Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 20, 2005
An elderly friend of mine up in Michigan is a survivor of the Bataan Death March so I figured he could give me some sort of movie review of &uot;The Great Raid,&uot; about the attempt to free Americans held by the Japanese, now playing in the local theatres. When you read his reply you will understand why it is written in capital letters. His name is Smith Merrill but we know him as Bubby.
He was missing for a very long time and was ill for years following his release.
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I KNOW FROM NUTTIN. AFTER THE MARCH I WAS AT THAT CAMP FOR TWO DAYS AND NIGHTS SITTING AND SLEEPING ON THE GROUND AND I DID MANAGE TO GET A CANTEEN OF WATER BEFORE MY COMPANY COMMANDER SAID THE JAPS WANTED MEN TO HAUL SUPPLIES. WE ALL SAID LET’S GO. IT TURNED OUT TO BE A GOOD THING FOR MOST OF US… BACK- BREAKING WORK BUT WE DID GET MORE FOOD AND WATER. THAT CAMP WAS NEXT DOOR AND WE COULD SEE THEM CARRYING THE BODIES OUT ALL DAY LONG. AFTER THREE YEARS WE WERE RELEASED FROM MUKDEN, MANCHURIA BY THE RUSSIANS WHO JUST SAID, &uot;YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN.&uot; THE JAP GUARDS HAD DISAPPEARED AND THERE WAS NO FIGHTING. AND THEN A DOLLAR A DAY MAN WAS PARACHUTED IN AND TOOK OVER. THE NEXT DAY B-24S DROPPED FOOD, CLOTHING, MEDICINE AND ONE OF US IN THE SO-CALLED HOSPITAL WAS KILLED BY A STEEL BARREL OF SHOES THAT CAME THROUGH THE ROOF.
&uot;THE GREAT RAID&uot; MOVIE WILL BE A FANCY REHASH OF WHAT HAS BEEN ON THE HISTORY CHANNEL BUT I THINK I WILL CHECK IT OUT. WILLIS RICHARDSON (BETTY SMITH’S HUSBAND) WAS ONE OF THE RANGERS ON THAT RAID. MY EYES ARE FAILING AND WRITING SMALL WORDS IS A PROBLEM FOR ME. WHEN I WAS RELEASED AND GOT THE FIRST PENCIL IN THREE YEARS AND TRIED TO WRITE A LETTER, A THREE-LETTER WORD LOOKED SO CRAZY. I THOUGHT I WOULD NEVER GET OVER THAT AND NOW IN MY OLD AGE IT SEEMS TO BE REPEATING ITSELF. I THINK I SENT YOU A FEW THINGS THAT I WROTE ABOUT MANCHURIA AND THE TWO JAP FACTORIES I WORKED IN DIDN’T I? LOST MEMORY GUY, BUBBY.&uot;
I was surprised to learn that Willis Richardson, another guy from our high school, was one of the rescuing Rangers and it makes me even more eager to see the flick. Willis would also be in his late 80s and I don’t know yet if he is still around to have been an advisor to the movie director. I was sad to learn from Bubby that his high school sweetheart, who waited for Bubby all those years he was missing in action, died this past March. I still see her face as I remember it from 1943.
As America observes the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II a newspaper article again reminded me that our original military force of over 16 million has been whittled down to less than 4 million. We’re having our tickets punched at the rate of one thousand per day. One old soldier, a ball turret gunner on a B-17 pointed out that his veteran cemetery in Florida holds about 35 services each day. And I notice that our newly minted veteran cemetery on Milner Road is quite busy. So I guess I’m fortunate to be among the 25 percent that refuse to let go of such exquisite memories.
But like the article explained, most military persons returning from combat in foreign countries were just happy to get back and didn’t say a lot about where they had been or what they had seen and done. And, as I remember, not many asked about it either. I think most of us just coasted along trying to make a living and raising a family. It wasn’t until 1992 that I even gave much thought to my old war buddies, and revisited Europe. It took several years to realize that I only have one buddy left. Still no one is much interested in our stories, tales, or you could call them experiences. My kids know better than to get me on the subject, and if a word recalls a memorable day or battle, I can wax eloquent.
The Florida cemetery director said, &uot;You’re seeing an era of veterans coming to an end. These guys have a lot of stories. I’ve heard these stories over my lifetime, and I tell people they need to listen and pass them on. Because when these guys go, their stories go with them.&uot; He is right; you’ll only be able to read them in books. So if anyone out there wants to hear mine they’d better hurry…I’m bursting and my kids need a break.
Robert Pocklington lives in Suffolk and is a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.