Assoc. Press corrects caption on Bataan photo Apr 23, 2010 7:26:16 GMT -5
Post by VeeVee on Apr 23, 2010 7:26:16 GMT -5
Bataan survivors sparked AP correction
A few weeks ago, the Associated Press changed the caption on a photo, purportedly of the Bataan Death March, it had been circulating for 65 years. The news service amended the caption after some feisty Bataan survivors — including retired Army Col. John E. Olson of San Antonio — challenged the AP to correct the record.
The photo, released by the U.S. military in 1945, now carries a caption that “strongly suggests that this photo may actually depict a burial detail at Camp O'Donnell, the Japanese POW camp where allied prisoners were held” after the march.
“I knew that photo wasn't from the march of death,” Olson said last week. “The Japanese wouldn't have let us carry our comrades, dead or alive.”
A dapper, good-natured, 92-year-old Mississippi native, Olson has had a fascinating life. He admits he's losing his memory, which makes telling his story urgent, but he looks great and stays in shape by playing tennis and golf. But I digress.
Sixty-eight years ago this weekend, Olson endured the death march. He and some 10,000 Americans and 60,000 Filipinos — already exhausted, wounded, sick and starving from three months of battling Japanese invaders on Bataan — surrendered on April 9, 1942. Then they were force-marched some 60 miles to Camp O'Donnell. It was like going from the frying pan into the fire.
He became the POW camp's adjutant and kept meticulous records as if his life depended on it (it did). He says 1,565 Americans and more than 26,000 Filipinos — “all in the prime of their life” — died there “ignominiously and needlessly.”
Asked what he recalls of the camp, Olson cites his 1985 memoir, “O'Donnell: Andersonville of the Pacific.” A few descriptions curdle the imagination: “useless slaughter”; “periods of horror and suffering”; burial details like the one in the AP photo and mass graves. “Without any embellishment,” Olson wrote, “it was tragic and horrible.”
Diarrhea, malaria, malnutrition, dehydration, scant medical supplies, “rats as big as cats” and “swarms of bottle flies that carried germs from latrines to mess halls” were what the POWs struggled with daily.
“Men were horrified to see conditions that existed in what was properly dubbed ‘St. Peter's Ward,'” a Marine officer told Olson. “It was the ward where the dysentery cases were moved after all hope for their recovery was lost. I will not attempt a description of this ward.”
Col. Olson is an amazing guy. He graduated from West Point in 1939, sought and received orders to the Philippines, where he'd lived as a boy. He served with the 57th Infantry (Philippine Scouts). He was set to return stateside in 1941, but the ship he was to go home on was diverted to Australia when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
After O'Donnell, Olson was sold to a Japanese industrialist in 1942 and spent the rest of the war in an Osaka steel mill. He was liberated in 1945 in time to spend a night in the “emperor's suite” at a posh Kyoto hotel and was aboard the USS Missouri for the Japanese surrender.
Sweet justice. So was last May 30, here in San Antonio at the final scheduled reunion of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, when Japan's ambassador to the U.S. apologized in person for the “tremendous damage and suffering” the Japanese conquerors enacted in the Philippines.
Olson has wondered for years why he survived this historic war crime and tragedy. “I don't know why I've lived so long, but I've enjoyed it,” he says. “I've been very lucky.”
I'm out of space. Sixty-eight years after the death march, nearly 65 after World War II ended, and with 1,000 of its vets dying each day, if you know one, don't hesitate to tell him thanks — and put his memories in print before it's too late.