American POWs of Japan is a research project of Asia Policy Point, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that studies the US policy relationship with Japan and Northeast Asia. The project aims to educate Americans on the history of the POW experience both during and after World War II and its effect on the U.S.-Japan Alliance.
Not after trudging more than 60 miles through the jungles of the Philippines at gunpoint in what became known as the Bataan Death March in World War II.
Or seeing fellow prisoners marched away, never to return. Or subsisting on a cup of rice a day, often less because he would sneak some of his portion to others in poor health.
Or digging a new trench every day to bury those who had died overnight, sometimes stacking the bodies four or five deep.
“No, I didn’t think I would live this long,” Graham said softly as he looked around at the large crowd gathered in north Wichita to celebrate his 100th birthday on Saturday. “But I’m still here. Somebody’s watching over me.”
Graham’s birthday is actually on Tuesday, but celebrating it on Saturday carried significance: it not only meant relatives could converge on Wichita from around the country, it was the same day Japan formally surrendered aboard the U.S.S. Missouri in 1945, ending World War II.
Barely more than 50 survivors of the Bataan Death March are still alive.
“When I was a kid, my aunt — Eddie’s wife — told us not to ask him questions because it would cause him to have nightmares at night,” said Wanda Graham, who lives in Portales, N.M. “So we never talked about it.”
Graham kept those horrific memories tucked away until he was into his 90s, when the brother of his caretaker talked him into speaking to a class at a Maize school. That brother is now the mayor of Wichita.
Graham voluntarily enlisted in the New Mexico National Guard and was assigned to the 200th Coast Artillery Regiment at an American base in the Philippines two months before the attacks on Pearl Harbor December 1941. He fought in the Battle of Bataan and then with nearly 75,000 American and Filipino troops forced on the 65 mile infamous Bataan Death March to Camp O'Donnell. When the camp closed he was transferred to Camp Cabanatuan to work in the fields. On 20 September 1943 with 850 prisoners he was taken aboard the Taga Maru in Manila, also known as the Coral Maru.Seventy men died during the 15 day voyage to Moji, Japan via Formosa. In Japan, he was taken to Osaka where he became a slave laborer at a steel mill for Nippon Steel in Hirohata Osaka 12-B POW Camp (also known as Harima "O" Camp or Hirohata Divisional Camp). Nippon Steel still exists today as Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation. This company has yet to issue an apology to the hundreds of Allied POW slave laborers it used against the Geneva Convention during the War. Interestingly, former Amb. Ichiro Fujisaki, who arranged for Japan's official apology to the POWs in 2009 and reconciliation trips, is on the company's board.
The memories have been trickling out since then, friends and relatives say.
He has never considered himself a hero. He credits his survival to faith and good fortune, friends and family say.
Mayor Jeff Longwell said he asked Graham where he found the strength to persevere during those dark days. Prayer, Graham told him.
One of the few personal items Graham was allowed to keep as a prisoner was his rosary. A devout Catholic, he prayed that rosary every day.
There are moments during his time as a prisoner of war for which there is no explanation, relatives said.
One was when the prisoners were separated into two long lines. Graham was in one line, but felt uneasy about it.
“He didn’t know why, but he felt like he needed to get into the other one,” said Janelle Longwell, the sister-in-law of his caretaker.
When the guards moved out of view, Graham slipped into the other line. The line of prisoners he had been in was marched into the jungle — and never returned.
One day in camp, Graham and a few other prisoners were given red ribbons, Wendy Graham said. Filled with another uneasy feeling, Graham hid the ribbon in the dirt when no one was looking.
He then darted over to the prisoners without ribbons. The prisoners with ribbons were never seen again.
After he was finally liberated, Graham returned to the U.S. and settled into civilian life. He married soon after the war and raised a family, working as a carpenter.
He has always laughed easily and forgiven quickly, relatives say. He harbored no bitterness toward his captors or the Japanese soldiers.
“They were just doing their job,” he told family.
He’s almost impossible to beat at cards and his mind is still sharp at 100, his sister-in-law Angie Graham said.
Graham is more than willing to go serve his country again if called, Longwell said, though he admits that at 100 he doesn’t move as fast as he once did.
“A few years ago, I asked him, ‘What’s the best thing that’s happened to you? What’s the best thing that you’ve experienced?’ ” Wendy Graham said. “And he said, ‘Life.’
“He realized that was the most valuable thing that he had.”
Maywood Veterans – A Century of Service and Sacrifice
MAYWOOD, IL – As it has for three quarters of a century, Maywood will mark Maywood Bataan Day on September 10th, 2017, at Maywood Veterans Memorial Park in Maywood, Il.
It was 75 years ago this fall that the citizens of Maywood were feeling helpless in the face of terrible events on the other side of the earth, that had endangered the lives of nearly 100 of their finest young men – in something we know today as the Death March of Bataan. But they were not passive; they decided to do something about it. They quickly arranged an astounding show of support. On September 11, 1942, an estimated 30,000 people lined 5th Avenue in this suburb to watch hundreds of children march in support of the war effort. Later, a larger parade would step off – this second parade lasted 3 hours and involved literally thousands of participants. Bands, floats, celebrities and politicians all marched to show their support for Maywood – and for all the small towns, that had placed their loved ones in harm’s way to fight for freedom.
From that day to this, Maywood has continued to mark the second Sunday in September with a Memorial Service. Due to changing economics and the loss of many of the veterans of that great war, the parades were discontinued years ago. But the Memorial Service continues. And this year, to mark the 75th Anniversary of that first Maywood Bataan Day, the Village of Maywood and the Maywood Bataan Day Organization have put together a special program, that will not only remember the men of Bataan, but will also include special events, that mark the century since the United States declared war on Germany and entered World War I. Just as they would in World War II, the men of Maywood answered the call and signed up to fight across the ocean. They would join other units of the Illinois National Guard to become part of the vaunted 33rd Division.
A concert of military and other appropriate music will precede the service at 2:30 pm. The music will be provided by the 144th Ceremonial Band of the Illinois National Guard, under the direction of Sgt First Class Robert Reed.
Master of Ceremonies will be MBDO Vice President, Edwin H. Walker IV. Colors will be presented by several area American Legion, VFW, and ROTC Color Guards. In past years color guard units from Maywood, Melrose Park, Berwyn, Hillside, Des Plaines, Chicago, Palatine, Elmhurst, Frankfort, Mokena, River Forest, LaGrange, Northlake, and many other Chicago and suburban cities have participated. A Rifle Squad Gun Salute will be provided by the American Legion Post #974 in Franklin Park, Illinois.
Keynote Speaker will be Major General Richard J. Hayes, Jr., Adjutant General of the State of Illinois. Major General Hayes is a repeat guest and his presence underscores the valued memories, that the men of Co. B, 192nd Tank Battalion continue to hold for members of the Illinois National Guard.
The ceremonies will also include a guest speaker from the Philippine Consulate General in Chicago, and Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins. Daniel J. Perkins, Event Coordinator and Consultant, will make a special presentation on the history of Maywood in World War I. Other highlights of the Memorial Service include a dedication of a Veterans Memorial Wall, a new Memorial Plaque for a WWI-era British Cannon, that has been located in the Village of Maywood for nearly a century as a memorial to the men who fought in WWI, and a Wreath Laying Ceremony, featuring members of all branches of our Armed Forces, as well as related community organizations.
Additional special guests scheduled to attend include members of the Village of Maywood Village Board of Trustees and other invited local community leaders.
Col. Richard A. McMahon, Jr., President of the Maywood Bataan Day Organization, extends an invitation to the entire community, saying, “Maywood Bataan Day today is one of the largest and longest continuous World War II memorials still being marked annually. Attendance continues to grow and we are honored to be able to meet our commitment to the men and women who serve our country when we promised in 1942, that we would ‘Remember Bataan’.”
The Maywood Bataan Day Organization is dedicated to preserving the memory of Bataan Day and perpetuating the observance of Maywood’s Bataan Day on the second Sunday of September. Our modern mission includes supporting veterans of all wars and providing educational resources through our archives and our website.
The organization is a non-profit 501(c)(19) organization, that is supported by donations of time and money from the community, as well as relatives and friends of those who have served their country.