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Survivors of 1942 Death March Relate Experiences to Ventura High Students


VENTURA — The students had heard of the Bataan Death March only recently, so how could they know all the suffering it caused?

How could they know what Manuel Eneriz had endured? That almost 60 years ago, the man standing before them had trudged through 65 miles of Philippine jungles over six miserable days?

That next to him an officer had his head sliced off by a sword-wielding Japanese sergeant? That for six days he ate nothing but one bowl of rice?

Their history book had only given them two sentences on one of the more brutal episodes of World War II.

Eneriz, 80, fleshed out the details for the Ventura High School juniors last week.

Thirty-three of the Camarillo resident's fellow Bataan survivors from throughout six Western states will convene in Ventura today for a three-day reunion. To welcome the men, Ventura High students created a huge banner and invited Eneriz and fellow prisoner of war John Real of Ventura to share their experiences with an 11th-grade honors history class.

"I'm 79 years old. In a few years there won't be any of us left," said Real, who spent 3 1/2 years in a Japanese POW camp.

It was in the early, dark days of World War II and the U.S. fleet had just been crippled at Pearl Harbor. With Hong Kong and Singapore falling, the invasion of Bataan delivered graphic proof to the Americans at home of their new enemy's devastating force.

In the Philippines, 19-year-old Real and his fellow soldiers were outmanned and outgunned.

Nearly 10,000 Americans fought off the Japanese for four months. But on April 9, 1942, they were backed into Bataan, and finally defeated. The Japanese rounded them up and sent them slogging toward a prison camp to the north.

About 600 died on the march, and thousands more died as captives.

The Japanese took Eneriz's watch and his graduation ring, but let him keep the rosary he still uses to pray. The guys near him who couldn't march or were wounded were shot.

Real suffered through bouts of dysentery and malaria. He was crammed into the hold of a so-called "hell ship" bound for Japan, unable to stand because there was no room and fed from a bucket dropped through a hole.

Eneriz remembers the explosions as U.S. planes bombed the unmarked ships, not realizing they were loaded with American POWs.

Both men worked in Japanese coal mines 12 hours a day, seven days a week. They worked in teams of 10, and if one man escaped, the other nine were shot.

It was a question of surviving, Real said.

"The will is very fierce," he said.

By August 1945, the war was all but over.

But it wasn't until Eneriz saw the American flag flying over Nagasaki that he knew he was free. He said it was the most beautiful sight he had ever seen.

The veterans' account of their ordeal left the Ventura High students overwhelmed. They hadn't realized how American soldiers suffered during the war.

"Watching Manny cry as he talked about the American flag, it hits you in the heart and stomach," said 16-year-old Lisa Schilken.

It made her classmate Mike Wood realize the chunk of history he had missed.

"That's what happened. There was about a paragraph in our history book, and you gathered nothing about it. And it was thousands of men," he said.

Some of the students have volunteered to help with this week's meeting of the group, American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor. Students also will interview the men for a class project.

"The biggest complaint from the POWs is that nobody knows about it," said history teacher Linda Brug. "There will be a time when this opportunity isn't available."

Real thinks he knows why Bataan gets short shrift in their history books.

"I think the War Department was ashamed they couldn't help us," he said. "We were just goners. We were expendable."

The survivors from throughout California, Nevada, Colorado, Oregon, Idaho and Arizona will tour the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library tonight and Naval Base Ventura County on Wednesday. The American Legion post in Ventura will host a dinner for them, and on Thursday will screen a documentary about Bataan survivors. There is no charge for the screening, which will be held at 1 p.m. at the post, 83 S. Palm St.

The Bataan survivors have filed a class-action lawsuit against the Japanese government, contending that they deserve compensation for their slave labor. But, most of them don't talk about it much, said Trudy Real, John's wife.

"No one else will ever, ever understand what they went through," she said. "That's a bond between those men."

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