Tears in the Darkness by Michael Norman and Elizabeth Norman

tearsReviewed by Cy Hilterman

The “Bataan Death March” during WWII in the Philippines was one of the most deadly and brutal excursions mandated by any enemy. The Japanese captured this area shortly after the beginning of WWII, which started when Japan destroyed Pearl Harbor in the Pacific. This scenario is captured through the eyes of those that lived it and the records they had kept. The writings or diaries that these men, mostly from the United States and the Philippines, wrote and managed to hide somewhere or wrote after their rescue after a harrowing ordeal that killed so many. The map included in the beginning of the book shows the Luzon Island, Manila, Bataan, and surrounding areas. All of this area was where most of this story occurred.

The attack on Pearl Harbor is described through both the American and the Japanese eyes and minds. Ben Steele was a young cowboy from Montana who rushed to join the Air Force once the war had begun. Being a country boy he wasn’t used to war or people that acted much different than his wild western style. The story tells a bit of training then moves rapidly to the Philippines where Ben and his units were sent to defend an area that had many Philippine and American soldiers, along with some other nations. The military leaders felt there was plenty of military in the area to repel any Japanese attack attempting to take the entire area. They were dead wrong. Some of the natives took off for the hills of the island but most stayed and fought the oncoming enemy that sent unending lines of men to attack and capture all they could. Many on both sides were killed, but eventually the Japanese did overtake the entire island, making the forces fighting surrender to the Japanese.

Eventually the men were herded in lines as the victors moved inland and north and forced to march regardless of physical condition, without food and water for the most part. If they fell or faltered for any reason, they were bayoneted or shot with their bodies thrown off the dirty, bumpy road. The description of what they endured as seen through Ben Steele’s eyes and many others, officers and enlisted men alike, was in most cases beyond human comprehension. When they did get something thrown at them to eat it was usually leftovers from the Japanese meals, bits and pieces of rice, moldy, maggot filled, flies included along with any foreign substances that would come from the dirt. Water was almost non-existent even though there were areas along the way that contained wells or cisterns but the prisoners were not allowed to drink. A few managed to secretly obtain some water but all it did was give dysentery even worse than the food did.

You have to read this story to understand what our military endured, if they lived through it, which many didn’t. The Japanese would stop the march, separate lines of men, march them in small groups to the edge of a ravine, then bayonet them until they fell into the ravine dead or mostly dead. Very few did survive this method of killing. When the few that did survive arrived at Camp O’Donnell, they again were kept in very primitive enclosures and given very little to eat or drink.

Eventually over the many months as prisoners, the Japanese knew they were losing the war and they pulled back or were killed or taken prisoner, allowing the ravaged men to roam the camp until friendly forces rescued them. For most of the men that did survive this tortuous trek their physical and mental lives were forever changed. Ben Steele did survive by luck, prayers, and his outdoor knowledge of survival. I highly recommend this book for anyone that is a war buff but I warn you that you will be reading some things that are very disturbing. I knew from history that the Bataan Death March was a terrible event in the world’s history but nothing could have prepared me for the actual story in detail as laid out by the authors.

A review copy of this book was supplied to the reviewer by the authors and publisher.

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