Benjamin Charles Steele from Montana was one of the POW survivors during the Japanese occupation in the Philippines in World War II (1939-1945). While a prisoner, he produced a remarkable document of drawings and sketches about his experiences as a prisoner of war for three and a half years. Though these were later destroyed, he recreated them later completing a degree in art, and his images comprise one of the most powerful records of Japanese cruelty toward their American and Philippine prisoners.
Here are Benjamin Charles Steele’s paintings.
About 8,000 Americans and 40,000 Filipinos were forced to march over 60 miles by the conquering Japanese troops under brutal conditions, with little or no rations or water. Approximately, 1000 Americans and over 10,000 Filipino soldiers were killed or died of malnutrition and disease.
The Bataan Death March was one of the most brutal episodes in US military history.
Filipinos throwing biscuits to POWs (April 1942)
Many sympathetic Filipino civilians attempted to throw or give food and water to both American and Filipino soldiers who were being marched to the prison camp at Camp O’Donell, a distance of over 60 miles. Many innocent Filipino children and babies were killed by Japanese soldiers in retribution for giving prisoners food or drink.
The Water Line (April to June 1942)
At Camp O’Donell, one water spigot served the entire camp. POWs carried water to the sick comrades who could not get their own. The soldiers strung canteens together on a stick or hollowed out bamboo by poking through the connected membranes to make water carriers. Soldiers stood in the waterline all day and half the night, waiting their turn. Many collapsed and died before getting a drink.
Burial Detail at Camp O’Donell
Typically, up to 200 men dided every day after coming off the Bataan Death March, from a variety of tropical diseases and illnesses brought on by malnutrition, thirst, unsanitary conditions and Japanese brutality.
Hell Ship to Japan (Summer 1944)
POWs are crowded into the hold of a Japanese ship in a convoy of other ships/ These ships were subject to attack by American airplanes or submarines as they were not marked with red crosses as required by the Geneva Convention on Warfare. This ship spent two months going from the Philippines to Japan. POWs were held in primitive conditions with little to no food and water and no toilet facilities the entire voyage.
SOURCE Photos taken by me from the White Sands Museum