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“If you failed to walk, you were killed. If you fell down, you died. If you had a dysentery attack, you died. If you had a malaria attack, you died. If you could only walk ten yards, and then fell down, you died.” (Video interview, 33:19)

   Lester Irwin Tenney
Image of Lester Irwin Tenney
Lester Tenney [detail from video interview]
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: Army
Unit: Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion
Service Location: Philippines; Japan; Pacific Theater
Rank: Staff Sergeant
POW: Yes
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Army Staff Sergeant Lester Tenney arrived in the Philippines on Thanksgiving Day, 1941. By the following month, his world would be turned upside down. Having survived the Japanese attack on Clark Air Field on December 8, his unit evacuated to the Bataan peninsula, where they surrendered to the enemy in April 1942, and embarked on the infamous Bataan Death March. That 60-mile trek was just the beginning of the hell that Tenney endured as a prisoner of war for over three years. By August of 1945, he was working as a slave laborer in a coal mine in mainland Japan, 30 miles from Nagasaki. Though he observed the atomic fallout on August 9, it was not until about a week later, when the Japanese surrendered on August 15, that the end of the war became clear: he was given Red Cross packages and unlimited rice rations, and the guards bowed in deference to him. Post-liberation, he faced lengthy hospital stays and shocking news from the homefront: his wife, convinced he had been killed, had married another.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (7 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (68 min.)
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 Video (Interview Excerpts) (7 items)
Japanese bombing of Clark Field, Philippines; didn’t immediately identify planes as Japanese; constant strafing; destruction of airplanes, supplies, belongings. (00:60) Beginning of Bataan Death March; Japanese took you as you were; survived based on what you had on you at that moment. (01:21) Unprepared for march; had run out of food before surrender; already weak and sick; language barrier in dealing with Japanese; if you faltered in any way, you were killed; total slaughter (01:04)
Agony of not being able to help friends who fell down on the march; seeing friends die. (00:41) Huge number of POWs captured; Japanese unable to handle such large numbers; widespread slaughter of POWs in order to control escape; Japanese attitude toward surrender. (02:04) Transferred to mainland Japan; became slave laborer in the coal mines at Mitsui; beaten by guards and civilian workers; POWs breaking their own bones to avoid having to work. (01:18)
Camp was located 30 miles from Nagasaki; seeing mushroom cloud produced by atomic bomb; changes in routine on August 15; brought back from mines and given Red Cross box; given extra rations; guards bowed to them; knowing the war was over. (02:48)  
  
 

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  October 26, 2011
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