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Some Survived: An Eyewitness Account of the Bataan Death March and the Men Who Lived Through It.

Some Survived: An Eyewitness Account of the Bataan Death March and the Men Who Lived Through It. By Manny Lawton. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2004 (paperback edition), $14.95.

"Hell is not a place but a condition," observes Manny Lawton in his memoir Some Survived: An Eyewitness Account of the Bataan Death March and the Men Who Lived Through It. "Many men ... simply gave up and died. That was painless, while living was terrible." Terrible is an understatement. Lawton relates the unimaginable cruelty he and fellow prisoners endured at the hands of the Japanese during World War II. Lawton's story of survival and the compassion exhibited by his fellow prisoners--as they faced death from starvation, dehydration, disease, beatings, and torture--is a testament to the courage, valor, and the intense will to live of these prisoners where "survival was an individual struggle." Although an individual struggle; hope, friendship, and the compassion of others helped Lawton and others survive as "no man could survive this madness alone."

From the infamous 65-mile Bataan Death March that claimed nearly 1,000 lives; imprisonment at numerous disease infested Philippine "death camps" like Camp O'Donnell, the Davao Penal Colony, and Cabanatuan; through "slave labor" camps in Japan (Camp #3) and Korea (Inchon); Lawton's 42 months of captivity graphically and emotionally describe a litany of inhuman atrocities committed against American prisoners of war. Although many former prisoners of war have written their memoirs and provided a collective experience of the "death march" and imprisonment, very few survived the terror and horror of the "hell ships" that were torpedoed and bombed by U.S. forces as part of the campaign against Japanese shipping.

Lawton's work adds a dimension in the historiography of the Bataan survivors that very few prisoners lived through. Lawton was one of 271 prisoners from a group of 1,619 that survived transport on three of these "hell ships," (the Oryoku Maru, Enoura Maru and Brazil Maru) that departed from the Philippine Islands in December 1944. In a sad twist of irony, six weeks after Lawton and his group departed Cabanatuan prison for the "hell ships," U.S. Army Rangers conducted a daring raid to rescue the remaining captives held there.

Tightly packed like cargo in the holds of ships--one that had recently been vacated by horses--each transport vessel intensified the condition of hell for Lawton and his fellow prisoners. Lawton and more than 1,600 prisoners already weakened by starvation, dehydration, dysentery, malaria, and torture following 30 months of captivity, embarked upon their first "hell ship," the Oryoku Maru.

The atmosphere in the hold was horriffic; madness intensified as fights broke out, prisoners slashed other prisoners, drinking their blood to quench their thirst. "Death was a welcome relief," while others "struggled for life." One day after boarding, Navy bombers attacked the ship; corpses littered the hold as doctors treated the wounded without medicine or bandages. Prisoners remained on the ship without food or water for another day before abandoning ship. Wounded and healthy prisoners swam 300 yards to shore; many drowned or died as machine guns opened up on them, a few made it ashore through the compassion and heroism of others. On shore at Subic Bay, a new level of cruelty waited the mostly naked prisoners. Placed on a cement tennis court in the blazing Philippine sun, the barely fed survivors added sunburn to their litany of miseries. Water and food, measured by the spoonful, made them "look like baby birds being fed by their mother." After five days of torture, surviving hunger, thirst, and shipwreck, the prisoners moved to San Fernando. There, the wounded were removed from the group and executed as the living marched to the docks to board their second "hell ship," the Enoura Maru.

For 10 days storms battered the ship. The prisoner's daily rice ration was laden with flies as they stood "like beggars.... barefoot, unshaven, dirty, and befouled with diarrhea." On January 9, 1944, American fighters near Formosa attacked the Enoura Maru. The prisoners hold took a direct hit, leaving dead bodies strewn everywhere. Following the attack, they remained on the ship without food or water for two days before transferring to their third "hell ship," the Brazil Maru.

Weakened, dazed, and wounded, they walked, crawled, or sat in prepared cargo slings to board the Brazil Maru. Temperatures dropped to 20 degrees during the voyage as winter set in, and pneumonia added its crushing weight to their misery. Starvation, freezing, and dehydration took its toll, as an average of 27 prisoners died each day during the 16-day voyage to Japan. Landing in Moji, Japan after 48 days at sea, 75 percent who started the journey had died. Within 30 days, the number would rise to 84 percent.

Lawton's book is poignantly graphic as he details man's inhumane treatment of his fellow man; it is also a work that defines courage, valor, and a Soldier's compassion for his fellow Soldiers. His recollection of Captain Walter Donaldson, suffering from broken ankles and sprained wrists, crawling on his elbows and knees across barges and up ladders to board another "hell ship" is inspirational. Despite suffering from disease and malnutrition themselves, doctors provided comfort to the wounded, and chaplains ministered to the dead and dying. Both show a deep devotion to duty and a conviction of their faith, even though near death themselves. Others rescued fellow prisoners that were lost at sea from other "hell ships," determined to survive one more day. Some Survived, like other memoirs from the Bataan survivors, not only deserves to be read, it is an inspirational reminder of the sacrifices so many brave men and women gave in the service to their country.
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Author:Talbot, Randy
Publication:Infantry Magazine
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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