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My great grandfather endured the Bataan Death March

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Amber R. Kelly-Herard
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
In April of 1942, more than 76,000 American and Filipino soldiers surrendered to the Imperial Japanese Army after the Battle of Bataan in the Philippines.

Consequently, the prisoners of war were forced to march 80 miles in what is known as the Bataan Death March to an abandoned military outpost.

One of the POWs was U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Charles Robert Kelly. Kelly had been stationed in the Philippines where he met his wife, Monica. Together they had two sons, Charles and Ruben, and they were also expecting a daughter.

During the march, Kelly was with one of his good friends. His friend did not think he was going to make it so he gave Kelly his wedding ring and told him if he does not make it, to give his wife his ring and tell her that he loves her.

Meanwhile, the Japanese forces invaded where Monica was, forcing his two sons to hide under their house. They were later found by an uncle, who they went to live with. At some point, Monica went into labor and delivered baby Virginia. After complications due to lack of access to a hospital and rural conditions, Monica and Virginia passed away.

Kelly's friend also passed away.

After the survivors of the march made it to the camp, they continued to endure physical abuse and murders. If not from the harsh treatment, thousands of others died due to lack of medical care and nutrition.

Nine months later, they were rescued in a daring maneuver by U.S. forces. After being rescued, the soldiers faced a long journey home until they were greeted by the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Calif., upon first entering America.

After returning to America, Kelly returned to his home state of Kentucky. He then went back to the Philippines for his family, but only returned with Charles. Kelly also found his friend's wife, Molly Sue, who he later married.

Charles followed his father's footsteps and joined the Navy Reserves. Ruben was reunited with his family when he was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. After a year in the Army, he switched to the Marines where he served 27 years.

Ruben had five children, two of which retired from the Marines. Ruben also has seven grandchildren and two of his granddaughters currently serve in the Air Force--one of them being me.

Growing up, I've always enjoyed hearing about my family's military history, especially about my great-grandpa. I remember when we were in school and we learned about the Bataan Death March, I knew all about it, and I thought it was cool to be related to someone who I learned about in school.

I learned about the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., three years ago, but due to other obligations I have yet to participate, but I will some day.

For now though, I was extremely excited that Scott was going to do a similar march.

Although the march was not always easy, my inspiration to keep going was my great-grandpa Charles. Similarly, when there are rough times in life, my inspiration to keep going is my family.

I was not able to meet my great-grandpa, but fortunately my grandpa and grand-uncle have both been able to share his legacy with me and my family.

After reflecting on my great-grandpa, it is no wonder why I serve--to honor my family members and all the other servicemembers who made sacrifices for their country and family in the past.