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
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.
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.
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
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.
of all remember: "Freedom is not free!"
19 , 2004 column
War II Chronicles
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