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Chapter 14: "Little Resistance"
Orani, Bataan, Philippines
PFC. Peter McCain
April 13th, 1942
'For every evil act done upon one man by another, there are three acts of good being done elsewhere. Now matter the depths man may go to in order to cause harm, there is an inherent love and compassion lodged in his soul. No matter what you see, and no matter what you do, understand that evil is not a component of the human spirit; It is a disease that must be fought at every turn.'
The words of Peter's father tumbled around his head, repeating and scrambling until they lost their meaning and gained a whole new one. With each passing, distracting thought, he could not help but repeat in his head the last words his father uttered before Peter joined the Marines. As a boy, his father shared stories with Peter about the Great War. He told him about his plucky, optimistic attitude when he first enlisted, and the rush of heading boots-first into the enemy. He told him about the pain, the sorrow, and the anguish. He saw his new-found friends blasted into oblivion, impaled by bayonets, and suffocated by toxic gas. He left the war jaded to humanity, set in his belief that man is inherently evil. He took this aggression and hatred and projected it on his beloved wife and son. He eventually repented, not expecting forgiveness.
All this to say, his words could not numb the pain of seeing men shot, impaled, and beheaded, left to rot in the dirt or in trenches of their own filth. Every half mile saw ten dead men, with faces just as unique as their fates. Peter McCain could see them all. He could hear the cries of pain in the distance, echoing over the tropical landscape. He had never felt so hopeless and alone, despite the thousands of American and Filipino men before him and behind him. There was nothing to do but walk, hungry, thirsty, and afraid. The weak who slowed or toppled from the heat or exhaustion joined the dead at the wayside.
At his side was Private First Class Anton Johnson, a young man, immature and afraid of his own shadow. At camp the two had shared playful jabs at one another, sharing the same bunk and training together. What he had been reduced to shook Peter's character. Johnson stood at the center of the marching crowd, which was about six men wide. He slouched, his eyes dead and lips dry, being pushed forward only by the sun-burnt and exhausted men behind him. In a raspy, beaten voice he spoke softly to Peter, “I can't go any further Peter. I can't. There is nothing left in me.”
“Don't talk like that. We will get through this, buddy.”
“I can't. We just keep passing water. It hurts, Peter.”
To their left, they could see a small pool of muck-covered water.
“It hurts to what, walk?”
“We don't need to be doing much of that anyway.”
“I don't want to die, Peter, I don't... “
In a hushed voice, the older American man, their Corporal, behind them spoke up.
“If he slows us down any more, we are all going to die!”
Peter turned his head, glaring into his Corporal's eyes.
“Shut the fuck up, none of us are going to die!”
“Excuse me, Private McCain?”
“You heard me. We are on the same side.”
Just then, a Japanese soldier passed by the edge of the crowd, walking slightly faster, gazing upon each man as he struggled to keep upright. All were silent and gazed forward, as to not make any contact with the soldier's eyes. He slowed his pace to peer at the man immediately in front of McCain, looking into the unflinching soldier's soul before backhanding him, sending his helmet flying into Peter's face, bloodying his nose. The soldier who was hit continued to march forward, attempting to appear unfazed as the Japanese trooper cackled to himself and took a canteen from his belt to drink. Water droplets streamed across his mustache as some men could not help but watch cautiously.
Anton was especially allured by the canteen, not averting his watch from the moment the cap came unscrewed to the time it returned.
“I'd kill him... for that water.”
“Don't talk stupid, Anton.”
“I'm dying, Pete, I have the right to be stupid.”
“I'm going to get that water, one way or another.”
“Don't do anything. Promise me you won't. Just... I'll try to get it.”
“I'll ask him.”
“He'll kill you.”
“Just let me do the talking. We will see, won't we?”
Peter stepped out of line, breathing in and out once slowly to prepare himself.
“Sir, do you speak English?”
Bewildered, the soldier turned around, furious.
Pointing to the water at his side, Peter spoke, “My friend, he needs that-”
The soldier slammed the butt of his rifle into Peter's face, permanently damaging his nose and sending him to the ground.
The pain in his head after hitting the ground clouded his vision, and only after a moment did he see the end of the bayoneted rifle inches away from his face. The soldier then proceeded to deliver a swift kick in the ribs and a boot to his ankle while he lay in agony, the crowd passing by not slowed by the event. Anton had tried to exit the group to help him but was pushed forward by the other prisoners of war.
In a fury, the soldier put the rifle even closer to his eyes, prepared to pull the trigger. A Japanese voice called out through the sound of horseshoes clomping through dirt.
A horse came into Peter's view just above his head, whinnying as its rider stepped down and pulled the rifle from the soldier's hands. Though he could not understand them, the rider was clearly incensed, and the two were in heated discourse. The rider, with the cap of an officer, had won the debate, pushing the rifle into the soldier's chest and sending him ahead with the wave of onlooking men. The significantly older officer barked an order in English to Peter.
Peter mustered up the strength to stand back up, his ankle twisted from the violent attack. The old officer returned to his horse, pointing to the marchers, now a group of Filipino troops. Peter obliged without question, returning to the ranks of the prisoners.
The officer sat tall atop the white horse, his chest adorned with medals and a blade sheathed on his belt.
Peter limped on, managing to keep pace with the others. Fearing backlash if he were to speak up again, but indebted to this elderly officer on horseback, he could not help but try to thank his savior.
“So you speak English?”
A Filipino soldier next to Peter glared at him, to which Peter added, “Not you, him.”
The officer atop the horse looked down, face emotionless and somewhat confused by Peter's relentless persona.
Peter continued, “Either way, thank you, but, my friend up there. He needs water. I think we all do, but he won't make it much further.”
The officer gazed ahead, pretending initially to ignore his words, but looking down to his own body and closing his eyes as the herd passed another corpse, his head resting on a stump, eyes wide open in a state of terror.
“We will stop for water ahead. My underling's response was... unnecessary. But do not step out of line again.”
“Yeah, I understand. Thanks.”
“Do not thank me. I believe in second chances, but no more than that. You are the Emperor's prisoner, and you will follow orders. That is true for all of you.”
Peter continued walking for a few moments, the pain in his ankle palpable, before speaking up once again.
“This pain is killing me. He really did a number on me.”
The officer looked down on Peter, both angry and puzzled.
“Are you a fool? Or do you have a deathwish, American?”
“A little of both, I suppose.”
“How can you find humor on this day? With such... cruelty being inflicted.”
“It's how I survive.”
“I have not laughed since before my time in Nanking. These young men... they see those not born under the flag of the Empire as lesser. There was a time when the young did not perpetuate this view of self-importance. When the young were the ones trying to bring peace and prosperity to our great nation.”
“They're your men, can't you stop them?”
The officer did not respond for a moment, shaking his head.
“It is not my place. The Emperor has ordered that we show no mercy to an enemy that would surrender rather than die.”
“And what's your opinion?”
He paused, appearing sorrowful.
“I was raised to believe there is no dishonor in living to fight another day.”
“I mean, if you disagree, you don't have to-”
The rider unsheathed his sword, displaying it close to Peter's neck from atop the horse.
Peter looked into the stainless, reflective blade at his own wide-eyed face, and replied quietly.
“Perhaps the Emperor is wrong in his judgment... but you are in no place to speak ill.”
“I mean no disrespect to... whomever. You just seem less... dogmatic, I guess. Maybe you could ask the Emperor to make a change?”
“How does one man hold so many preposterous thoughts?”
“You seem to be respected by all your men. Maybe if you spoke up-”
“They respect me, as should you, because I was once the Emperor's personal envoy. I, like my ancestors, have trained in the Samurai code. Few in our Empire today remember these teachings. My father, me, my son... we are bound by our heritage to serve the Emperor, unquestioning.”
“But you said the Emperor could be wrong, right?”
He paused, searching for meaning in his thoughts.
“Times are changing, and I fear my son will be the last of the Samurai in all of Japan. It seems our family and our traditions are being forgotten by the Emperor... “
Peter stayed silent, the blade no longer to his neck but sheathed. He let the Samurai horseman meditate for a moment.
“You may be right, American. I have been witness to the cruel injustice I see before me many times before today. I have failed my ancestors by remaining silent... These young men serving under me, they pay no real respect. They laugh when I am away, believing my age means I am unworthy of battle.”
Ahead of them was the sound of a gunshot from a Japanese rifle, and a scream of pain intermixed with a soldier's cackling.
“You've got to keep them in line, like you're keeping me in line. Maybe, also, you could stop a little early for some water?”
The Samurai looked down to Peter, eyebrow raised, before cracking a smile.
“Hmph. I will see to that. The principles of Bushidō do not die with me and my son. Remember my name, American: Saburo Masaki.”
Saburo hit the horse's side and took hold of the reigns, causing it rear up and gallop away towards the commotion, leaving a trail of dust and trampled grass.
Peter took a moment to breathe, assured he may have saved the lives of many of his comrades but reeling from the attempts at his own life. He began to feel sick, and somewhat guilty he could not save those who had already fallen. Their convoy was also only one of many on the trail on its way from Bataan.
A whisper from behind Peter said, “Hey!”
Peter turned, “Hm? Oh, you're welcome.”
The Filipino man who had whispered to him tapped the comrade in front of him on the shoulder, and the two switched positions to put himself next to Peter.
He reached into the breast pocket on his uniform removing a few pieces of paper. Peter was confused how he was able to hold onto this paper as each of them was searched and everything removed from their pockets. Peter saw a man shot dead because he would not give up the letter from his wife.
“Where did you get that?”
The Filipino soldier put his finger to his lips, checking behind the convoy and ahead to insure no Japanese soldiers were close enough to hear.
“Quiet! These are sensitive documents. While you were on the ground, I take them from the officer's horse.”
He unfolded the papers close to his chest and low so they would not be seen. His comrades also did not make it obvious they were listening in, as to not draw suspicions.
The paper was entirely in Japanese writing, completely unreadable to Peter.
“What's sensitive about it? You know you could have been shot doing that?!”
“I read through some, American. I know little Japanese. There are plans for attack in letters to him. It has island attack strategy in Pacific. If your government has these plans, they will have the upper hand.”
“Shit... this would change the tide of the war. Well, did you find a gun on that horse too?”
“No, no weapon.”
“How exactly are we going to get this to them when we have nothing to work with?”
The Filipino man looked to the faces of his friends, and seeing that they also seemed unsure how to approach the situation, he replied.
“We must fight back when we arrive at the train station.”
“We'll be outgunned and outnumbered there.”
“It is our only chance to bring this back.”
“If we start an uprising, they will not hesitate to kill all of us. There's no chance that would work.”
They both stood silent, Peter thinking over the situation. He looked to Saburo, far up ahead, lording over one of his men ahead of him, watching his every move. Peter continued, “But, if we can escape quietly, no one has to die.”
“What is your plan?”
“Plan... yeah, the plan is I distract Saburo, somehow, and draw his men away. We then sneak away towards one of those personnel trucks, assuming the keys are able to be found. We take that out to the nearby airfield, and fly the plane to Corregidor where the military base should still be.”
“This plan is... suicide.”
“It's better than everyone dying. If we bring these plans home, maybe we can save everyone here.”
To the wayside was a corpse stabbed multiple times in the neck and chest, facial expression blank as it bled into a nearby ravine.