On May 6th, 1942 the death march on Bataan had happened almost a month before. Now the island of Corregidor fell to the Japanese. The men of the 4th Marine Regiment and the other defenders sat on the dock surrounded by their captors awaiting an unknown future. They didn’t know it yet, that three and a half years of beatings, humiliation, starvation, disease and cruelty awaited them. Names of places like 92nd Garage, Bilibid, and Cabanatuan didn’t mean much to them on that day.
They couldn’t imagine the Japan bound “Hellships”, cargo ships unmarked as holding POW’s to protect them from friendly fire, inside which men would die packed in the holds, with little food, or water in the tropic heat; where one in five would die at the torpedoes of American submarines.
If luck was with them and they make it to Japan, they would become slaves, working in coal and copper mines, shipyards and factories. When it is all over, one in three would be dead.
It is often said “if things could talk, think of the stories they could tell.” This pack could tell a few about a young man named Richard Kenney; A Marine who carried it from the regiment’s days in Shanghai, China, to the defense of Corregidor. Maybe it could tell us of the POW’s forced march through the streets in front of the Filipino’s and how those Filipino’s cheered the defenders and were beaten by the Japanese when they offered food and water. It could go on about the cruel days and nights of the Hellships, and of days in Osaka main Camp at Chikko. Perhaps it could tell us how Corporal Kenney died at the camp, years before liberation, and how it made it back to the United States without him.
If it could talk it might tell us these things. But it leaves us to imagine for ourselves what it saw. It bears a mute witness to history and the life of a young man who once carried it.