Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Our Travel Family

P.O.W. Survivors and Descendants
Left to Right: Steve Kwiecinski, Jan Thompson, Bob Ehrhart, Jim Collier, Jim Erickson, Linda McDavitt, Wayne Carringer, and Culea Abraham.

We are all home safely with our family and friends from our travels to the Philippines.  It was a remarkable journey.  We hope you have enjoyed following the trip via our college blog.  This was done solely by students and they did an outstanding job. 

Please permit us to conclude this trip with a few brief acknowledgements.  We were all honored to travel with the veterans.  The primary goal of this program is to honor those who so nobly served our country.  They are wonderful men and we appreciate their willingness to share their experiences.  We are also grateful to their families for sharing them with us over the past two weeks. 

We are so proud of our students who conducted themselves in a way to bring credit on themselves, their families, our college, their country and their God.  Always prompt, courteous, cheerful and willing to lend a helping hand to everyone.  It was a delight to be with them.

As we were part of a larger group of trip participants, we want to give a special thank you to those who traveled with us.  We enjoyed getting to know all the group members.  Our tour guides, Steve, Marcia and Tommy and their helpers were more than helpful to us on numerous occasions.

We had several members of our tour, including student Culea Abraham, who were descendants of Bataan and Corregidor veterans.  Descendants Jan Thompson and Jim Erickson were invaluable resources with their breadth of knowledge of the Bataan and Corregidor campaigns.  They were instrumental in helping to arrange contacts with veterans who became part of our group.  All are leaders with The Descendants Group of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, an outstanding organization which honors those who so courageously served our country in the Philippines at the outbreak of the war. 

This trip also could not have been possible without the support of the administration, faculty and staff of the College of the Ozarks, particularly the Keeter Center for Character Education.  We are most grateful to be part of an organization that places importance on the promotion and encouragement of patriotic education among its students.

Lori Vanderpool and Fred Mullinax

Friday, April 13, 2012

Day 10 - THANK YOU!

Dear Bob,
We want to say thanks for your laugh, your smile, all your stories, your advice, your wisdom, and for fighting for our country. We can't tell you how amazing it has been having you as our veteran on this trip. We have made memories that will last all our lives. Saying goodbye will be one of the hardest things we've done...we will miss you!

Tim & Katie

Dear Mr. Collier,
Thank you so much for sharing this journey with us. You have taught us so much and we appreciate all you did for our country. Thank you for all the lessons and first hand accounts you have taught us, we will never forget them. Thank you.

Branden and Sarah

Being your "Helpers" during this trip has been such an honor. We appreciate everything you have done for our country and even more importantly what you have done in service for the Lord. We also admire your love and passion for your family and for your wife. You will always be an example for us to follow. We love you and we'll miss your youthful sense of humor!

Maria and John

Mr. Carringer,
We have been honored to accompany you on this tour and have enjoyed the precious time that you have spent with the two of us. We thank you so much for the stories and memories that you were able to share and for the service that you gave for this great country. You have been such a blessing to our lives and we hope that we can somehow reflect the character that you have shown us. Thank you again for everything. 

Daniel and Christi


You have touched our hearts from the beginning of this trip, and we thank you so much for all you've done for us and our country. We hope you've had the trip of a lifetime, because we sure have! We love you and will miss you!

Nate and Jo

Mr. Nelson,
In the past week and a half you have taught us so much. You have taught us the meaning of honor and love for one's country. Thank you for taking care of us and for doing so much for our country. I hope that we can live half the life that you have lead. Thank you!

Larry and Katie

Dear Veterans,
It was an honor to spend this week with you. We will remember your stories for the rest of our lives. Each of you taught us something about life and about the freedoms that you fought so hard to protect. You truly are our adopted grandparents. Thank you for taking the time to make this trip so memorable.

Again, we thank you all, 
Culea Abraham, Jonathan Wahl, and Weston Wiebe

On our last day, we were all able to meet Harry Thomas, the U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines. He encouraged us to love our country and honor our veterans. It was a perfect way to end to this amazing trip.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Day 9 - Continuing Sacrifice

"Jorgy" stands in the nursing wing of the Malinta tunnel where he was operated on during the war.

Sarah, Mr. Collier, and Brandon stand in Battery Cheney where Jim fought during the Japanese attack on Corregidor.

Christianne and Maria enjoy their ride back to Manila.

Our view of Manila from the boat.

Larry, Mr. Nelson, and Katie.

It is hard to imagine that anyone could leave an experience like this unchanged. Before we came here, we had no idea what to expect from our veterans, the Philippines, or ourselves.  The unknown added to the value of our experience because everything was a “first”. It was all up to us what we made of it. Now, as our adventure is coming to a close, we’re left with the question of what to do now. How can a person who has had access to a world where freedom comes with a price and sacrifices are commonly made, bring to a culture that takes much for granted?

We are now different.  We are now changed. 

We now know the driving force behind the patriotic travel program. It became evident to us when we would go to monuments and discover that even the people living nearby were not aware of what happened to preserve their freedom on that hallowed ground. In a way, we too were ignorant, but having been with those who have witnessed history, we have been given new insight and knowledge. Hearing their personal stories were much more meaningful and memorable than anything we could’ve ever learned out of a textbook. Stories like how our soldiers lost 50 to 60 pounds during their imprisonment made this part of history more real for us. Ten days was not enough to fully understand the valor that these men portrayed.

However during those ten days, we have gotten to know our veterans, our colleagues, and ourselves.
Going to a small college, we knew of all the students who attended this trip and now because of the experiences we’ve shared, we are a tight-knit community. In this community, the veterans have taken on a very special place as dear friends and honorary grandfathers.
Even though we had never met these veterans before, they too have been affected by this trip.   
They repeatedly told us how pleased they were with students who were willing to hear their stories and also possessed the desire to be patriotic. They were excited to know that we will be passing their stories on to future generations. We will never forget the night a few of the veterans joined us for karaoke on the beach of Corregidor. It was awe-inspiring for us to see them have so much fun in a place that once caused them so much pain.                                                     

Though we soon will part ways, the experiences we have witnessed these past ten days have been seared into our memory. The soldiers, battlefields, and stories are now a part of us. It is our duty to keep the memory of their sacrifices alive. As we leave and go back to class, work, and the rest of our lives, we walk a little prouder and stand a little taller because we know what has been paid for our freedom. It is because of the sweat, fear, blood, and devotion of Ed Knight, Jim Collier, Warren Jorgenson, Lawrence Nelson, Wayne Carringer, and Bob Ehrhart that we are free. So in gratitude to their sacrifices that are now alive in our memory, we willingly accept the call to pass on their legacy to the generations to come.

John Paul Mathews and Maria Williams

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Day 8 - Family Ties

Weston Wiebe and Ed Knight enjoy their time during their voyage around the island.

Jim Collier shared with us his experience during the war.

Today several of the guys explored old military tunnels and caves that run throughout the island.

Dr. Fred Mullinax stands in the remains of what was once a hospital with the capacity to house 1000 men.

Bob Ehrhart, Katie Klug, Dr. Mullinax and Jonathan Wahl spent part of their night exploring the Malinta Tunnel where U.S. troops took refuge during the attacks on Corregidor.

This foreign land comes to life when you are with veterans who fought here in WWII.  The trees, the caves, and the hills all have a story to tell.  None mean more, though, than hearing the stories of our veterans.

This morning we awoke early to start on a banca tour around the gorgeous island of Corregidor.  It was quite interesting to see the hills that Bob Ehrhart fought from and to be below the guns of Jim Collier’s battery.  I had the opportunity to not only see these places, but also to hear the stories of Mr. John Hogue, a member of our group who was born on this island of Corregidor and was interned during the war in the citizen camp at Santo Tomas.  He told me many interesting stories about the island as well as stories about himself.  His story is amazing to hear, almost as wonderful as hearing from the veterans themselves.

For those of you who have been reading the blogs and are wondering which veteran I will be talking about, you are in for a surprise.  I am not with a veteran. Why, then, did I come on this trip?  Well, I made this trip for a special reason—to learn more about my great-uncle.  I am the great-niece of a man named Linus Marlow who fought in Bataan and marched in the Death March.  It wasn’t until high school that I knew he had served in World War II, and it wasn’t until this trip that I began striving to know more.

When I first heard about this trip, there was a sense of urgency in applying for an opening.  I had already been on a trip before, so I knew there was a slim chance of getting in. However, because my family ties are so tight, I knew I needed to come. Fortunately, this trip is different than the rest.  On this trip, there are three groups of people coming along with the students—the liberators of Bataan, the POWs from Bataan and Corregidor, and the descendants.  That’s where I come in.  My great-uncle was a survivor, which qualified me to go.  It wasn’t until we got here that I realized how life altering it could be.

I didn’t know a lot about what my great-uncle experienced here except for stories from other survivors and from what my mom told me.  Linus Marlow died a year before I was born, so I wasn’t able to hear first hand any of his stories.  One thing I did know was that on the first night he was home from the war, he stayed up telling his stories from his years in POW camp but then never talked about it again.  It made me wonder what would have happened if he were still alive?  Would he be proud of me for coming on this trip?  Would he want to come too?  I don’t know for sure, but I think that it would warm his heart to know that I was so interested in him and his story.

Three things happened during the time we’ve been on this trip that have contributed to my strengthened feelings of pride in our country.  The first was when we walked the last kilometer of the Death March.  I could imagine Linus Marlow’s exhausted and beaten body dragging across the very same ground that I was walking along.  It was chilling.

The next thing that contributed to these feelings was when we walked up to the American Memorial at Camp O’Donnell where the units who came through the camp are listed.  I ran my eyes over the list until I saw “17th Pursuit Squadron” on the wall.  That was the unit my uncle was in.  Feelings of pride and also sadness of what he had to endure to survive filled me within.  It made it real that he was here.

Lastly, I gained a sense of pride not only in our country, but also in my uncle when I was talking to another descendant.  I told him who my uncle was and that we knew that he ended up in Japan, but we were not sure what ship he went on.  He was able to look up his name and find out which Hellship he had been on from the Philippines to Japan.  He was on the Canadian Inventor. I now have another place added to the list of areas where my uncle had been.  It almost overwhelmed me.

I’ve never been in the face of war.  I’ve never seen, with my own eyes, people beaten for no reason at all.  I’ve never been starved and on the verge of death.  I’ve always lived in a free country.  I’ve always had rights.  I’ve always known where my next meal will come from. This list of things I’ve always done is possible because of our veterans who lived the horrors of the list of things I’ve never done.  My great-uncle, along with the veterans on this trip, saw death, destruction, and devastation in order to secure that you and I would never have to see anything like it again.

Culea Abraham

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Day 7- Return to Corregidor

Mr. Carringer standing by marker KM00.

Our ride to the island of Corregidor

Mr. Ehrhart standing in front of the island where he fought.

Mr. Jorgenson stands near the location where he was shot and describes that day.

Mr. Ehrhart with his students Katie and Tim.

An exciting morning of travel quickly gained significant emotional weight as we traveled to a location that Mr. Carringer had permanently ingrained into his mind. Although the surroundings had drastically changed, he still wanted to see a place in Mariveles that will be forever etched in his memory. His students, Daniel and Christianne, cautiously pushed him in his wheel chair until they arrived at the KM00 marker. At this site, Mr. Carringer began a horrific and grueling journey that would last nine long days, a journey that we now refer to as the Bataan Death March.

After we honored this site, we boarded an outrigger boat and made our way to the Island of Corregidor. This island is home to the most preserved battlefield of WWII. We are honored to be here with Mr. Collier, Mr. Ehrhart, and Mr. Jorgenson, who all served on the island. Today we spent the whole afternoon touring different parts of the island where we saw remnants of what was once a military oasis. Golf courses, bowling alleys, movie theatres, and swimming pools once occupied this beautiful island. After the war, all that remained was crumbled ruins. We traveled around Corregidor viewing old barracks, movie theatres, artillery and many other buildings that had been destroyed during the war. Our imaginations ran wild as we tried to encompass the magnitude of military force that this island contained during the 1940s. The veterans told us fearful stories that depicted the horror  they felt seventy years ago.
Today we saw many places of great significance for our veterans. One of these places was the first POW camp on the island after the Japanese arrived. We were also able to see the barracks where some of our veterans stayed, the Milinta Tunnel, and some smaller islands that our veterans fought on. While touring the island we were able to stand with Mr. Jorgenson in the same area were he was shot during the war. Tears filled his eyes as he told us about his injury, and his promise to give God his life if he lived through the war. Visiting these locations made for an emotional day and reminds us of the sacrifices made by our veterans.

For the next two days we will continue to explore the island of Corregidor, which was once home to 9,000 U.S. troops. One important aspect that has added depth to our trip experience is the other members of our tour group. We, along with other guests, are touring with Steve and Marcia Kwiecinski of Valor Tours. Included in our group are two representatives from the U.S.-Japan Dialogue on POWs. These women from Japan work to educate their people about WWII and to promote peace with the United States. Additionally, we have traveling in our group three descendants from the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor. It has been a joy to getting to know these additional tour members as we travel throughout the Philippines. Many of these additional members have great knowledge and insight into the battles that took place in the Philippines.
Jonathan Wahl and Weston Wiebe

Monday, April 9, 2012

Day 6 - Day of Valor

Mr. Carringer and (and the rest of our veterans) were able to meet several Filipino WWII veterans at today's Valor Day Ceremonies.
A helicopter dropped roses over the crowed as the president arrived. 
Benigno Aquino, president of The Philippines, enters the ceremony.
Timothy Church and Brandon Piatt were among the students who used Filipino tricycles as transportation to the city market today.
Katie Kramer and Sarah Schrag in a local city market. 
Seventy years ago today marked a very important date in the history of World War II. On April 9, 1942, General King surrendered to the Japanese. This day was the beginning of many years of horror for the American and Filipino troops, starting with the infamous Bataan Death March.

We were privileged to attend the 70th anniversary ceremony on this Day of Valor. The ceremony was held on Mount Samat and the Filipino president, Benigno Aquino III, and the American and Japanese ambassadors attended. This is significant because these were the three countries involved in the events surrounding the Bataan Death March.

The ceremony was touching and very sincere. Those who endured the terrible trials after the surrender of Bataan were recognized and commemorated by a wreath laying ceremony and numerous speeches. The  American ambassador recognized our veterans by name. College of the Ozarks was also publicly welcomed in one of the speeches. It was incredible to see the peace among the three nations and to hear how sincerely each country desires to continue these peaceful interactions.

After the ceremony, we were free to spend the afternoon as we pleased. Many of us chose to experience the Philippines by visiting the open air market in Balanga. We marveled at the wide variety of meat and fish that were available. We were more attracted to the fruit and vegetable section of the market, to say the least! Through our time mingling and bartering with the people, we learned much more about the Filipino culture.

We have all experienced so many wonderful things over the last few days, but we can both agree that the highlight of this trip has definitely been meeting our veteran, who is a World War II POW survivor. His name is Robert W. Ehrhart, and he was a part of the 4th Marines.  Only moments after meeting Mr. Ehrhart, he requested that we not call him Sir, or Mr. Ehrhart. Instead, he would prefer us to call him Bob. At that moment it was apparent that we were paired with a veteran who was very eager to skip the first stage of meeting someone new - he was ready to get to know us on a more personal level.

Over the last few days, Mr. Ehrhart has shared many life changing stories with us. Although he often shares of his experiences, it is hard to realize the magnitude of sacrifice he made during WWII.  Every time he ended a story there has been such a motivational push to keep asking more questions and to learn everything we can from him. Mr. Ehrhart survived the harsh punishment of being in the prison camps, working for hours with only small rations of food and water, and even being forced onto the Hellships.  Even after hearing all of the stories, advice, and guidance that he has to offer, none of us will ever be able to understand the  physical, mental, and emotional distress the war brought upon these men.

When we were selected for this trip we felt  honored, humbled, and  speechless; however, we didn't actually understand what those feelings meant until we met Mr. Ehrhart, especially after getting to re-walk his footsteps that he took during his time here in the Philippines. Without men like Mr. Ehrhart, and the other veterans on this trip, our freedom and future would not be secure. It seems that a simple thank you is never enough for the blood, sweat, and tears that were shed during those years of horror. However, we hope that bringing these six men here to this country,  learning their stories, and taking that knowledge to pass on to future generations is a promising start.

Katie Kramer and Tim Church

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Day 5 - Guts, Gall, and Hard Times

J.P. Matthews helps lead Easter service.
Maria Williams turns around to talk with veteran Wayne Carringer.

Daniel Mallette reads information from The Hellship Memorial to veteran Wayne Carringer.

Group stands in front of The Hellship Memorial.

Larry Deckard, and Katie Klug stand with veteran Lawrence Nelson.

Today we have been enjoying the beach at beautiful Subic Bay. The area was originally developed during World War II due to it's strategic location--in fact, it was one of the most important areas of the War. 

Since today was Easter, we began the day with a service for our group led by our students. We spent twenty minutes on the beach enjoying the glories of God's creation and remembering the story of Christ's gift of salvation. The veterans enjoyed this time and gave us encouraging comments.

After the  service, we went into the town of Subic to see the Hellships memorial. A former School of the Ozarks student, Kaney Wilbanks, lost his life on one of these infamous transporters. In honor of what he did and the sacrifice he made, we presented a wreath at the monument. 

It is quite sobering to hear the tales of the men who survived the Hellships. Men who would tell of their experiences on the Bataan Death March hesitate to even speak of the horrors of the ships. Mr. Jorgensen, Mr. Carringer, Mr. Collier, and Mr. Ehrhart all spent time on the Hellships. Jim Erickson, who is a professor at Texas A&M, spoke to us about the history of these ships. There were quite a few tears in the eyes of the audience as he spoke of the horrendous conditions the men had to endure as they were transported by the Japanese.

After our time at the Hellships memorial, we had the choice to rest or attend a show at Ocean Adventure, a local ocean theme park. The Ocean Adventure was so much fun. Some of us got to see dolphins for the first time. Mr. Nelson, our veteran, went to Ocean Adventure, and we decided that the dolphins were better at diving than the high divers we'd seen in the first act. He is such a joy and is always thinking of funny things to do to make us laugh. What is special about Mr. Nelson is how he gets everyone to smile especially if they are feeling down. Not only that, he is so genuine and takes care of everyone. He wants to make sure that we are all healthy, happy, and well fed.

Mr. Nelson has been an inspiration to us. We have been having good natured arguments about who gets to sit next to him on our bus rides to and from the sites that we are visiting. In a discussion we all had together, Mr. Nelson used a phrase that we felt described him perfectly-- guts, gall, and hard times. 

We want to learn so much from Mr. Nelson. Not only is he good natured and has a lot of funny tidbits to share, he's also has a lot to teach us about the war. As future history teachers, we are soaking in the knowledge that Mr. Nelson is ready to impart to us. When the U.S. entered the war in 1941, Mr. Nelson was fourteen years old. Three years later, he was deemed fit for service by the Selective Service Administration. He tried to enlist in the Navy because he heard that they were better than the Army, but for some reason, they didn't think he was good enough. Then he tried to sign up for the Army paratroopers, but he wasn't quite tall enough. Finally, he tried to become a gunner, but they already had plenty of gunners. So he ended up enlisting in the Army and was assigned to the 1st Cavalry. After training, his group shipped out to the Philippines as replacements and Mr. Nelson was there for the last few weeks of the war. 

Throughout our experiences thus far, we see how blessed we are to be in the presence of a true hero. He often says that he went from a small farm boy to a big army man, and due to his actions, he has become a huge part of our lives. Without the efforts of men like Lawrence Nelson we might not be able to live in a country as great as the United States and have the freedoms we have today. For that we thank all veterans who have served in all the wars of the United States.

Larry Deckard and Katie Klug