Articles and Information about Abie Abraham
“Ghost of Bataan” Still Helping Vets from the Quan
By Ruth Ann Dailey
July 4, 2005
When a neighbor told me where to find Abie Abraham, my throat tightened a bit. A reader had phoned to relay Abie's inspiring story two weeks before and some cranial lightning bolt returned it to my mind last Thursday night. Friday morning I sifted through some dozens of messages to find the right one. I called the reader back and he had Abie's address. A colleague worked Internet magic to unearth Abie's unlisted number, but no one answered the phone. Determined to share this heroic veteran's story on Independence Day, I drove to Connoquennesing, searched an unpaved road for his unnumbered house, knocked and knocked, trespassed on his property shouting "Hello!" at various groundhogs--all to no avail. But a neighbor quieted his riding mower long enough to say, rather alarmingly, "I know where you can find Abie. He's at the VA hospital down the road. Just ask for him at the front desk."
Abie Abraham will turn 92 at the end of this month. He not only survived the Bataan Death March, but endured hellish years as a prisoner of war, chronicled the death of hundreds of soldiers and remained in the Philippines after the war--at Gen. Douglas MacArthur's request--to find the bodies of the American dead.
But that epic effort ended 55 years ago. Old heroes are aging quickly. Word that this local hero was at the Butler Veterans Affairs Medical Center made me worry—until a helpful employee pointed me to Abie's outpost, the outpatient entrance information desk.
At 91 years, and some 330-some days of age, retired U.S. Army Sgt. Abie Abraham shows up at the hospital at 6:45 am five days a week, eight hours a day, to volunteer. He's explaining his work when and attractive young woman walks by and calls out, “Hi, Abie!”
“I love her,” he tells me, and then calls to her, “You love me?” She laughs and tosses a “Yes” over her shoulder. It turns out this tireless worker, this “Ghost of Bataan,” this first-generation American of Syrian descent, is a beloved rascal. Another volunteer stops to chat, and Abie mentions his upcoming birthday. “I'm angling for a party,” he confides.
His 29,000 hours of service began 17 years ago. “I visited a friend of mine here and he cried,” Abie recounts simply. " I sas the suffering. Then I started volunteering. You have to give something in life."
Abie already has given far more than most. Having enlisted in 1932, he'd achieved the rank of sergeant by 1941 and was stationed in the Philippines with his young family when Japan attacked. He was among the estimated 70,000 American and Filipino soldiers who surrendered to the Japanese on the Bataan Peninsula in 1942. Exhausted and unfed, the prisoners of war were forced to march most of the 100 miles to an inland camp. Villagers who approached the prisoners of war were “clubbed, stabbed, shot to death," Abie recalls. “They're good people and they loved the Americanos.”
While estimates place the death toll of the Bataan Death March at 10,000 to 20,000, Abie chronicled hundreds more at Cabanatuan Camp. He kept notes first on food can labels, later in tiny notebooks that American mechanics who were forced to help the Japanese managed to smuggle to him. When rescued in 1945, only 513 POWs had survived.
Abie's wife and three young daughters spent the war in an internment camp, and just weeks after they were reunited, MacArthur asked Abie to lead the effort to find the bodies of Americans who'd died on the march or in the camps. His family refused to return to the United States without him; they didn't come home until 1948, to the small farm near Butler where Abie, now a widower still lives. In recent years, Abie has chronicled the unimaginable suffering in two books: “Ghost of Bataan Speaks,” in 1971, and “Oh, God, Where Are You?” in 1997. He's given “hundreds of speeches"--as many as five a week-- to make sure younger generations know what life and liberty cost.
“I always tell the kids, “When you meet a veteran, shake his hand and thank him for his sacrifice'.”
Abie's sacrifice lasted long after the war. “The first body I dug up, I just shook,” he recalls. “But you have to make up your mind and do what's needed.”
This is the indomitable spirit of independence we celebrate. The Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania honored Abraham last week with the John Heinz Community Advocate Award for his volunteer work.
Margie Schumacher, development directof of t he Veterans Leadership Program, said Abraham was an easy choice for the John Heinz award.
“If you think of 29,000 hours of doing anything, that's incredible,” she said. Abraham also helps raise money for the center and frequently speaks to school and civic groups. He said he feels like he's getting too many certificates, awards and plaques as it is.
“My whole wall is covered in the living room,” Abraham said, “I've got them in the kitchen, the hallway. It's nice getting them.”
From August 2005, QUAN