A few days ago, our country's oldest known survivor of the Bataan Death March passed away. Albert Brown was 105 years old. Just like the other 78,000 or so prisoners who were forced marched some 65 miles in the Phillipines, his body did not fare well. He was told not to expect to live much past 50 because of the disease, cruelty and malnutrition his body endured. I guess he proved the doctor wrong, living more than half century past his expiration date, his label as a member of the Greatest Generation secure.
Here in Marysville, Ohio, where I live, we had a Bataan Death March survivor whose name was Charles "Chuck" Riedmiller. When I came to live here in 2000, Chuck was starting to show evidence of his experiences. He was in a wheelchair and couldn't communicate very well. I would see him at an occasional American Legion meeting, and always at the Memorial and Veterans Day programs where he would be introduced as the hero he was.
In 2002 when the non-profit group Heroes from the Heartland from the Heartland published the stories of 213 of our World War II veterans, Chuck was one of them. I will be posting his stories in the forum soon, right from the book. Things like this will make you cringe: "If we were found to have Japanese money in our possession, the penalty was to be beheaded." Or, "Guards who always had their rifles with fixed boyonets did not leave much room for heroic actions." On seeing his mother for the first time when he arrived home: "Even after the time I has spent in recovery, I was in such poor physical condition that when I walked up to her and spoke, she asked who I was."
Chuck attended a couple of my school's Veterans Day programs in his final years. The young 5th-8th graders did not understand what "Bataan Death March Survivor" meant. They only saw an old man who had to be pushed in a wheelchair and could barely shake their hands. All the adults watched in awe. And so my mantra continues, record you stories NOW so they know later what you did. Thankfully, I can share Chuck's story with my students.