A sabbatical journey of a lifetime

Take all you want but eat all you take." This is one of the many lessons I learned from my father. Food was not to be thrown away or wasted. And if "our eyes were bigger than our bellies," as he was often known to say, we would remain at the table until our stomachs made room.It was not until I was teaching American History that I began to learn why food was so precious to my father. He was a prisoner of war for 3 1/2 years during WWII. He survived the Bataan Death March, two POW camps in the Philippine Islands, the Hellship Noto Maru, and a year as a forced laborer in a copper mine in northern Honshu Island, Japan. My father survived but barely. He went in the Army weighing 165 pounds and when he was liberated he tipped the scales at 90 pounds. My father knew what starvation was. He knew how very precious every bite of food was. And so we were taught to value every bite also. This is only one of many lessons I learned from my father. In March of this year I, along with my husband Drew, had the privilege of retracing my father's footsteps as a POW in the Philippine Islands and Japan. A grant from the Lilly Institute for Pastor Sabbaticals made the trip possible. It was the realization of a dream of a lifetime. In 1988 I began interviewing my father about his experience as a prisoner of war. My goal was to record the facts for my children so that they would not forget and perhaps learn some important life lessons as well. The trip ended up being so much more. Through drawing and painting and writing I discovered a deep and wide imprint in my life from this father who suffered so much and survived so resiliently. As I dug deeper and learned more and as I was able to actually be in the places he was in, I understood so much more about this man-one of the Greatest Generation-and how he left his mark on my life in almost every way. On March 2, 2010, my husband and I had the amazing experience of walking 10 miles of the Bataan Death March route. It was only a month short of the exact time of the year when my father along with an estimated 70,000 Americans and Filipinos walked this route. It was in the relentless heat of the summer sun. My husband and I had full stomachs, water, good shoes, an umbrella, and could stop as often as we wanted. My father and the other prisoners of war had none of these. And they were sick, very sick. The troops had already been on limited rations for four months when they were ordered to surrender. They were seriously malnourished and sick with malaria, beri beri, dysentery and more. And they walked day and night for four or five days depending on where they joined the march, with only one stop for food. It was a difficult spring hike for us. It was a death march for them. It is not known for sure but it is estimated that as many as 17,000 died en route. Many, many more continued to die after the column reached San Fernando where they were packed into box cars like sardines and transported another six or seven miles to Capas. Then they were forced to march again another 2-3 miles to the camp-Camp O'Donnell where they continued to die, an estimated 10,000 over the next few weeks. I walked where he walked but I did not suffer what he suffered. But I have been significantly shaped by what he suffered-my whole family was as were many American families whose fathers and husbands and sons came home from this experience and helped to build the American that we know and enjoy the fruits of today. There is so much more to the story. I want to share it with everyone I can. These amazing veterans are dying at a rate of 1000 per week. In a few short years there will be none of them left. There are only 500 Bataan survivors still alive. My father died on April 18, 2006. Their stories need to be told and remembered. On Saturday, July 24, there will be an open house at First Presbyterian Church of Downey. I will be exhibiting my drawings and paintings and some photography from my sabbatical journey. I will also share some of my father's story and how it has impacted my life. The open house will be from 1-6 p.m. A 30-minute presentation will be given at 1:30 p.m. and again at 4:30 p.m. The rest of the time the exhibit will be open for browsing and visiting with others who have similar stories who will be attending. Refreshments will be served. All are welcome. A second program will be given after worship on Sunday, July 25. All are invited to worship at 10 a.m. and to stay for lunch, the exhibit and presentation following.

********** Published: July 1, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 11

EventsEric Pierce