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Bataan Diary

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Dr. Paul Ashton

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From the book "Bataan Diary"
Page 10 of 12
Before I left Bilibid for this detail, the Japanese, in an effort to stop the growing number of escapes from the various camps and working parties, decided on a new strategem. They allowed us to form into groups of ten prisoners, and we could choose our own members. Their dictum further stated that if anyone of the ten escaped or tried to escape, they would execute the other nine. The idea, of course was to create an incentive to persuade a possible escapee to reconsider.

In the past two weeks, I have talked with a friend, Jack Garcia, of Santa Maria, California, who was on a thirty-man work detail, repairing a bridge with his brother. Despite the guards, one man got away. All day they waited, but he did not return by five p.m. The officer in charge lined them up, and each party of three dug a grave, nine in all. After waiting as long as they could, they were told to fall in line and each third man commanded to step forward. My friend's brother was one who did so. The guards shot each into his grave. It happened at other places also and caused people to be careful in choosing partners, because escape was really quite impossible in a country of brown people.

Of course, members of the Medical Corps did not escape or even try. Our mission was with our patients, for better or worse. One of the life saving procedures we found quite necessary, however, was the planning of escapes as a group. We could think of situations in which escape might be necessary, as in the event of the exodus of ten men. The Japanese said they would then execute 100. So if death was inevitable, it would be better to organize carefully and even resist it.

The plan of escape from Sasaki's detail was elaborate and reached such perfection that it became very tempting for us to try. Ever since, I have thought of it as a wonderful plan to carry through and even write a book about. One of the elements of our scenario was to divide us into groups small enough to meet and discuss without suspicion. First, a group was organized to gather and refurbish an arsenal from the equipment still lying all over Bataan; another unit, to find and load the diesel fuel on the trucks; another to use the weapons to liquidate the camp guards as well as the unit on the dock, who were in contact with the headquarters of the Japanese. All this on a given signal. We planned to use Mr. Marsman's beautiful twin-diesel yacht aboard which lived some of the guards.

Fortunately, many of our 125 members wished to travel in small pre-organized groups and not with the main body. Some wanted to stay on Luzon, some on the island of Mindoro, fifty miles directly south. This was our first night's goal, to sail all night, and hide the boat during the day. We planned to drop some men on Mindanao, and then go on down to Palawan and Borneo by easy stages. Our group included diesel engine experts and others with special talents. It was mostly an engrossing plan to contemplate, in the sometimes boring months of captivity. A leader committee was chosen to give the order to go and to oversee all of the groups, each of which had a leader member. Each group was composed of our best talent in the particular field of endeavor assigned to it. We did not use the plan since we were never again threatened. Our situation in Bataan, away from Japanese headquarters, gave us a twenty four-hour start, while the diesel yacht and the technicians we had all contributed to more probable success.

There were times later when I had occasion to wish that we had taken the chance. The enthusiastic planning groups enjoyed their work so much, and put their hearts and heads into it so fully that it created a sense of elation and cohesive friendship not often seen in a prison camp.

Copyright 1997 Paul Ashton, M.D.
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