Walk marks anniversary of Bataan death march

WELLSBURG – The Brooke County Public Library and its American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Museum observed the 72nd anniversary of the Bataan Death March with a community walk Saturday.

Author John D. Lukacs presented the documentary “4-4-43,” which is based on his book, “Escape from Davao: The Forgotten Story of the Most Daring Prison Break of the Pacific War.”

The book is about 10 prisoners of war and two Filipinos who broke out of a high-security penal colony following their capture by the Japanese during World War II.

Dancers with the Filipino American Association of Pittsburgh, a nonprofit, volunteer organization dedicated to promoting the Filipino culture, performed at the Wellsburg Elks Lodge where the walk ended and lunch and refreshments were provided for participants.

Jane Kraina, museum coordinator, said the Wellsburg lodge, led by Exulted Ruler Jeff Cionni, secured a grant from the West Virginia Elks to provide the food and the stage for the dancers.

Agnes Ahn of Massachusetts provided funds for a touchscreen kiosk for the museum which was unveiled as part of the memorial celebration. The kiosk provides visitors access to 22 videos, 300 photos and numerous assorted letters and other documents.

Joe Vater, a survivor of the march from McKees Rocks, Pa., also attended. Vater is a long-time supporter of the museum and donated a box camera and thousands of photos he took following his liberation by Allied troops from a Japanese prisoner of war camp, where he managed to survive for three years. He acquired the camera after he was freed in Manchuria when he traded his saber for it.

“When you have no choice, you just get through it,” he said.

Re-enactors with the World War II Living History group led by Bill Burruss returned again this year with World War II-era military vehicles that some participants got a chance to ride in. The Pittsburgh-based re-enactment group First Frontier Mechanized Colony was also in attendance in full uniform.

“We do this to commemorate the losses and the sacrifice, and because we appreciate the history,” said Jamie Balser, a living history re-enactor and self-proclaimed amateur historian.

The American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor began as a permanent exhibit established by Ed Jackfert, a Wellsburg man who was among the many captured following a long battle to defend the islands against Japanese invasion. It details the surrender of 72,000 American and Filipino troops at Bataan and their forced walk 65 miles in grueling heat to a railroad station where they were loaded onto stifling boxcars to the Camp O’Donnell prison camp.

At least 600 Americans and more than 10,000 Filipinos died from disease, starvation or dehydration or were killed when they attempted to get water or fell behind.

Norie Thomas, a Mingo Junction resident and member of the FAAP, described her grandfather’s experience on the march.

“People starved to death, and he told me that when they tried to fight back the Japanese would skin them alive,” Thomas said. She recalled his stories of Filipino women being raped and abused as punishment on a regular basis. Some of them would kill chickens and use their blood to make it look like they were menstruating the only way to avoid being sexually assaulted, she said.

“My dad told me that if you fell down they would kill you with a bayonet,” said Nancy Jacob McIntyre, another FAAP member. “He was lucky. No one saw him fall, and he rolled under some nearby bushes and stayed hidden there for a very long time.”

McIntyre’s father survived and came to the U.S. when the conflict ended, where he lived until 1971.