Published: June 26th 2006June 10th 2006
John Thomas Lynch, my grandfather, has been an enigma to me all my life, not only because he is the man I was named for yet never had the opportunity to meet, but because no one besides my Uncle Kevin ever had a conversation with him about his war experiences.
It’s hard to write this particular blog without going into too much history about the U.S. military campaign in the Philippines, mainly involving their strategic withdrawal from Manila to the Bataan peninsula and the island of Corregidor and subsequent surrender of all U.S. & Filipino forces in the Philipines to the Imperial Army of Japan, but I’ll attempt to make it brief. I’ve heard the stories since I was a small boy about my grandfather’s role in WWII and despite all the papers and essays I’ve written about these family tales, it took a visit to these pacific islands to make me realize just how much I DID NOT KNOW.
I won’t bother to confuse you by first telling you the stories I thought were true only to realize they’ve been misconstrued by time and my own glorification but the fact is that I almost got into a fight
John Thomas Lynch Sr.
As a Japaneese Prisoner of War
with the tour guide defying his timetables and facts with my own knowledge of the events as they have been passed through my family. While on Corregidor I had to call my father to find out the truth about JTL’s involvement in the fighting and subsequent Death March and even he had to resort to a newspaper article found in a collection of papers I put together in the 8th grade to resolve the discrepancies in information.
Army psychiatrists informed my grandmother, Nana, that she was under no circumstances to bring up the time my grandfather spend in the war or as a Japanese Prison of War for fear that he might fall into some psychotic deterioration and stop functioning in the real world. Taking the Army’s word as gospel, she forbid anyone in the family to speak of WWII let alone JTL’s involvement which is why today there is a large gap between what happened historically and what we know of what happened to JTL. Sadly enough my Nana underestimated the strength of JTL’s emotions and mental strength, for years later when he found a book owned by my uncle Kevin describing the Death March and other Pacific
campaigns, he candidly answered any and all questions Kevin had including the main question, “Why have you never talked about this before?” JTL’s answer…”No one ever asked me, I thought no one was interested!”
The truth of the matter is that JTL was in an Army Intelligence Division despite receiving no formal education after high school. He was a Philadelphia orphan who found a home in the army and as a young man was deployed to the Philippines where he found a paradise unknown to him as a young man. After Pearl Harbor, WWII came to the Pacific and his position in the Philippines was considered of greater and greater importance. Without a Naval Fleet to come to the rescue of the forces on the Philippines, they strategically withdrew to the peninsula of Bataan where many soldiers were forced to make their last stand against the Japanese.
The upper heads of the US Army fled even further to the Island of Corregidor, known as The Rock. Lying no more than a 30 minute fishing boat ride from the peninsula, this is where orders were relayed to the fighting men on Bataan and after General MacArthur was ordered to
evacuate to Australia, it was only a matter of time before US soldiers were forced to surrender. To this day, this surrender is the worst defeat in United States Military history, including Vietnam. Due to JTL’s position in Army intelligence, he made multiple trips back and forth from the Rock to Bataan where eventually he was taken prisoner.
The evacuation of prisoners from the Bataan peninsula because known as the Bataan death march because the Japanese were in a hurry to take Corregidor which they were supposed to take months ago. (This is where I nearly punched out the tour guide due to his complete lack of respect for the memory of the soldiers that fought in these battles. To him this was a job filled with pointing to statues and guns that haven’t shot for 60 years. To me it was the memory of a man I’ve been searching for most of my life.)
Corregidor eventually but not until a month after Bataan and in order to get the prisoners out of the way and the Japanese Soldiers into better fighting position, the Bataan Death March ensued. This title for the march is more of an historical
name, for the soldiers/POWs it was simply known as “the hike”. Without having accurate numbers in front of me at the time of this writing, and the numbers have varied according to whether you are asking Japanese, Filipino or American governments, the Japanese force marched nearly three times as many prisoners as they had expected to surrender. For the Japanese, surrender was a disgrace but I see no disgrace in preserving life despite loss no matter how grand the loss may be.
The Japanese also had no idea how poorly equipped and malnourished the men who had been fighting on Bataan really were. Descriptions have read that it appeared as if skeletons climbed out of the jungle in order to surrender and beg for mercy. The Japanese showed no such mercy whether it be intentionally or not. The soldiers were forced to march, many times without food or water for miles at a time without rest. The Japanese were in such haste to get through to Corregidor that they used whatever means necessary to motivate the prisoners to keep moving. If a soldier fell, they were beaten or executed. If they because sick, they were left behind only to
be executed by the next wave of prisoner escorts.
I can describe many more gruesome details of the inhumane way the Japanese soldiers treated the POWs but that’s not the purpose of this blog, but if you want to read more, Ghost Soldiers is one hell of an inspirational story involving the survivors of the Death March which was recently turned into a movie entitled The Great Raid.
Without sounding uninterested in what happened in the overall battle, was my interest in just where my grandfather fought, where he surrendered, when he marched, which POW camps he was placed into, etc…
Apparently he broke his foot during the march and rather than being left for dead because he couldn’t walk right, he was helped along by fellow marchers until he reached his destination. (His foot set at an awkward angle and wasn’t set properly until 4 years later.) I’ve heard variations of this story, which I like more, involving him being bayoneted in both his calves after breaking his foot as insurance by the Japanese that he wouldn’t finish the hike. Fortunately, for me, my father, my uncles and my entire family he not only finished the
Bataan Death March, but also survived three and a half years in a Japanese POW camp shoveling coal somewhere in Japan. After liberation from the prisoner of war camp, he spent nearly another year in a Hospital recovering from all the tropical diseases he had contracted during his time of neglect inside the prison walls.
Now I suppose this is the quick and dirty version of why the location of the Bataan Death March and the Philippines was a must see on my world tour. It’s a grizzly tale but its one of the most popular stories in my family, if you don’t count the time my uncle drove the family car through the garage and into the living room….
As I’m sure I’ve told many of my close acquaintances, I do intend to write a book recounting, with all possible accuracy, tale of my grandfather’s exploits during his time in Manila, the War and POW camp. Unfortunately I’ll never get to interview my main subject and as the survivors of WWII begin to leave this earth, I’m afraid the truth is beginning to become something that may never truly be known. Having said all this, I have
shown a propensity to embellish the truth anyhow so maybe an avenue for future consideration would be a fictional story based of the knowledge I’ve accumulated regarding my grandfather’s experiences. I did once write a 5 page autobiographical paper of his life that turned out to be 12 pages and my professor’s comments were not that this was a bad paper, I did get an A, but that this wasn’t a paper at all, it was either an outline or the first chapter for a novel. The seed was planted.
All in all, my trip to the Philippines was a little disappointing because there wasn’t much of interest that I wanted to see. Progress has taken the road of the Death March and in its stead is now a national highway. There are KM markers along the way that are pictured and there is a tiny little park marking the origin of the march from the town of Mariveles. Corregidor is a tourist attraction now more than an old army outpost but the Pacific War Memorial is definitely worth the trip across Manila Bay.
I never made it to any of the other islands aside from Luzon due
to Monsoon season and the boredom of traveling solo but the Philippines is definitely high on my return list, not only for the scuba diving that I missed, but for a little more informed research and possibly an enlightened conversation with the tour guide that I nearly knocked out…
There are more photos below