In April 1942, the American military suffered its greatest single defeat in history. 10,000 American troops (including nurses) and 60,000 Filipino troops were left without support from American or allied troops, and were forced to surrender to the Japanese.
General Douglas McArthur was ordered, against his will, to escape to Australia, but all the troops under his command in the Philippines were left behind to their fate on the Bataan Peninsula.
At that time in the war, the President and his advisors chose to concentrate on the European theater and the effort to defeat Hitler.
When the Americans surrendered, they were ordered by their Japanese captors to march to POW camps. The Japanese attitude toward surrender at the time made them treat the Americans with utter contempt. The Americans were force marched for 60 miles through intense jungle heat without food or water.
This video focuses on one of the survivors of that march, which has come to be known as the Bataan Death March. His name is Lester Tenney.
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Listen to this now 94-year-old survivor as he describes experience and the way that they were treated. 15,000 men would perish over the course of that 60-mile-long forced march.
I think the most important part of this video is the attitude toward life that Tenney chose to follow from the 2nd day of that forced march, and for the rest of his life. This man not only survived this experience, this terrible example of man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man, he came away from it a man of true inner strength and moral character.
Listen to what he says about adversity in all of its forms, small and large. It is sage advice for all of us.
What these men went through, what they saw, and what they endured was beyond description or human understanding. Many were suffering from gunshot wounds from their last battles with the Japanese, others came down with dysentery and malaria, and all were suffering from exhaustion.
If they fell, if they could not keep up, they were summarily killed on the spot, and left along the way.
Tenney’s life was shaped by this experience. You will see how that is so in his words. He is a lifetime member of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV). As he says toward the end of the video, anyone who has been through that kind of experience is injured or disabled in some way, if not physically, certainly emotionally, even spiritually.
The Veterans Site sends its greatest respect and honor to the survivors of the Bataan Death March who are still with us, and to those who were lost. We will never forget you and the terrible prices you paid in sacrifice to the nation.
To Lester Tenney, we say, thank you for showing us that even an experience like this does not have to destroy you, but indeed, it can be turned into a strength and a courage that you can carry with you throughout the rest of your life.
Honor and respect, sir. Honor and respect!
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.