DAV life member Lester Tenney reflects on the forced POW march that left thousands of his fellow American service members dead during WWII. by M. Todd Hunter, DAV magazine July/Aug. 2015
After learning what Lester Tenney endured in April 1942 and for more than three years thereafter, one may not be inclined to consider him lucky.
Surrounded by malaria and dysentery, and with little to no food or water, Tenney was one of an estimated 80,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war who endured the Bataan Death March, a forced 60-mile trek in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees.
During the brutal march, his captors, the Imperial Japanese Army, beat him and many others with sticks and rifles. His teeth were knocked out. His head and nose were split open. His ribs were broken. So why would anyone consider him lucky?
Of the roughly 12,000 American troops who set off on the march, Tenney was one of only about 1,700 who survived to the end of WWII. Today, fewer than a hundred survivors are estimated to still be alive.
“It was called a ‘death march’ not because of how many died,” Tenney explained while in Washington, D.C. to attend Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s address before Congress in May. “They called it a ‘death march’ because of the way they died. If you stopped on the road, you were killed. If you had a malaria attack, they killed you. If you had to stop to defecate, they killed you. If you just couldn’t take another step, they killed you.”
He later added that his captors’ indifference to the lives of his fellow brother-in-arms was evident in the manner the Japanese executed them……………………….
“I would see a herd of caribou in the distance, and I would say to myself, “I must get to the herd of caribou,” he explained. “Then when I got to the herd of caribou, I’d find another goal and another goal and another goal. Every day was another goal.”
At 94, Tenney claims he has lived his life setting small goas for himself every day since. It’s a frame of mind that undoubtedly helped him endure his forced labor in Japanese coal mines after surviving the march–working 12 hours daily for more than three years.
A high-school dropout, Tenney returned home from the war, got married, raised a family, earned a Ph.D. and enjoyed a career as a finance and insurance professor at Arizona State University. After retiring in 1983, the DAV Life Member wrote “MY HITCH IN HELL” about his experiences as a POW.
Today, Tenney spends his time sending care packages to American service members in Iraq and Afghanistan and often travels around the country talking about his experiences–all without holding a grudge about the atrocities he experienced decades ago.
“BY BEING ABLE TO ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES, I THINK IT’S A LOT EASIER TO LIVE,” he remarked.
“As our nation pauses to reflect on the 70th anniversary of V-J Day (Sept.2), it’s important to recognize those who persevered until victory during WWII.” said DAV National Adjutant Marc Burgess. “Lester Tenney is one such individual and a perfect example of the exemplary service paid forth by those belonging to the Greatest Generation.”
“I do believe that every man that came back from Bataan is disabled in some manner, either mentally, emotionally or through physical attributes,” Tenney concluded. “And I think we’re all a member of the DAV in one way or the other.:
WATCH VIDEO ONLINE: Watch an interview with Lester Tenney at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPbAd1TUGIA.