50-year-old nightmare haunts area veterans


April 09, 1992|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

The calendar says it was 50 years ago. But to Allen Beauchamp, Al Bland and Mike McMullen, it's just like yesterday. Vivid images of the atrocities and horrors they witnessed and endured in 1942 still sear their memories.

These Marylanders, and hundreds like them in the country, are among the "Battling Bastards of Bataan: No Mama, No Papa, No Uncle Sam," survivors of America's darkest days in World War II, the fall of the Philippines after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Their ordeal began April 9, 1942, when the besieged U.S. and Filipino troops on the Bataan Peninsula surrendered. Another month of day-and-night battering by artillery and airplanes forced capitulation of "The Rock," Corregidor, the fortified island guarding the sea approach to Manila.

The Japanese drove more than 75,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war on what became known as the Bataan Death March, a 65-mile trek to a railhead for transport to prison camps. Along the route, an estimated 17,000 POWs died or were murdered by their captors. Thousands more died later.

Mr. Beauchamp, of Timonium, is now 71. But the nightmares still come. Tears well in his eyes and his hands tremble as he talks -- and remembers.

Only since he joined a support group a few years ago has the ex-Marine been able to tell his family any of what he suffered during nearly four years as a POW. There are still many things he can never bring himself to tell them -- or anyone, Mr. Beauchamp said.

Dorothy Beauchamp, the high school sweetheart he married in 1945, said her husband internalized his memories for more than 40 years. "The kids had no idea what their father went through."

Half-starved from weeks on short rations before the surrender, the POWs endured hideous conditions. Many were shipped to Japan on "hell ships," where hundreds of men were crammed in the dungeon-like holds.

Fifty years later, they say they deal every day with physical and mental after-effects of their ordeal. Each has tales of brutality by their Japanese guards, particularly during the Death March. POWs were beaten, bayoneted, even executed -- shot or beheaded -- they said. They don't talk about it much, however.

"We don't talk about the atrocities even among ourselves; we talk about funny things that happened," said Mr. Bland, of Joppa, a national director of American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, a survivors group.

Near-starvation, lack of sanitation and abuse from guards created hellish conditions and led to multiple diseases: malaria, beri-beri, scurvy, pellagra, dysentery.

Mr. Beauchamp had wasted to 85 pounds by the time he was freed. "I could have picked him up and carried him around," his wife said.

Prisoners survived on a few handfuls of rice a day along with watery soup, and the grain became a symbol -- of captivity for some, of survival for others.

"I can't stand the stuff," said Mr. Bland, who retired from the Army in 1957. "I came back weighing 98 pounds and blind. I spent a year in the hospital."

But his buddy, Mr. McMullen, of Elkridge, loves rice. "It kept me alive, what there was of it. And I still eat it," said the Army Air Corps veteran.

"There are three things you need to survive," he added: "Determination to live, faith in God and a good buddy."

Mr. McMullen was in hospital when the Japanese arrived, and they left him there for a month. But the next 41 months were hell on Earth, he said. Sent to Japan locked with in a ship's hold, he then slaved for a year in a coal mine.

Milton K. Young, 73, of Clinton, was also in the Army Air Corps when he was captured at Bataan. He was a slave laborer in a Japanese shipyard and a copper mine.

"We were railroaded like cattle," he recalled, "no water, no food and the tropical sun beating down on us. I had beri-beri, scurvy and pellagra. The dysentery still bothers me."

He said prisoners were beaten with bamboo sticks, which were split to pinch and tear the flesh, for committing slight infractions -- or for no reason at all. "I was nothing but skin and bones when I finally got to Tokyo in October 1945," he said.

Lt. Col. Carroll Hines, of Bowie, was a young infantry lieutenant at Fort McKinley, outside Manila, in June 1941. War clouds were forming, he said, "and by November we were on alert all the time."

During the Japanese advance on Bataan, his machine-gun unit fought a rear-guard action, Mr. Hines said. The Army surrendered April 9 but his group fought as guerrillas until the end of the month. After the Death March, he spent time at Camp O'Donnell and the infamous Cabanatuan prison before being shipped to Japan for the rest of the war.

"I don't hate the Japanese, the retired Postal Service executive said. "There are good and bad Japanese; I even saw that on the Death March. I saw a lot of cruelty then, but later in the camps, I didn't."

Mr. Hines said he believes the cruelty was culture-based: a tradition of authoritarianism and lack of respect for those who had surrendered.

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