Interview With Agapito E. Silva: Survivor of Bataan

By Connie Lowe: 03/08/99

Agapito E. Silva was born on October 22, 1919 in San Marcial, New Mexico. Agapito lead a happy-go-lucky life until the age of 22 when he enlisted in the service. Shortly after he enlisted, Agapito, also known as "Gap", was about to change forever.

On January 6, 1941 he was sent off to Fort Bliss as part of the 200th Coast Artillery (AA). On December 7, 1941 the United States declared war on Japan, and the battle began. After World War II started, the 200th was split into the 200th and the 515th. Agapito made his way to Corregidor. His escape kept him from the "Death March" that took place on Bataan after the surrender to the Japanese on April 9, 1942.

From an interview I conducted with Mr. Silva on March 8, 1999, this is what he had to say about his days of imprisonment: "After Corregidor fell on May 6th, I was captured and held in the prison camp, BiliBid. After my stay there, I was transferred to Camp Cabanatuan where I was reunited with some of my fellow men. Eventually, I was taken to Mogi, Japan, Camp 17, by way of the Taga Maru which was a 'Hell Ship'. The men who were taken there were forced to do labor in the coal mines."

"Some of the things that I remember most are of the prison camps I was in. In Cabanatuan, the POWs asked if we could work in a farm. When it was harvest time, they took all the vegetables and sent them to Japan. Being able to grow the vegetables was still a privilege. In most of the camps you weren't allowed to receive mail or celebrate holidays. The only type of freedom we got was every 11 days the POWs were allowed to visit one another. We had to bury many POWs every day. The men who were put on burial detail were split into two groups. One group had to dig the graves which were 3 to 4 feet deep and about 12x12 feet. The other group had to gather the bodies and bring them to the burial site. All the bodies buried had their dog tags put into their mouths so that when they were found, the tag would still be close to their body so they could be identified."

"I remember receiving several beatings at Camp 17. One of the beatings was because I took a short cut through the camp to the end of the food line. I was beaten with a pole. Another beating I got was for not bowing to a guard. That time, I got beaten with a ball point hammer. The worst beating I got was when I had to go to the bathroom while laboring in the coal mine. The Navy had been bombing, and the Japanese were angry about this. One of the Japanese guards brought a young Japanese man and boy with him down the tunnel where they were to beat me. First, the young man beat me, which was harsh, and then the little boy took his turn."

"One time, when I was in the mine, the roof collapsed on me. I am thankful that I fell between some large boulders, or I would have been smashed; none- the-less, I suffered from four broken ribs, a fractured pelvis, and an injured back."

"One memory I have that is funny is that all of the guards were nicknamed. Two that still stand out in my mind are the guard we called 'Mickey Mouse' because of his looks. At first, he was proud of being named 'Mickey Mouse' because I told him he was an American hero to all the children. One day, an Englishman told him that 'Mickey Mouse' was a rat. From that day forward every time he saw me he said, "I'm not a mouse". We also called several guards a son-of-a-bitch, since they had no idea what it meant. When they wanted to know what it was, I said it meant ice cream since they knew what ice cream meant."

"The worst part of my POW days were the 10-12 hour work day shifts in the coal mine. It was slavery, just like Emperor Hirohito wanted. I think that what kept me going was the love that I had for my family. All I had to do was think about my father, Maurice; my mother, Isabel; my sisters, Erlinda, Emily, and Jennie; and my brother, Ben. I still felt abandoned though, "No Mamas, No Papas, No Uncle Sam." I will always feel grateful for the Atomic Bomb because I think it was our only chance for freedom--our only chance to ever see our families again. Working in the mines was so horrible that men would break their arms and legs to keep from working in them."

"When I was liberated, I felt an indescribable happiness, and I was twice as happy when I was reunited with my family. It was hard though because when I left, I was worried about my mother; she was the type who would get worked up over anything. When my mother, aunt, and father showed up at the hospital to see me, I found out that my father had gone blind. That was probably the hardest thing I had to come back to."

"One thing that I find interesting is when we were liberated and back in America, the doctors told all the veterans that we would not be able to have children, and that we only had ten years to live; yet I am 80 years old, I have been married for 53 years, and my wife and I have 7 children! Their names are Fred, Michael, Patricia, Agapito Jr., Mauricio, Erlinda, and Jerome. I also have 13 grandchildren: Emma, Danielle, James, Reina, Thomas, Theresa, John Michael, Phillip, Amanda, Malanie, Rachel, and Emily."

"The effects of being a POW that I have to deal with now are Beri Beri, malnutrition, and the pain from being severely beaten. I still have nightmares when I think about the war, and I have to go to the doctor every three months, but for the most part I enjoy life."

After world War II, Agapito lived off of compensation for about one year, then he got married and started a family. After that, he worked in a drug store and a service station for awhile. Eventually, he went to school to become a watch maker. In 1949, he was hired at Kirkland Air Force Base where he went through numerous jobs. In 1973, he retired with full disability which is his source of income. Agapito is also very active in the Bataan fellowships and organizations.

Silva Biography courtesy of  MSG Geronimo R. Padilla, Curator of the Bataan Memorial Military Museum and Library     
Bataan Memorial Museum ~  Sante Fe,  NM     

Another Hero Passes On

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