Back to Bataan - A Survivor's Story
Written by Rick Peterson
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Website Dedication
Author Rick Peterson



The Road to Bataan

The Bataan Death March

The San Fernando Train Ride

Camp O'Donnell

Clark Field Concentration Camp

Bilibid Prison

The Hell Ships


The Nomachi Express

Camp Nomachi

Surrender, Liberation, and Repatriation


University of Minnesota
Alf R. Larson
Recorded Oral History

Governor Pawlenty
State of the State Address Tribute

KSTP TV Newscasts

Duluth TV Newscasts

KTIS Radio Interview
Rick P./Paulette K.
Alf's Christian Faith

Alf's Letter to God

Alf R. Larson

In Memory:
Alf R. Larson
Star Tribune

US Representative
Erik Paulsen's Tribute

Alf Larson Day -
City of Crystal

Bataan Death March Route Map

Philippine Department of Tourism

Star Tribune:
March of Time
("Article of Interest" for 4-6 Grade Basic Skills Reading Test Prep)

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In the late 1990s, I had the honor to become acquainted with Mr. Alf R. Larson. At that time, I had no idea of what was going to eventually come from that meeting. I soon learned that he had been a prisoner of war during World War II. Like so many World War II veterans, including my father and others, Mr. Larson rarely spoke of his experiences to anyone, including his wife and children, and most of the time avoided the topic. Initially, when we spoke, we engaged in a variety of personal and telephone conversations about World War II in general both in Europe and the Pacific. But he purposely continued to be evasive and vague about his own personal military service. After a few years of periodic, gentle persuasion, he finally agreed to tell me his entire story. As he would later say to Peg Meier, Star Tribune reporter, “He just wore me down.”

Towards the end of the decade and past his 80th birthday, we began a series of recorded interviews relating his experiences in his own words just as they had occurred. Mr. Larson served in the U.S. Army Air Corps and was stationed in the pre-war Philippine Island of Luzon outside the capital city of Manila. After the war began, he fought the Japanese invasion both in the air and on land. During an air mission, his plane was shot down by Japanese Zeros. He survived, continued fighting, and endured numerous hardships during the Battle of Bataan for close to six months including a lack of supplies, ammunition, equipment, and, most difficult of all, continuous daily starvation. After exhausting all military options, his field commander, General Edward P. King, surrendered American and Filipino forces in the Bataan peninsula on April 9, 1942. Mr. Larson was captured on Bataan shortly after the surrender and, along with thousands of American and Filipino soldiers, became a prisoner of the Imperial Japanese Army. He survived one of the many infamous and brutal Bataan Death Marches and two humiliating and inhumane Japanese concentration camps. As American troops landed at Leyte to reclaim the Philippine Islands, he was forced, along with other American prisoners, to sail to Japan in a hot, unventilated cargo hold in one of the notorious “Hell Ships.” He miraculously survived 23 days of that ordeal, and spent the remainder of the war at Camp Nomachi concentration camp, west of Tokyo, in Japan. He performed forced labor with fellow American prisoners until the Japanese surrender in August, 1945. He left Japan in September, 1945 and was repatriated to a rest and recuperation camp outside of Manila in the Philippines. He sailed back to the United States and eventually returned home to Duluth, Minnesota in November, 1945.

Although his memory of these events was very clear, the interview process was quite difficult for Mr. Larson because everything he experienced as a prisoner of war was deeply buried in the recesses of his mind. So we developed a procedure to document everything as accurately as possible. For example, after a taping session, I would transcribe the information from the tape and submit it back to him for review. He would read the material, make any additional changes, give it back to me, and I would rewrite that particular piece. Then we would move on to another part of the story and repeat the same process. But, during subsequent interviews and informal conversations, Mr. Larson would, at times, reflect back with new recollections and additional information that was relevant to already completed pieces of the story.

This happened because, as we progressed over time, additional details continued to emerge from his mind. For example, we would be talking about the Hell Ships and he would bring up something that happened on the Death March, a piece already finished. So, I would go back to the part of the story he referred to, add the additional information, place it in proper sequence, and then have Mr. Larson edit the revision for accuracy. Sometimes, he would have more changes and I revised the chapter incorporating his revisions and resubmitted to him again for approval. We would then move on but often returned to already written work and had to revise and re-edit. It was both an emotional and very time-consuming process for both of us. At one point, I became emotionally frustrated with the project and we stopped working on it for several months. We talked and decided to resume, and finally produced an accurate, complete first draft. As more relevant information, photos, etc. became available, the original manuscript draft was revised two more times. Mr. Larson ultimately approved the final draft of the manuscript, word for word. This final manuscript was then printed and used for all endeavors regarding the project. It is the one which exists today on this website and on file in the Veterans History Project resource at the Library of Congress.

I decided this remarkable narrative would be as realistic as possible by using an interview format to present the material to readers. In transcription, great care was taken to preserve accuracy of fact, the order in which all events occurred, and the originality of Mr. Larson’s statements. They were all made by him. For clarity, all questions and comments made by me are presented in red italics. Statements made by others during the interview process are acknowledged by their names in parentheses. Certain sentences and entire sections are highlighted in bold type. This is to underscore significant events that happened or to point out to the reader the extreme inhumanity of certain situations of this human experience. Several years after the website was in operation, Mr. Larson did agree to personally narrate certain sections of the manuscript, which can be heard as the reader progresses through it. Hearing his statements in his own voice greatly enhance the site content and give special meaning to the overall purpose of this work. Additionally, the manuscript was used for Kristin Kilpatrick’s book about Mr. Larson entitled Footprints In Courage: A Bataan Death March Survivor’s Story.

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All materials copyright © 2001 Rick Peterson.
This manuscript is registered with the Writer's Guild of America.
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