Friday, February 3, 2012

Hell's Guest by Col. Glenn D. Frazier

Glenn Frazier enlisted in the army at 16, lying about his age to get away from problems at home.  When he was shipped to the Philippines in early 1941, it was considered a tropical paradise.  But after it was attacked by the Japanese on the day after Pearl Harbor, it would become the hell of the book’s title and Frazier would endure three and a half years of suffering and deprivation as a prisoner of war. General MacArthur had ordered the military to defend the Philippines at all costs, but after many months of illness and near starvation, General King was forced to surrender to the Japanese in April of 1942.  The soldiers, already weakened, were forced to march 60 miles to their prison camp.  Any who fell (and any who tried to help the fallen) were brutally murdered.  It is estimated that 10 to 20 thousand of the 70,000 soldiers died on the Bataan Death March.

In Hell's Guest, Frazier writes, By the second day, the reality of defeat had finally sunk into my mind.  While I walked it was time to take stock and think about the reality of being a prisoner of war.  Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the events of the past few days.  I was in a group of men marching in columns of four down a road that I had traveled so many times with big red flags flying on the front of my truck, having priority over the use of the road.  Everything or everyone had to yield to us as we drove the big trucks to the front lines.  Then I realized there were no more front lines, no more fighting for our country.  Now I was fighting for my own life. (p. 77)

As I looked around at all the bodies along the road, the sight made me realize that this was going to be another kind of killing field, totally unlike that of battle.  This time we were like sitting ducks, stripped of our honor, our guns, and most of all, our ability to defend ourselves against such acts of horror. (78)

Things did not improve at Camp O’Donnell where Frazier recounts that they buried up to 200 Allied soldiers per day.  Not only did he face the cruelty of his guards, but he faced the challenge of fellow prisoners who betrayed each other in their desperation to survive. 

After the war Frazier went through thirty years of a different kind of hell, one of broken marriages, drunkenness, bitterness and rage.  He finally found peace when, with God’s help, he was able to forgive his Japanese captors.

Why does a tea-sipping, literature-lover like me read stuff like this?!  Because in the face of mouth-gaping cruelty, comes the equally astonishing will to live and survive.  Add to that the theme of redemption, and you’ve got a powerful story.

Footnote: If I had read this before reading Return From the River Kwai, I would have better understood the behavior of the POWs when they were finally free.

1 comment:

Sherry said...

So you really do need to read Unbroken because it has many similarities to the book you just reviewed.