Place: Van Dorn VA Hospital, Columbia, SC
When: April 8, 2010
Subject: Donovan (Don) Pike, USMC
It was early 1942 when the Japanese attacked the Philippines. The allied troops there were overwhelmed by the Japanese forces. One of those troops was Don Pike, USMC. He fought valiantly in the Battle of Bataan, but in the end, they were forced to surrender. The Japanese decided to transfer an estimated 75,000 captured Americans and Pilipino prisoners approximately 60 miles away. They had no effective mechanism to transport or care for these POW’s, so they decided to march them the distance.
The Bataan Death March resulted. This became a WWII war crime against the Japanese because of what they did to the POW’s along the way. It is well documented all the atrocities the Japanese committed. There were examples of unjustified murder by way of bayoneting, cutting off heads, shootings, cutting throats, disembowelments, rifle butt beatings and the refusal to offer food and water. It is estimated that 10,000-20,000 died along the way.
Don Pike quickly realized what his slim chances of survival were so one night he risked his life and escaped into the jungle. He did this and hid in the jungle for a period of time. He decided that his best chances were to try and get to Corregidor which was about 8 miles across the bay. He found a log to help him stay afloat and he started swimming. He eventually linked up with some Marines and joined them to continue fighting the Japanese until they could no longer fight. He was recaptured and taken to Camp O’Donnell where he stayed for a period of time. He was put into forced labor to help the Japanese to work on an airstrip in the Philippines and was later transferred to a slave ship and transported to Japan where he was placed again into forced slave labor for Mitsubishi in a coal mine. He was forced to work 14-16 hours a day, 7 days a week until the 2nd atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, on August 9, 1945. The Japanese guards ran when this happened leaving the POWs on their own. The first thing Don saw, after being in total darkness for 44 months, was the mushroom cloud over Nagasaki. The POW’s knew the war was ending. He eventually made his way back to the United States and resumed his life as a Marine.
Fast forward now until April 8, 2010. Don recently suffered a stroke and was partially paralyzed on his left side. He cannot take care of himself and he is now a patient in the Veterans Hospital in Columbia, SC. Friends of Don, wanted to be sure he was recognized for his tremendous service to the United States and his service in World War II in the United States Marine Corps. A request was made to General James T. Conway, Commanding General, Commandant of the Marine Corps, to recognize Don for his service to his country.
General Conway wrote the letter and forwarded it to the Marine Corps Inspector and Instructor Staff for Fox Company, 4th LAR, 4th Marine Division located in Eastover, South Carolina to make the presentation. They were assisted by the Harold E. (Speedy) Wilson Detachment, 1141, of the Marine Corps League who presented Don with an “Honorary Membership” to their detachment. There were many other people there in attendance to witness the presentation. It was a great thrill to see Don honored in the way he should have been. Don is now 88 years old and he was extremely proud to receive both these honors as a member of the “greatest generation”. Don is a member of the remaining few survivors of the Bataan Death March, which was one of the biggest military atrocities of the 20th Century.