While Memorial Day, which was started after the Civil War to honor the fallen soldiers and is not meant for remembering those who survive, I think we should also remember those who survived, but died inside protecting this nation. Too many lived thorough a war, but at great cost. One was Andrew Bryant. Few people have heard of Andrew Thomas Bryant. If you Google the name, you won’t find anything about the Andrew Bryant who was my great-uncle in at least the first few hundred listings. I know because I’ve checked. I only met Andrew once, when I was about 10 years old, and have little personal memory of him. I never heard him talk of his wartime experiences. Until a short time ago, all I had was hearsay evidence of his service.
According to my late mother, her uncle Andrew was in the Philippines when WWII broke out. Having enlisted in the Army during WWI, he was due to retire about that time and had a Filipino wife who owned a shop in Manila. They had stockpiled bolts of silk to bring back to the States as an early form of an IRA. But things didn’t work out as planned when the Japanese cut off the islands and invaded. He was taken prisoner at the fall of Corrigidor in 1942, but survived in the Bataan Death March. He saw men fall on that march, killed and dragged to the side of the road by Samari swords. Once in the POW camp, he traded gold rings off his fingers for salt. He had been wounded and a fellow soldier dug out the bullet with a rusty bayonet, leaving a permanent hole in his side. After being freed from the POW camp, he tried to find his wife, but her shop had been destroyed by a bomb and he never could find her. Although he made it through the war physically, he drank heavily and would often descend into tears at the memory of what had happened in the war, talking about people long dead. It was a classic case of PTSD. He never forgave General Douglas MacArthur for secretly leaving Corrigidor in a submarine in the middle of the night after promising his men he would stay with them, no matter what. But, like I said, all this came from my mother.
In history, every event should be verified by more than one reliable source to have credence. Often that is not the case in family history. A tour guide I met used to say, “There are lots of tales and some of them are true.” Although I wanted to believe that what my mother had told me about Andrew was true, I wanted impartial proof. All of my mother’s brothers and her sister have passed away and Andrew’s children by his second wife (if the story I was told was correct) have proved impossible to find. So I tried to find any information I could about him. I spent hours checking every website that had info on Bataan Death March survivors, Army personnel stationed in the Philippines at the outbreak of WWII, POW’s in Japanese camps and any other relevant source of such information. Nada. I was beginning to wonder if it were all a fake, if instead of being a hero, my great-uncle was a fraud. Was this story from my mother one that wasn’t true?
Not long ago I had worked with my cousin’s son (first cousin, once removed for you genealogists) in researching my uncle, Earl Owen Thresher, a Marine who died on Guadalcanal. We took on Andrew as a project and he sent a copy of a short item in the Louisville Courier-Journal from 1942 that said,”Second Lieu. Andrew Bryant, 43, former Louisvillian previously reported as missing, is a prisoner of war of the Japanese Government in the Philippines, the War Department has notified his sister, Mrs. Betty Thresher. A World War veteran, Lieutenant Bryant has been in the Army ever since except for a two-year period. He was at Corregidor when it fell, Mrs. Thresher said. He served six years in Hawaii and about twelve in the Philippines where he was stationed when war broke out.” It was the only confirmation of anything I had been told, but I was inspired to continue my search.
The big break came when the deacon at our church, a chaplain for Marine survivors of Corrigidor, gave me a website of Bataan survivors to check out. Scrolling down, I hit “Bryant, Andrew T., 2nd Lt.” A cold chill ran down my spine. This was actual confirmation that Andrew was there. More importantly, it gave me his Army serial number. I was in. From there on, the information about him was easily accessible. He’d been in the Cabanatuan POW camp in the Philippines and been shipped to Japan on 7/17/1944. He’d been on the Hell Ship (so termed because of the horrendous conditions aboard these transport vessels that too often were sunk by unknowing American submarines) Nissyo Maru. The ship took him to Takao/ Moji, Japan, arriving on 8/3/44. He was interned in the notorious Moji POW camp. If you want to know what it was like for men like Andrew, read the book Unbroken. While the movie was not up to the quality of the book, it will give you an idea of what “hell on Earth” means. Andrew was there.
After the war, Andrew returned to the U.S. on the S.S. Simon Bolivar, landing in San Francisco on 10/21/1945. I know this from the official records. But there is so much I don’t know for sure. Did he have a Filipino wife who likely perished in the fall of Manila to the Japanese? Did he somehow keep his rings after being taken captive and trade them for salt to keep alive? Did a fellow soldier dig out a bullet or shrapnel with a dirty bayonet? I doubt that there is any chance of actually knowing if these are facts or fiction. However, in light of so many of the stories my mother told me being true, these might be as well. One thing I do know is that Andrew really was a hero, a soldier who suffered and survived what might have killed lesser men. So, while he did not physically die in the war, I think a part of his being died for his country. For that reason, while I remember those who have given their lives for our country on this Memorial Day, I also remember all those men and women who physically lived through a war to protect this country, but suffered a certain type of death inside, known as PTSD. Like Lt.Andrew Bryant. I sing their praises.