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November 5, 2010

Reflections and Lessons
The Pain of Defeat
by Bob Wolfersberger

It is difficult to explain or describe the desolate feeling that a person had after fighting a steady, losing battle for 4 months then finally surrendering to the enemy and now to be in his custody. After seeing the enemy lower the US flag and raise the “Rising Sun” in its place, it took a lot of pride out of an individual witnessing such an event. We members of the 16th Bombardment Squadron, 27th Bombardment Group were renamed the 16th provisional infantry company and were ordered to report to the small fishing village of Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan peninsula. There we mingled with U.S. soldiers, sailors, Marines and Filipinos and awaited instructions from the Japanese as they poured in among us. After finally getting us into formation, they started to move us out, heading north on a two land dirt road. The fortified island of Corregidor was two miles away but US forces there were withholding their artillery fire because we were moving out on one side of the road as the Japanese towed their artillery on the other side. We POWs were used as human shields as we marched approximately 65 miles north to San Fernando. I marched 65 miles in six days in extreme heat and witnessed and heard other people talk of numerous atrocities committed by the victors. Such events as beheading, stabbing and shooting prisoners took place because the POW’s were weak, exhausted and sick; people who couldn’t keep marching and sat or laid down by the side of the road. Since this event I have read numerous accounts in Europe, The Civil War in the U.S. and throughout history where the victors brutally abused the defeated. So the lesson learned in all of this is: Do not be defeated! Don’t be afraid to fight and win! It is difficult to recall the atrocities that were inflicted on POWs, as we were driven, not marched off the Bataan Peninsula in April 1942 after four months of fighting a one sided battle in favor of the enemy. The enemy was allowed to set foot on the battlefield before any hard resistance was established. We had no food, equipment, or medical replacements. The enemy had complete control of the sea and air. We fought a hard but futile battle against terrible odds, but the battlefield was not the worst experience, The post combat battle for survival as a prisoner become the most sever challenge. We were transported all over Asia - Japan, Korea the Southern Philippine Islands and North China on overcrowded “Hell Ships.” These ships were often attacked by US planes and submarines, their commanders not knowing that POW’s were aboard the unmarked ships. If there was a way the Japanese could make life miserable, they did.

Stu’s Notes: These are the words that Bob told to me over lunch. Bob, a P.O.W. and Darby Miller a long time Veterans Memorial Committee Member. Darby, at 17 was involved with the liberation of the Philippines in 1945. The Japanese attacked us soon after Pearl Harbor , December 7
th, 1941, we did have over 8 hours to prepare, but General Douglas Macarthur did nothing (Bob’s words, remember he was there)To get ready for the attack we knew would come. Most of our Aircraft were caught on the ground and destroyed; they should have been well concealed, not parked in the open. Our weapons were encased in cosmoline, (a very heavy grease that takes more than a day to clean off the weapons). The first few days we hid in the jungles around Ft. McKinley then on to Bataan Dec. 10th or 11th. To be continued.

Oroville’s 12 Annual Veterans Day Parade will be held on Thursday, November 11
th at 11:00. A committee has planned for 2 months to do it right under the guidance of Bob Hewitt of the Oroville Exchange Club. The Parade will start at 5th Avenue and Montgomery ending at Montgomery and Downer. The reviewing stand will be at the Oroville Chamber Office at Montgomery and Lincoln. Honorees will be the Prisoners’ of War and Missing in Action with a big welcome home to our Troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. I must say this , the men and women in our Military from Butte County have been coming and going back and forth for many years. Some of us have talked about a big Home Coming like we had here in Oroville a few years ago. But what to we do under the above circumstances. We say welcome home and a way they go again. Well hopefully our welcome Home National Guard banner will get fixed and go up by Parade Day. It may say National Guard but it stands for all of the service men and women that have come and gone. Call 534-8393 for Parade Information.