Louis Sachwald, World War II POW

He served in the Philippines and weighed less than 90 pounds when his ordeal ended

  • Louis Sachwald
Louis Sachwald (Jed Kirschbaum 1991, Baltimore…)
March 08, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Louis Sachwald, who spent 42 months as a prisoner of war during World War II after the fall of Bataan and Corregidor in the Philippines and survived slave labor camps, forced marches and "hell" ships, died Feb. 28 of dementia at the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home in Southern Maryland.

The former Pikesville resident was 92.

Mr. Sachwald was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and moved in 1934 with his family to Lancaster, Pa. After graduating from McCaskey High School in 1937, he earned a bachelor's degree in education in 1940 from Millersville State Teachers College.

After briefly teaching, Mr. Sachwald was awarded a scholarship to Lehigh University to study law. He decided to postpone his law school studies and enlist in the Army for one year.

Mr. Sachwald was serving as a sergeant with a chemical warfare unit in the Philippines when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and the American forces that were remaining in Manila were forced to retreat to Bataan, where they were instructed to hold at all costs.

Mr. Sachwald was serving with G Company, 31st Infantry, when he transferred from Bataan to Corregidor, an island fortress at the entrance to Manila Bay, just before Bataan surrendered.

The transfer spared him the infamous Bataan Death March, in which 75,000 American and Filipino soldiers were marched by the Japanese to a railhead where they were transported to prison camps. An estimated 17,000 soldiers died on the 65-mile trek — many killed by their captors.

Outnumbered American and Filipino forces held on against the Japanese onslaught from late December until spring, when they surrendered at Bataan on April 9, 1942, with Corregidor falling 27 days later.

"By the end, we had no food, we were suffering from pellagra and beriberi, we had almost no ammunition, we were using obsolete weapons," Mr. Sachwald told The Baltimore Sun in a 1991 interview.

"We were dug in. Waiting for help. They were supposed to get us men. They were supposed to get us equipment. What we didn't know was that the equipment we were waiting for didn't exist. It was all destroyed," he said.

As one ordeal ended for Mr. Sachwald another was about to begin.

Their Japanese captors quickly put the Americans and Filipinos to work repairing bombed docks and wrecked port facilities.

"We worked day and night with no stopping, no food, no water," Mr. Sachwald said. "Then we had to march — the favorite Japanese way of handling prisoners. We were torn up, bloody, filthy, starved, and they marched us into the main park in the area and brought the Filipinos around to see what their allies looked like. What those no-good Americans looked like."

For the next 18 months, Mr. Sachwald was moved among prison and labor camps in the Philippines, until finally being confined to the notorious Bilibid Prison in Manila.

"By the time I got to Bilibid the only clothing I owned was a G-string, a hat and a pair of wooden shoes that a buddy made for me. I'd never have made it during that period without those shoes," he told the newspaper.

When he came down with cerebral malaria, his captors made him dig his grave and laid him in it. Quinine that had been smuggled into the prison helped Mr. Sachwald regain his health and crawl from his intended grave back to the barracks.

"It was hate that kept me alive," he told The Baltimore Sun. "Hate didn't enter into it at the very beginning. But I learned to hate the Japanese in the camps. They taught me how to do that."

Mr. Sachwald, who had been transported in the hold of a cramped "hell" ship with other prisoners to mainland Japan to work in a copper mine by the end of 1943, was never able to speak publicly about the voyage.

Prisoners were denied use of toilet facilities and meals consisted of hardtack. They were forced to drink their own urine and eat excrement to stay alive.

"I have written it out and it's in the Veteran Administration's archives with a note that no one is ever to read it. Not even my family," he said in the interview.

Mr. Sachwald recalled working in the mines for two years where prisoners ate locusts to maintain their strength. If you stopped working, the Japanese would kill you, he said.

Mr. Sachwald said he lost all concept of time, but when Japan surrendered he remembered the camp commander telling prisoners the war was over and that they would soon be going home.

The next day, American planes dropped food, clothing, medicine and other supplies to the prisoners, who waited two more weeks to be liberated by U.S. forces.

"We cried and cheered," he told The Voice, a newsletter published by Beth-El Congregation, where he was a member.

When sent home, he weighed 90 pounds and spent time in several military hospitals. He was discharged in 1946. His military decorations included a Bronze Star and a Distinguished Unit Badge with two Oak Leaf Clusters.

He moved to Baltimore in 1954 when he became an executive at the old Polan Katz Co. that manufactured umbrellas.

After the company closed, he was a manufacturer's representative, selling leather goods. From 1986 until retiring in 2004, he sold mattresses for Mattress Discounters in Owings Mills.

He was a founder and past president of the American Defenders of Bataan.

His wife of 57 years, the former Zola Shear, died in 2004.

He liked to visit battlefields and spend time with his family, said his daughter, Judith Sachwald of Bowie.

Mr. Sachwald could not bring himself to forgive the Japanese government, which never offered to pay reparations to the former POWs for their years of torture during the war.

"Unlike the Nazis, they did not herd their victims into gas chambers and burn their corpses in ovens, but they drove them to starvation, torture and neglect," he told his synagogue newsletter.

Services for Mr. Sachwald were private.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include a son, Michael L. Sachwald of Myrtle Beach, S.C.; two grandchildren; and three great-grandsons.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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