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Bataan Diary

Somebody Gives A Damn!

Dr. Paul Ashton

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From the book "Bataan Diary"
Page 2 of 12
A G.I. saw me sitting on my foot locker and I brought the truck down to the dock. We loaded it on, and since the job was over for that day, others working there also boarded the truck and we drove up the familiar "grapevine," past the macabre Philippine Army General Hospital with its headless patients, where we had chased the mule months before. It seemed somehow pleasant to be back in Bataan among these friendly G.I.'s, and we soon reached the site of #l Hospital and my old surgical pavilion, where still lurked mixed memories.

The men warned me about some of the Japanese leaders of our salvage detail, all of which hardly registered in my brain, except as gossip. It seemed like a friendly, healthy group and I did not miss the atmosphere of the prison. We unloaded my foot locker in front of the little porch at the entrance to the surgery building, and I found that there was a medical corpsman named Dan Weitzner who held forth in the precincts of my former boss sergeant of surgery of #l Hospital. Dan was a good man and even had secured a microscope somewhere, through which he peered frequently. The small room formerly used for surgical supplies was to be our quarters. The remainder of the crew of 125 were quartered in the main surgery, a larger room, where there had been four operating tables and a cast room in our "palmy" days. The walls which had bulged and separated from the floor by the blast effect of a 500-lb. bomb striking nearby had been fairly well repaired. All in all, when filled with the crew and their gear, it no longer radiated the spic-and-span aspect it wore when I last saw it.

The sorry sight which now greeted my eyes I suppose prepared me for my actions of the next few minutes. My surgery of which I had been so proud was now the quarters of the American prisoners and a filthy muddy place it was. Sasaki, the Jap commander, lived in Colonel Duckworth's former quarters, where I also had lived, and the former nurses' quarters and officers mess was the Nip guard quarters. The grounds were littered with dirty trucks, tanks, motorcycles, and their dismembered parts. The former wards were now used to house salvaged vehicles and repair shops. It was almost time to eat, and I found that we had our own food preparation area where we all could sit down to eat the ration issued to the group as a whole. The food was good by Bilibid standards, and this explained the healthy appearance of the men and also, unlike Tayabas, there were only a couple of sick, with malaria and dengue. I remember thinking that this camp commander seemed to be a progressive fellow and I discounted what the Lieutenant had been doing that afternoon, according to Weitzner. Lieutenant Sasaki had a little monkey that he had caught, and made much sport of placing the beast under a helmet and then blazing away at it with his side arm. Some fun! When I got to know Sasaki, I realized that the monkey was not in all that danger, though he did wear thick lenses which corrected only some of his distorted views. But we were soon to meet.

Before the meal, the Sergeant formed the Japanese into two rows and the Americans crowded around, sensing a show about to begin. This all took place beneath the tree just in front of my old surgery building in the flat, sloping down to the main road that ran north and south in front of Hospital #1, where we had surrendered to General Matsuobe. He had driven his tanks into the same flat compound, about seven months before. There were other memories here, to be later retold.

Now at five p.m., before chow, and just after the usual four p.m. prayer time of the Japanese (during which they all turned to the north and said their prayers to their Emperor in unison and bowed with heads uncovered), the showman made his move. Sasaki appeared from his quarters in a small house near the surgery barracks in his kimono, and took a position in front of us all. I was in uniform as Captain Medical Corps, USA., and I took the opportunity to advance toward him, come to attention and salute, stating then that I was "Captain Ashton, Medical Corps, U.S. Army, reporting for duty as Detail Medical Officer," and I handed my orders to the Sergeant.

Copyright 1997 Paul Ashton, M.D.
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