In April of 1942 more than 60,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war held by the Japanese were forced to march over 65 miles in brutal conditions as they were transferred from one POW camp to another. Thousands died and those who became sick, injured or otherwise fell behind on what became known as the Bataan Death March were killed without mercy.
Among the survivors was Corporal Walter Gann, a young Mississippian who survived not only the horrors of the march but the unimaginable conditions aboard the ships transferring prisoners from the Philippines to the Japanese mainland and intense abuse, hard labor and malnutrition in those camps.
Gann would return home and eventually move to Booneville where he and his wife, Juanita Goddard, raised a family.
Gann, who died in October 1980, was honored Friday for his sacrifice and service as his family was presented with the medals and honors he earned for his service during a ceremony held at Booneville’s VFW Post.
“Those that survived like Walter Gann are made of the stuff that heroes are made of and we should take a moment to honor not just all the veterans but specifically those like Walter Gann who made such an extraordinary sacrifice on behalf of our grateful nation,” said Circuit Court Judge and US Army Reserve Col. Kelly Mims as he joined in honoring the late veteran.
Mims said all veterans are worthy of respect and it’s especially appropriate to recognize those like Gann who chose to serve their country and endured horrific cruelty and violence to protect their fellow Americans and secure freedom.
US Congressman and US Army National Guard Major General Trent Kelly shared a brief history of Gann’s service as he described how the corporal and his fellow members of the United States Army Air Forces were pushed down into the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines by repeated Japanese attacks until, having run out of ammunition, food and supplies they were captured and forced to march under brutal conditions first ti prison camps there and then transferred to camps on the Japanese mainland.
Kelly said it’s hard to imagine being 18-years-old and never having seen the world before finding yourself in the midst of such horror and at the mercy of those willing to act with such brutality.
“There are not words I can use that describe how much you must love your nation, how much you must love your God, how much you must love your family, how much you must believe in the ideals of this nation to endure what they have endured,” said Kelly.
The Congressman and veteran said the horrors of the war don’t end when a soldier returns home and he’s certain Gann carried the pain of his experiences with him for the rest of his life.
“I can tell you that is a lonely experience and one that he endured internally that can sometimes be just as tough as being held by someone else,” he said.
Gann’s family was presented Friday with his medals including the Purple Heart, Good Conduct Medal, WWII Victory Medal, Asian Pacific Theater Medal with one Bronze Star, American Defense Medal with one Bronze Star, and the Philippine Liberation Medal with one Bronze Star. They were also presented with a copy of a resolution read by Kelly in April in the US House of Representatives and recorded in the Congressional Record honoring and recognizing Gann for his service, along with a US flag that has flown over the capitol building.
Gann’s family said they’re grateful for the recognition and honor shown to their loved one and believe he would be proud and thankful.
“I can tell you if he were here today he would be smiling and he would be humble. He was a humble person and very proud,” said his daughter, Debbie Stolz. “I can’t express my appreciation enough to everybody who made this possible for my dad so he will have a legacy after I’m gone.”