Albert Brown, 105, was last survivor of Bataan Death March
The last survivor of the Bataan Death March passed away yesterday at the ripe old age of 105. A doctor once told Albert Brown he shouldn’t expect to make it to 50, given the toll taken by his years in a Japanese labour camp during World War II and the infamous Bataan Death March that got him there. But he made it to 105, embodying the power of a positive spirit in the face of unlikely odds. He was the last known survivor of the march.
“Doc” Brown was nearly 40 in 1942 when he endured the Bataan Death March, a harrowing 105-kilometre trek in which 78,000 prisoners of war were forced to walk from Bataan province near Manila to a Japanese PoW camp. As many as 11,000 died along the way. Many were denied food, water and medical care, and those who stumbled or fell during the scorching journey through Philippine jungles were stabbed, shot or beheaded.
Brown survived and secretly documented it all, using a nub of a pencil to scrawl details into a tiny tablet he concealed in the lining of his canvas bag. He often wondered why captives so much younger and stronger perished, while he went on.
By the time he died Sunday at a nursing home in Nashville in southern Illinois’ Brown’s story was well-chronicled, by one author’s account offering an encouraging road map for veterans recovering from their own wounds in many wars.
“Doc’s story had as much relevance for today’s wounded warriors as it did for the veterans of his own era,” said Kevin Moore, co-author of the recently released Forsaken Heroes of the Pacific War: One Man’s True Story, which details Brown’s experience and his message of hope.
Brown, recognized in 2007 at an annual convention of Bataan survivors as the oldest one still living, couldn’t muster the strength to talk about his experiences until about 15 or so years ago, said his granddaughter, Susan Engelhardt. “I’m not a big military buff at all. But just reading the story about the death march and the situation in the Philippines, it’s an incredible story. And incredibly sad,” Engelhardt said. “ He came through horrible times and came out on top, rebuilding his life. But so many of those men and women triumphed.”
Brown remained in a PoW camp from early 1942 until mid-September 1945, living solely on rice. The once-athletic man — he played baseball, football, basketball and track in high school — saw his weight wither by some 80 pounds to less than 100 by the time he was freed. Lice and disease were rampant.
Despite the hardships, Brown focused on bright spots, including a prisoner called on to fix Japanese soldiers’ radios. The prisoner managed to steal radio parts, scraping together enough components to build a functioning unit of his own. Brown helped craft a listening tube for the device, which brought the captives news from San Francisco that the U.S. actually had won a battle the Japanese soldiers were celebrating as a naval victory.
By the time the war ended in 1945, the 40-year-old Brown was nearly blind, had weathered a broken back and neck and suffered through more than a dozen diseases including malaria, dysentery and dengue fever. He took two years to mend, and a doctor told him to enjoy the next few years because he had been so decimated he would be dead by 50.
“I think he had seen so much horror that after the way, he was determined to enjoy his life,” Moore said.
Not only a survivor but a true hero. By offering encouraging words to wounded soldiers, he was also an inspiration. Glad he got to enjoy a long life in this world!