If you ever had occasion to do an R&R in Tai Pei, you know why a 19 year old, hormone engorged, no-time-in-grade Army sergeant would consider Tai Pei and “The China Seas Club” a prime destination.
As far back as I can remember, my parents always kept a house in the Shilin District overlooking Tianmu. I spent a good deal of time there as a teenager so knew Tai Pei inside an out. I was there at every opportunity all through High School. I’m surprised the China Seas Club never gave me an FPO number.
There was an old guy in Tai Pei who was always around. I can’t ever remember not knowing him. He was a bigger than life character, who was also a trusted family friend. I’m not sure if he ever worked for my dad or he was just his friend, but The Colonel was the kind of man who commanded any room he entered.
He had been a POW in the Philippines for 3 years during WW2… I knew he had stories to tell; I just had to figure out how to get him to tell them. With time he did tell, and I listened.
The Colonel told me that during WW2, he made what he called the “Walk”– The Bataan Death March.
He and more than 75,000 other POWs were forced to walk 65 miles, through the jungle under inhumane conditions. Known as the Bataan Death march it is one of the great atrocities of the WW2 Pacific Theater.
Thousands died on the way – Just as many died in the camps.
The exact number of POWs who perished is unknown. Japanese soldiers would deal swiftly with any weak or uncooperative prisoners. The bayonet, the rifle-butt and the bullet took thousands; dysentery and starvation took thousands more.
Sometimes prisoners were executed because they were too week to walk, sometimes they were executed for helping those who were too weak to walk and sometimes they were executed to entertain their captors. Their deaths weren’t even important enough to be recorded by the Japanese. Bodies were left to rot in the jungle; many are still unaccounted for.
The Col’s account of the fall of the Bataan and the weeks before the surrender at Corregidor were vivid and terrifying. His description of the “walk” can only be described as emotional and horrific. It was difficult to not be in awe of this soft spoken man of war.
I always made it a point to stop in and see the Colonel anytime I had an excuse to go to Tai Pei. Just to bend his ear a little and gain some knowledge.
In the early 70’s, I got just such an excuse – I earned a 45 day convalescent leave and could think of no better place to spend it than Tai Pei, so that’s where I went. I planned on dropping in on the Colonel and impressing him with some new found knowledge of the Great War.
Read the Remainder at Havok Journal