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5.0 out of 5 stars Gut-Wrenching Saga of World War II in the Philippines!, 9 July 2004
This review is from: Ghost Soldiers (Paperback)
Review Summary: Ghost Soldiers once again proves that truth is stranger and more dramatic than fiction. At the beginning of World War II, Filipino, American, and British troops were abandoned at Bataan and Corregidor as decimated American and British fleets could not relieve them. The Bataan Death March was just the beginning of mistreatment, starvation, thirst, torture, disease, death and confinement for the surrendering forces. At each stage of transportation and confinement, casualties were enormous. After the Allies returned to the Philippines, a Japanese general order had gone out to kill all POWs if the military situation became dicey. At Puerto Princessa prison camp, almost all the prisoners had been murdered by Japanese soldiers in an obscene series of attacks. Word of this slaughter reached Army Intelligence, and plans were quickly made to relieve the remaining major POW camp behind enemy lines before the Allies reached that area in five days. Within that camp were the sickest and most disabled of the Bataan and Corregidor survivers. Nearby, almost 8,000 Japanese troops were expected. The Americans dispatched 121 Rangers and two small groups of Filipino guerrillas to undertake a surprise escape. What follows is one of the most dramatic and moving stories of war that you can imagine reading. Mr. Sides does an astonishing job of weaving in story lines from several perspectives, capturing the social, historical, and personal backgrounds of the participants in a way that brings special meaning to the action that he so well describes. You may never find a more meaningful story of what it means to be an American. Filipinos should also take great pride in this story.
Review: Although I had heard a lot about the Bataan Death March (called "the Hike" by some of those who survived it), the details of how and why it happened had escaped me. The Japanese mistakenly thought that they had captured 40,000 fairly healthy troops. Instead, they had almost 100,000 who were in bad shape. No one bothered to adjust, and the suffering mostly occurred due to gross negligence compounded by a lack of concern about POWs and random cruelty by undisciplined soldiers. Piled into a camp designed for 9,000 people, the 50,000 who resided there at any time died at the rate of 10 percent within an average of 50 days due to rampant disease and cruelty. The commandant at Camp O'Donnell, Captain Yoshio Tsueneyoshi, told the prisoners, "You are members of an inferior race, and we will treat you as we see fit."
Eventually dispersed into small camps, the prisoners were turned into slave labor for the Japanese, doing everything from growing food (which they were not premitted to eat) to building runways. Only their own efforts slowed down the rate of death. Friendly Filipinos, American spies, and sympathizers smuggled food and medicine into the prisoner of war camps and saved many, many lives.
Over time, the healthiest were sent off to Japan to continue their role as slave labor in coal mines and on the docks. Due to the gradually shrinking Japanese base, one survivor recounts surviving two sinkings before a third ship got him to Japan. The conditions were horrible on the ships, and many died in transit due to the bad treatment and the attacks by the Allies.
Those who remained at Camp Cabanatuan had suffered from more kinds of diseases than you or I have ever heard of. The Japanese only provided medicines when the diseases threatened their own soldiers.
The attack occurred with little time to prepare, few resources, and grave challenges. The Rangers and guerrillas had to cross major roads twice, that were clogged with Japanese military traffic. Major roads led into the camp that could have brought reinforcements. They only had surprise going for them. Due to the support of the guerrillas and the communities in the area, the attack went surprisingly well. The operational details are carefully and thoroughly assembled in a way that makes you feel like you are part of the battalion undertaking the assault.
After you finish reading this heart-thumping, throat-clogging story, I suggest that you think about the importance of our commitment to save anyone we can without considering the cost. Particularly in the midst of inhumanity, this commitment raises morality and our potential for goodness to a new level. We should all be very proud of and remember those who did what they could to help!
The reactions of the POWs as the troops arrived will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Extend a helping hand to all those in need, without considering your own comfort or self-interest.
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