Wild Bill's War Story- Bill Begley
I was born on September 21, 1921 in Hyden, Kentucky and was raised primarily by an aunt who encouraged me to graduate from high school, which I did in 1940. At that time, I attempted coal mining, but gave up that idea when a mine I was working in collapsed, and I narrowly escaped.
It was about that time when someone said to me, "Go West, young man." I ended up in San Francisco working at a gas station until the owner suggested that I join the army. He explained that it would give me some direction, and at the same time, pay for an education.
I began basic training on February 7, 1941, at Monterey in the Army Calvary. After basic training and 18 days before the war started, I received orders to go to the Philippines. Once there, we were positioned in what had been a sugarcane patch. We had been trained with P-40 aircraft, but all aircraft available to us were some P-35s that had been abandoned by the Philippine Air Force. They were an unsightly mess with parts missing and grass growing up through their cavities. Amazingly, however, we were able to salvage about 20 planes from the 35 we had found.
About that time, we heard on the short-wave radio that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. General Mac Arthur then grounded all planes, but our commander decided he could not sit idly waiting for something to happen. We agreed with our command, and we went into battle with the Japanese. The enemy outnumbered us 2-1, but we were still able to shoot down three of their planes which were seen badly smoking while trying to fly back to their carrier at sea. Our ground crews shot down another two. No credit was ever given for this battle, nor was it ever mentioned, but most of the men involved did go on to become Ace pilots.
We were then sent into combat against the Special Japanese Marine Landing Forces without any additional training, and only with equipment that had been left over from World War I. Our only orders were, "Do not fire until you see the whites of their eyes."
Under those circumstances, the outcome was destined to be bad. What followed was the fall of Bataan, our capture by the Japanese, and subsequently, the "Death March of Bataan."
When the Japanese took over Bataan, they decided to brutally march the American and Filipino prisoners to POW camps many miles away. Approximately 9,000 died on the march. Many were already malnourished because rations had been cut severely.
During this hellish journey, sick and starving prisoners were beaten randomly and denied any water. Any prisoner who asked for water was executed on the spot. When the Japanese guards needed a rest, they forced us to sit in the hot sun without any head covering. Any prisoner who fell behind or collapsed, was executed on the spot unless his comrades could carry him. During the week-long march, prisoners were denied food apart from a few handfuls of contaminated rice. We were expected to walk over any of our fellow comrades who had been shot or bayoneted. I also witnessed comrades who were forced to dig their own graves, and than have a rifle put to the back of their heads. They were shot in this way so that they would fall easily into the grave.
I vividly recall a small girl about five years old giving the "V" for victory sign. She was immediately bayoneted. Hr mother tired to shield her from further harm and was also bayoneted. I, along with several other soldiers, reacted to this horrific sight, and we, too, were bayoneted, others were shot. I cried at the brutality of it. Others sobbed or cried as the little girl cried out. The situation was so awful, it was beyond comprehension.
Once we finally reached our destination, things grew even worse. I was bayoneted multiple times and was even scheduled to face a firing squad. But the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. I recall thinking that the bomb saved my life. Of the huge numbers of us taken as POWs, only about 40 were still alive at the end of 3