Four Death March survivors remain from Harrodsburg unit

December 07, 2004|ANN R. HARNEY

HARRODSBURG - With the death last week of Edwin "Skip" Rue, the number of survivors from the unit of the Harrodsburg National Guard who were captured in the Philippines is reduced to six. Four of them actually were part of the Bataan Death March.

Morgan French and Arnold Lawson found a yacht at the base of the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines and took it across a few miles of water to reach Corregidor. They were hardly the only two in the boat. French recalls there were more than 60 men on the boat that got them away from Bataan and away from the area where the fighting was going on.

The other four survivors, Earl Fowler of Burgin, Lawrence Martin of Harrodsburg, Bland Moore of Nicholasville and William Alford of Trumansburg, N.Y. survived the brutal Death March and survive to this day.

There is some dispute about when the Philippines were attacked as it relates to the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the confusion stems from what side of the International Dateline the islands lie. Dec. 7 in Hawaii was Dec. 8 in the Philippines.


French maintains the Japanese began bombing the Philippines at about noon on Dec. 8, and that it was more than a few hours between the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor and on the Philippines.

William Alford of Trumansburg, N.Y., and a Harrodsburg native, explains it this way: Hawaii was bombed at 8 a.m. Dec. 7. The Philippines was bombed four hours later, making the event occur in the same 24-hour period.

Beginning of hellish life

Whatever day the Japanese bombs fell on the Philippines, it was the beginning of a hellish life for the 66 men from Harrodsburg who were taken into the regular Army, put in D Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion and sent to the Philippines in November 1941. Of the 66 members of the unit, only 37 survived and were returned to Kentucky.

Many of the deaths were caused by torture and beatings of already malnourished bodies. Before the island fell to the Japanese, the men had been cut to half rations and worse, and many suffered from malaria. Those on Corregidor were better fed.

Maj. Richard M. Gordon, in a retrospect of the battles on the Philippines, explains it this way: "Such differences were to have a major impact on who was to survive the prison camps that were to follow."

Comparing rosters of units serving on Bataan and Corregidor, it was determined that the chances of surviving imprisonment were two in three if captured on Corregidor, and one in three if captured on Bataan, an obvious substantiation of the differences between the two groups at the time of their capture, Gordon said.

The armed forces of Bataan were surrendered on April 9 by Maj. Gen. Edward P. King, and the death march of some 60 miles from the bottom of the peninsula to Camp O'Donnell began then. French recalls that the forces on Corregidor, under the command of General Jonathan Wainwright, held out until May 6, when they also surrendered.

The reasons for surrender were varied, but disease, the lack of food and water and dwindling ammunition supplies were elements that brought it on. Some say the Japanese would have executed all of them had they not surrendered.

Sadly, some of the deaths on Bataan and Corregidor were caused by U.S. forces. French said he was at Fort Drum, and a concrete barge sitting on a coral reef in the Pacific hurled a large shell that was aimed at the Japanese. It fell short of its mark and hit a hospital where French's brother, Edward T. French, was a patient. Twenty-four men died under that barrage, and one of them was Edward French. Morgan French did not hear of his brother's death for more than a month.

Sent to Japan

After their surrender, most of the Harrodsburg men were put on boats to be sent to Japan. Three of those boats were sunk by American submarines, the U.S. sailors having no knowledge that the cargo those boats carried were their countrymen. Once liberated in Japan, some men lost their lives by falling into the ocean through the bomb bays of U.S. bombers as they were taken back to the Philippines.

The ways for men to die under the Japanese capture were almost as different as the men who died. A roster of the 192nd Tank Battalion shows men dying of dysentery, malaria, malnutrition, bleeding, death on work squads, death from torture and outright killing by the Japanese. Men on the march who could go no further and either couldn't or wouldn't stand were executed, and those executions included shootings and beheadings.

Moore said he was beaten by the Japanese immediately after his capture. He said the enemy didn't like him because he was so much larger than they were.

The Japanese did not subscribe to the Geneva Conventions for the treatment of captured enemy. Alford says: "They did not consider us as POWs. They said we were captives so they would not have to treat us according to the laws.

"They could do with us what they wanted to. They made it clear at Camp O'Donnell, in no uncertain terms, that we were not POWS and 'We will do as we please.'"

And they did.

Central Kentucky News Articles