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Bataan Diary

Somebody Gives A Damn!

Dr. Paul Ashton

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From the book "Bataan Diary"
Page 3 of 12
Dead silence broke out; then Sasaki, with arms crossed, smirking, and not a little annoyed, made a speech in excellent English. The words rather haughtily indicated that I might be a Captain in the U.S. Army, but in his Army, I would be a private in the rear rank. I thought about it a minute, then observed, "Well, so much for Bushido." Before I finished, he unfolded his arms and swung at me, like a cat, but missed. While he was off balance, I let him have it, and down he went. I am still enjoying that moment, even though my life suddenly took a new twist, toward a dead end! Sasaki picked himself off the ground and started screaming in his native tongue. All of his "army" started after me, some holding me and others pounding me, with some oaken tent poles that unfortunately were handy.

He was still incoherent, but after dragging me around, they took me to a tree in front of my surgery and tied me to it. My wrists were bound very tightly behind me, and then I was suspended from a branch in such a manner that I could neither stand up nor sit down. If I tried to sit, I was hanging by my already painful wrists, and if I tried standing in order to take the weight off my wrists, I was unable to straighten my legs and I had to remain on my toes. So, I kept pushing up to allow some blood to get into my hands, and then would hang on my wrists awhile to rest my legs. As I quietly dangled there in the evening rain, ruminating about the boys back in Bilibid (where I had been so comfortable shortly before), I remember thinking, "Why does not the blow fall?"

To make matters worse, I soon discovered that the tree was inhabited by large and curious red ants. They swarmed over me and bit unmercifully whenever I moved, which I had to do frequently to relieve the weight on my swollen wrists. No one ate that night. The Yanks just stood around me. At about 2:00 a.m., Sasaki came from his quarters and told his men to cut me down.

I somehow felt that I was quite safe, despite Sasaki's reputation for sophomoric actions. The Americans were still grouped closely around me when Sasaki came, and I remember an unmistakably menacing attitude about them. Later I found that many were armed to the teeth, having previously picked up abandoned weapons and ammunition, which abounded in Bataan. These threatening moments were not lost on the Lieutenant, who suddenly felt outnumbered, and indeed he was. Dan Weitzner later told me that I had caused a real crisis.

In the interval, starting with my being trussed up, the consensus arrived at by small knots of men was to play the situation by ear for awhile. After considering all of the problems that might be encountered by putting into motion the mutinous plan they had chosen, they prepared for action. On the one hand they debated the undoubted reprisals that would be visited on the other camps; on the other hand, many difficulties were foreseen in carrying out the immediate forced flight of the whole group (using the Mary Ann, Marsman's twin-diesel yacht moored at the dock). With all this in mind they also realized their total ignorance of the extent of the Japanese mine fields in the mouth of the bay. The Luther twins set up a refurbished and serviceable machine gun in the dark, and even a salvaged tank was to be used by the Americans to take out the entire Nip garrison if a move was made to execute me. Fortunately for us all, Sasaki sensed the mounting danger and took an alternate path, partly also, I believe, because he needed a doctor. So he ordered me cut down and elbowed his way through the large group of Yanks around me.

I was given some food, then he wanted to talk to me. Ushered to his quarters, I was instructed to bow on his approach and upon leaving. Never to say "Yeah" in answering and always to stand rigidly at attention. He was still seething, but began by asking if I understood what I had done. Did I realize the enormity of my crime? "By striking one of His officers, I had struck the Emperor!" He came back to that point many times in the next months. He should have shot me, etc., etc. and, further more, he had lost face in front of his troops for not doing so. When I explained to him some days later that when I was in uniform with my soldiers ranged around me, I, too, was conscious of representing my nation, its power and force for good, and I also had been placed in a circumstance that absolutely required me to do what I did, even to his Emperor. In fact, if I had worn my side arm, I might have done much worse, since I felt that by doing what I did, my life might well be over anyway!

Copyright 1997 Paul Ashton, M.D.
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