Bataan Rescue |
Ben Steele's Drawings
Montana native Ben Steele worked as a ranch hand and a glazier before enlisting in the Army Air Corps in September 1940. He was stationed at Clark Air Field on December 8, 1941, when it was attacked by the Japanese. A death march survivor, Steele spent the next 40 months in prison camps, on a hell ship, and working as a slave laborer in a Japanese coal mine before his liberation at the end of the war.
While a prisoner, Steele turned to art. He started drawing in Bilibid prison, secretly recording the world around him. Then all but two of the 72 drawings he completed from 1943 to 1945 were lost at sea.
Returning home at the end of the war, Steele recreated his lost drawings between 1945 and 1947. He began a career as an artist, eventually joining the art faculty at Eastern Montana College, where he would teach for 23 years. Browse this gallery of Steele's work, accompanied by his comments on life as a prisoner of war.
Many American and Philippine fighters are captured in small groups and individually before they reach the southern tip of Bataan at the mouth of Manila Bay. Two are forced to kneel along an ammunition trail while Japanese soldiers kick dirt on them, signing that they are "number one" and the kneelers low as dirt. Credit: Ben Steele
Beginning the March
After capture by the Japanese, 8,000 American and approximately 40,000 Philippine troops began the march back up the Bataan Peninsula, staggering along the road for a period of ten days to two weeks. A Japanese soldier wipes off his bayonet after killing a POW who has fallen out. Credit: Ben Steele
Death Marchers Drink From Mud Holes
With temperatures around 100 degrees, many men die from thirst. The Japanese have made no provisions to supply prisoners with water on the march. In desperation men lie on the ground to drink from a mud hole. Credit: Ben Steele
Eating Sugar Cane
When Japanese troops are not too close, captives on the Death March break ranks to go into the sugar cane fields to get cane to eat. If caught with the cane, a prisoner might be beaten or killed. Credit: Ben Steele
Men unable to continue the march are killed by Japanese guards. Fellow prisoners dare not intervene. Credit: Ben Steele
Rules and Regulations
From the Death March prisoners go to Camp O'Donnell, a former Philippine Constabulary Camp. They are told, first by a Japanese officer and then by an interpreter, what they have to do to survive in the camp. Credit: Ben Steele
Approximately 2,300 Americans die and are buried at Camp O'Donnell the first six weeks of internment there. A soldier is forced to dig his own grave. Perhaps he tried to hit a Japanese guard or he possessed Japanese currency. He digs the grave and they bury him in it. Credit: Ben Steele
Men carry canteens on poles and hollowed-out bamboo stalks to and from the single water spigot at Camp O'Donnell. The majority of prisoners are too ill to fight the water line. Credit: Ben Steele
Tayabas Road Hospital
Prisoners too weak to make shelters for themselves lie on nepa leaves on the wet ground. Rain and Typhoons add to the misery. At the end of the two-month Tayabas Road detail only five or six "workers" can walk. Credit: Ben Steele
The Chapel at Bilibid
The men in Bilibid Prison build a crude chapel against one of the fortress walls for church services. All denominations worship here. By this time prisoners have taken the sleeves and legs off their clothing to patch what is left. They wear the same uniforms for two and a half years. They make "clackers" by nailing what remains of their shoes, the boot tops, to pieces of boards Credit: Ben Steele
Chowline at Cabanatuan
Men line up to receive their rations of rice and soup. If they are lucky, there will be fishheads in the soup. Sometimes they are given green fish that is rotten. Once in a while the soup contains kelp. Credit: Ben Steele
Topside work at a Japanese coal mine is strenuous. The Japanese cut into a mountainside to make roadbeds for tracks. Prisoners load large rocks onto flatcars and then roll the cars to a fill and dump them. (This is the second of the two surviving original drawings.) Credit: Ben Steele