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17 Jan

As he labored under the broiling sun over the next two days, Ed clung to a singular imperative. ED HAD REACHED THE PHILIPPINES seven months before with the 19th Bombardment Group.The circuitous flight from California’s Hamilton Airfield to Luzon’s Clark Field exceeded 6,000 miles, mostly over open ocean with only celestial signposts—just the sort of bold journey that fired Ed’s imagination.Finally on April 8, defenders withdrew to Bataan’s very tip.After an all-night journey, the southbound fugitives encountered northbound vehicles trailing white bedsheets.Even as most Americans and Filipinos obediently surrendered, Ed contrived escape.He and two squadron members commandeered a vehicle, drove it east to Mariveles Harbor, and hopped aboard a motor launch bound for Corregidor, a longtime military fortress about three miles off southern Bataan.The rest—as many as 12,000 American and Filipino airmen, soldiers, sailors, and Marines—sat exposed or under makeshift shelters.

Now, after scant sleep and no food, the POWs began repairing Kindley’s cratered runway for Japanese use.North across the channel, Ed could see the shores of Bataan and, beyond, the towering summit of Mount Mariveles.Having once fled Bataan with the Japanese at his heels, Ed had never imagined returning. Army Air Forces B-17 navigator, had fought on foot as had so many other airmen and sailors.Thousands of prisoners would die en route; thousands more succumbed at Camp O’Donnell, a squalid POW compound.Weeks later, as Ed Whitcomb contemplated the swim back to Bataan, he grasped a wartime reality: full freedom required constant escape.