Father’s Day always brings to mind one of the most fearless people I know, Raymond F Barry, my dad. He was proud of his service as a Staff Sergeant in the Army during World War II. Originally stationed at Clark Field on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, he spent thirty-four months as a prisoner of war. He didn’t talk about it very often. He did however save articles, books, photos and letters.
I would like to share two excerpts from a memory book about his service. This first piece is taken from “History of Cabanatuan Prison Camp 1942-1945” written by Maj. Gen. Chester L. Johnson, US Army.
On April 9, 1942, some 75,000 Filipino and American soldiers and prisoners of the Japanese, captured on Bataan began the infamous “Death March” out of the Bataan Peninsula to central Luzon.
After being forced to march the 85 miles to San Fernando, under the most inhuman conditions, the prisoners were forced into small freight cars and hauled to the town of Capas, which was 45 miles away, in the hot sun with the doors to the freight car closed. From Capas they were forced to march the final 8 miles to the Camp O’Donnell POW camp.
Weakened from four months of continuous combat, living on starvation rations and minimal or no medical attention, thousands of men died on the death march, in the freight cars and at Camp O’Donnell.
After the fall of Corregidor and the Manilla Bay Fortress islands on May 6, 1942, 16,000 Filipinos and American servicemen were ferried to Manilla.
The American POW’s were marched through the streets of Manilla…as a show for the Filipino civilians. The American POW’s were shipped by train to Cabanatuan where the Japanese had established an American POW compound.
American POW’s in Cabanatuan were assigned to work on a farm…all the work performed was hard labor…the results were that in a 30-month period, 3,000 died at Cabanatuan alone.
These POW’s died from disease, executions, beatings and starvations. It should be noted that more Americans died at Cabanatuan than any other prison camp since Andersonville in the Civil War.
In October and November of 1944, the Japanese moved able bodied POW’s to Manilla…Only about 500 American POW’s judged too ill or too crippled to work were left behind in Cabanatuan.
On January 30th, 1945 at 7:45 p.m. An American team of 100 Rangers…along with two small Alamo Scout teams (22 men in all)…in a totally successful surprise attack liberated the camp.
* * *
In Dad’s own words:
After walking five days without food, this (boxcar) is what is waiting for us at San Fernando. We were squeezed into these small cars and hauled to a town called Cabas which was about forty-five miles away, in the hot sun with the doors closed. The trip lasted five hours. Some prisoners succeeded in opening holes in the sides of the car to let in fresh air. We were weak, tired and sick. I can’t describe the feeling, to be treated worse than cattle by a stranger who does not know you, and hates you bitterly. From Capas it was about an eight mile walk to Camp O’Donnell. Another Death Trap. This surely was the end of the line.
* * *
It wasn’t the end of the line. He was moved to Cabanatuan, worked on the farm, buried the dead, and eventually was left behind with those too ill to work.
Dad returned home legally blind from malnutrition and suffered other health issues throughout his life.
He was married to the same woman for 58 years, raised four relatively normal children and lived to be 86. Along the way he earned a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Michigan and taught school for 24 years.
As a side note: Near the end of Dad’s life, while in the Veterans’ Hospital, one of the Rangers on the team that liberated Cabanatuan was in the same facility. He would stop by dad’s room every day to ask he needed anything. He felt responsible for the life he saved.
And so on this Father’s Day, I salute you Staff Sergeant Raymond F Barry for your fearless determination to survive, your fearless dedication to your family and friends, your fearless insistence on the importance of getting an education, and your fearless guidance that serves me still.
Happy Father’s Day from Your Favorite (and only) Daughter