Albert Brown, 1905–2011

The oldest survivor of the Bataan Death March

During his three years in a Japanese POW camp, and on the infamous Bataan Death March that got him there, Albert Brown suffered a broken back and neck, a bayonet wound, and a dozen tropical diseases. When he was freed, at the end of World War II, a doctor told the 40-year-old artillery officer to enjoy life while he could, because he wouldn’t see 50. But Brown—the oldest Bataan survivor—made it to 105. “He had this incredible spirit to live and overcome,” said his biographer, Kevin Moore. “Positive thinking or whatever you call it, he survived.”

The Nebraska-born dentist and Army reservist was shipped off to the Philippines in September 1941, just three months before Japan invaded the country. Outnumbered, the American and Filipino forces pulled back into the mountainous jungles of Bataan province near Manila. “After four months of intense fighting—their ranks reduced by hunger and disease and with no reinforcements in sight—they surrendered,” said The New York Times.

Some 76,000 Allied captives were forced to march 70 miles from Bataan to an internment camp. “During the six-day ordeal, the prisoners trudged through 100-degree heat,” said The Washington Post. They were denied food and water, and those who stumbled were executed on the spot. Brown saw one American beheaded by a sword-wielding Japanese soldier. Asked how he survived the trek—during which more than 10,000 prisoners died—Brown said, “When you saw somebody’s head being chopped off, it stirred up the juices and kept you going.”

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In captivity Brown ate just three ping-pong-sized balls of rice a day, and was routinely beaten. By the end of the war, the 6-foot officer had withered to 90 pounds and was nearly blind. “But Brown soldiered on,” said the Los Angeles Times. After two years recuperating in a Denver hospital, he moved to California and set up a business renting out properties to Hollywood stars, including Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland. “He came through horrible times and came out on top,” said Susan Engelhardt, one of his 12 grandchildren.

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