WELLSBURG - The wife and cousin of a survivor of the Bataan Death March joined about 30 area residents Monday in remembering the many American and Filipino troops who suffered and died following a battle to defend the Philippine Islands against Japanese invasion.
The walk was held on the 70th anniversary of the infamous march. It was sponsored by the Brooke County Public Library and its Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Museum in memory of Abie Abraham of Butler, Pa., a survivor of the march who died March 22 at the age of 98.
Mary Kay Wallace, library director, said Assistant Director Joyce McAlpine suggested honoring Abraham in that way, noting he had been a supporter of the small museum within the library that grew from an exhibit created by Ed Jackfert, a Wellsburg man who also served in the Philippines, and his wife, Henrietta.
REMEMBERING BATAAN — Many area residents turned out for a walk Monday marking the 70th anniversary of the Bataan Death March. The event was sponsored by the Brooke County Public Library and its Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Museum. Among them were Francis Dennison, who carried the banner; Tom Williams, who carried a photo of Abie Abraham, a survivor of the march who recently died and in whose honor it was held. Also participating were Christine Abraham, his wife; and Chuck Moses, his cousin, both of Butler, Pa. -- Warren Scott
A frequent visitor to the museum, Abraham donated to it a samurai sword given to him by a Japanese major who had been captured on the Philippine Islands at the end of World War II.
Abraham's wife, Christine, said her husband welcomed the opportunity to speak to schools, colleges, universities and various groups about his experience and that of others in the march.
She said Abraham and others had gone without supplies for months and were starving when they were captured but were given no food or water by their captors as they were marched for 65 miles to areas where they could be transported by train and ships to prisoner of war work camps.
The Brooke County Public Library will present a free screening at 1 p.m. April 28 of "Forgotten Heroes," a documentary about the Philippine scouts who were involved in the Bataan Death March. The film's producer and director, Donald Plata, will be on hand to discuss the film and answer questions.
Christine said Abraham spoke of being transported with many other soldiers in a hot, tightly packed boxcar with little ventilation.
"It was so tight, all they could do was stand," said Christine, adding many of the men had contracted dysentery and malaria and were feverish.
Jane Kraina, museum coordinator, said Abraham was among only about 50,000 who had survived the march. Many had been beaten or bayoneted "for such infractions as not keeping up or trying to drink from artisan wells on the side of the road," she said.
Chuck Moses, Abraham's young cousin, noted the Americans and Filipinos had fought against the Japanese invaders for five months before their capture and had been without food and other supplies for some time.
Bill Burress of Richmond, a member of the World War II Living History Regiment also on hand for the event, said the troops were deployed at the onset of the war and weren't well prepared for battle, equipped largely with weapons and equipment used in World War I.
Burress and fellow re-enactor Dan Evans of Pittsburgh brought a pup tent and 1942 model Jeep similar to those used by the troops and drove ahead of the walk in the vintage vehicle.
Burress said though Gen. Douglas MacArthur had requested more troops for the Philippines, American troops were focused on removing Nazi invaders from Europe, leaving the soldiers on the islands outnumbered.
The capture and savage treatment of the soldiers wasn't made known to the public during the war or fully acknowledged for many years after, he said.
"It was almost a secret. A lot of letters were censored. They kept a lid on information. The public today would be outraged," Burress said.
But Abraham was among survivors who would see that the atrocities of the march and the prisoner of war camps and the sacrifices of his fellow soldiers weren't forgotten.
"He went back for two years to help find the remains of the soldiers (who died during the march). MacArthur asked him to," said Moses.
He recalled Abraham telling him the general pointed to a stack of letters, saying, "All of these mothers want to know about their sons."
Moses said Filippino citizens had buried the fallen soldiers and aided Abraham in locating their graves, and he had kept notes about soldiers, living and dead, at the same POW camp as he.
Moses added Abraham's testimony was key to bringing justice against the Japanese captors, including Lt. Gen. Masaharu Homma, who ordered the march and was hanged for his involvement.
He added Abraham also brought attention to the march through two books, "The Ghost of Bataan Speaks" and "Oh God, Where Are You?"
He said despite his experiences, Abraham maintained a sense of humor, which may have helped him to cope with the ordeal; and didn't harbor resentment against the Japanese.
Moses said, "He said, if I remember correctly, 'Keeping hate in your heart makes you die young.'"
Kraina said she hopes the walk will become an annual event and is continuing to raise funds for an addition to the library to house the many writings, photos and artifacts that have been donated to the library by veterans who served in the Philippines and their families.
(Scott can be contacted at email@example.com)