Bataan Death March 54 Years Later
Memories Still Bring Tears to Local Man
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
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
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
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
“They were called the Battling Bastards of
Bataan,” the Rev. Eddie Tubbs says. “No mama. No papa. And no
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
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.
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
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.
He says the Japanese
soldiers forced the Americans to walk endlessly through the
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
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
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
Tubbs says Argeanas’ current illness can be
directly attributed to the treatment he suffered under the
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.
James Argeanas died on August