The passing of Dr. Albert N. Brown, the oldest survivor of the Bataan Death March, on August 14 at the age of 105 was widely reported in the US and Japan.
Here is how Professor Jan Thompson, the daughter of a POW of the Japanese and producer of soon-to-be released documentary The Tragedy of Bataan remembers Dr. Brown.
I first heard of Dr. Albert Brown about six years ago.
I quickly contacted his daughter and set-up an appointment to meet her father and arrange a “pre-interview”. When I arrived at their Oxbow Bed & Breakfast, a gigantic home that they rent to hunters I was ushered into the dining room. Peg and her brother then went and helped their father come down the stairs.
It was then I learned that Dr. Brown was 101 years old. He didn’t look 101 years old but this was my first centenarian. I started with some preliminary questions about his own personal experiences during the war. He was a bit hard of hearing and his son, Sonny, yelled across the table to help him answer. Actually there was a lot of yelling back and forth and when I left two hours later my throat was hoarse. There were some interesting stories that Dr. Brown revealed but they were fragmented and I was concerned that it might be difficult to get anything really coherent during the filming.
After about two weeks I decided to return and try and interview him on camera.
My thoughts were- if I can get one good “bite” (a brief statement for the
documentary) then it will be worth it. I warned his daughter (who is in her
mid-70’s) that she could not prompt him (yell out the answers) in the
background-her Dad was on his own once the camera starting rolling.
Shortly after this interview, my local TV (PBS) station wanted me to help produce some television segments on some of the World War II veterans in the area. I decided to produce a brief segment on Dr. Brown. While producing the segment to be more “localized” for our TV audience I discovered that Dr. Brown had been the Captain of the basketball team of my university’s nemesis: Creighton University. I teach at Southern Illinois University. The two universities have been athletic rivals for a long time. I approached our President, Dr. Glenn Poshard, about honoring Dr. Brown at the next SIU/Creighton Basketball game. I was given full support by the university.
The game happened to be sold-out and there were over 6,000 spectators that
night. Dr. Brown, his daughter and grand daughter had seats with the Creighton
team. At the first time-out the game announcer said on the loud speaker,
“TONIGHT, WE ARE HONORING A VERY SPECIAL GUEST, THE OLDEST LIVING BATAAN DEATH
MARCH SURVIVOR—DR. ALBERT BROWN.!!!!” The entire arena stood and gave Dr. Brown
a standing ovation that lasted several minutes.
Throughout the evening people came by Dr. Brown to shake his hand and to thank him for his service and sacrifice. It was an incredible night that I will never forget. Nor all those that were there that honored him.
Dr. Brown was Captain in the Dental Corps during the war. He kept a diary and I use several passages in my upcoming documentary “The Tragedy of Bataan” as well as several “bites” of his interview.
I also honor him on my website tragedyofbataan.com He was a truly remarkable man---as all of the individuals are--- who survived the horrible conflict and subsequent imprisonment as a POW.
Professor Jan Thompson served as the first President of the Descendants Group, an Auxiliary of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, until June of 2011. She is the producer of “The Tragedy of Bataan.”
Her father, Robert Thompson, was a Pharmacist Mate on the U.S.S. Canopus. The
Canopus crew scuttled her just before the surrender of Bataan. The sailors
escaped to Corregidor Island. He was surrendered to the Imperial Japanese on May
6, 1942 and was a POW for three and half years.