Mr. C and Bataan
He was a shy, quiet man, and at the time seemed quiet elderly. Kids in elementary school can quickly categorize anyone over eighteen as elderly, even then. He was probably no more than mid forties, but looked much, much older. Working quietly and efficiently, Mr. C cleaned our small town elementary school day after day, pushing a huge broom, making an old building function, making our little world just that much more special and kind.
He kept his head down, glancing at us from time to time, rarely making eye contact, almost a ghost than a man among all female teachers and a lone male principal. One day my Mother asked him to find me a snack for a school function, and he walked to a nearby hospital, buying food from vending machines. He returned and wordlessly handed me milk and candy, all he could find, then disappeared, leaving me staring at the bounty in my hands. He was quietly kind like that.
My mother, who taught at the elementary school had been a young woman during World War II, attending a university in Natchitoches, Louisiana. She had had an American Army Air Force beau who died in Europe, shot down. Mother knew a lot about World War II, knew men who’d fought in the Pacific and European theaters. Bataan was not just a location in the Philippines to her, but a raw memory of US and Filipino servicemen who’d been forcibly marched by the Japanese until many had been killed or died exhaustion or heat. Those captives who collapsed were brutally murdered where they fell.
Estimates are that 10,000 men, 9,000 Filipino, 1,000 Americans died in the march.2
Mr. C was a veteran of Bataan, a survivor of that horror, and Mother imbued in me a sense of his heroism.
When he left our school to renovate and run a local movie theater, I hardly ever saw him again, and when I did, I don’t think he remembered me.
On this Memorial Day Saturday, I want to remember Mr. C and the men he walked with in Bataan, remembering their sacrifice and heroism in the worst of wartime situations. All veterans of combat carry those memories with them, no matter if it was World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq, or places such as Somalia.
Let their memories be honored, their heroism appreciated, their sacrifice was not in vain.
1 Item from Record Group 111: Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, 1860 – 1985