Ballard’s great uncle was killed during the war.
By the first of January 1945, the Japanese had all but abandoned Cabanatuan P.O.W. compound. They were regrouping with the impending American invasion. Upon leaving the compound, they warned that any prison escapes would be dealt with by execution. The American soldiers were fearful that they had just jumped from the frying pan into the fire. With thousands of Japanese soldiers milling about the area, who was to say that some sadistic S.O.B would come in and begin to kill them just for grins. I was a very real concern. Despite, the concerns, the prisoners, began to ransack the Japanese quarters of the compound, discovering great amounts of food and amenities. Some P.O.W.’s began to put on 10 lbs a week for the next 2 weeks just due to the improved nutrition. Moral began to run high. By late January, some Japanese soldiers returned to reside at the compound, but no strict or harsh treatment ensued.
The Rangers, had their plan together…and a jail break was about to take place. F company would go around to the back of the compound and take out all Japanese residing. After the first signal of the rear attack, Company C would storm the front gates. The plan went off without a hitch. Many prisoners were caught off guard. Many refused to go with the Rangers due to chaos and confusion. Some had to physically being carried out of the prison. The prison break was only half of it…you now had to make it through without being killed by surrounding Japanese soldiers. The Rangers and Filipino guerrillas insured that prisoners would be safely evacuated.
It’s show time...to run long and heavy in Bataan Memorial Race. The training is in the bank. The flight is booked…the reservations have been made. I will fly out Saturday morning in hopes to attend the historical presentation that afternoon. There will be survivors there. At this point…I have received numerous emails, messages, and donations for the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund. I can not tell you what this means to me. I only hope to run with strength and pride that those that have gone before us did…those that sacrificed so much for our freedoms. Running this little race pales in comparison…and so I RUN ON.
(much of the historical accounts were taken from the book, GHOST SOLDIERS by Hampton Sides. I strongly encourage to read it.)