Remembering Bob Brown

Shelly Zimbler
   

I first met Bob Brown at the 2001 Mukden Reunion in Washington DC. It was not a really great introduction. I spoke with him for a few minutes. I asked him if he knew anything about my wife Suzanne's great uncle, Abe Garfinkel. I told him that he was an officer and had been transferred to Mukden in the winter of 1944. Bob looked at me and said the officers didn't arrive until May. I foolishly told him that I had an old newspaper clipping from November 44 that reported that these senior officers didn't get to his camp until May. He repeated to me, that "he didn't care what the newspaper said, it was wrong". Thus my early meeting with Bob ended. The irony is that Bob was right. But I left Bob and began conversations with some of the other great American heroes from Mukden. Sue and I attended the reunion and still had no clue as to any information about her uncle.

The following September we traveled to Branson Mo, and another Mukden Survivors Reunion. I met with Val Gavito. We discussed his story about the Corregidor surrender flag.. Bob Brown stopped by and we talked for about an hour or so. The next day we spoke  again. This was the beginning of a friendship that was cut short by Cancer. We spoke about my brother succumbing to this disease. He told me that he had lost his brother to cancer. He began to share a story about himself and of the Men of Mukden.

                                                                                  Shelly,      Bob,    Shelly's son Scott

One year later, Sue and I traveled to Henrietta OK to attend another Survivors Reunion. Bob was there and we continued where we left off. I still had no idea that I would write a book. We spoke for hours along with some of the other men. His friendships with George Edwards, Erwin Johnson and Glenn Stewart. Glenn and Bob argued over the day that they were liberated. Glenn later told me that the "know it all was right". I later told Bob that what Glenn had called him and he was almost sorry for the comment. But deep down, we both knew that he was smiling, knowing that he had the correct facts. Bob prided himself on his memory. His mind was like a vise that never let go of the facts. He often told me that when he returned from Mukden, he never told anyone in the military that he was a former POW of the Japanese. Like Erwin Johnson and the others would often say: "Who would believe what we lived through"?

In May 2004, Sue and I attended our first ADBC reunion and again met with Bob. As per usual, Bob traveled with his scrap book which is a testimony to his life. Over the 5 days we spoke with many of the men as well as lots of time with Bob. In Sept 2004, we attended the reunion in Missoula MT and were awed by the fact that we were able to host the 2005 reunion in Kingston New York. Bob attended this reunion and enjoyed the hospitality of our colonial city. He made the front page of our newspaper as he discussed some of the history of Mukden. We also were invited to West Point and attended their famous Long Gray Line ceremony at they celebrated their class of 1965. 



Shelly and Bob with his scrap book

In 2006 the reunion was shifted to Pasco WA, and Bob ended up in the hospital due to some of his problems resulting from 3 1/2  years of malnutrition and wounds suffered on the Death March. Like many of the former POWs he never applied for the Purple Heart, since his wounds were suffered under conditions after they were surrendered. During the year we spoke about the Purple Heart and the fact that he like all of these National Treasures was entitled to this award. Bob and nine other Mukden survivors flew to Shenyang in May 2007 and we again discussed his Purple Heart. In August of 2007, he received this medal for wounds received on the Death March. A Japanese rifle butt in the neck and shoulder created havoc for him over the next 65 years. He proudly accepted this medal in full uniform at Beale AF base that August.



Bob receiving his Purple Heart in August, 2007
(Beale Air Force Base News, photo by John Schwab)

In Sept. 2007 the group again returned to Kingston. During this meeting, Bob and I spoke about many personal areas. Bob expressed his pride for his family. He showed pictures of his daughters and talked about his wife Rosemary. He spoke about his family and how they had "homesteaded" the land in Challenge that they lived on. He again carried his now famous scrap book. He was able to talk about his days as the medic in Mukden. Bob was proud of his medical ability and the fact that he actually "pulled" over 200 teeth as the medic in Mukden.  We spoke about his pride in working non stop after the 7 Dec. 1944 bombing of Mukden by US Air Force B-29's. His medical abilities were tested beyond normal apprehension. He spoke about the fact that they didn't lose any men who got to their operating table. He spoke about 54 lives that they had saved and men who lost limbs survived and would be liberated in August 45. His pride in his ability to learn and speak Japanese. His relationship with Dr. Oki which developed after his appendix operation in the spring of 1945. This same Japanese doctor allowed Bob to send a letter home to his family after the surgery. His return to Japan to meet with Dr. Oki's family.
 

        
             Bob visiting Dr. Oki in Tokyo in 1955                   Bob visiting the late Dr. Oki's family in 2005

The conversation drifted back to his own story. He recalled the heroics of the Philippine Scouts and always glowed when he recalled their fighting ability on Bataan. Bob Brown was proud of being the youngest survivor of the Bataan Death March. He spoke about the horrendous conditions of Cabanatuan POW Camp.  Bob recalled the horrific journey on the Tottori Maru. With pinpoint memory he reflected and thought about the torpedoes that missed this hellship. The cold weather on the docks of Pusan. Standing in freezing cold, beyond anyone's apprehension as they stood outside Mukden.

He had pride in this nation.  He spoke about his two rules of perseverance. "Rule Number One, is to take one more step. Rule Number two is that if you think that you can't go any further, revert back to rule number one and take one more step".

Bob was an American hero. I didn't realize that when he left Kingston in Sept 2007, I would not see him again.



2007 Mukden POW reunion in Kingston, NY

At the ADBC reunion in May, 2008, I learned that Bob had been diagnosed with lung cancer. I called him when we returned home and spoke with him many times since that first conversation. As a 4 time survivor of cancer, we joked about our own lives. We spoke often about his treatments of chemotherapy. We spoke about the pain. I had my final conversation with Bob the day that we left for Hannibal and the Mukden Survivors reunion in late September.  It was during this week that he received his Bronze Star for his actions during the Battle for Bataan. Bob was also very proud of his three commendations for his work in Mukden. One from Col. Gillespie and two from the Japanese Government.

We spoke about my book. I was thankful that he was able to read it. In view of his condition, it was the first book off the press, and was sent Priority Mail- Overnight Delivery. We had a long conversation and I am proud that he approved of the way that the story was told. It is entitled Undaunted Valor, The Men of Mukden... In Their Own Words.

The book was written over the past 10 years, and I conducted interviews with many of the Survivors of Mukden. It was their story, but it was narrated by Bob Brown. He was the glue that kept the story moving. Each of the men made an incredible contribution to the story itself. But Bob was the voice behind it all. It was their story.

Their defense of the Philippines had changed the course of the war. Bataan and Corregidor was the turning point. Their battle, their sacrifice and courage had delayed the Japanese from invading Australia, allowing our military forces to reinforce the island and begin the road back to victory. Sadly the men on Bataan and Corregidor had been abandoned, but their destiny would be fulfilled. These men were not defeated and their heroic defense started the journey to  victory in the Pacific. They were the beginning of the end.

Yes Robert A. Brown CMSgt USAF has passed, but he will never be forgotten. Our prayers go out to Rosemary and the Brown family- God Bless them!
 

Robert A.  Brown,  CMSgt, USAF (Ret.)
August 24, 1924 -  October 15. 2008

 

*  Obituary appeared in Marysville newspaper, Appeal Democrat,  Robert A. Brown

*   Additional information on "Undaunted Valor" can be obtained by contacting
     Mr. Zimbler at  Shelzanne@aol.com

*  Mr. Shelly Zimbler  passed away on June 16, 2010.