Mike Litchko was born June 9, 1917 in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania. During the depression years, he worked as a coal miner, but as jobs disappeared he joined the Army, earning $17.36 a month. He sent most of his paycheck to his family. He began his military career with infantry training at Fort Meade, and then learned equestrian skills in Panama. From there he went to the Philippines to help others how to fight a war in the jungle.
He served as a mentor to many young boyish soldiers who found themselves in the Philippines when the Japanese forced America’s hand to enter World War II. He was considered seasoned at the age of 25 and his sergeants ordered him to keep as many of the youthful soldiers alive as possible.
He took the orders seriously and he did as much as he could to buoy up the spirits of the defenseless soldiers who were taken prisoner by the Japanese after they bombed the rock fortress of Corregidor. He then suffered through the “March of Shame,” when the soldiers had to parade up Dewey Boulevard through Manila to Bilibid Prison. From there they rode in boxcars to Camp No. #3 at Cabanatuan. The unventilated boxcars caused a tortuous death for those who could not get enough air.
Mike Litchko and his war buddy Elmer Long found a way to escape the unbearable conditions they found at Cabanatuan. They went to Pier 7 in Manila bay and worked for two years loading and unloading cargo for the Japanese. The work was hard, but they weren’t beaten quite as much as others because their Japanese civilian commander had graduated from UCLA.
They sabotaged the Japanese when they could, taking drinks from the bottles of beer that came in for the Japanese soldiers, spitting in their food, and packing the cargo so that it would shift when the Japanese ships were in turbulent waters. Mike and his friend Bob Bowen would steal to get food for the prisoners even after threats to get their heads cut off.
Litchko returned to Cabanatuan. His friend Bob Bowen testified that he was admired there and would help those in weaker condition than himself.
Litchko’s trip on a “hellship” to Japan, took 62 days and it proved miserable with the holds being devoid of fresh air. The men suffered from dysentery and starvation and hundreds died while he was on the ship. They sailed from tropical heat to bitter cold in Japan. Once in Japan, Mike was placed in Camp Funatsu and performed hard labor in the lead mines.
On September 26, 1945 Mike Litchko was liberated, but his imprisonment had taken its toll. He lost 86 pounds during the ordeal and the mental suffering continued throughout his life. His wife Julia attested that “He hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in 52 years.”
He married shortly after the war in March 1946 and then continued his military service. He became sergeant first class as a quartermaster in Whittier, Alaska, and then with 101st Airborne Division in Fort Lee, VA. He had a stopover in California, and then he moved to San Jose upon retiring in 1964. For his military service he earned numerous medals, including the Bronze Star for staying in his gun position in Corregidor. Finally, they had to pull him out.
After his military service, Mike Litchko continued to serve others by becoming a member of the American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor and worked with Ralph Levenberg to try to seek compensation for the slave labor the men performed. He also helped other veterans write their memoirs and he kept his mind active poring over books. He also was a member of the American Ex-Prisoners of War and Disabled American Veterans.
He left behind a wife, Julia, a daughter Julie Caroll, a son Michael and two grandchildren at the time of his death.