Hampton Sides on Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War IIís Most Dramatic Mission
May 26, 2001
Ghost Soldiers
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We're the battling bastards of Bataan,
No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam,
No aunts, no uncles, no nephews, no nieces,
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces,
Öand nobody gives a damn

They were a group of uncommonly tested men, hobbled by malaria, dengue fever, dysentery, all manner of parasites, beriberi, and the desolation that comes with imprisonment and isolation. They were the men of Bataan, the U.S. Army forces sent to wrest the Japanese from the Philippines during World War II, forced to surrender in 1942, and marched 75 miles, starving and sickly, to a Japanese death camp by the name of "Cabanatuan."

Scott Simon speaks with Hampton Sides about his latest book, Ghost Soldiers, which brings these men and the heroic group of U.S. Army Rangers and Filipino guerrilla fighters who rescued them in 1944, to a place in the national consciousness they have deserved for more than 50 years. His portraits of the soldiers, imprisoned for three years without access to medicine or adequate food, are raw with gut-roiling violence. At the same time Sides captures all that was humane among the prisoners, their sense of identity and remarkable ingenuity. He documents their struggle to build a clock from bits of tin and discarded lumber, assemble a radio from old parts and think, every moment of every day, about food.

Even in months of relative plenty they were food-obsessed. They never tired of the subject. Next to food, women didn't stand a chance. Sex was a distant memory, a vaguely amusing problem not germane to the subject. The subject was ice cream. Georgia peaches. Strawberry rhubarb pie. Asparagus with hollandaise. ...Some people fixated on exceedingly narrow bands in the culinary spectrum, and their cravings drove them nearly insane. "When I was in there all those years, mostly what I thought about was cheese," said Robert Body, a private from Detroit who had been a 31st Infantry machine gunner on Bataan. "I never ate cheese in my goddamn life, but when I got there, that's all I could think about."

-From Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides

audio buttonHear Scott Simon's interview with Hampton Sides

audio buttonHear Hampton Sides report on the Bataan Death March in 1999 on All Things Considered.