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Brutal conditions of march, camps caused many deaths

by ROGER GREGORY Contributing Writer
| November 24, 2021 1:00 AM

Anton Bilek was stationed in the Philippine Islands in World War II.

The Americans had retreated down to the tip of Bataan Island, where they were captured by the Japanese Army. Then came the march north, 60 miles to the prison camp. This became the famed "Bataan Death March.”

The Americans lost 600 to 700 soldiers in the march, the Filipinos lost about 10,000. If  you fell to the side, you were either shot or bayoneted and left there. They ended up in the prison camp, about 9,000 Americans in one camp and 50,000 Filipinos in a second camp.

The men were put to work repairing bridges, etc. on very little food, so they were dying. Bilek got beriberi, the kidneys stop functioning, you blow up like a balloon. He was put in a hospital that was full to the max with an American captured doctor. Bilek  was seeing guys dying all around him; with Americans dying at 50 a day and Filipinos around 350 a day.  He said they buried around 2,000  Americans at this camp and around 28,000 Filipinos.

Then they were moved to another camp, Cabanatuan, about 50 miles away. There wasn't any medicine, only scant portions of rice to eat and hope for the best. From June to November, they lost another 1,500 Americans. This was still in 1942, and in the first six months of captivity, there were about 4,000 American deaths.

Then they started shipping some of the prisoners to Japan to work, one ship of 1,600 Americans was torpedoed and sunk, all lives lost. Bilek was in another ship to Japan. There they worked in coal mines and vegetable gardens and were fed and treated better and even met some "good Japanese.” They were there until the war ended.

Roger Gregory is a Vietnam veteran and business owner in Priest River.