By Rosemary Pollock
LDS Veteran Remembers Bataan Death March
ROY, UTAH -- Veterans Day had special meaning for LDS Sgt. Hyrum J.
Sandberg. Captured during one of the worst defeats in American
history "Roy" was held captive in a Japanese prisoner of war camp
after the April, 1942 surrender of an entire U.S. army in the
Philippines. Sandberg endured the infamous Bataan Death March
alongside an estimated 600 to 650 soldiers who died from the brutal
march through scorching heat, inadequate rest or outright beatings
Sandberg was a 21-year-old machinist from Grantsville when he
enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1940. He was assigned to the
Philippines as a mechanic and fired back at the planes during the
sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. "Several times I shot at them. Never
hit them. They were just too fast. We just weren't prepared for
fighters or dive-bombers to come so close."
Supplies eventually ran out and with defenses weakening and men
falling sick, Gen. Edward P. King surrendered the allied forces. "We
got our orders to stack our arms," Sandberg recalled. The soldiers
were taken captive by the waiting Japanese and formed goups of 80 to
100 GI's and marched five abreast. The relentless sun beat down on
the uncovered heads of the tens of thousands who made the march,
including GI's, civilians and Filipinos. Sandberg recalls, "They
banged me on the head.....'No hat,' and took it away with a heave."
Sandberg improvised by wrapping his shirt around his head and using
his canteen or plate to cover his head from the merciless sun.
"Sometimes a soldier would fall and guys alongside 'em would pick'em
up on both arms," Sandberg remembered. "Mosquitos were real thick,"
he said. "You'd lay down underneath there [barrack's] and try to
sleep and the graybacks, body lice, would start to crawling." An
estimated 1,500 Americans died at Camp O'Donnell in its first 40 days.
Much later the POW's were shipped to boxcars in Manchuria, China
where they worked in factories. Finally, the prisoners began to see
American B-29 bombers on raids. It was a thrilling sight, these
immense planes flying over enemy territory, streaming vapor contrails
from B-29's flying overhead. Soon the Red Cross dropped packages and
doctors by parachutes. The guards realized the war was over and threw
opened the gates as they escaped.
Sandberg had been a prisoner for more than three years and five
months. "We got real good care, a lot of medicine," Sandberg said of
the Americans. This year he and his wife, Norma, celebrated their
50th wedding anniversary with their four children.
Veteran recalls Bataan Death March
Deseret News 11Nov00 P2
By Joe Bauman: Deseret News staff writer
Roy resident spent 3 years, 5 months as POW