Sports and military historian Lukacs tells the story of the only successful escape of a group of POWs from a Japanese prison camp during World War II.
Lukacs effectively conveys the horrors of life for American POWs in the Philippines. The central figure of the story, Maj. William Edwin Dyess of the Army Air Forces, was an ace fighter pilot who sunk numerous Japanese boats. He was one of thousands of prisoners in the infamous Bataan Death March, in which prisoners were marched with little or no food or water in blistering heat; many were randomly bayoneted or beheaded. At the prison camps, conditions were scarcely better; the Japanese refused to follow the Geneva Convention rules for prisoner treatment. Prison-guard duty was seen as a lowly assignment in the Japanese army, given to the worst soldiers, who took out their frustrations on the Americans in the most brutal ways imaginable. Occasionally, prisoners would try unsuccessfully to escape; once, when three escapees were recaptured, the guards tied them to stakes and beat them for three days before shooting them. Nonetheless, Dyess and nine others were determined to escape, and they slipped away during a work detail, trudging through miles of marshland infested with leeches, crocodiles and stinging wasps. They met up with sympathetic Filipino guerrillas, and after many delays, ably captured by Lukacs, they eventually made it to freedom. However, in a strange twist, Dyess and the others were ordered not to discuss their brutal prison treatment. Among other concerns, higher-ups in the U.S. government were worried about Japanese retaliatory action against American prisoners still in the Philippines. The author’s account of the escapees’ determination to break their silence is one of the most engaging parts of the book.
A fast-moving, real-life escape story, and an unexpected chronicle of a fight against censorship.