north of Layac Junction
First published in AUG09.
Just another old man walking around in his garage, eh?
These days he’s long retired, living with his wife, Shirley, in a trim split-level below a wall of rimrocks near the college where he used to teach. Every day he tramps out to the studio behind his house to paint and draw.
You ever wonder what they have seen? Maybe, just maybe --- you don't want to know.
He is 91 years old now, among the handful of last men surviving from America’s worst military defeat, the fall of the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines during that desperate winter and early spring of 1942.
American Heritage magazine has a must read article that personalizes what is often forgotten --- and rarely read in detail like this.
He tried to stay aloof. So many were dropping to the road, he thought, it was better not to get close to anyone. But north of Layac Junction, about 50 miles into the march, he lost his resolve and befriended a march mate. They had talked a bit while walking: about where they’d been, where they might be headed, what might happen when they got there. Talking made the walking easier, the heat a little less intense. Next afternoon on the road, he noticed his new friend beginning to wobble, and a mile or two later the man gave out and went down, grabbing for Steele’s leg.
“Come on, Ben—help me!”
He and another man hauled the dropout to his feet. They hadn’t gone far before a guard rushed up and shouted at them to let go. His helper obeyed, but for reasons beyond all understanding, Steele hung on, and the next thing he knew, his buttocks were on fire. He thought the guard’s blade had penetrated to his pelvis. Blood was beginning to course down his leg, and flies were starting to swarm the wound. He looked at the man he was holding, hoped he’d understand, then let him sink slowly to the road at the guard’s feet.
“No!” the man said. “No. Please.”
Ben Steele; well done on a long, good life. Read it all.