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    The story of one survivor...
    The Horrors of Bataan

    by Murray Montgomery
    Murray Montgomery
    There's an old saying I've heard all my life and it is just as true today as it was years ago. It states simply, "Freedom is not free!"

    And should some be foolish enough to think our liberty comes without a heavy price then I invite you to consider the sacrifices made by Russell A. Grokett, Sr. during World War II.

    Grokett was part of what has been called the, "Greatest Generation." He was raised in Kansas and lived through the Great Depression. When he was in his twenties, he joined the army and served in one of the last cavalry units in Texas. He experienced the horrors of war while involved in the Battle of the Philippines he was imprisoned and survived the terror of the Bataan Death March.

    After the war, Mr. Grokett got married and had a family. He loved to travel throughout the United States; camping and fishing in the country he helped defend.

    Russell A. Grokett Sr. died of a heart attack at the age of 69.

    His story has been told in the book, The Circle Is Never Broken, by Estelle Grokett. His son, Russell Grokett Jr., maintains a site on the Internet about his dad. Preserving the memory of this veteran is a family affair, as his grandson Michael A. Knox is also involved in the project.


    When United States and Filipino troops surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942, Grokett became a prisoner of war he would spend the next three and a half years living in hell.

    There were approximately 76,000 men involved in the surrender of the Philippines. Some 12,000 being United States troops along with 64,000 Filipinos. Nine thousand of them died as a result of the Bataan Death March.

    Grokett's description of the march is a vivid account of something so horrible, it's hard for civilized people to even imagine. He said the prisoners, military and civilian, were made to go 24 hours without food or water in the searing heat and humidity. If a man dropped out from heat exhaustion, the Japanese guards promptly bayoneted him.

    Japanese planes kept an eye on the march. Flying back and forth up and down the line. As they walked, the prisoners passed by corpse after corpse along the road. According to Grokett, "The bodies were stiff and beginning to blacken in the intense heat, already covered with flies as carrion birds tore at the flesh."

    Grokett told of a game played by the Japanese guards. He said they would amuse themselves by pushing prisoners over the cliff the screams could be heard until they crashed upon the jagged rocks below. Grokett recalled how the Filipinos had the worst of it. "Young girls were pulled out of the ranks and raped repeatedly. Frightened mothers would rub human dung on their daughters' faces to make them unattractive to the guards," said Grokett.

    Later on, the Japanese made the prisoners trot along at double time up a steep slope. Men were dropping everywhere and were bayoneted on the spot. As they passed along a fresh-water stream, many of the thirsty prisoners made a run for the cooling water. Those who did were shot.

    Many of the prisoners contacted malaria from mosquitoes and went insane. Grokett also remembered that there was still a battle on-going at Corregidor. He said, "Big tractors pulling 250 millimeter guns toward the bay...rolled over the bodies of the dead and dying along the road."

    After the ordeal of the death march, Grokett and the others went on to spend time in prisoner-of-war (POW) camps. Later they were forced into boats to begin a voyage aboard what would later become known as, "The Hell Ships." They were packed like sardines on these vessels for some 33 days. During that time, Dutch submarines attacked the ships the Dutch didn't know American prisoners were onboard.

    While the ships were being attacked, Grokett remembered that the men begin screaming and pounding against the sides of the ship. "Even an animal can't be this confined for this long without going mad," he said.

    Of the eleven ships carrying prisoners, only five survived the attack and thousands of POWs died. Before the ships finally arrived at Pusan Harbor in Korea, many of the men went insane. Some committed suicide. There were reports that several men cut their buddy's wrist to drank the blood for lack of water.

    Russell A. Grokett, Sr. and the other survivors were finally liberated on August 15, 1945.

    From the very beginning, the United States has been defended by some very remarkable men and women. Throughout the years we have been allowed to enjoy our freedom because of their dedication to duty. Whenever you see an American flag, remember folks like Russell A. Grokett Sr., and all those who have died defending this great country.

    And most of all remember: "Freedom is not free!"

    Murray Montgomery July 19 , 2004 column
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