Remember the many courageous efforts

All who have served their country in military uniform deserve a hearty salute this Memorial Day weekend.

As an American Legion officer, I sometimes visit with aging warriors in southwest Kansas. When I do, I am always reminded of two uncles who served honorably during World War II. Claude Lancaster served in Europe with General George S. Patton and James Lancaster served in the Philippines under General Douglas MacArthur. As a youngster, I remember both men having big hands, noses and balding heads. They were strong, hard working and had a heavy dose of Cherokee Indian blood in them.

In the early '50s, Uncle Claude was called back and served in the Korean War. He also served during the Vietnam War, before retiring from the U.S. Army. He served during three wars.

However, what I didn't know for some years was that it was Uncle James who had witnessed and endured the worst that battle has to offer. In 1942, he helped defend Manila Bay.

Yes, 70 years ago this spring, while defending Bataan and Corregidor, out-gunned American and Filipino troops took on the full brunt of the Japanese Army for 99 days. Finally, half-starved and exhausted, 76,000 men surrendered. They became prisoners of war.

The Japanese decided to move these soldiers inland to holding camps. They forced them to march 81 miles. It later became know as the Bataan Death March.

The prisoners were herded like cattle by their captors, some on horseback. The POWs had no food and little water for the first three days. Many had to drink water from filthy water buffalo wallowing holes. The enemy treated them as sub-human.

Thousands died of diseases, starvation, sadistic beatings and executions during the march. Some were buried along the winding trials. And, about 31,000 more were executed within 90 days of reaching POW camps. Some prisoners were eventually shipped to Japan and sold as slaves to work in factories.

As the war ended, only 4,000 out of 36,000 Americans who defended the island lived to tell their stories.

My Uncle James was one of them.

I learned that during the march, he carried a black soldier for miles in order to save him from being bayoneted or beheaded by their capturers who liked practicing with their samurai swords.

Sadly, because of the American government's wartime control over the media, the public didn't learn about the event for years. So, he and the other survivors of that dark chapter in military history didn't receive a hero's welcome upon their return home.

So, lest we forget them, please pause and remember these brave men and all who have served in their shadows, especially those still missing in action.


Garden City

Arwine, U.S. Army Retired, is the adjutant of the 8th District, Kansas American Legion.