Bataan Death March 54 Years Later

Memories Still Bring Tears to Local Man

 

James Argeanas

APR. 14, 1996 — In 1941, Germany and Japan were waging war against the rest of the world and 22-year-old James Argeanas was stationed with his Army detachment in the Philippines at Clark Air Base. In December, the base was attacked by Japanese bombers.

“We were there three months before war broke out,” Argeanas says.

Argeanas says he remembers that day well. It was the beginning of a long torturous road that would lead Argeanas through the perils of Japanese prison camps, malnutrition and extreme illness.

Following the air base attack, Argeanas and several other men were sent to Lingayen Gulf to protect a shipment of equipment.

On Dec. 10, 1941, the detachment was overrun by Japanese soldiers and was forced to abandon its mission.

“There was only 50 of us and 150,000 of them,” he says. “They hit the beach and they kept coming.”

That was the beginning of the Japanese attempt to gain control of the Philippines — a mission filled with intense fighting.

During the battle at Lingayen, Argeanas was injured. Shrapnel from a hand grenade tore into his legs and back leaving deep gashes.

No medical personnel were assigned to the detachment, so Argeanas’ wounds were cleansed with kerosene until the small band of Americans could retreat to the Bataan Peninsula.

 

A walk with death

 

Although suffering from malnutrition and disease, American and Philippine troops commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur beat back Japanese attacks for more than three months.

The Americans were fighting the enemy literally with their bare hands, no clothes on their backs and no food for sustenance.

He says it had been several months since American supplies had reached the troops and morale was at an all-time low.

“They were called the Battling Bastards of Bataan,” the Rev. Eddie Tubbs says. “No mama. No papa. And no Uncle Sam.”

Tubbs is the pastor of First Baptist Church, Farmington, where Argeanas is a member.

Although the troops worried they had been forgotten by their government, Tubbs says the United States had no supplies to send to its soldiers.

“Most of it was at the bottom of Pearl Harbor,” he says.

On April 9, 1942, Argeanas and some 75,000 fellow soldiers surrendered to enemy forces.

With tears streaming down his face, Argeanas relates the events that took place the day MacArthur ordered his troops to surrender to the Japanese Imperial Army.

“We didn’t want to surrender. We were ordered to,” he says trying to gain his composure. “A lot of them (American soldiers) wanted to get killed. A lot of them wanted to die, but we had no choice.”

The Japanese marched their prisoners, in groups of 100, more than 65 miles through the jungle to prison camps.

Thousands of Americans died during the Bataan Death March, including several men Argeanas called friends.

THOMAS HUNT LISTED AS KILLED IN ACTION BY WAR DEPARTMENT

 

Thomas E. Hunt

JUL. 19, 1944 - Mrs. Bertha Neighbor, of this city, has been informed in a letter from Adjutant General Ulio that her son, Thomas Elwood Hunt, missing in action since the surrender of Corregidor, is now listed as dead by the War Department.

The former Rochester man was serving with the 200th Coast Artillery anti-aircaft battery on Bataan and Corregidor at the time of their fall, and participated in the bloody fight for the Philippines during the first dark days of the war. For 26 months he had been missing in action until the recent notice listing him among those killed.

He left the United States in August, 1941, and was stationed at Fort Stotsenberg near Clark Field. Forces at both posts were virtually annihilated December 7, 1941.

 

Evacuate 200th Division

 

Remnants of the 200th Division were evacuated to Manila where they defended the Philippine’s capital until its fall to the Nipponese New Year’s day, 1942. Many escaped from Manila to Bataan peninsula where they fought for five months under the severest conditions imaginable in a campaign in which General MacArthur declared that “Never did men do so much with so little.”

Last word from Hunt was received by his mother in December, 1941, in the form of a cablegram from Manila.

Born in Rockville, Ind., December 14, 1911, he moved to Rochester in July, 1924 and entered the Rochester public schools. Following his graduation from the local high school in 1931, he was employed at Armour Co., here, until leaving to take a position at Santa Fe, N.M.

He entered the armed forces at Santa Fe in March, 1941, and he received his basic training at Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas.

Surviving are his mother; two sisters, Mrs. Catherine Litacevc, of Chicago; Mrs. Eugenia King, city, and a brother, Robert Neighbor, also of Rochester.

 

The Rochester Sentinel

(Rochester, Indiana)

He says the Japanese soldiers forced the Americans to walk endlessly through the sweltering heat.

As the men became so exhausted and sick they couldn’t continue, they fell out of the line of marchers.

Argeanas says the Japanese stabbed the men with their bayonets or cut off their heads as a warning to the other Americans.

It was hard to see his friends killed, he says, a new flow of tears coursing down his face.

“The Japanese killed at random,” he says.

Argeanas himself collapsed on the trail, but was discovered by a Filipino family and nursed back to health. Once on his feet again, he rejoined the march, which took more than eight days to complete.

 

The long road home

 

During the years he spent as a prisoner of war, Argeanas volunteered for work details to get more food. He also spent hour upon hour suffering the effects of dysentery, malnutrition, double pneumonia, beriberi, tuberculosis, cerebral malaria, blindness — and grief.

In an attempt to make life a little better for fellow prisoners, Argeanas and a friend Tommy Hunt of Santa Fe sneaked out of the camp at night to obtain medicine.

One night, Hunt left alone because Argeanas was too ill to go. He never returned.

“He was killed by a firing squad,” Argeanas says, choking back a sob. “There was a firing squad every day. They (the Japanese soldiers) made them dig their own graves.”

After being crammed into the hull of a POW boat with other dying men, he gained his freedom following the American victory in Japan.

“They (Japanese) said we were now guests of the Japanese Imperial Army,” he says, his voice heavy with sarcasm.

There came a point during his captivity when he no longer cared if he survived. He says that feeling still haunts him today.

“Some way I lived through it,” he says.

Tubbs says Argeanas’ ability to survive such conditions is beyond simple human endurance.

“The brutality of what was perpetrated against our men was beyond inhumane,” he says. “Jim is a perfect example of God’s protection and deliverance.”

Although Argeanas is working on putting his experiences behind him, he still lives with the effects of his captivity.

Tubbs says Argeanas’ current illness can be directly attributed to the treatment he suffered under the Japanese.

Last year he was diagnosed with lung cancer and underwent chemotherapy. Most recently Argeanas was told he had liver cancer.

He has decided to forego further treatment so that he will have a better quality of existence during what is left of his life.

 

Sherri Holliman for The Daily Times

 

James Argeanas died on August 27, 1996.