A POW’s Account of Japanese Captivity in World War II
David L. Hardee and edited by Frank A. Blazich Jr.
University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, 2016, 320 pages
Book Review published on: July 14, 2017
In recent years, several memoirs and diaries of soldiers have been uncovered and turned into published works. World War II has clearly garnered its share of new volumes focused on the Pacific Theater. In particular, some excellent books have been crafted regarding the Philippines. A recent addition to this collection is the account of David Hardee in the superb memoir Bataan Survivor. It is an incredibly engaging and insightful story, and a tremendous addition to the body of knowledge.
Before addressing the volume itself, the story of how Hardee’s thoughts and words were transformed into a book is worth discussing. In 2009, editor Frank Blazich was conducting research for his doctorate when he came across a 1969 publication that contained Hardee’s obituary. Blazich was clearly impressed with Hardee’s accomplishments in life, specifically his superb military career. This spurred him to seek more information on Hardee, and he discovered that Hardee had penned his own memoirs in some form.
His challenging pursuit of these memoirs eventually led him to two graduate students who were able to obtain a copy of Hardee’s journals. After reading them, Blazich knew that they were truly worthy of publication. The next task was seeking permission from family members to have them published. Once again, it took some “thorough detective work,” but he was finally able to get in contact with Hardee’s daughter, Mary Hardee Stutz. She gave her approval, and Blazich had his final challenge—transforming the raw transcripts into a volume that would benefit the public while meeting the perceived intent of Hardee himself. It is a challenge that the author has unquestionably met.
Within Bataan Survivor, Hardee recalls his experiences from his arrival in the Philippines in November 1941 to his return to the United States in May 1945. During the nearly four-year period, Hardee experienced more than the vast majority of people experience in their entire lifetimes. This included fighting the Japanese during their invasion of the Philippines, enduring the infamous Bataan Death March, surviving four prisoner-of-war camps, and finally being released and redeploying back home. It is a discussion filled with emotion and frankness.
No more is this highlighted than in Hardee’s recollections of the Death March and, in particular, his time spent in the death camps. In his editor’s introduction, Blazich provides readers with a summary of what they can expect in this discussion. He states, “This candid account, filled with vivid detail of events still fresh in his mind, described the grim realities facing the American and Filipino forces on Bataan, the utter depravity of some of their Japanese guards, and the complex relationship between the American POWs and their Japanese captors. His unabashed commentary about interprisoner relations and the dynamics of collaboration and resistance offers insights the battle for survival under the worst of conditions.”
In Blazich’s comments above, he makes mention that Hardee captured his experiences on paper soon after they happened. This is certainly one of the most valuable aspects of the volume. Often, we find memoirs constructed years, and sometimes decades, after the events occurred. This time lapse can effect perspective and detail. This is not the case with Bataan Survivor, as Hardee captured his thoughts during his redeployment back to the United States aboard the SS Cape Meares in April and May 1945. During the voyage, he crafted nearly two hundred pages of text. It is these pages that form the foundation for the volume.
In books such as these, the role of the editor can have a huge impact, both positive and negative. In some cases, an editor can take too many liberties, and the end result is a book that represents the editor far more than the writer of the memoirs. However, there are other editors who, through their supplements to the text and decision making, truly add value. This is clearly the case with Blazich. He has added outstanding supplements to the text, including numerous photographs, maps, and a superb notes section. Just as importantly, Blazich has contributed his own words to provide context and background for Hardee’s words.
Once again, the public is extremely fortunate that an additional lost work has been made available. With it, the public is now afforded another opportunity to learn of the incredible perseverance and human spirit of these soldiers. The memoirs of David Hardee are unquestionably a must read. They will have a powerful impact on every reader.
Book Review written by: Frederick A. Baillergeon, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas