The oldest American survivor of the Bataan Death March, Major Albert Brown, died on Sunday in Nashville, Illinois, at the age of 105. Brown was also considered to be one the oldest American World War II veterans.
According to his daughter, Peggy Doughty, he died of a heart ailment.
Brown lived and worked in Iowa as a dentist and was also an officer of the Army reserve. He was called to duty in late 1941, as part of the dental corps, but spent most of his service as a Japanese prisoner of war.
The Pearl Harbor attack occurred on December 7, 1941, and two weeks later, the Japanese bombed and invaded American bases in the Philippines, where Brown was stationed.
U.S. and Filipino troops defended against the Japanese for four months. Without food or reinforcements and suffering from disease, the troops were forced to surrender in April 1942.
In the ensuing death march, 76,000 Americans and Filipinos were captured and forced to traverse 66 miles of the Bataan peninsula to Japanese internment camps.
Brown detailed in his biography, “Forsaken Heroes of the Pacific War: One Man’s True Story,” how the captured soldiers suffered at the hands of their Japanese counterparts. He records that for six days starting on April 10, 1942, the soldiers were forced to march without food or water. The march took place in sweltering 100-degree weather, with many of the captured soldiers tortured and even killed by Japanese captors when they stumbled or stopped.
“One 18-year-old I knew, he fell down,” Brown said in the book. “A guard came along and put a gun to his head, pulled the trigger and walked away.”
He has also recalled beheadings, one such when an American soldier fell to his hands and knees and had his head immediately severed by the samurai sword of a Japanese solider.
“When you saw somebody’s head being chopped off, it stirred up the juices and kept you going,” Brown said when asked how he survived.
In another incident, he saw three American soldiers forced to dig their own graves. Once finished with the digging they were mercilessly shot and buried in the holes they had dug.
Approximately 10,000 men died during the march, and those who survived endured continued torture and death in internment camps.
Brown spent three years in captivity, where he was beaten and starved down to 90lbs from his originally strong and sturdy, six-foot frame. His diet consisted of just three small rice balls a day. He suffered injuries to his back when he was thrown down a flight of stairs, and a fracture to his neck when he was hit with the butt of a rifle.
Once the Japanese surrendered, prisoners were released and Brown spent an additional two years in Denver recovering in a military hospital. The injuries to his neck and back prevented him from returning to dentistry and for some time he lived in Los Angeles, Calif., buying and renting properties. After he and his wife, Helen Johnson, separated, Brown spent most of his life living with his daughter in Pinckneyville, Ill.
Brown is survived by his daughter Peggy Doughty, son Graham Brown, 12 grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren, and 19 great-great-grandchildren. His former wife died in 1985 and his other son, Albert N. Brown Jr., died in 2010.
In 2007, Brown was honored by several Bataan veterans’ organizations as the oldest survivor.