Albert N. Brown, oldest survivor of Bataan Death March, dies at 105
By T. Rees Shapiro,
Albert N. Brown, 105, a retired Army major who lived to be the oldest survivor of the 1942 Bataan Death March in the Philippines and was believed to be among the oldest surviving Americans to have fought in World War II, died Aug. 14 at a nursing home in Nashville, Ill.
He had a heart ailment, said his daughter, Peggy Doughty.
An Iowa dentist and Army reserve officer, Dr. Brown was dispatched to the Philippines as a member of the dental corps in late 1941. He spent the majority of his service overseas as a Japanese prisoner of war. The wounds he suffered during confinement were so severe that physicians told him after the war that he would not live past age 50.
Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese planes began bombing American bases in the Philippines. A ground invasion followed. Isolated, the U.S. troops defended against the assault without any promise of reinforcements or resupply of ammunition or rations.
Dr. Brown said in interviews that after food became scarce, they ate snakes, crickets and worms, “and finally our horses and mules.”
The Americans and thousands of Filipinos fighting in the jungles suffered from dysentery, malaria and dengue fever.
Weakened by disease and exhausted of supplies, the Allied forces were taken prisoner by the Japanese in April 1942.
“We had to surrender to prevent an out-and-out killing of all Americans,” Dr. Brown later recalled.
Beginning on April 9, 1942, Dr. Brown was among the 76,000 Americans and Filipinos forced to march about 70 miles to an internment camp.
During the six-day ordeal, the prisoners trudged through 100-degree heat. They were denied food and water. Those who lagged behind or stumbled were often executed on the spot. Dr. Brown said he was bayoneted for not keeping pace.
He watched as one American fell to his hands and knees and was beheaded by a Japanese soldier with a samurai sword. He said he saw three Americans dig their own graves before they were shot in the holes and buried.
Asked how he survived, Dr. Brown said: “When you saw somebody’s head being chopped off, it stirred up the juices and kept you going.”
More than 10,000 prisoners were slain during the march. For those who survived, the vicious treatment continued.
Dr. Brown spent two years in a prison camp in the Philippines before he was sent to another installation on the island of Hokkaido, Japan. Between stints of forced labor, Dr. Brown was beaten and clubbed. He suffered a broken bone in his neck after he was jabbed with a rifle butt.
He said he ate “three little balls of rice a day, the size of a ping-pong ball.” The once burly soldier who stood six feet tall shriveled to 90 pounds.
Released in September 1945, Dr. Brown spent two years recuperating in a hospital in Denver. His back and neck did not heal properly, and he left dentistry because his wounds prevented him from working properly. For a time, he owned and rented property in Los Angeles.
Dr. Brown and his wife separated after the war, and he lived much of his life with his daughter in Pinckneyville, Ill.
Albert Neir Brown was born Oct. 26, 1905, in North Platte, Neb., and grew up in Council Bluffs, Iowa. He was a 1927 graduate of the Creighton University dental school in Omaha.
His wife, the former Helen Johnson, died in 1985. His son Albert N. Brown Jr. died in 2010.
Survivors include two children, Peggy Doughty of Pinckneyville and Robert Graham Brown of The Dalles, Ore.; 12 grandchildren; 28 great-grandchildren; and 19 great-great-grandchildren.
In 2007, Dr. Brown was recognized by several Bataan veterans organizations as the oldest survivor. Roger Simpson, a public information officer with the American War Library in Gardena, Calif., said that according to its records, Dr. Brown was the oldest veteran of World War II.
After the war, an Allied commission declared that the Bataan Death March was a war crime. The Japanese commander who oversaw forces in the Philippines was convicted in a trial and executed by firing squad.