|In World War II, Abie
Abraham of Renfrew was captured by the Japanese. Abie survived the
Bataan Death March in 1942, and later, agreed to retrace that journey in
hopes of finding the bodies of the men who died.
Today, Abraham surrounded by other veterans at the Veterans Affairs
Medical Center in Butler, is embarrassed by gushy talk of his heroics,
courage and strength.
"All the guys here are heroes", Abie
Abraham says simply. But not all of them have been able to write
about their experiences with his clarity of memory and vividness of
"OH GOD WHERE ARE YOU?" tells the story of Abie's ordeal of a soldier, a
prisoner of war and a survivor in the Philippines before and after the
In the opening months of the war, American and Filipino troops, including
Abie, held the obscure Peninsula of Bataan against attacks by the
Japanese-despite disease, hunger and no reinforcements.
General Douglas MacArthur, also on Bataan, had evacuated his troops to
Australia on March 11, 1942, vowing to return. Before he could,
however, his men were forced to surrender.
Bataan fell to the Japanese on April 9, 1942, After several
months of fighting, Abie's worst nightmare was still ahead.
The Japanese marched 75,000 men, including 12,000 American, 60 miles
up the Bataan Peninsula to San Fernando, where they boarded railroad
freight cars to a prisoner of war camp For seven days, the already
sick and battle-weary men marched with almost no food, water or rest.
When a man fell to the ground-10,000 died along the way-the Japanese
soldiers shot, bayoneted or clubbed him to death.. They then were buried
in shallow graves.
"We saw many executions. We never knew from day
to day. We were uncertain about life. It was a steady beating. They
just hit you with a pick handle or gunned you down for no reason at all.
Statistics show more than 600 missing in action"
Abie said they were marched about 80 miles to a railroad yard
near San Fernando where 120 to 150 Prisoners were put into steel box cars
like cattle and sent to Camp O'Donnell.
We were packed in there so tight, those that passed out were held up by
those around him. Men were screaming, "We
want air" Their pleas and screams fell on deaf
At Camp O'Donnell, appalling conditions continued. Abie watched dozens of
his Comrades die daily. The Americans lost 1,500 men within two months
from starvation, dehydration and diseases such as beriberi and malaria.
About 25,000 Filipinos also died.
After 60 days, the prisoners were moved to Cabanatuan, the main
concentration camp were another 2,600 men died in six months.
Abie, who was declared missing in action on May 7, 1942, said he narrowly
escaped death often throughout the ordeal. Three ships he was
supposed to be on were sunk with all lives lost.
To keep some sort of record of events, and one suspects as a reason to
hang tenaciously to his own life, Abie began to write down the names and
hometowns of the men he spoke to in the camp. Using old Carnation
milk can labels, he jotted down their simple homely comments about the
soldiers' love for their folks back home and the towns where they were
born and raised..
Abie kept notes of the soldiers' conversations and their more serious
discussions about God, death and loss of hope. He carefully recorded
the last words and moments of hundreds of dying men.
Part of his writing included the dozens of rumors that floated through the
camp-about the war, about the rescue troops landing, about the riches each
prisoner would receive from different countries at the end of the ordeal.
Abie even admits to starting a few of those rumors himself. "We'd go to
the latrine and make them up" he now smiles, remembering "We had to keep
these guys alive, had to give them hope. Some of those stories, we made up
islands that weren't even there!"
The actual rescue didn't take place for three long years. In March 1945,
the surviving prisoners were finally liberated by a U.S. Ranger Battalion.
Still Abie's time in the Philippines was not over. Gen. MacArthur
requested that Abie remain behind after the war to help locate and
disinter the bodies of Americans who had fallen along the infamous Bataan
Death March trail.
Abie stayed for two more years, interviewing native Filipinos for
information during the nights and digging up hidden jungle graves during
Working from a large map, Abie pinpointed the location of the hundreds of
bodies buried throughout the area, which were disinterred from the shallow
graves by the Filipinos. Some bodies were in pits or m ass graves.
Some of the bodies Abie identified by dogs tags. Other bodies were
identified because Abie remembered the identity of a soldier and the place
where he had been shot or bayoneted.
A soldier from Middleboro Mass., was identified by his high school ring
after Abie wrote to a town official asking if a graduate of 1940 was
serving the Philippines.
Through the efforts and eyewitness reports of Abie, the families of
hundreds of soldiers were able to apply for prisoner-of-war medals.
Abie has received letters from mothers and wives thanking him for sharing
details of the ordeal and helping the dead soldiers receive the honors
they deserved as prisoners of war.
As a survivor of the Death March, Abie testified during the Japanese war
crime trials in 1946 against Japanese Lt. Gen. Masaharu Homma, who ordered
the march and was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American