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Bataan Diary Reviews

Reviews on this page:

American History Illustrated
Santa Barbara News Press
Saber (Veterans of 1st Cavalry Division
Henry Adams (Professor of History)

Bataan Diary
reprinted from American History Illustrated, June 1985

Captain Ashton's book is not one that can be leisurely read in one evening. It is a large book, spanning nearly 500 pages, and covers one of the most significant events in American military history. It is also easily read and entertaining evoking the full flavor of the war years. It is the story of sacrifice, sometimes death, sometimes survival, and valor. Captain Ashton is able to cover the whole range of battle, defeat, and aftermath. Being an army doctor, he was virtually a free agent, having the opportunity to cover all zones of battle.

The author presets the state in his book. He briefly touches on his early career, his romance with his wife, and then as a young army doctor, his deployment to the Philippines. Here we we get the feel of the Islands situation several months prior to the outbreak of war. Then comes the reality of war. Captain Ashton witnessed the defense of Luzon not as a military doctor, but as a military man. While his major task throughout the war years was saving lives as a doctor, he was also a good military observer. He covers the hardships of the ill-fated defense of the Islands in the early days of battle, and the many stopgap actions that at least slowed the enemy advance, and gave some breathing room to the already hard-pressed United States military in other parts of the Pacific.

The actual defense of the Philippines has been overlooked by many historians. The United States took a heavy loss and most experts leave it at that. But Ashton covers the heroic action of those valiant men who had a terrible job of defending these islands while the United States was in no position to offer assistance. The defenders were on their own as it were. Captain Ashton also covers those protocol foulups, such as the cache of food that was denied to the Filipino soldiers because it was said to rightfully belong to the Japanese government. The Bataan Death March may have received most of the historical coverage, and rightfully so, but Captain Ashton does a fine job in describing how the American and Filipino forces stalled the Japanese advance. And he does not recall past actions taken from the accounts of generals, official documents and historians, but from a soldier who was there.

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Local Doctor Describes Unsung Heroes of War
reprinted from the Santa Barbara News Press, April, 1985
By Walker A. Tompkins, local historian and former News-Press staff writer

When FDR described the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as a day that would "live in infamy," was he aware that a worse fate, measured in human suffering. awaited the 24,339 American ser vice men trapped in the Philip pines? Of these, 600 would soon be killed in action while 23,739 were captured and put into hell camps or prisons where 13,000 would die as POWs.

Among the 10,739 soldiers, sailors and marines who lived to return home after the war, most of them broken in health, was a young Army surgeon, Paul Ashton. He had volunteered for duty in Manila following his graduation from UC medical school and one year of training at Letterman Hospital. Now, 40 years later, Dr. Ashton of Santa Barbara has set down his eye-witness history of the Battle for Bataan, the Death March, the surrender of Corregidor and his life as a doctor saving uncounted POW lives in such notorious Japanese prisons as Bilibid, O'Donnel's and Cabanatuan.

His skill with a pen equalling his skill with a scalpel, Capt. Ashton's story. illustrated with previously unpublished photographs and loaded with military maps, charts and sketches, is not for the squeamish. But it is an important addition to the vast amount of documentation of the Pacific Theater struggle during World War II. Ashton's book gives a more vivid look at American patriotism, heroism and superhuman endurance as prisoners of war than is to be found in such best sellers as Duane Schultz's "Hero of Bataan, the Story of Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright."

Roving assignments

As the adjutant of a medical battalion, Capt. Ashton was given roving assignments which put him in a unique position to observe and record the holding action on the Bataan Peninsula which delayed the Japanese invasion schedule by five months.

Considered a humiliating defeat in 1942, from the vantage point of 40 years it has become obvious that the heroism of American forces on Bataan and their long seige on Corregidor barred Japan from the use of Manila harbor, unquestionably saving Australia from being overrun by Hirohito's invaders early in the Pacific war and making possible later American victories climaxed by the bombing of Hiroshima.

When food and ammunition finally ran out, the Americans trapped on the Bataan Peninsula were forced to surrender. For the next three years Capt. Ashton was preoccupied with treating the sick and wounded. The notorious "Death March," 90 miles in tropical heat, plumbed a new low in man's in humanity to man. It involved 55,000 Filipinos and 8,000 Americans.

Any man who dropped out because of sickness, delirium, or fatigue, suffered barbaric punishment including emasculation, disemoweling, amputations or being clubbed to death. Capt. Ashton estimated the daily fatalities at 400 men.

The book tells how Capt. Ashton treated malnutrition, diarrhea and dysentery for himself (he dropped from 210 to 100 pounds) and his fellow POWs by mixing mud and water. Following the fall of Corregidor, sealed off from any knowledge of how the war was going! the prisoners found their only hope in General MacArthur's vow, "I shall returnl" čas he did, three years later.

Captain Ashton's captors at Bilibid Prison eventually put him on trial and sentenced him to be executed Feb. 4,1955. The "Yanks and tanks" liberated Bilibid's POWs Feb. 3!

One of the officers on MacArthur's staff, a Col. Kenneth Lamb, in charge of compiling his torlcal records of the war, became a friend of Capt. Ashton's, and both men moved to Santa Barbara after the war. Before his death Col. Lamb turned over his rare unpublished records to Capt. Ashton, who includes 116 pages of facsimiles as a epilogue for his book.

Plea for veterans

Capt. Ashton's narrative ends on the euphoric note of MacArthur's rescue operations and his return to California to a reunion with his mother and young wife, Yvonne, by then a Wave in the U.S. Navy. They raised their family in Santa Barbara, where he became a prominent member of the local medical community, founding the Tri-Counties Blood Bank in 1950 and co-founding the Goleta Vallev Community Hospital in 1965. But for six out of 10 of his fellow POWs, the war was far from over.

They have since died of service connected disabilities in the four decades that have passed since their liberation from enemy tyranny, many of them denied VA help because their discharge papers carried clean bills of health.

"There are only 2,000 of my fellow POWs still alive, and most of them are ill," Dr. Ashton reports. "Give them 100 percent disability and the VA medical care they deserve! They can't last much longer."

Dr. Ashton is disturbed by what he regards as America's drift toward apathy and unpreparedness. "It may well come to pass," he predicts, "that our next debacle like Pearl Harbor . . . will not serve to arouse the sleeping nation, steeped in love, as it fumbles to fight off another treacherous enemy who strikes without warmng. The next time there may not be enough determined men left, only those with flowers in their hair chanting. Hell no, we won't go!"

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Bataan Remembered
reprinted from Saber
(published by and for the veterans of the famous 1st Cavalry Division)
July, 1987
By James O. Hull

"I suppose the time has come to write about those events, the memory of which I have carried around in me all these years, " states Paul Ashton, M.D. in his excellent chronicle, Bataan Diary. As adjutant of General Wainwright's Philippine Division Medical Regiment and assistant Bataan Force Surgeon, he was constantly on the move to wherever there was action. Much of his time was spent setting up and supervising field hospitals until Bataan finally fell. During the three years that ensued, Captain Ashton had many adventures in the prison camps and working parties as a physician. Not the least of these was the return of General MacArthur and the liberation of the American prisoners in Manila by the First Cavalry Division. Ashton not only relates his own personal experiences before, during and after the conflict but has included a comprehensive overview of significant political and historical events of that era. He became closely acquainted with the other prisoners both during the war and afterwards. The events of the Death March, the defense of Corregidor, the POW Camps and the Hell Ships are covered in lurid detail. Paul Ashton did much research on this volume. Not only is the situation of the U.S. Army covered but also our navy and the Philippine forces. In addition, he provides a glimpse of the serene, easygoing life of Americans over there prior to December 7. This large volume contains more information about World War 11 in the Philippines than most other documents written on this subject.

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Letter from Henry M. Adams
Professor of History University of California Santa Barbara

Dear Captain Paul and Ensign Yvonne Ashton,

I have read with great interest ard profound respect your superb account of the realities of your experience before, during, and after the war in the Philippines as set forth in Bataan Diary. It is indeed an impressive contribution to the history of those times in the Philippines and most informative on the life and culture of the Philippine people as delineated in your detailed letters to Yvonne before the catastrophe and your detailed experience portrayed during the six months defense against hopeless odds and the three years of prisonment to liberation. Many historical-minded people are going to find your Bataan Diary most valuable when they discover it, quite apart from those who have already profitted from your contacts in behalf of those who did not survive, or did survive. I trust your duty as you saw it has been its own reward. I trust also that you will never need to use a two-edged bayonet again or pick up so many diseases that your"good luck" would desert you.

My wife is now reading Bataan Diary. The scene is familiar to us as tourists some years ago, including the cemetery in Mania.

All good wishes.


Henry M. Adams

Copyright 1997 Paul Ashton, M.D.
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