United States Army Air Corp - Word War II, Philippines
The Bataan Death March
Duties: Signalman attached to fifth interception command signal detachment
August DiPaolo, U.S. Army Air Corps
Prisoner of War: 44 months (1,352 days)
Medals and Awards: World War II Victory Medal, Philippine Liberation Medal, Good Conduct, Air Medal, Sharpshooter MI rifle
Married: Elizabeth (Miller) Cyprus Lake Methodist Church, Cape Coral, Fla.
Grandchildren: Daniel, Brendon, Paige
August DiPaolo was born in Buffalo on Oct. 17, 1918 in the Fillmore District and Sidney-Humboldt area. His father worked in the concrete business. Dipaolo as a child picked up the trade and learned fast. Later the family started the idea of building a new style home. It was a ranch style home with two floors, two levels. Architects later named this idea a split-level home. The DiPaolo family was the first builder to construct a split-level home. DiPaolo Construction Co. was born.
Since DiPaolo came from a family of nine children, getting up early was a must if one was in a hurry to get somewhere. He, as many men of that era, woke up on a Sunday morning on Dec. 7, 1941 and found out that his country was involved in a world war.
When first announced, many people had no idea what or where this place called Pearl Harbor was. Many couldn't believe a small country like Japan would provoke a war. Were they wrong! This war was on the other side of the world. World War II had to be fought on two different fronts. The east was the war in Europe. The west was the war with Japan. Within weeks Japan had quickly took over and controlled many islands in the Pacific which were near them.
Our leaders in Washington, D.C. prioritized the war effort. Seeing that the war in Europe was escalating at a faster pace, Washington gave the war in Europe its priority sending whatever was needed. First east and the remaining going west into the Pacific. The same day Pearl Harbor was being bombed Dec. 7, the Philippines was also being bombed. Because it was in a different time zone, the bombing of the Philippines is recorded as happening on Dec. 8.
August DiPaolo enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corp on Feb. 2, 1941. At that time receiving orders to the Philippines was a gift. Manila was a gem and listed only decades earlier as the most beautiful city in the world. Arriving in the Philippines, he was assigned as a linesman with the fifth interception command unit. It was a signal unit. After the bombing on Dec. 8, the tension was starting to rise. It was common to see Japanese cruisers and troop carriers sail past the island with no activity. Everyone knew something was coming, they just didn't know where or when. Then on April 9, 1942, it happened. Japanese forces landed and captured the Philippines with an overwhelming force. Immediately, Japan placed a blockade around the Philippines and American forces were left with few if any supplies.
As the Japanese built their force on the Philippines, they started to divide the Philippinos from the Americans and placed them in groups or around 1,500. From there it was easier to contain and watch its prisoners. DiPaolo's unit also was captured. His group of 1,600 was then sent to their POW camp. As the war went on without him, all he could do was fight to just survive.
The American prisoner value was lower than a rabid dog and had absolutely no value. Also a POW in the eyes of the Japanese was a disgrace and should never return home knowing it was an embarrassment to the family.
After spending two months and still alive, he was in for the surprise of his life. He thought that things were as bad as they could possibly be until that one day in December 1944. His group was taken to the docks and jammed into the holds of the an old Japanese troop carrier, one of the first three hell ships that were being used to transport prisoners that made it from the camp and transfer them on a six-week journey that would take them to labor camps on Japan's mainland. In this trip, the prisoners received one tablespoon of rice and water per day. A few turned into zombies, attacking others to get their rations. DiPaolo recalls men sucking blood to just get fluids in their mouths.
The Japanese would shoot anyone sticking their noses in any of the hatches just to breathe in some fresh air. En route, two ships with other prisoners were hit by allied forces. What happened to them is still unknown to DiPaolo. Of the 1,600-plus Americans sent on his death voyage, just over 534 arrived alive.
He survived the camp and after much medical attention, he came home to start his life. When he got back to a normal life, he found employment with Saviola Construction, which did all types of residential and commercial work.
Loving his job and wanting to just go on with life given to him worked well until about 1975 when his disabilities from the P.O.W. camps caught up with him. Later that year, the Veterans Administration placed him on full disability. He later enjoyed his retirement years staying active with the VFW as a life member and member of the Disabled American Veterans, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and the Moose Clubs.
He was a Bataan Death March hero. As of this story there are only four members left to tell the story of Americans who were stationed in a part of the world that the U.S. at the time deemed not a priority to defend. Records show that there were over 10 times the Americans killed from the Bataan Death March than were lost at Pearl Harbor. Yet, we as a country have never set one day aside to honor these brave Americans. If the Japanese soldier had a bad day or even a headache, he would kill you if he felt like it with no penalty. Men were shot if they helped another.
That's the way war is. Wars are about real people getting killed just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I was reading a veteran's magazine that the last Bataan Death March reunion was two years ago. The reason was there was no one left that can make the trips. At that last meeting there were eight survivors left. One highlight of the last Bataan Death March reunion was that Japan had sent a delegation of four Japanese to apologize for the way Japan treated them during Bataan.
We lost August DiPaolo Feb. 6, 1992. His story is being told the best possible way I can tell it. A hero that spent 44 months waking up each day not knowing if it was going to be his last coming into camp with 1,600 and leaving with 534. Living each day seeing your unit slowly being eliminated. A life in which many POWs came back to the states months, even years after the troops came home victorious. Many were bedridden in military hospitals and most came home alone, not in full trains or buses as most.
There is not much now we as a society can do for these death march survivors. They, as the Pearl Harbor survivors and the Doolittle Raid survivors, soon will be history. How the stories will be written from then on will be at the writer's discretion. He will be able to say and things and there will be no one left to confirm the stories. That is why we need to talk to our veterans. We need to ask as many questions as we can find. We lose these heroes every day. We lost a great one when we lost August DiPaolo.
- Submitted by John Fedyszyn, Vietnam veteran