· Lt. Robert Lee Morris ·
Jim Ganyon, U. S. veteran, is the son of a World War II Bataan Death March survivor.
Recently I had the honor of attending Ganyon’s public presentation about his dad’s cruel encounter with death.
Here’s the advance publicity by Jim Ganyon:
“Jim Ganyon will give a presentation about his father, Robert Lee Morris. In 1942 Morris was serving on the Bataan Peninsula with the U. S. Army in the Philippines islands. Following three-and-a half months of intense fighting, U.S. and Filipino forces were ordered to surrender. In early January 1942 Morris was transferred from the 31st Infantry Regiment (U.S.) to command a company of Filipino troops from the 92nd Philippine Army (PA) Division. After his capture Lt. Morris survived the legendary Bataan Death March and was eventually shipped to Japan where he was forced to labor in nickel mines until the end of the war.”
Ganyon’s talk wasn’t only about his dad. It began as a civics lesson. He asked how many veterans were in the audience, then thanked them for their service. We were given a quick review of the different holidays honoring the personal sacrifices made by those who serve or have served in the U. S. military.
I’m sure every senior citizen in the crowd knew the importance of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. But the nearly simultaneous Japanese attack on the Philippines is less remembered. Japan had planned on a swift military victory in the Philippines so that it could continue its aggressive offensive, including an invasion of Australia.
Because Philippine and U. S. forces kept fighting for over four months, especially at Bataan (surrendered April 9) and Corregidor Island (located at the entrance of Manila Bay, surrendered May 6) it forced the Japanese military to rethink its invasion of Australia and to return to the Philippines. Without the “Battling Bastards of Bataan,” the war could have been even worse.
Some of Ganyon’s major points in his presentation follow:
The US and Philippine military forces were unprepared to fight a modern war. They were fighting with equipment from World War I. The uneven circumstances were made worse when it became evident that the U.S. had agreed to put most of its resources and manpower towards fighting the war in Europe before supporting the War in the Pacific.
This caused a lot of resentment. After Pearl Harbor the crippled U.S. Navy was unable to help. Instead of sending a rescue force to the Philippines as promised by General Douglas McArthur, President Roosevelt (FDR) ordered McArthur to escape to Australia and cancelled the U.S. military forces rescue plan.
McArthur told the besieged men that U.S. forces were on the way to save them when they weren’t. The general also ordered them to fight to their death despite inevitable defeat. The U.S. and Filipino defense of the islands truly became known as “The Alamo of the Pacific.”
On April 9, 1942, Army Major General Edward P. King surrendered about 75,000 troops—12,000 Americans and 63,000 Filipinos—the most massive surrender in U.S. military history. The exhausted, sick (malaria, dysentery, beriberi) and starving soldiers (on quarter-rations) had fought bravely but were overwhelmed.
The Japanese had not ratified the 1929 Geneva Convention regarding the treatment of prisoners of war so they were not bound by its laws. The Japanese military believed that any solider who surrendered was a coward and thus, sub-human. Japanese forces savagely brutalized thousands of American and Filipino POWs on the infamous Bataan Death March.
At the time the Japanese didn’t even have a prisoner of war camp. They marched the prisoners from Bataan to Camp O’Donnell, a captured Philippine Army base.
The “Death March” received its name not only because of the death of 18,000 prisoners, it was because of how they died. Their treatment was atrocious. In temperatures over a hundred degrees the men received little food or water, were subjected to severe physical abuse, including being beaten and tortured. Prisoners were forced to sit in sweltering direct sunlight without head coverings. Men were shot, beheaded, bayoneted, run over by trucks and tanks, and killed when they fell down, stopped for water, or attempted to escape.
The march from Bataan to O’Donnell was about 66 miles. One day on the murderous march the captives were crammed into unventilated metal boxcars at San Fernando so tightly that they were forced to stand up the whole day. There were no bathroom breaks and the bodies of those who died were not removed.
At Camp O’Donnell hundreds of prisoners died every day. When O’Donnell closed in July 1942 the American POWs were sent to Camp Cabanatuan, then in 1944 they were evacuated to Japan to work as slave laborers in factories and mines.
Ganyon’s father, Robert Lee Morris, lied about his age when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1938. He was only sixteen. He was a POW at ages 20-23. Morris served in the 31st Infantry before being transferred to the 92nd Philippine Army as a unit supervisor of the Philippine Scouts (PS), an elite special U.S. Army unit known for its tough fighting men.
Lt. Morris was one of thousands of POWs sent to Japan on “Hell Ships.” These were unmarked cargo ships that were sometimes torpedoed by U.S. submarines. Morris’ Hell Ship the Nissyo Maru was torpedoed in July 1944 but it didn’t explode. Ganyon considered it “divine intervention.”
Morris survived his captivity even though an estimated 37% of U.S. prisoners died in Japanese custody. In comparison, U.S. POWs in Germany died at a rate of 1%.
The captive slave laborers worked twelve hours days, seven days a week.
With the approach of U.S. Allies to the Japanese homeland in 1945, the Japanese War Ministry had issued written orders in 1944 to all prison camp commandments instructing them to kill all POWs if and when the Allied forces invaded Japan. If the atomic bombs hadn’t been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan may not have surrendered as soon as they did and the POWs would have been massacred.
After the war, in 1949, Lt Morris received a medical discharge. His nightmares from treatment as a POW and his misuse of alcohol had caught up with him. Back then, no one had heard of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (or Syndrome). Instead, they called it battle fatigue.
Ganyon told us that his father continued a downhill spiral after being medically discharged from the Army as unfit for duty. His condition eventually led him to kill himself, suicide in 1960 at age 38.
Jim reminded us that U.S. veteran’s kill themselves at a rate of twenty-two every day. He also reminded us to love our veterans.
Until next time, happy writing and reading!
The Kansas Authors Club http://www.kansasauthors.org is a statewide organization that encourages and supports great writing. It’s divided into seven districts. In Hutchinson, Reno County, (part of District 6) we have monthly meetings at Hutchinson Community College. http://www.hutchcc.edu You’re invited. Questions? Contact Jim Potter, firstname.lastname@example.org