Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath

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9780312429706: Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath

Tears in the Darkness is an altogether new look at World War II that exposes the myths of war and shows the extent of suffering and loss on both sides.

For the first four months of 1942, U.S., Filipino, and Japanese soldiers fought what was America's first major land battle of World War II, the battle for the tiny Philippine peninsula of Bataan. It ended with the surrender of 76,000 Filipinos and Americans, the single largest defeat in American military history.

The defeat, though, was only the beginning, as Michael and Elizabeth M. Norman make dramatically clear in this powerfully original book. From then until the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, the prisoners of war suffered an ordeal of unparalleled cruelty and savagery: forty-one months of captivity, starvation rations, dehydration, hard labor, deadly disease, and torture―far from the machinations of General Douglas MacArthur.

The Normans bring to the story remarkable feats of reportage and literary empathy. Their protagonist, Ben Steele, is a figure out of Hemingway: a young cowboy turned sketch artist from Montana who joined the army to see the world. Juxtaposed against Steele's story and the sobering tale of the Death March and its aftermath is the story of a number of Japanese soldiers.

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About the Author:

Michael Norman, a former reporter for The New York Times, teaches narrative journalism at New York University. His is also the author of the memoir These Good Men.

Elizabeth M. Norman, the author of We Band of Angels and Women at War. She teaches at New York University's Steinhardt School of Education.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

He enlisted on the advice of his mother, Bess.

In the late summer of 1940, Ben Steele was working as a camp tender at a large sheep outfit east of town. It was hard, sometimes filthy work, but the freedom of it made him happy—on his own every day, riding a horse or driving a rig between the far-flung camps of the sheepherders, delivering mail and supplies, sleeping in the open, wrapped in an oilcloth, staring up at a big sky dark with bright stars.

One weekend that summer Ben Steele’s mother and father drove out from Billings to visit. His mother had an idea. He’d been a ranch hand most of his life, she said. He was twenty-two now, grown up. Maybe it was time to consider something else. She’d heard on the radio that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had just signed a law creating the first peacetime military draft. The inaugural call-up, she said, was scheduled for late October.1

“You know, I’ve been thinking,” she went on. “You really ought to get in before they draft you. Maybe if you do, you could, you know, do what you want in the army?”

He wasn’t sure he wanted to wear a uniform, but since he usually took his mother’s advice to heart, he tucked her suggestion away, and a while later, over a smoky campfire perhaps or riding the green hills and valleys, he remembered something; the boys he knew from Billings who had enlisted in the army were usually sent west for training to the golden valleys of California.

He thought, “Going to California—that sounds good. A little adventure.” And on a nice warm day in mid-September, he borrowed a car, went into town, ambled over to the Stapleton Building on Twenty-eighth Street and into the recruiting station there, where he found a sergeant sitting at a desk.

“I want to go into the army,” he announced.

“Well now,” the recruiter said, looking up at the lean ranch hand standing in front of him, “we have the Army and we have the Army Air Corps, which one you want?”

Ben Steele knew nothing about soldiering, but some years earlier a couple of fellows up at the Billings Municipal Airport got themselves a Ford Tri-Motor (a propeller under each wing and one on the nose) and for a dollar a head started taking people for a ride. It wasn’t much of a ride—the plane took off from atop the rimrocks, circled the Yellowstone Valley below, and a few minutes later landed to pick up another load of wide-eyed locals. But that short hop stirred something in Ben Steele.

“The Air Corps?” he said. “That sounds real good. Give me that!”

A few weeks later, on October 9, 1940, a month shy of his twenty-third birthday, Ben Steele stood in a line of enlistees at the United States Courthouse in Missoula, Montana, raised his right hand, and repeated one of the republic’s oldest oaths: “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic... So help me God.”

LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, like every American who read the newspapers, listened to the radio, went to the movies, and watched newsreels, Private Ben Steele of the United States Army Air Corps was convinced his enemies would be German. Japan was a threat, all right—that fall, in fact, America cut its shipments of scrap steel and iron to Japan—but Germany, threatening all Europe, was the menace of the moment.2

The Germans had invaded Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. By the time Ben Steele arrived at the induction station in Missoula in the fall of 1940, the German Luftwaffe had been bombing Great Britain for three months.

Reading about all this in the Billings Gazette or listening to it on KGHL radio, the most popular station in that part of the West, most Montanans wanted no part of the trouble overseas. Like the rest of America, they were focused on finding jobs and recovering from the Great Depression, not crossing swords with the saber-rattling Germans. In a national opinion poll conducted the week Ben Steele enlisted, 83 percent of the those surveyed said they did not want to send American troops overseas.3

Young men looking for a job or a little adventure don’t pay much attention to opinion polls. The army was offering a paycheck, plus “three hots and a cot” and perhaps a chance to travel. Since they had no feel for the killing and dying in Europe, no sense at all of facing Panzer tanks and Stuka dive-bombers, the ranch hands, soda jerks, delivery boys, and railroad workers on their way to training camp with Ben Steele were full of brio and eager for action.

“If war’s gonna come, I wanna be in it,” Ben Steele thought. “Hell, I want to be over there where it’s happening.”

Saturday, October 4,1941, San Francisco

Blue sky, bright sun, seventy-two degrees, a good day to set sail for paradise.

On a pier off the Embarcadero, the men of the 19th Bombardment Group, United States Army Air Corps, waited in long queues to board the United States Army transport General Willard A. Holbrook, a lumbering troopship used to ferry men and matériel to American bases overseas. In the ranks on the wharf, moving slowly toward the gangway, was Benjamin Charles Steele, serial number 190-18-989, a newly minted private. He had been in uniform nearly a year now, and he liked the life of a soldier. The army had given him just what he wanted, a chance to cross the mountains and see the Golden Land.

California wasn’t as golden as he’d imagined, but he liked it well enough. Training camp was a dusty tent city on the dry brown flats at March Field near Riverside. The boys from the cities and suburbs thought these accommodations “kinda primitive,” but the men who had been ranch-raised looked around and saw luxury: tents with wooden floors and gas stoves, hot showers nearby, latrines that weren’t buzzing with flies, and a mess hall that served seconds if a man wasn’t sated.

Air Corps basic training was short, just six weeks, long enough for men who would be working as airplane mechanics, gunners, ground crews, and supernumeraries. They attended classes on military courtesy and discipline. They reviewed army rules and regulations. They endured hours of close-order drill and the ritual of forced marches.

These little walks, as Ben Steele thought of them, were too much for many of the men. After one eight-mile hike the road was lined with recruits doubled over, gasping for breath and grousing about their training. Ben Steele had never heard such bellyaching.

“Holy Christ!” he said, to no one in particular. “Eight miles is nothing. Back home I’d walk that far before breakfast.”

“Oh yeah?” one of the malcontents came back. “Where the hell did you come from?”

“I’m from Montana,” Ben Steele said.

THE ARMY sent him to New Mexico after basic training and assigned him to the 7th Matériel

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Book Description St Martin s Press, United States, 2010. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Tears in the Darkness is an altogether new look at World War II that exposes the myths of war and shows the extent of suffering and loss on both sides. For the first four months of 1942, U.S., Filipino, and Japanese soldiers fought what was America s first major land battle of World War II, the battle for the tiny Philippine peninsula of Bataan. It ended with the surrender of 76,000 Filipinos and Americans, the single largest defeat in American military history. The defeat, though, was only the beginning, as Michael and Elizabeth M. Norman make dramatically clear in this powerfully original book. From then until the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, the prisoners of war suffered an ordeal of unparalleled cruelty and savagery: forty-one months of captivity, starvation rations, dehydration, hard labor, deadly disease, and torture--far from the machinations of General Douglas MacArthur. The Normans bring to the story remarkable feats of reportage and literary empathy. Their protagonist, Ben Steele, is a figure out of Hemingway: a young cowboy turned sketch artist from Montana who joined the army to see the world. Juxtaposed against Steele s story and the sobering tale of the Death March and its aftermath is the story of a number of Japanese soldiers. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780312429706

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Book Description St Martin s Press, United States, 2010. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Tears in the Darkness is an altogether new look at World War II that exposes the myths of war and shows the extent of suffering and loss on both sides. For the first four months of 1942, U.S., Filipino, and Japanese soldiers fought what was America s first major land battle of World War II, the battle for the tiny Philippine peninsula of Bataan. It ended with the surrender of 76,000 Filipinos and Americans, the single largest defeat in American military history. The defeat, though, was only the beginning, as Michael and Elizabeth M. Norman make dramatically clear in this powerfully original book. From then until the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, the prisoners of war suffered an ordeal of unparalleled cruelty and savagery: forty-one months of captivity, starvation rations, dehydration, hard labor, deadly disease, and torture--far from the machinations of General Douglas MacArthur. The Normans bring to the story remarkable feats of reportage and literary empathy. Their protagonist, Ben Steele, is a figure out of Hemingway: a young cowboy turned sketch artist from Montana who joined the army to see the world. Juxtaposed against Steele s story and the sobering tale of the Death March and its aftermath is the story of a number of Japanese soldiers. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780312429706

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