SIU Professor to Speak on Bataan Death March to Congressional Committee Ahead of 80th Anniversary

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Remembering the Bataan Death March – Jan Thompson, a professor and award-winning filmmaker at the SIU Carbondale School of Journalism, has dedicated much of his life to telling the stories of survivors of the prison camps of Japanese warfare during World War II. She will present her comments to a joint congressional committee on veterans on Tuesday, March 8, ahead of the 80th anniversary of the Bataan death march next month. (Photo by Russell Bailey).

March 03, 2022

SIU Professor to Speak on Bataan Death March to Congressional Committee Ahead of 80th Anniversary

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Illinois – Jan Thompson, professor and director of the school of journalism at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, wants to save the legacy of what American POWs in the Pacific endured on the Bataan Death March during World War II in April 1942.

Thompson will present his comments to a joint Senate-House Committee on Veterans Affairs in a virtual hearing at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, March 8. She has spent more than three decades on research and film and radio projects on the POW experience – the late father, Robert, was handed over to the Japanese on Corregidor about a month after the death march and spent more than three years as a prisoner of war before being released from a prison camp in Manchuria in September 1945.

Thompson will make her statement as president of the American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor Memorial Society, a nonprofit organization that provides continuing education and scholarships. Its predecessor, the American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor (ABDC), was formed in 1946 by surviving prisoners of war from Japan.

“It’s an honor, and I hope anything I can say represents what these people had to go through,” Thompson said. “I hope I can present it so that those who have no idea about this slice of history can better understand and appreciate the sacrifices these men and women made.”

Why remember?

The reasons not to forget this story are simple: The horror of war. It evokes the recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia and memories of Germany and Japan also invading other countries to start World War II.

“It’s important that the story is not twisted,” she said.

It is estimated that more than 10,000 of the more than 75,000 American and Filipino prisoners did not survive the 65-mile, nine-day forced march that began on April 9, 1942. It marked the largest surrender of the American military history.

His father was reluctant to talk about the horrors he went through, including surviving three “hellships” used to take prisoner in Japan for forced labor. Thompson began accompanying her father to ABDC conventions in 1991, where some men, many in their 60s, began sharing their experiences.

“That’s when I started hearing stories, and it really opened my eyes. It was one of those defining moments,” she said.

“These men were patriots. They believed in democracy,” Thompson said. “They were basically sacrificed; that is why they became prisoners of war. You would think there would be resentment, and a lot of these men, when I interviewed them, there was no resentment. If they had to do it again, they would have done it again, which I find incredible. But they also understand what the price of freedom means, more than anyone else.

Award-winning documentaries

Thompson has, as part of his acclaimed work in radio, television and film, three documentaries about Bataan and the American prisoners of war:

She works with Baldwin on a “Ben Steele, American” podcast. Steele was a death march survivor who worked as a prisoner of war in a Japanese coal mine and turned to art while recounting his experiences. The podcast will also contain previously unused material.

In July 2015, Thompson participated in a ceremony in Los Angeles where leaders of Mitsubishi Materials Corp. apologized for using American prisoners of war as forced labor in the company’s mines during the war – the first public apology by a Japanese company for wartime atrocities. She also accompanied several former prisoners of war in October 2015 to Japan as part of a reconciliation program that the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs had launched a few years earlier.

Previous written statements

Thompson’s appearance before the joint committee will be his first. She previously submitted written statements to the joint hearing to receive legislative submissions from veterans service organizations. Among several recommendations included at the time were the awarding, collectively, of Japan’s American prisoners of war the Congressional Gold Medal and encouraging Japan to continue the Japan/Prisoners of War friendship program. war and extending it to a lifelong educational initiative.

U.S. Representative Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, is the most senior member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and, with Thompson’s help, said he introduced the Congressional Gold Medal Act Pacific War Heroes of World War II “to reward these brave Americans with Congress’s highest civilian honor”.

“The greatest generation was made up of ordinary Americans who stepped up and did the extraordinary when our nation and the world needed it,” Bost said. “It is essential that their service and sacrifice not go unrecognized. As we approach the 80th anniversary of the Bataan Death March, I look forward to hearing Jan’s testimony at the joint House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearings in early March. . It is extremely important that we hear from our VSO partners to ensure that our veterans have access to the good care and services that they have deserved.

WWII soldiers Bataan Death March

American troops surrender to Japanese soldiers at Bataan. (Photo courtesy of National Archives)

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