Ken was still a teenager when he enlisted in the army. He was one of twelve children, and he recognized his chance to make something of himself. He couldn’t know the United States would be at war within a matter of months.
At eighteen, Ken found himself in the thick of battle defending the Philippines against the onslaught of Japanese attack. One day he lay behind a log and watched as enemy soldiers overran his position by the hundreds. Ken and a companion hid their rifles and surrendered. It marked the beginning of a three-and-a-half year nightmare. Ken became a prisoner of war.
The grim realities of prison camp quickly decimated Ken’s health. He’d survived the grueling Bataan death march only to be wracked with malaria and dysentery. In prison camp, the privilege of staying alive depended on a prisoner’s ability to work. Those gravely ill or incapable of labor were shot or perhaps buried alive. The young man’s weight dropped below one hundred pounds, but he struggled to make himself useful enough to avoid execution. It was no good; frail as he was, Ken fought a losing battle.The war drew to a close and Japanese defeat became a looming certainty. As the captors’ prospects dwindled, their atrocities increased in number and intensity. The Japanese began executing prisoners at random.
One day, Ken found himself lying beneath a thatch roof hut with several other prisoners. As a Japanese officer shouted commands from the hut’s balcony, prisoners were dragged from the shelter in pairs to a nearby rice paddy. The bonds were cut from their hands, and they were summarily bayoneted to death or shot in the head.Ken watched his friends dying two by two, knowing his time would come. As evening approached, the shrill voice of the Japanese officer shouted yet another command. Ken and his friend were wrenched from beneath the hut and dragged into the rice paddy. Kneeling in the mud, he waited in terror for the inevitable. There was another shout from the hut—then an explosion in his head. Ken fell forward into the filthy water.