Monday, January 28, 2019

Bataan Death March Revealed

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Today, January 28th, is the 75th anniversary of when the American public first learned of the infamous Bataan Death March.

The Chicago Tribune and its affiliates' published an account of the horrors by W. Edwin Dyess, a heroic aviator who had survived the Death March and escaped from the Japanese POW camp, Davao Prison Colony in April 1943. Until then, the American public did not know about this war atrocity.

The original story on Japanese atrocities in the Philippines was written for the Tribune in July 1943. The military and the Roosevelt White House balked at releasing the explosive material--especially to a newspaper critical of the President--and even used wartime censorship powers to block publication of Dyess’ story in the Tribune.

The also didn’t want to shock the American public and were worried that the Japanese might respond with even more cruelty against POWs.

One important factor in the decision to delay release of Dyess' account was the fear that the Japanese, in retaliation, might refuse to accept or otherwise block delivery to the prisoners of a Red Cross relief shipment then on the way to Japan aboard the M.S. Gripsholm. Once it was learned that the Gripsholm had reached Japan and it was believed that the Red Cross supplies would reach POWs by late January 1944, the it was easier to decide to release the news by the end of that month.

Months of pressure and Dyess' death in a training flight crash in December 1943 also contributed to the government relenting. At midnight on January 27, 1944, the War Department distributed a long summary of the atrocities to the media.

The next day, the Tribune and its 100 affiliated newspapers ran the first of what would be 24 installments of Dyess’s dramatic story of combat, leadership, selflessness, survival, and escape.

Dyess was buried in a simple family plot in the Albany, Texas Cemetery. The only public recognition, in Texas or anywhere else, of Lt. Col. Dyess’ valiant and inspiring actions during World War II was the 1956 renaming of Abilene Air Force Base to Dyess Air Force Base.

The Dyess Story: The Complete Eye-Witness Account of the Death March (1944) as told to Chicago Tribune journalist William Leavelle remains a best-seller.

For more on Lt. Col Dyess also: THIS and THIS.

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