November 8, 1999
Veteran recalls Bataan Death Marchby Kelli Boyle
Today, people take freedom for granted. If it weren't for the men and women who have fought to protect America's rights, the U.S. would be without the freedom that seems so normal today.
Mr. Bryce Lilly, a Bothell resident, is a brave and proud man, who not only survived World War II, but also lived through the Bataan Death March. He fought to preserve the liberty that we all enjoy.
Mr. Lilly was a 20-year-old master sergeant in the Army Air Corps and was stationed in the Philippines when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The Americans were fighting with old supplies from World War I; most of it was defective. They ran out of food, water, and medicine after one month.
Mr. Lilly fought for four months on the Bataan Peninsula. He was fighting on the front line when the Japanese made a landing behind them. Mr. Lilly knew the American had to stop the Japanese before the next enemy wave. They were in hand-to-hand combat, and at one time, he shot and killed five men in about two seconds with a .45 pistol.
Mr. Lilly then went on to try to kill more of the enemy when he felt a bullet hit his helmet. He took off his helmet and found a pea-sized hole in one side. On the other side was a hole that looked like a baseball had gone through. He thought that the bullet had gone right into his head. Then he realized that the old helmet sat on the top of his head and that the bullet had just skimmed the top of his scalp.
He then started to look for help. He saw a foxhole with a member of his squadron in it. When he got to the hole, he saw that the man was helping another soldier who was injured, and that the man himself had had his left arm blown off. When the one-armed man finished with the other soldier, he wrapped up Mr. Lilly's head. They then got on a bus that took the men to a tent that served as a hospital. There was one doctor, but there were many men who needed help. It took the doctor a long time to get to everyone.
But Mr. Lilly's story doesn't end there. He was one of the few men who survived one of the most horrific events in history: the Bataan Death March.
The American soldiers were greatly outnumbered and had no air protection. "The Japanese took advantage of that and came in and knocked out our artillery," said Mr. Lilly. "Thousands of them plowed through the front line."
By morning, Mr. Lilly knew they would be overrun and probably killed. With 80,000 men on the Bataan Peninsula, one soldier knew that something had to be done so that all the men wouldn't be executed, so he crawled through to the Japanese and surrendered the men to them.
"The Japanese gave us one day to disarm and get rid of any valuables we had on us; we were then to assemble on an old air strip where they would take us to a camp," Mr. Lilly said.
The Japanese searched the men, checking for rings and watches. A captain had some Japanese coins in his pocket. They took him by the hair and pulled him down to the ground, and in one swift motion, "...the [Japanese] soldier drew his sword and lopped off the man's head," recalls Mr. Lilly. "We then knew that our lives weren't worth anything to the Japanese. [During the assembly,] a soldier ran a bayonet at my stomach, but I easily dodged it," he said.
The Japanese soldier then grunted and yelled at the men, though they had no idea what he was saying. I asked where he wanted me to go, and the answer was to run the bayonet at me again, so I started walking in what I hoped was the right direction," Lilly said.
The men thought that they would walk to a clearing and then be picked up by a bus and taken to a camp. They started walking to where they thought the buses would be; six days later, they were still walking. During the 60-mile march, 10,000 American and Filipino men were killed.
"Men one step ahead of me and one step behind me were bayoneted because they didn't move fast enough," Mr. Lilly said. "Anyone can go on a 60-mile march, but we were half dead when they got us. When we arrived at the camp, we got a welcoming speech," he said. "They told us we were not welcome prisoners of war, but that we were criminals and would be treated like criminals."
At the camp, the men were used for slave labor and worked from sun-up to sun down. They spent 2-1/2 years at the camp, dying of starvation. "It hurt so badly, that men would just lie on the ground and scream and beg for help," Mr. Lilly recalled. "On the first day, we buried 10 men; the next day, we buried 20, and then 30, and then 40, until we were burying 60 to 70 men a day. Originally at my camp, there were 1,000 men; when we were finally released, only 10 of us remained."
It is painful to imagine Mr. Lilly, a 185-pound boxer with a 29-inch waist before the war, weighing 70 lbs. three months after he was captured. The American soldiers were finally taken out of the camp and put in the hold of a ship that had room for 200 men with 1,000 men squished into it. This trip lasted for two months. "It felt like 100 years," Mr. Lilly said.
When they arrived in Japan, the starving men worked in factories doing hard labor with 12- to 24-hour shifts. At the end of the war, a doctor was flown in to check on the men. What the doctor observed made him cry. He saw men who looked like skeletons with cuts, burns, and calluses on their bodies. The Air Force then flew in planes to get these men home.
When Mr. Lilly arrived home, he wanted nothing more than to just sit and visit with his friends and family. "It felt so good to be home and see the area where I grew up," Mr. Lilly said. "Life was good. One of the best things I had when I got home was my freedom, the freedom to eat what I wanted when I wanted, to go where I wanted and to do what I wanted," Mr. Lilly said.
Kelli Boyle of Kenmore, a 10th grader at Inglemoor High School, was the first place winner in the 14-to-16-year-old category of the 1999 Liberty Essay Contest sponsored by the Seattle Metro Young Republicans. The students each interviewed a veteran and wrote about the stories that were told to them.
The Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Evergreen Washelli will be the site of a Veterans Day service on Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. Call (206) 362-5200 for information.