Friday, November 15, 2013

Two soldiers' stories

My good Washington friend wrote to me not long after I left my home in March to predict I would meet interesting and wonderful people, which I most certainly have. She also predicted I would meet people who would help and prove to be valuable to me in the future.

Because of her unerring views on things I pay attention to what she says, and she was once again right when she said I would meet folks who would help me. The wonderful people at Petrified Forest have already helped me to secure a volunteer spot at a sought-after national park for next summer. I would never have gotten this spot without their help.
Even more important than the help I got from Petrified Forest was meeting a man at Andersonville this week who didn't offer advice but merely told me a story. Mr. Larson had two relatives who were on the Bataan death march; both survived. He brought in for donation to the POW museum a photograph of one of them, I. C. Scott, and photocopies of articles about his experiences on and after the march.

Mr. Scott in 1992

Mr. Scott spent 3 1/2 years as a prisoner and said hate for his guards kept him alive but hatred for the entire people was "too debilitating." And it was, ironically, a Japanese soldier who saved his life. 

He endured two forced marches without water, dug graves for the hundred men who died every day, got little sleep, was forced into road building and more grave digging, enslaved in a coal mine 12 hours a day, and was eventually blinded by vitamin A deficiency. 

One day he sat, exhausted, and began humming his mother's favorite aria from Madam Butterfly. A guard who was behind him said, "I know that song." He said he'd worked for an American couple who had been good to him. Then, Mr. Scott said, "Something dropped beside me. I heard him move away. And there was a banana leaf wrapped around something. And it was some of his bento, and it had some meat in it. The guard never spoke to me again. But I would see him. And the next few weeks I was working, he would manage to walk by without anyone seeing him and he would always drop something, food..." The guard also gave up half his quinine ration when Mr. Scott contracted malaria. He is convinced the kindness of this guard saved his life.

Mr. Scott in 1941, left, and 1944, right, after being help prisoner for 3 1/2 years. He was 6'1" and weighed 98 pounds.

The other relative's story began in a similar way but ended differently. He was badly beaten by the Japanese for refusing to relinquish his ring. He was so near death that his friends had to carry him on the march or the Japanese would have killed him. 
1942 photo captured from the Japanese after the end of the war, showing survivors carrying their comrades in improvised stretchers.
He survived the march and the subsequent imprisonment but was never able to give up the hatred he had for his captors and all Japanese people. It so consumed him that he died at a relatively young age.

This story was an epiphany to me but it shouldn't have been. I know of the destructive consequences of hate and anger. I know how it saps my energy, extinguishes every spark of pleasure and delight, and sacrifices those precious, irretrievable moments I could have spent living - so I'm not doing it any more. I've come to the realization that if someone who suffered as Mr. Scott did was able to let go of his black heart of hatred, it must also be in my power to do so. No more of the ex-husband couldn't, wouldn't, didn't, or refused. I choose can, will, do, and accept. It is amazing how these two stories have turned me around. I have Mr. Scott to thank for his attitude and grace, and Mr. Larson for bringing me a message I long needed to hear. My friend from Washington was right again.

Thought of the day:

Acceptance looks like a passive state, but in reality it brings something entirely new into this world. That peace, a sudden energy vibration, is consciousness. (Eckhart Tolle)