Published June 20 2010
Death March survivor to speak in Moorhead
For seven days, the Army soldier sat trapped in a 5-by-5-foot hole with nothing to eat or drink but a bowl of rice and half a cup of water.
Finally, the lid to his solitary confinement cell opened. He was too tired to drag himself out, so a Japanese guard pulled him up and slammed a rifle butt into the back of the head, knocking him unconscious.
When he came to, he tried to crawl back to the prisoner barracks. But the guard kicked him in the ribs, breaking five bones.
The treatment would have been brutal enough for a healthy soldier. But Frazier had already endured the Bataan Death March, a tortuous 90-mile trek at the hands of Japanese soldiers in the Philippines during World War II.
He was 17 years old.
“And I was determined to live,” he said.
Frazier survived unspeakable horrors during his seven days on the death march and 3 1/2 years in Japanese POW camps.
The nightmares, however, lasted much longer.
Thirty years after the war ended, the Army colonel finally rid himself of hatred – hatred for those who tortured him and brutally executed his fellow soldiers and hatred for himself for what he had done and become.
“Hatred is a poison,” he said. “It will dominate you completely.”
Frazier, who played a prominent role in Ken Burns’ 2007 documentary film “The War,” will bring his message to the Moorhead High School auditorium at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Admission is $10.
He will speak for about 45 minutes and then take questions. Afterward, he’ll sign autographs and copies of his book, “Hell’s Guest.”
It’s a fitting title for what Frazier went through and a story that Bill Williams believes others should hear. He first heard Frazier speak in April to a rapt audience of high school students in Omaha, Neb.
“It’s such a story of survival, the torture that he went through and the forgiveness,” Williams said.
Inspired by Frazier’s story, Williams booked him on a mini-tour that will take him to Sioux City, Iowa, on Monday, Sioux Falls, S.D., on Tuesday, and Moorhead on Wednesday.
Williams is familiar with Fargo-Moorhead because he organized the Nebraska Honor Flight that jetted veterans to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. He modeled it after the WDAY WWII Honor Flight led by Tracy Briggs, a morning-show host on the AM radio station in Fargo.
Frazier counts many fallen comrades among those honored by the memorial.
The 86-year-old said it’s believed that fewer than 50 U.S. soldiers who survived the Bataan Death March are still living.
“But all the ones that I was close to are dead,” he said in a phone interview last week from his home in Daphne, Ala. “I’m going to have to drink the last bottle of champagne by myself.”
Frazier grew up in Fort Deposit, Ala., and lied about his age to join the Army at 16 years old.
He’d been in the Philippines only six months when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, six days after his 17th birthday. Six hours later, Frazier and his fellow soldiers became the target as the Japanese bombed Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines.
The Japanese ground invasion forced them to retreat to Bataan, a peninsula on Luzon. They fought off the opposition for four months, forcing the Japanese to bring reinforcements while their own numbers dwindled.
Frazier’s job was to run ammunition to the front lines, and the 17-year-old grew up in a hurry.
“We lost a lot of men, and we killed a lot of people,” he said. “We got to be savage fighters ourselves. We had to survive.”
With ammo, food and supplies running out, their commanding officer, Maj. Gen. Edward P. King Jr., went against the orders of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and surrendered roughly 12,000 Americans and 66,000 Filipinos to the Japanese on April 9, 1942.
The Japanese began marching the starving soldiers up the east coast to Camp O’Donnell, depriving them of food and water and treating them mercilessly.
Frazier saw a soldier beheaded right in front of him. Others had their fingers cut off with bayonets just for their rings.
If a soldier fell down or tried to help someone who did, they were shot or stabbed. The dead were rolled off to the side of the road and left for the vultures.
Soldiers with ropes tied around their necks were dragged behind trucks. Some bodies were left in the road to be run over.
“They were brutal,” he said. “They just didn’t have any respect for anything. I saw them bury them alive at a place at one point.”
Frazier tossed his dog tags into a mass grave at one point along the trail.
“I wanted to give some closure in the event I was killed on the road somewhere and my body was left,” he said, adding the action would later prompt the Army to inform his parents he was dead.
He and other soldiers plotted an escape around the fifth night of the march. But when it came time to execute the plan, they’d had no food, water or sleep.
“All you could do is just barely walk,” he said. “You can’t escape if you can’t run.”
By the end of the six days and seven nights of marching, Frazier couldn’t pick up his feet and didn’t know where he was.
“My tongue was already starting to swell, so I knew it was serious,” he said.
He spent the next 3½ years in four different prison camps until the formal surrender of Japan on Sept. 2, 1945.
Frazier went home to Alabama, and the nightmares followed him there.
He didn’t tell anyone about it, worried he’d be committed to a psychiatric hospital. He became the black sheep of his family, dodging his parents and staying in motels. His first five marriages didn’t last, and he became estranged from his children.
He hated anyone who didn’t hate the Japanese, and he hated himself.
“And then finally I had to give it up,” he said. “I had to get rid of the hate.”
It wasn’t easy. People told him his hatred was justified because of what he’d endured. Veterans’ hospitals “didn’t give me anything but pills or a little bit of advice,” he said.
Finally, a preacher told him how to deal with the dark feelings that surfaced.
“I was praying, and I asked God to forgive me and asked God for forgiveness of what I’d done and what I’d done to myself,” he said.
Frazier, who now lives in Daphne with his wife, Terri, shares his story with crowds across the country.
While many war veterans are reluctant to talk about their experiences, Frazier said writing his book helped him realize that talking about it helped free him of his hatred.
He also meets individually with struggling veterans of the Korean, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars, hoping the lessons he learned will help them readjust to civilian life.
“I’m on the outside,” he said. “I’m on the other side, already through it.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528