Oldest survior of the Bataan Death March passes away

Discussion in 'WW2 General' started by Thorlifter, Aug 16, 2011.

  1. Thorlifter

    Thorlifter Well-Known Member

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    ST. LOUIS (AP) — A doctor once told Albert Brown he shouldn't expect to make it to 50, given the toll taken by his years in a Japanese labor camp during World War II and the infamous, often-deadly march that got him there. But the former dentist made it to 105, embodying the power of a positive spirit in the face of inordinate odds.

    "Doc" Brown was nearly 40 in 1942 when he endured the Bataan Death March, a harrowing 65-mile trek in which 78,000 prisoners of war were forced to walk from Bataan province near Manila to a Japanese POW camp. As many as 11,000 died along the way. Many were denied food, water and medical care, and those who stumbled or fell during the scorching journey through Philippine jungles were stabbed, shot or beheaded.

    But Brown survived and secretly documented it all, using a nub of a pencil to scrawl details into a tiny tablet he concealed in the lining of his canvas bag. He often wondered why captives so much younger and stronger perished, while he went on.

    By the time he died Sunday at a nursing home in southern Illinois' Nashville, Brown's story was well-chronicled, by one author's account offering an encouraging road map for veterans recovering from their own wounds in many wars.

    "Doc's story had as much relevance for today's wounded warriors as it did for the veterans of his own era," said Kevin Moore, co-author of the recently released "Forsaken Heroes of the Pacific War: One Man's True Story," which details Brown's experience.

    "The underlying message for today's returning veterans is that there's hope, not to give in no matter how bleak the moment may seem," added Moore, whose nephew just returned from military duty in Afghanistan. "You will persevere and can find the promise of a new tomorrow, much like Doc had found."

    Brown, recognized in 2007 at an annual convention of Bataan survivors as the oldest one still living, couldn't muster the strength to talk about his experiences until about 15 or so years ago, said his granddaughter, Susan Engelhardt of Pinckneyville, Ill.

    "I'm not a big military buff at all. But just reading the story about the death march and the situation in the Philippines, it's an incredible story. And incredibly sad," Engelhardt said. "He's an incredible man, and he had an incredible legacy. He came through horrible times and came out on top, rebuilding his life. But so many of those men and women triumphed."

    Brown's account described the torment that came about every mile as the marchers passed wells U.S. troops dug for natives but weren't allowed to drink from once they became prisoners. Filipinos who tried to throw fruit to the marchers frequently were killed.

    Brown remained in a POW camp from early 1942 until mid-September 1945, living solely on rice. The once-athletic man — he lettered in baseball, football, basketball and track in high school — saw his weight whither by some 80 pounds to less than 100 by the time he was freed. Lice and disease were rampant.

    Despite the hardships, Brown focused on bright spots, including a prisoner called on to fix Japanese soldiers' radios. The prisoner managed to steal radio parts, scraping together enough components to build a functioning unit of his own. Brown helped craft a listening tube for the device, which brought the captives news from San Francisco that the U.S. actually had won a battle the Japanese soldiers were celebrating as a naval victory.

    "He had this incredible spirit to live and overcome," Moore said. "Positive thinking or whatever you call it, he survived."

    Born in 1905 in North Platte, Neb., Brown was the godson of Wild West folk hero "Buffalo Bill" Cody, who often let the boy sit on his lap and tug his beard. Brown moved with his family to Council Bluffs, Iowa, after his father — a railroad engineer — died when a locomotive engine exploded.

    He studied dentistry at Creighton University in the 1920s and was called to active duty in 1937, leaving behind a wife, children and a decade-old dental practice his war injuries prevented him from resuming.

    By the time the war ended in 1945, the 40-year-old Brown was nearly blind, had weathered a broken back and neck and suffered through more than a dozen diseases including malaria, dysentery and dengue fever.

    He took two years to mend, and a doctor told him to enjoy the next few years because he had been so decimated he would be dead by 50. But Brown soldiered on, moving to California, attending college again and renting out properties to the era's biggest Hollywood stars, including Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland. He became friends with John Wayne and Roy Rogers, doing some screen tests along the way.

    "I think he had seen so much horror that after the war, he was determined to enjoy his life," Moore said.
     
  2. evangilder

    evangilder "Shooter"
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  3. DerAdlerIstGelandet

    DerAdlerIstGelandet Der Crew Chief
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  4. Vassili Zaitzev

    Vassili Zaitzev Well-Known Member

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  5. Gnomey

    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor
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  6. Messy1

    Messy1 Well-Known Member

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    RIP! It is well deserved!
     
  7. Aaron Brooks Wolters

    Aaron Brooks Wolters Well-Known Member

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  8. mikewint

    mikewint Well-Known Member

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    An incredible story of unbelievable human cruelty
     

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  9. Wayne Little

    Wayne Little Well-Known Member

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    Njaco The Pop-Tart Whisperer
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  11. RabidAlien

    RabidAlien Active Member

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  12. Ferdinand Foch

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    :salute:
    If I recall, about six or seven years ago, our home town had a survivor of the Bataan Death March pass away as well. I think he was a Major, and he either was an Alamo Scout (or at least a guerilla fighter), or a survivor. I don't recall the exact details. This story just reminds me of that.
     
  13. Robersabel

    Robersabel New Member

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    Albert Brown was assigned to the 24th Pursuit Group during battles of Bataan and Corregidor. The unit was awarded three (3) Distinguished Unit Citations aka Presidential Unit Citation w/2 OLC's. The 24th PG also was awarded the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation. All recipients of the former PUC may be entitled the Bronze Star Medal.
     
  14. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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  15. N4521U

    N4521U Well-Known Member

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    They lived a horrible existence at the hands of the IJA.

    I suggest finding a book titled "the Forgotten Highlander", about a Scot who was one of the many captured in Singapore, then marched to and hel[ed build the train line and the bridge over the river Kwai. Then the sinking of a IJN transport ship to Japan, to be picked up by another IJN ship, and prison camps in Japan to the end of the war, and surviving to return home to Scotland.

    Poor buggers, all of them.
     
  16. Shinpachi

    Shinpachi Well-Known Member

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    I still feel great sorry for the incident.
    :salute:
     
  17. N4521U

    N4521U Well-Known Member

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    We all do Shinpachi.
     
  18. Wayne Little

    Wayne Little Well-Known Member

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    A sad event overall....
     
  19. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    Looks like, as of last year there were 11 survivors of the march nation wide. My 80 year old brother, an ex-10th Infantry Division (pre- & post-Mountain designation), 87th regiment-alum circa-1954) moved to Las Cruces NM a few years back and I was surprised to learn that he had participated in a remembrance of the Bataan March. I didn't realize that the NM National Guard unit represented a significant fraction of the original prisoners and that the march is remembered annually. It's astonishing to me that there were any survivors who lived to such a ripe old age. a real testament to the human body's ability to recover from absorbing astonishing punishment.

    My brother, a member of the Division Band (Trumpet) was also assigned to a Recon Unit as a 'demolition expert' and posted to an isolated outpost on the Hungarian border in the late Fall of 1956 during the Hungarian revolution. My brother tells some funny stories of the occasion, as he pondered his odds of survival if war should erupt, with him having no more demolition training than what he may have received in basic training at Fort Riley Kansas. Late one night, he recalls being asked by his comrade where their lonely two-man outpost was located geographically. He reluctantly provided the disconcerting news that they were weren't too far (probably within about 200 miles) from the Transylvania region. Evidently, neither got much sleep that night, which was probably just as well considering their assignment.

    Many gather to remember Bataan Death March
     
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