Retired Army Master Sergeant Abie Abraham wrote at the beginning of his book, Ghost of Bataan Speaks (1971):
"I never had wanted to give the story to the press. Being a survivor of Bataan and a victim of the Death March, I have tried to forget."
What made him decide to write about his post-war experience of exhuming bodies of American soldiers who died on the Bataan Death March, many of whom he knew personally, was an article published in Japan that claimed that the Bataan Death March had never happened. Being hurt and saddened, Mr. Abraham wrote:
"This story hit all of the Japanese newspapers and radio stations. The Philippine newspapers picked it up. They were very angry at the Japanese. The Legion Post in the Philippines wrote begging me to tell the story. So after twenty-five years of trying to forget, I will do so. I am not going to allow Japan to get out of it. I want them to read my story and never forget."
Sergeant Abraham was among 513 POWs who were rescued from Cabanatuan POW camp by the U.S. Army Rangers in January of 1945. He testified for the trial of General Masaharu Homma.
Here are some excerpts from Ghost of Bataan Speaks.
General MacArthur desires to see you
A sergeant walked among us and stopped in front of me. "Sergeant
Abraham?" he asked.
I entered his office and saluted. He arose from his desk and shook my hand, all the while looking my frail body over from head to toe as though fright, mingled with pity, possessed, him...
"Sergeant," MacArthur finally spoke, "Do you know why I've sent for you?" "No, Sir."
"Colonel Darling and I have received the list of all recovered military
personnel, and the list of liberated men. I need a man with guts. I need
a man to go all over the trails and go into the jungle looking for graves.
I especially need a man who won't crack up under the strain, and one who who
knows where the graves are along the Death March. It's going to be
a tough assignment, probably the toughest ever given to any other person.
Colonel Darling suggested you for the job..."
"I know that thousands of your friends are dead... I would like for you to recover the graves of the Americans who died... I need a man," MacArthur went on in slow, well modulated words, "who was in the Death March," and as though he read my thoughts, he added, "You owe it to your friends, and especially to their loved ones back home."
"Sir," I said, "I will stay and do the job. I will find all of the bodies and the graves along the March and in the prison camps."
We are going to cover every spot of the Death March
All night I tossed. "Was it fear, or was it the thought of seeing the bones of my many friends?" I still don't know the answer, but I spent a long, miserable night. When I heard the rooster crowing, I knew that daylight was near, and climbed out of bed. Something forced me to my knees and I prayed, asking God to give me the strength, and show me how to carry on throughout the long tough way.
After drinking a cup of coffee, I found Amado waiting for me, and we got the crew together. "Men," I said, "We are starting our real mission today. We are going to cover every spot of the Death March and we are going on every trail in the Jungle. We are going to locate every grave in Bataan, every grave in the prison camps, and cemeteries." ...
My informant showed me the graves of six Americans. As he pointed to them I felt a little sick and scared. All of the Filipinos started to disinter. As they dug deeper into the grave, I smelled the stench of the dead. I turned away, took a deep breath and vowed to stay with it. It was a thing that I had to do.
"Sergeant, we are down to the bones now--" I was shaking badly
but managed to place the shelter-halfs on the ground. "Put the bones on this,"
I told them. "We wrap all the bones in shelter-halfs." When the six
graves were disinterred, I looked at the bones. "Wrap them up," I
stammered as I shivered and turned my blurring eyes to the distance. "I
will make a certificate on each one and tag the bodies..."
The following morning we returned to Abucay and picked up Ramon Romos again and drove to the foothills of the mountains where we disinterred the bodies of three men. On the way back I went for the body of my old friend, Luther Everson, whom I had known well before the war.
I recalled that as we were wavering and staggering out of Balanga, we crossed a bridge and I saw Luther fall. He tried to get up and fell again. I saw a Japanese soldier club him to death.
From under a bamboo thicket we disinterred his grave. The diggers handed me a skull. I shuddered and showed them the deep crack left by the Japanese club. All eyes stared as though awe-stricken.
"Sergeant Everson and I used to drink at the NCO Club before the war, " I told them. " Now I'm holding his skull! A good and kind human being killed because he was sick, hungry, and thirsty, and tired. Stilled in death because he was an American soldier." ...
The next day I went t the village of Orani... My guide took me to the dazzling beach; white as talcum powder and almost as soft, line by coco palms that crowded the off-shore inlets. A path led us to the rear of a house. The guide pointed to a mound.
"Here is the grave," he said. "Do you know how many are in it?" " Four." "Do you know how they died?" He looked to the sparkling sea as thought wondering whether or not to into detail.
"I was watching the Americans," he finally said. "They were staggering through this village. The guards kept yelling at them to move. The prisoners were weaving all over the road, like they were drunk. The guard raised his rife and shot all four of these Americans. I buried the Americans." We recovered four bodies...
Colonel Meek of the War Trials Commission came to see me. "Sergeant, " he said, "Come to Manila and be chief witness against General Homma."...
January 31, 1946, I drove to Manila and hurried to the High Commissioner's Office off Dewey Boulevard... I walked into a large room in which newsmen, photographers and newsreel people milled about.
At the head of the table sat General Lee Donovan, president of the court, and four other Generals who were to decide the fate of Homma. I was called to the witness stand.
"Do you know the accused?" Lieutenant White asked me. I looked at the
shrinking General Homma. He gazed at me for a moment then turned very
pale. "Yes, I know him."
"How many bodies have you disinterred on the Death March route?"
"Hundreds--" "And you know where the graves are?" "Yes, and it will take time, perhaps years, to recover them all." With another ex-POW Sen. McCain
In a surrendering
ceremony, Sgt. Abraham was honored to receive the Japanese Major's Saber.
The Japanese came into sight. They were waving a white flag. They were a dirty lot of ragged, sick and hungry soldiers. They all needed haircuts, and their clothes were patched and repatched. What was left of their shoes clung together by wires.
We loaded them into the trucks and drove back to Balanga where we told them to take a bath. They were fed, and American doctors examined them and gave them medicines.
It was a lovely sunshining day in the mountains, in the little town of Talisay, Balanga, Bataan. I sat alone watching the Japanese eating good American food, and thought of all the wormy rice and pigweed I had eaten in their prisons. I glanced away often, fighting with my inner-self. Not more than fifty yards away forty men, whom we had disinterred had died on the Death March. One grave alone gave up twenty bodies, all killed on the Death March. I closed my eyes and clenched and unclenched my fists while a cry for revenge tore through me.
"Oh, God, dear God," prayed silently. "Show me how I can love them instead of hating. Show me that they knew not what they were doing. Cleanse me of hatred and bitterness." One of them looked my way and grinned. I looked away. I didn't want to hate, and the urge to smash his face was great. I had no smile for them. Memory was too keen and the scars still ached most painfully.
The Japanese soldiers were lined up. The Colonel of 2nd Battalion, 38th Infantry, and Captain Hess received them and their Major saluted. The Colonel returned his salute. The Japanese Major handed his saber over. The Colonel started to reach for it, but withdrew his hand quickly. They eyed each other for a moment."
"I don't have the right to accept the surrender," the Colonel said, and turned toward me as I sat alone watching and fighting the bitterness from my heart. "Sergeant Abraham," he said. "Come forward." I pulled myself up and complied.
"Sergeant, I believe this honor is yours." the Colonel said, much to my surprise. "You are the only man to return to Bataan and you are the only man who fought in Bataan who is watching this surrender."
I saluted the Colonel. The Japanese Major saluted me, and with feigned good-will, I returned his salute, as soldier to soldier.
"I am happy to be here," I said, although I knew that neither of us had
any love for the other. "I am here in the surrender of the Japanese. In
tribute to those who died in Bataan. I wish that they were alive and able
to see the day of this big event. They tried hard to live in hopes that
troops would come some day. Their flickering hearts gave up. Yes, the
notorious camps of O'Donnell and Cabanatuan hold thousands dead--boys of
Bataan and Corregidor. "
This saber will be donated to the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Collection at the Brooke County Public Library, WV, on August 26, 2006 during the ceremony, "A Tribute to Our WWII POWs American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, 1941-1945."
In 2004, Mr. Abraham was awarded the prestigious Sen. John H Heinz Community Advocate Award for his accomplishments and service helping veterans since the war. October, 2006, he will be receiving a special Four Chaplains Award, in Johnstown, PA. He stays busy with volunteering Monday through Friday at the VA Medical Center, Butler, PA and with a lot of speaking engagements. He recently wrote to Kinue Tokudome, “I will be 93 July 31st and still going strong. It's sad, though, I see so many of my friends, veterans, going down hill fast. We lose many every day.”
To learn more about his book, Ghost of Bataan Speaks, go to: http://ghostofbataan.com/
* Mr. Abraham passed away on March 22, 2012.