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Bisbee man recalls being in Bataan Death March

By Bill Hess

Sierra Vista Herald

Published: Thursday, Aug. 4 2011 2:05 a.m. MDT

In this Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011 photo, Dick Cooksley sits at his normal spot for breakfast at the Mornings Cafe in Bisbee, Ariz., It was 1942, a time when then Sgt. Dick Cooksley didn't know if he would celebrate his 22nd birthday. But Monday the retired Army captain and survivor of the Bataan Death March in the Philippines during World War II celebrated his 91st birthday.

Sierra Vista Herald, Beatrice Richardson, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

BISBEE, Ariz. — It was 1942, a time when then Sgt. Dick Cooksley didn't know if he would celebrate his 22nd birthday.

But Monday the retired Army captain and survivor of the Bataan Death March in the Philippines during World War II celebrated his 91st birthday.

There were many soldiers — American and Filipinos — captured on the Bataan Peninsula who would not live to see other birthdays, as the inhumanity of their Japanese captors took the lives of many, Cooksley said.

The horror began soon after the surrender of nearly 80,000 American and Filipinos on April 3, 1942.

Cooksley, who was initially assigned to the 20th Army Group, was in the first bunch of about 20,000 prisoners-of-war to be forced march, heading to a former Army post, Camp O'Donnell.

"We were on the road for two-and-a -half days and they never fed us or gave us water," he said.

Those who fell out during the march were killed, bayoneted, beheaded or shot, Cooksley said, adding some other unique ways were found to kill unarmed prisoners.

The Japanese, who he called "Japs," using the term of the 1940s, made a game of running down the prisoners with trucks or tanks and particularly horrible was seeing a tank run over a fallen prisoner, crushing the unfortunate man to death, he said.

Death also visited any Filipino, from children to old people, who were caught providing the prisoners food or water, Cooksley added.

"The Filipinos are a great people, it didn't matter to them the risks they were taking, even knowing they could be killed," Cooksley said.

The Japanese guards were judge, jury and executioner and there were no appeals from their sentences, Cooksley said.

He spoke about his time during World War II, which except for four months, was as a POW, and his later service, when he was commissioned after the war and served in the Korean War at a birthday breakfast held at Mornings Cafe in Bisbee.

Proud he just had gotten his driver's license renewed for another five years, he pulled out the document and showed he has no restrictions in driving, not even wearing glasses.

His eyes are clear as cataract surgery done at the Veterans Affairs center in Tucson eliminated the need to wear spectacles while driving, although he does use them when reading.

"I don't take any kind of medicine," Cooksley said, adding "not even aspirin."

Standing at the counter, was Arlene Eastman, the owner of the cafe.

"He's in better physical shape than I am," Eastman said.

Customers constantly came up to Cooksley congratulating him on his ninth decade of life.

Every day the cafe is open Cooksley shows up around 8 a.m. for breakfast, sometimes a bacon omelet and toast other times a bowl of fruit and toast and always with orange juice and coffee.

During breakfast he spoke about more pleasant memories then those dark days as a Japanese POW.

The march from the capture point on the Bataan Peninsula was done in exhausting heat, he said.

The first leg of the march was nearly 60 miles and then the prisoners were put into sweltering box cars for a 10-mile train trip and then had to march another 10 miles to Camp O'Donnell.

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