Glenn Frazier
American and Filipino prisoners of war captured by the Japanese are shown at the start of the Death March after the surrender of Bataan on April 9 near Mariveles in the Philippines in 1942 during World War II. Starting on April 10 from Mariveles, on the southern end of the Bataan Penisula, 70,000 POWs were force-marched to Camp O'Donnell, a new prison camp 65 miles away. Glenn Frazier is on the left wearing dark pants. (AP Photo)

Glenn Frazier finally had freedom, but he wanted sleep.

Surviving 3 1/2 years in Japanese prison camps during World War II conditioned him to go without rest. The hunger, malarial fevers, abuse and unremitting death around him made it impossible.

In 1945, his parents in Fort Deposit, Ala., welcomed their son as if he'd come back from the dead. He lay that night in clean sheets in the quiet safety of home.

And the nightmare came.

He hid from his captors under bridges, under cars. He scratched the lice crawling over his skin and ate the worms in his rice. He cringed and winced, waiting for the rifle butt to smash his head.

He woke, gasping, fighting panic, looking for the Japanese soldier he knew was coming to beat him.

And then he was back down in the clean sheets, awake with memories and emotions he couldn't share with anyone.

He joined the Army in 1941 when he was underage. It was peacetime, but he knew the war in Europe threatened to draw America in. So he lied about his age and volunteered for the Philippines.

On Dec. 8, just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese fighter planes stormed the Philippines. They practically wiped out the Army's fleet of B-17 bombers and left 6,000 Americans and Filipinos dead.

Before month's end, Gen. Douglas MacArthur ordered his forces to take defensive positions on Bataan and Corregidor.

Frazier, a member of the 75th Ordinance Depot and Supply Company, took part in an all-out effort to stop the Japanese advance.

But they lacked adequate food and soon had to cut rations in half, then down to one meal per day. Promised reinforcements never arrived. In March, MacArthur fled for Australia.

"Military leaders considered them expendable," said Paul Ropp of Arlington, Va., former secretary of the veteran's organization called American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.

The Emperor's Army closed in.

On April 9, 1942, superiors ordered the nearly 12,000 American and 66,000 Filipino soldiers to surrender.

Their resistance forced the Japanese to expend more effort than planned to take the Philippines, which in turn saved Australia from invasion, Ropp said.

But the Americans and their Filipino allies paid dearly.

The Japanese forced the prisoners, including Frazier, to march 60 miles up the peninsula to a prison camp. Their path will forever be known as the Bataan Death March.

"The hardest part was making up your mind, accepting the fact that we had lost," Frazier said. "It took awhile to sink in. Here we are Americans and everything we get to sustain life will come from them. And if they decide not to offer it, we're dead."

The Japanese did not respect an opponent who chose surrender over death in battle. That disrespect had lethal ramifications for the prisoners.

The captors provided no food and water. If a thirsty prisoner broke ranks to drink from a stream, he was shot. If he sat without permission, he was shot. If he helped a fallen comrade, he was shot.

Even more horrifying were the random killings. Frazier saw men bayonetted, beheaded and run over for no apparent reason.

For Frazier, the march ended after six days. He and others rode a train farther north and then marched the final several miles to Camp O'Donnell.

It is impossible to know how many men died on the march, but historians estimate between 6,000 and 11,000. The American death count was perhaps 650.

At the camp, thousands more died of starvation, dehydration and murder.

"The stench of death was so bad it burned your nostrils," Frazier said.

He helped dig and fill mass graves with hundreds of bodies. Resigned to dying in the jungle, he threw a set of his dog tags in a grave so his family would at least have an idea of his whereabouts.

In October 1942, he and thousands of other prisoners were shipped to Japan, where they performed slave labor in several camps over the next three years.

He endured beatings and thwarted hypothermia in Japan's winters wearing only rags. He survived double pneumonia, infected wounds and days in solitary confinement with only a few swallows of water.

And as the war drew to a close, he and other prisoners dug their own graves. The day Allied troops invaded the mainland would be their execution day.

Then atomic bombs laid waste to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The prison guards disappeared.

Frazier was free.

He said he was one of only about 4,000 Americans on the original Death March to survive the prison camps. He still doesn't know how.

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"It was a matter of determination to live that kept me alive."

But for five decades, the nightmares kept him a prisoner. He began to wish he had killed some Japanese in the days after the war -- perhaps it would have excised the ghosts that tormented him.

Finally, in the mid 1990s, he talked about it with someone.

"My preacher told me I had to get rid of the hatred. I said, 'I pride myself in my hatred. Everybody told me I was justified in my hatred.' And he said, ‘You're not justified in the eyes of God.'"

So Frazier prayed and, over time, he let the hate go.

Life got better.

His wife, Elizabeth, persuaded him to write a book. He called it "Hell's Guest" and he has sold nearly 30,000 copies. He also appeared prominently in "The War," the seven-part documentary by Ken Burns broadcast in 2007.

Now, only about 200 POWs from Bataan and Corregidor are still alive. The youngest is 83. The Defenders group, which officially disbanded, lists no members in Nebraska. POW sources said they are aware of no Bataan Death March survivors in the state.

Frazier, 86, of Daphne, Ala., may be the last one to travel widely and speak of his experiences.

He shares insights about survival to school groups, history buffs and veterans from other wars. He considers himself a witness to the power of God's love and forgiveness.

"Once all of the hatred was gone, then the nightmares stopped."

And he slept.

Reach Joe Duggan at 473-7239 or jduggan@journalstar.com.

Slideshow: Bataan Death March

Slideshow contains graphic images


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