6:30am

Tue August 16, 2011
The Two-Way

Survivor Of Bataan Death March Dies; Albert Brown Was 105

We'll pause for a moment to consider a remarkable life:

"Albert Brown, the oldest living World War II veteran and survivor of the 65-mile forced World War II trek known as the Bataan Death March, has died," Illinois' The Southern Illinoisan newspaper reports.

He was 105 and passed away Sunday at a nursing home in Nashville, Ill.

The Associated Press report on his death begins with this:

"A doctor once told Albert Brown he shouldn't expect to make it to 50, given the toll taken by his years in a Japanese labor camp during World War II and the infamous, often-deadly march that got him there. But the former dentist made it to 105, embodying the power of a positive spirit in the face of inordinate odds."

The wire service adds that Brown, who joined the military in 1937 as a commissioned lieutenant in the Reserve Officer Training Corps:

"Was nearly 40 in 1942 when he endured the Bataan Death March, a harrowing 65-mile trek in which 78,000 prisoners of war were forced to walk from Bataan province near Manila to a Japanese POW camp. As many as 11,000 died along the way. Many were denied food, water and medical care, and those who stumbled or fell during the scorching journey through Philippine jungles were stabbed, shot or beheaded."

Brown told the Southern Illinoisan that when he was freed in September 1945, he was "blind, I couldn't hear, I was in terrible shape."

His sight slowly came back. And according to the AP:

"He took two years to mend, and a doctor told him to enjoy the next few years because he had been so decimated he would be dead by 50. But Brown soldiered on, moving to California, attending college again and renting out properties to the era's biggest Hollywood stars, including Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland. He became friends with John Wayne and Roy Rogers, doing some screen tests along the way."

The Southern Illinoisan writes that Brown's daughter, Peg Doughty of Pinckneyville, Ill., says her father "never considered himself a hero. ... I guess he just figured he was at the wrong place at the wrong time."

One more fascinating fact about Brown: The Nebraska native's godfather was Wild West legend "Buffalo Bill" Cody.

For some history of the Death March, there's material posted here from Public Broadcasting's American Experience. And Smithsonian magazine has retraced the route.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.