Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release from captivity
Frank Bigelow, ADBC Commander

ADBC Commander, 1993-1994
Frank Bigelow's interview by Linda Goetz Holmes

Frank Bigelow Commander Picture

Frank Bigelow was born August 5,1921, near Fero, North Dakota.  He enlisted in the U.S. Navy September 24, 1940.  His first duty was on the ill-fated battleship, USS Arizona.  He volunteered for Asiatic duty and served aboard the USS Canopus as a communications yeoman in Sub Squadron 20, Asiatic Fleet.  After Pearl Harbor he was sent to Bataan until she fell.  That night we got to Corregidor, and Frank served in the J Co., Fourth Marines, upon Gary Trail until she fell.  The Japanese captured him.
He spent time in the 92nd Garage, Bilibid, Cabanatuan Camps, 1,2 and 3.  From there he went to Bataan on detail with a bunch of tankers from the 192nd and 194th.  He was brought back to Cabanatuan, and from there he got an early detail going to Japan.  He wound up in Camp 17, Omuta, Fukuoka.  He spent the next one and a half years mining coal for the Emperor.  Between Christmas and New Year of 1944, he was injured quite badly.  A large rock fell over on him and crushed his right foot and ankle.  It had to be amputated below the knee.  An American Army doctor, Capt. Hewlett, took it off although he had nothing to work with except a few tools he made of old mess kit knives and anything else he could find.  With the help of three or four men to hold Mr. Bigelow down, Capt. Hewlett cut the leg off and did a very good job of it, according to Frank.
  Frank Bigelow Navy Picture
On August 15, 1945, after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese officer in charge of his camp turned the men in the camp loose.  After about 30 days of freedom in Japan, he gained 60 pounds.  They put Frank in a train and took him and his group right through the middle of Nagasaki down to the docks, where he was taken aboard the aircraft carrier USS Chenango.  From there, they went to Okinawa, then to Guam aboard USS Risey, and from Guam to San Francisco.  Frank went home for ninety days leave and went to the Phildelphia Naval Hospital, where they worked on his leg stump, built him a new leg and discharged him.  The loss of the leg did not hinder Frank in his pursuit of a decent living.  He enjoyed life to the fullest and displayed his knack of dancing the jitterbug at the ADBC National Conventions.

He worked for a propane gas company for about ten years.   Then he went into the trucking business for six years and ran a bar for three years.  He got married after that and thanked his wife for keeping him straight.

Frank became a member of the ADBC and was very active with the group.  He later was elected national commander and subsequently became part of a coalition (which included Harold Feiner and Lester Tenney who were in Camp 17 with him) seeking redress from the Japanese industrialists that utilized them as slave laborers.  He was interviewed on national television several times, testified before the Senate Judiciary committee, was featured in a story by Parade magazine and was always sought after by the media about his story of mistreatment and slave labor while a prisoner of war of the Japanese military.

Perhaps, a note from this friend Lester Tenney best describes Frank.  “Occasionally along life’s way, you meet someone you will always remember.  Maybe it’s his strength, or his humor.  Maybe the twinkle in his eye shows the kindness in which he treats you.  Or he just shows that he cares, cares for you, cares for what he believes in, and trusts your decisions.  But whatever it is, he becomes very special in your life, and contributes much to your happiness.  Maybe it is a helping hand when you need it, a comforting shoulder to lean on when things don’t go just right.  But he would always show respect for your opinions and appreciates your effort.  Such a man was Frank Bigelow.  He was a source of pride, always a willing participant, and he was always sought after for his insight into difficult situations.  Once in a while someone comes along and touches our lives, leaving us with moments that stay in our hearts and minds forever.  My life has been enriched because I knew Frank.  My willingness to continue to fight justice has been assured because Frank believed so strongly in our friendship.  My hope is brighter now, my faith is stronger, and my respect for life runs deeper because Frank has given everything he touched so much more meaning.”

About 250 people attended Frank’s funeral on July 22 at the Cloverleaf Farms Community Center.  His pastor at the Nobleton Community Church led prayers and reflected on Frank’s life and strong faith.  Dr. P. Gonzalez, Chairman of the Kissimmee Bataan Corregidor Foundation, spoke of Frank’s dedication in helping to bring about placement of the striking bronze statue at Kissimmee, with figures of a Filipino woman offering food to an American and a Filipino soldier during the Death March.

Part of this article contributed by Ed Jackfert from September 2003 issue of the Quan