Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release form captivity

Casey Bazewick


Casey Bazewick Photo

Casey T. Bazewick, Sr., defender of Bataan and Corregidor, Liberator of Seoul, died on December 3, 2012 in Mount Vernon, Washington, at the age of 94.

 

Born in Chicago in 1918, he joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 1936, and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps two years later. From 1940, in Shanghai, he served with the Fourth Marines – the famed “China Marines” charged with protecting American life and property. While he was there, the Marines foiled a plot by the Japanese to overrun the American sector of the city.

                                                 

Just days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Marines were evacuated to the Philippines. Soon they too came under aerial attack on the Bataan peninsula. Under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the sorely understrength regiment was ordered to defend the island fortress of Corregidor, where MacArthur and the Philippine president (with the country’s gold bullion) had retreated.

 

During the epic siege of Corregidor, lasting over four months, Casey and his squad endured massive bombardment from land and air, while in exposed foxholes on Topside, the highest part of the island. Without reinforcements and on reduced rations, Corregidor’s defenders held out against overwhelming enemy forces until May 6, 1942, one month after nearby Bataan fell.

 

For two weeks, Casey and thousands of captives were held hostage in the open at 92nd Garage, which they called “Fly Camp.” Baking in the tropical sun, they subsisted on little food and water, while Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, who had replaced MacArthur, desperately convinced his remaining forces in the Philippines to surrender.

 

Then, after being paraded before the horrified citizenry of Manila and briefly held at Bilibid Prison, they were stuffed into stifling boxcars for a hellish ten-hour rail journey. They were force marched a dozen miles to Cabanatuan, where conditions at the prison camps were primitive and deadly. Survivors of Bataan joined them. Nearly half the men died here in the first year alone.

 

In October, two thousand POWs were shipped from the Philippines, crammed like cattle into the holds of the “hellship” Tottori Maru. Conditions were worse than in prison camp. Only a day out of port, Casey and another POW on deck witnessed the near sinking of their ship by the American submarine USS Grenadier. Two torpedoes narrowly missed the ship by feet, one on either side.

 

A month later, after two dozen POWs had died en route, Casey and others disembarked in bitter cold at Pusan, Korea. Unable to travel farther, 181 were hospitalized, of whom 28 died. Among 1,300 prisoners, Casey arrived at Mukden, Manchuria, where winter temperatures dropped to 40 below zero. In the first winter, at least 235 perished. Casey was forced to work in a large war factory, Mitsubishi’s Manchurian Machine and Tool Company, where the men sabotaged as much as they could. He painted the number tags they wore.

 

Japanese from Unit 731 performed medical experimentation on large numbers of POWs; many became very ill and some died. For not bowing, Casey was nearly beaten to death by guards, who repeatedly knocked him out and revived him. In December 1944, an American B-29 bombed the unmarked camp, killing 19 POWs within feet of him on the open parade ground.

 

OSS paratroopers liberated the camp in August 1945. As prisoner of war in the Philippines and Manchuria for over 39 months, Casey had survived starvation, beatings, torture, untreated diseases, friendly fire, tropical and subzero exposure, medical experimentation, and enslavement. His weight had dropped as low as 86 pounds.

 

At war’s end, Casey remained in the Marine Corps as a War Dead Escort. For two years he returned the repatriated remains of servicemen to grateful families for burial. While posted in Columbus, Ohio, he met and married Thelma.

 

Casey and his rifle company appeared in the 1949 Academy Award-nominated film Sands of Iwo Jima, starring John Wayne.

 

In summer 1950, he was on active duty at Camp Pendleton when North Korea launched its overwhelming surprise attack on South Korea, igniting the Korean War. His company became the first Marine infantry unit committed to combat there; meanwhile, as First Sergeant, he readied another rifle company for deployment.

 

At a division formation and parade, Casey was surprised to be called front and center to the reviewing stand. For so significantly raising his company’s military efficiency, he was commended with special praise as outstanding First Sergeant of the 1st Marine Division.

 

In September, Casey’s Charlie Company participated in the massive Inchon Landing, MacArthur’s masterstroke gamble to save South Korea, then on the brink of collapse. They stormed ashore in the 1st Battalion of the 1st Marines, under the command of legendary Col. “Chesty” Puller, with whom Casey had also served in Shanghai.

 

Outside Seoul – the largest single objective ever assigned the Marines – Casey volunteered to replace a platoon leader killed in fierce action. He led the platoon at the front line, driving into the heart of the ancient capital. For the rest of his life, he would be haunted by memories of killing 22 North Korean soldiers in two grueling weeks of hand-to-hand and close-quarter fighting, and of the war’s brutal impact on civilians.

 

The 1st Marine Division had reached South Korea just in time to save it. After Seoul was liberated, Casey was hospitalized in the U.S. Though his company commanding officer promised him a recommendation for the Silver Star Medal, he never heard more about it.

 

For the remainder of the war, Casey became a nationally recognized Marine recruiter in South Bend, Indiana. Widely respected in the community, he earned four coveted “E” flags for excellence in recruiting. His proud commanding officer said, “If Casey can’t do it, it can’t be done.” At the height of his career, he was honorably discharged due to disabling “anxiety reaction,” now termed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Casey was recommended for promotion to Second Lieutenant, but inexplicably it did not go through. His lifelong dream of becoming an officer was never realized.

 

Transition to civilian life was difficult for Casey and his family, but in time he pulled himself up from a string of low-paying jobs and made a successful career in sales and real estate. Yet he lived every day with the memory of war and prison camp. Eventually his service-connected disability was rated 100%. He also had probable traumatic brain injury (TBI). And he suffered from trigeminal neuralgia, one of the most painful medical conditions, possibly caused by the prison camp beatings.

 

When his son, Casey Jr., was a boy, Casey took him to two ADBC conventions: Pittsburgh, 1960, at which Sen. Lyndon Johnson spoke, and Binghamton, NY, 1961.

 

In 2009, Casey was awarded the Purple Heart Medal for wounds he received as a prisoner of war. His nursing home was packed with his proud family, residents, and Marines for the moving ceremony.

 

His funeral Mass was celebrated at his beloved boyhood church, St. John Cantius, in Chicago. On May 17, 2012, he was interred, with full Marine Corps honors, at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.

 

Provided by: Casey T Bazewick, Jr.