Bellevue vet refused to die in POW ordeal: Now war against terrorism delaying his hope of justice.2001-09-30 by Mark D. Baker Journal Reporter
BELLEVUE -- This is a story of survival, of heroism and triumph and a final quest for justice.
This is Cecil Waldo Parrott's story, the story of a man who survived as other men dropped dead around him -- during the Bataan Death March, in the darkness and desperation of the Zero Ward, as a slave laborer far below ground in Imperial Japan's coal mines.
Maybe it was the friendly Japanese soldier he met along the way or the daydreams of a future love that kept him going. Maybe it was the poetry he wrote, reminding him of better days to come, or the myriad recipes he jotted down on the back of canned food labels -- recipes concocted after the coal mines had blackened his skin, but not his heart.
There may be days in a man's life when he thinks it
might be better to be dead than to witness the horror all around him.
Cecil Parrott has lived through such days.
For more than three years during World War II, Parrott
was imprisoned by the Japanese -- from the time of the 55-mile death
march on Bataan in April 1942 until the end of the war in August 1945.
It was war. As they die off, men who were imprisoned by the Japanese during World War II, those who suffered unspeakable horrors during the death march, in the POW camps and coal mines, are going to their graves feeling slighted, says Parrott, now 81.
While many Americans have embraced a new kind of war in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, some veterans from an old war are still fighting. "I went to Boise, the county seat, and signed up for the Army. And the reason I chose the Philippines was because my older brother used to pal around with a guy who was in the service before that. He'd been in the Philippines and he talked as if it was a glorious place to be.'' -- said Cecil W. Parrott, on his decision to join the Army in November 1940, a year before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
This month is the 50th anniversary of the formal peace treaty signed in San Francisco between the United States and Japan. According to Japan and the U.S. State Department, one provision of the treaty banned claims by Americans used as slave laborers.
Parrott and the men who served alongside him have been
fighting to get compensation for the horrors they lived through. Bills
in Congress seek to pay the men, but now any action has been pushed back
by the focus on the terrorist attacks.
A Bellevue resident since 1956, Cecil Parrott is a
gentle soul. He is thoughtful and reflective, and he does not seem
bitter about his experience. He's not some old war bird seeking revenge.
He doesn't talk much about the war, unless you ask. Then,
from behind bespectacled, clear blue eyes, he tells you plenty.
Born in Mount Vernon, in the Skagit Valley, on July 20, 1920, Parrott spent his boyhood moving from town to town in Idaho, following a father who looked for work as a carpenter during the Great Depression.
Before joining the Army in 1940, Parrott met a girl
named Ruby at a vocational school in Weiser, Idaho. They married in
1947, after the war, and 54 years later they are still married and
living in the Lake Hills area.
In November 1940, he found himself in the tropical
wonderland of the Philippines. It would be more than a year before the
Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and for Parrott, a private first class
in the Army Signal Corps, the future was bright and the nights were
warm. Peacetime was easy, serving just four hours
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed
all of that. America was at war, and in early April 1942 the Japanese
captured Bataan on Manila Bay. Parrott and 70,000
other American and Filipino soldiers found themselves walking 55 miles
from the tip of the Bataan Peninsula inland to Camp O'Donnell.
At Camp O'Donnell, the POWs were slowly starving to
death. The men ate whatever they could find. If a stray dog or cat came
into the camp, the men would catch the animal if they could and skin it,
cook it and eat it. Parrott even ate cobra meat
one time when a Japanese guard stabbed the snake, yanked its fangs out
and barbecued it for the POWs.
It was a dreadful pit of a place filled with emaciated
bodies and broken spirits. Parrott saw that the men there had lost their
will to live. They talked about how their families had abandoned them,
how they did not receive any mail from them. But Parrott knew none of
the men got mail -- the Japanese didn't allow it. Parrott also knew the
Zero Ward inmates were losing touch with reality as their bodies
Back home in Idaho, Parrott's parents, John and Clara, had no idea what had happened to him after Japan captured Bataan. They received a telegram saying their son was among the dead and missing, along with another young soldier from Weiser. It was not until 1943, a year after the march, that the couple received word their son was a POW.
Later, Parrott was allowed to send a 45-word telegram
to his mother: ``Please know that I am well. Am informing everyone of my
health. Hope that brothers and sisters are in good health. Give regards
to all friends. Pass my love to all relatives. Divine love to you and
Dad. Your son, Cecil W. Parrott.''
In September 1944, Parrott was put on one of the infamous Hell Ships, so named because of their horrendous living conditions, and taken to Japan. ``That was one of the worst beatings I ever got. In fact, we called him The Maniac because he was a known killer. He beat one guy, actually broke his back with a 2 by 4.'' -- Parrott, describing a Japanese guard who beat him after a day in the coal mines.
At Camp 17 in Omuta, Parrott and other POWs mined coal
for Mitsui Mining. Later he was taken to another city, Fukuoko, for more
dangerous and exhausting work. One day a large timber fell on his ankle,
nearly mangling it. He walked club-footed for awhile, but the ankle
eventually healed itself.
After three years of being around Japanese soldiers and guards, Parrott learned to speak the language and is still fluent today. Prisoners had to learn to count in Japanese because the guards would call out their numbers and if they didn't respond they were beaten over the head with a stick. At night, he and other POWs wrote poetry and recipes -- filled with eggs and butter and ``nothin' but good stuff'' -- on the backs of canned-food labels. Anything to keep them going.
On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic
bomb on Hiroshima, killing about 135,000 civilians. On Aug. 9, another
bomb hit Nagasaki, killing about 70,000. Japan surrendered a few days
later, and the war was over.
Finally, Parrott was home, checking in and out of Fort Lewis,
receiving hugs from family and friends.
For years after the war, Parrott went on with his life, trying to bury the memories and the horrors he lived through. After graduating from Oregon State University in 1952, he worked 18 years as a Boeing engineer.
Then one day a couple of years ago, he got a call from
Lester Tenney, a former POW and retired Arizona State University history
professor, who was suing Mitsui and Mitsubishi. Suddenly Parrott was
part of a class-action lawsuit.
In 1981, he returned to Japan for the first time and
tried to find the camps where he had lived, but they were gone. Only a
smokestack remained at one. He returned again last year to Japan and
stayed with the parents of a Japanese woman he met a few years ago at
Newport Hills Community Church. Coincidentally, the woman's grandfather,
an engineer, designed part of a coal mine where Parrott labored during
``I really think the American people should not forget what these brave men went through.''WORLD WAR II AMERICANS CORPORATE LIABILITY U.S. CONGRESS 2001 ATROCITIES INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS CULTURAL