At Letterman Hospital before my discharge I was happy to meet with many of those who had survived with me the Death March and nearly three years of prison. It was great to see old friends again and spend time with them. We watched film of other prisoners of war being released from camps in the Philippines. Many faces I recognized, some that I had worked with, appeared on the screen. One face took me by complete surprise. It was the navy chief, the one with all the tattoos and the two word vocabulary, the man from Cabanatuan who wouldn’t give up. There he was, keeping up with the rest of the men, stepping down the road with his right leg, dragging his left. He had made it back to States!
Another prisoner who had miraculously survived the Death Ward at Camp Cabanatuan and made it back to the States was the man who had requested a pinch of salt. With the salt he had recovered sufficiently to work on the farm, but his first day proved to be too hard for him and they carried him back on a stretcher. He then contracted tuberculosis and they carried him to the T.B. ward. I now learned he had spent the remainder of his internment in the ward from where he was liberated. I don’t know where he is now, but I would be willing to wager he could be found alive somewhere.
One day shortly before I checked out of Letterman, we were told to dress up in our best uniform and put on our finest smiles. General Joseph Stilwell was coming to pay us a visit. We all had a great admiration for General Stilwell, or “old Vinegar Joe,” as his troops called him. He had fought the Japanese in China and Burma throughout the war. He had marched with the remnants of his defeated army across Burma to India, some 140 miles, with the Japanese close behind them. He was a hero to all of us.
I put on my new uniform, now with corporal chevrons, and stepped outside. The surprise came when General Stilwell awarded me the Bronze Star for the work I had done with the sick and disabled prisoners in the camps.
After the war the U.S. Military conducted war crime hearings in Manila. Among the accused was the Japanese commander of the invasion forces in the Philippines, Lieutenant General Homma Masaharu. He was charged with responsibility for the Death March and was tried by a U.S. military commission in Manila in January-February 1946. Convicted of war crimes, he was executed on April 3rd the same year.
Almost a year after the war ended, I was completing my studies in San Francisco when a small parcel arrived at my home. It was from the Philippines. I quickly opened it, trying hard to imagine what might be inside. I undid the final wrapping, and there neatly tied was a small note book. It was my diary, the one I had given to a Filipino man during the death march, a man I had never seen before. His name was Juan Evangelista and he had made the following addition to my diary:
“April 20, 1942. Monday (11:30AM)
“While I was searching for my brother (who has graduate a High School and trained for month Cadre and when the World War II broke out he was commissioned as Sergeant of the USAFFE(PA) 31st Eng Co. C at the age of less than 18 years), When a group of Americans are at rest while I was at a window of a native house. We have served a little of what we have and it happened that Mr. Mario Machi approached me and handed his 2 note books as diaries and photographs he has requested me to keep them. (I was at San Pedro _________ where we meet each other.)”
Tears filled my eyes, and I could remember the very moment I handed him my diaries. How I wanted to see him again, to thank him, to tell him I was alive, but there was no address.
I have kept up over the years with a few friends from camp. John “Red” Bohn, a navy man I first met in Letterman hospital now lives in Santa Rosa, California. We were in different outfits but got together now and then in camp. He appeared often in my diary and was one of the men I had climbed the summit with that October 3, 1941, while we were still at Fort McDowell.
Arthur McBain is another old friend from Bataan. He was a navy corpsman who married a Filipina after the war. He and his wife live in Morgan Hill, California. We occasionally visit one another. Many of the photographs that appear in this book came from his collection.
My story does not end here. There was something I still had to do.