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From Bataan to Safety: The Rescue of 104 American Soldiers in the Philippines (McFarland and Company

Discussion in 'The Pacific and CBI' started by dgmitchell, Jul 8, 2009.

  1. dgmitchell

    dgmitchell Ace

    May 9, 2008
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    Much has been written on the fall of Bataan and Corregidor. We have seen published many accounts of the Bataan Death March. We know the horrors endured by the men interned by the Japanese at the Cabanatuan POW Camp, and of the heroic rescue at Cabanatuan a few months before the end of the Second World War.

    Indeed, the war in the Philippines has been so greatly researched and discussed that it is almost surprising to realize that one aspect of the war in the Philippines often goes unmentioned. What happened to the American soldiers who did not surrender and who actually managed to escape during the Death March? In From Bataan to Safety: The Rescue of 104 American Soldiers in the Philippines (McFarland and Company, Inc., October 2008; 232 pages), Malcolm Decker attempts to answer that very question.

    In the chaos that ensued following the collapse of American resistance on Bataan early in 1942, several hundred American soldiers – along with thousands of Filipino soldiers who had fought alongside the Americans – refused to surrender and escaped into the mountains of Luzon and elsewhere. An additional 400 American soldiers managed to escape during the Bataan Death March. During the following two and one half years, these soldiers would live in primitive conditions, ever on the run from Japanese patrols, constantly fighting tropical illnesses and hunger which left them emaciated and weak, and knowing that any local families who gave them aid would be executed by the Japanese if they were discovered.

    Despite such deprivation and hardship, hundreds of American soldiers did endure, and many would go on to fight as guerillas against the Japanese, at first providing only information to the American military in Australia and later as combatants following the return of the US military to the Philippines in late 1944. From Bataan to Safety is their story.

    Of course, the American soldiers hiding in the Philippines were not surviving entirely on their own. They had the support of a majority of the Filipino population, who risked their own lives – and often lost them – in order to help the wretched American soldiers. Two characters play a central role in the survival of several hundred of the Americans. Martin and Bill Fassoth, plantation owners who had moved from Hawaii to the Philippines twenty to thirty years before the start of the war, used their ample resources to set up four camps deep in the Filipino jungle, far from the eyes of the Japanese, so that the weak, injured and sick American soldiers could recover their strength. During the year following the collapse of Bataan, the Fassoth brothers would provide shelter, food and medicine to more than one hundred American GIs who otherwise might not have survived to war’s end. Eventually, in mid-1943, the Fassoth’s, along with a handful of GIs with whom they were traveling, would have to surrender to the Japanese in order to prevent Japanese reprisals against their loved ones. Nevertheless, in that one year, they were the only hope for more than one hundred soldiers.

    Mr. Decker has given us a captivating story and he rarely fails to keep his readers’ attention. Nevertheless, From Bataan to Safety does have several flaws that detract from what is in all other respects a well researched study of American soldiers trapped in the Philippines during the war. Sadly, many of the problems could easily have been prevented. Most glaring is the apparent failure of Mr. Decker or his editor to fully proof read his book. From Bataan to Safety has numerous typographical errors (spelling errors, omitted words, etc.) and, although it is still very easy to follow Mr. Decker’s thought process and text, the errors remain an unfortunate distraction. One can only hope that Mr. Decker corrects these errors in a subsequent printing.

    Of greater concern than typographical errors is the organization of the many connected stories found in From Bataan to Safety. Mr. Decker has compiled the personal experiences of a large number of American soldiers, as well as the Fassoths and other. Each story is compelling and deserves to be told. Mr. Decker attempts to do so in a linear fashion, seemingly sharing his research for each group of soldiers during a particular time frame and then jumping immediately to all of his other research subjects – group by group – until he has exhausted his information for the time frame in question. He then moves on to the next time frame and the next until he has reached the end of the war. While the stories of all of Mr. Decker’s research subjects are fascinating, the reader does not always have an opportunity to keep track of the flow of each soldier’s personal experience. Given the similarity of the soldier’s experiences – collectively and individually – it likely would have been more powerful to have focused on the experiences of one soldier than to try to present the stories of so many.

    There can be no doubt that Mr. Decker was motivated by the purest of good intentions. He dedicates From Bataan to Safety to Bill Fassoth’s son (who at the time of the book’s writing lived in Indiana) and he does so with true feeling because one of the men who owed his life to the Fassoths’ kindness and bravery was Malcolm Decker’s father. In the end, it is Doyle Decker – the author’s father – who stays with the reader. That is probably as it should be, but it would have been nice if the author could also have told his readers more about Doyle Decker’s life after the war. Indeed, the war ends with the liberation of the Philippines but the book should have brought the reader up to date on the post war lives of the men whose stories were told.

    Criticism aside, readers will not be sorry to read From Bataan to Safety: The Rescue of 104 American Soldiers in the Philippines. As a book, it may be flawed, but as a story of human endurance in the face of so much hardship, there are few that will be as engaging. Any student of the Second World War in the Philippines who wants a complete understanding of what happened to American GIs during the war should read From Bataan to Safety.

    To contact McFarland Publishers, please visit their website at www.mcfarlandpub.com or call their order line at 800-253-2187.
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