A Word From Dr. Ashton
Now they are finished, these books I have written to commemorate the gradually dimming deeds and
events relating to my long dead military companions as well as those in the fast diminishing ranks
When I began to assemble these memories, while our war still sputtered and boiled, I was vaguely
conscious of furtively stealing the wine of victory from those who rescued us. The taste was heady
and at first it diluted, then drowned completely our defeat. The drunken spree lasted for years
after the conflict and I allowed the feeling of our national invincibility to pervade me (to such
an extent that our defeats in Bataan, Corregidor and Pearl Harbor became " just a fluke").
In recent years I have become aware of vague unsettled feelings, especially as I again perceive
the national drift of public opinion toward pocketbook pacifism. This had gained much momentum
before WWII until checked by the realism of Pearl Harbor. Then it always reappears after a period of peace.
Let me go back a few years and "fill you in" on some little known events that resulted from
allowing our policy of preparedness to lapse.
Most military histories are like a necklace of separate incidents strung together,
each event contributed by a single observer as though seen through a key hole. That is
because all soldiers, be they general or private, are anchored in their particular unit
like coral on a reef--except for me. It was my fortune as a trouble-shooting medical field
officer to enjoy great mobility, constantly roving from one unit to another throughout
Bataan. As adjutant of General Wainwright's Philippine Division Medical Regiment and
assistant Bataan Force Surgeon, my job kept me constantly on the move to wherever
there was action. Later in the campaign when we ran out of gasoline, I spent most of
my time with Philippine Army medical battalions setting up field hospitals until the
fall of Bataan. (Thus were the original MASH units established.) Following that I
became Chief of Surgery at General Hospital #1.
During the three years that ensued I had many adventures in the prison camps and working
parties as a physician. Not the least of these was the return of General MacArthur commanding
the now powerful armed forces and the rescue of the few remaining survivors.
This magnificent military, naval and air operation was witnessed by the author only in memory
of his comrades by then, for most were already dead of starvation and disease. While the doomed
survivors continued an accelerated progress to their graves, even after their return home.
To this day there occurs a welling-up of grief in me whenever I recall those long dead friends
and comrades. I can only blame it upon my deep anxiety over the state of unreadiness into which
I have watched our nation again submerge. Unheeded historical lessons will surely be repeated
because a decade or two without war seems to silence or remove all of those old enough to remember them.
Here again it may well come to pass that our next debacle like Pearl Harbor, Bataan, and Corregidor
(with which we seem to start all wars), will not even serve to arouse the sleeping nation, steeped
in love, as it fumbles to fight off another treacherous enemy whose predatory "High Command" strikes
without warning. The next time there may not be enough determined men left, only those with flowers
in their hair shouting, "Hell no, I won't go."