Veterans Day What My Friend Bill Taught Me

by ....RaeDi

© 2009….RaeDi

My family has been serving in the military since the Revolutionary War.  I thought the war of 1812 was one of the wars that our family did not fight in, but resent history from archives as brought new information, my Great~Great~Great~Great Grandfather Samuel served in this war.  The only war to date that my family has not served in was the Battle that occurred at the Alamo during The War for Texas Independence.

My father served in the USMC during WWII, he was on one of the ships in the Midway and then served out his time on an Island in the Pacific.  My father did not talk about his service during the war or where he was stationed.   The subject we knew even as children was off-limits.  I did not know until after his death in 1989 about where he served.   He had horrible bouts with Malaria over the years. He had contacted this infectious disease on the tropical island where he served his country.

I can remember as a child all the local parades, watching the Veterans march in these parades.  They represented those that served our country from several generations, and in numerous wars.  I just remember seeing them march in their uniforms.  The pride they had, I learned with age that they deserved more than just that pride that showed on their faces, but the highest of honors for serving our country. Some were even in wheelchairs being pushed by other Veterans.  It always made me so proud of my country and of those that served.  At the time, I had no idea how or where they served or to what degree they had served our country and to what extent the atrocities’ some were made to face for the freedom and humanity for all.  They then had to live with the enter turmoil and conflict that was the after math of what they endured and witnessed.  Such depth of courage, bravery, and loyalty each has given in as many ways as there are veterans.  It is a fellowship of common purpose for all veterans of wars that they will be a part of for eternity. 

One veteran I had the honor to know was a neighbor that I met in the early 1990’s.  Bill, he had served in WWII as a USMC.   His service was filled with strong morals, he stood for ethical principles and it was a genuine honor to have gotten to know Bill.   He was not boastful about his service, I did not find out what he had been through until just months before he passed.  Then it was only in casual conversations that I learned the truth about this man who I had grown to love and respect from becoming very good friends as neighbors.

He was such a jovial person, you could not be around Bill without him putting a smile on your face as soon as you set eyes on him, nor did you stop laughing when around him.  I have even had a few laughs to date about some of his wholesome jokes and seeing things through the eyes of Bill.  He had an unusual knack of always finding the positive in life, making life full of wondrous joy.  He had a propensity of bringing out the best in all folks that crossed his path.

The glimpse he gave me of his service to his country was heart breaking.  It was hard for me to see this strong man as anything different from what I had known him since our first meeting.  I often then and even to this day wonder what made this man so whole, filled with so much hope that his personality flowed over to all he would meet and more.  To have gone through what he had and survived was without question miraculous, astounding, and incredible, things that I had not known first hand until Bill.

There was not a day that Bill did not check in to see how I was doing.  I was going through a pretty rough stage from chemical and toxin exposure.  It was one of the most arduous and challenging times in my life.   Not one day passed without Bill stopping by to put a smile on my face and usually he did not come empty-handed.  He had a sweet tooth and loved the local bakery.  I told him he was trying to fatten me up for market.  We would just laugh and he would always say I have the bricks ready for the next big windstorm; I will tie them to your backside (not the word he used) to keep you from blowing away.   I had to have a tonsillectomy and it is not an easy thing to go through as an adult.  He would check on me several times a day.  He brought me soft serve ice cream, his homemade chicken soup and rented movies for us to watch.  He was so worried about me.  He even took care of my dog and cat.  All this he did without being asked.

One day I was out walking my yellow lab, Elmoski.  Elmoski loved Bill; he always had a special treat for him each day too.  On was such day Bill was sitting out in his front lawn with another man.  They both waved as I passed by and on my return Bill called me over to introduce me to his longtime friend.  This man was a year younger than Bill, but looked like he was twice Bills age.  He was not in the best of health and you could see this man was in a lot of pain.  He like Bill had a recognized nature in their personalities that would touch the spirit of all who met them. 

I noticed not only his health but also at times his eyes seemed to go somewhere far away.  He was there present in body but his spirit would take leave at times.  He would not leave for long; he would be back bantering with Bill like young schoolboys.  I loved the time I spent with these two old goats, as I called them.  They both loved teasing me to death and laughing until tears come to all of us.

One day in 1994, I was out with Elmoski and noticed that Bill and his friend were out in the yard and waved their customary waves as I went by, and invited me to join them on my return.  We would all sit there and talk, these two men had so much knowledge and their stories would keep me drawn in.  One day they got started on when they met.  It took a whole new turn, a complete dissimilarity to the conversations we had had on numerous of occasions over the year I had gotten to know Bill and his friend.

I had no idea that these two men were part of the Bataan Death March.  I was told as POW’s the treatment they endured was almost without words.  In the 1929 Geneva Convention guidelines, procedures were set for the rules on how Prisoners of War were to be treated in the hands of the captors.  At the time Japan and Russia, did not endorse the guiding principles set for POW’s.   The infamous Bataan Death March was considered to be the worst of violent crimes against POW’s in WWII.   This all come about by the way of thinking of the Japanese Military.  Their belief about surrender was the ultimate shame and a dishonor to the Japanese soldier.  This lead to the meanings of the POW’s treatment, they did not deserve humane treatment.  The Japanese felt and were actually taught that capture would bring dishonor to themselves and their families.  The percentage of Japanese POW’s was very small in comparison to the POW’s of the Allies.  They would rather die for their honor than live in disgrace. They would not allow Red Cross or any group that was a part of the Geneva guidelines to come and inspect the POW’s.  They felt it was a way for propaganda and that spying would take place in these inspections.     

The Allies believed that Japan was treating the POW’s by the Geneva Convention, but they agreed to do so only as long as it did not interfere with their military policy.  They said that the POW’s would be expected to do only what that their citizens were doing.  In reality, the treatment was horrific, unspeakable, horrendous acts beyond belief.  Inadequate food and medicine, discipline was capricious, illogical beating, executions for trying to escape, executions for having souvenirs of Japanese soldiers, even if they had just found them.   When the Red Cross tried to publicize worldwide what was being done to the POW’s treatments at the hands of Japanese soldiers, Japan denied it.  When Japan realized they were losing the war, the abuse became harsher.  They murdered or caused the deaths of thousands of POW’s.  They did not want any POW’s to be liberated.  The white POW’s in Japanese prison camps received the harshest of treatments.  One in three POW’s died in captivity, beaten to death, starved or worked to death; they were given no medical for diseases or wounds, which too caused death.  They were not only taking the lives, but wanted to break their bodies and souls, even their spirits.  The horrendous acts that they put the soldiers through were inexcusable, it was criminal.

If they tried to escape it meant sure execution, but they too knew if they tried to escape they would not be the only one executed, it meant that fellow soldiers would also be executed because of their action.  It kept them in line; it took little to nothing to give the subjugator reason for beatings, killings, taking away what little food they got.  They usually did not get food but every few days and most of the time it was only a handful of contaminated rice. 

When the POW’s in the Philippines could see the American planes their hopes of liberation could not be soon enough.  The fate of the POW’s near war’s end was as felonious; they left those to weak and sick for the march at the camps to die.  They put thousands of soldiers on Japanese ships that were sunk by American submarines and torpedoes, so their ultimate fate was that thousands died at the hands of America.  They called these the hell-ships. 

There were trials for hundreds of top Japanese Officers accused for their war crimes, but only a couple dozen of these were tried and sentenced.  Some were convicted and put to death.  However, there were several thousand of other Classes of offences-criminal acts that the Japanese service members were convicted and sentenced to prison, and there were almost a thousand that were executed for the crimes against the prisoners of war.

The fate of the POW’s in Philippines was unnecessary, thousands died.  Not only from the hands of the Japanese, but because Europe had priority over the Pacific, almost all decisions were being made in Washington.  We can hope that these atrocities will never happen again.  

This march began in March of 1942.  They needed to move the prisoners to Camp O’Donnell about one hundred miles away, where the POW’s would be released to the Americans at liberation.  The prisoners were in abhorrent conditions.  They had been on little to no food rations, without medical attention, their bodies were beaten down to nothing.  This march was for the surviving soldiers, and they were ill and undernourished; the 100 miles they had to march for some meant walking to their deaths, not liberation.  Japanese ignored offers for the POW’s to be driven to the prison camps. Once the POW’s were in the hands of the Japanese, they could do with them as they wished, it always meant harsh and disgraceful treatment even in turning over the POW’s to the new Prison Camps where they were to be liberated.

On the march, any troops that fell behind were executed.  The Japanese beat the soldiers and denied them food and water for many days.  For only a brief part of the march, the POW’s were packed on railroad cars and allowed to ride.  Those that did not die of suffocation in the boxcars were forced to march the last seven miles to the camp.  It took the POW’s over a week to reach their destination.

Bill and his friends were both POW’s at the hands of the Japanese.  They both felt they were lucky they were not executed or beaten to death.  I now knew why Bill’s friend was in the shape he was in.  The most heart rendering of this story being told to me was the fact that Bill’s friend was only alive because his friend, now his brother for life, Bill had carried him every step of the way.  Bill was nothing but bones, he had been starved, beaten and broken, but he never gave up hope.  His friend told me that Bill single-handedly saved many POW’s lives, only to be punished harshly, he was close to death several times for his stoic actions, he faced all the adversity the Japanese threw his way and survived.  His friend said that all the soldiers wondered if he was their ‘Lucky Charm.’

Hearing this from two soldiers that were on that march, gave me much to think about and a given realization that freedom and liberty does come at a high cost, the highest was dying for your country.  That was Bill’s friend last visit.  He passed away a few months after that afternoon of talk about patience and endurance, and what it means to fight for the rights of all human kind. 

Bill had a heart attack on one sunday in April, 1995, fifty-three years from the month he was on that march.  I was there and so was another neighbor, we did CPR on him until the fire department arrived.  We found out that he had passed before he had landed on the ground.  I remember sitting by him and thanking the Lord for putting this person in my life.  If only I could have brought him more time, but it was not to be.   Bill is what America stands for.  He was the cream of the crop.  Not a Veteran’s Day will pass without me thinking about Bill and his friend.  The Lord truly blessed me when he brought them into my life.   Bill said life lessons turned him to all of life’s possibilities.  He learned to scuba dive to deep depths.  He flew his own planes high over mountaintops.  He said that he wanted to experience all that life had to offer and he indeed experienced more than most of us can even imagine.

I could not help but  think of Bill on the April morning (several days after Bill had passed,) when a large bomb decimated the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people what would Bill be thinking.  He fought so hard for this country and to have this happen on American soil, against our American Government.  I too thought of Bill on 9/11 attacks and so many other horrendous acts that have occurred, I rather knew what Bill would think and how he would react.   

Reach out and let all veterans know what they mean to you.  Help them, and help their families.  Our men and woman in service at this time need our support.  Their families need our support.  No matter what you think of the wars, put them first.  Reach out and touch those that serve and protect this country….