Robert E. Scholten

 

Robert Edward Scholten, 79, a retired Army master sergeant who during World War II endured the Bataan Death March and more than three years as a prisoner of war under notoriously cruel conditions, died January 9, 2002 at his home in Lusby after a heart attack.

Sgt. Scholten, a native of Shelbyville, Indiana, grew up in Washington and attended Anacostia High School. He left school during his senior year to enlist in the Army, in April 1941. After basic training in the pacific theatre, he fought on the island of Corregidor and then at the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines. Bataan fell to the Japanese April 1942, and Scholten was one of more than 70,000 American and Filipino soldiers forced to march to prison camps dozens of miles away.

They were deprived of food, water and rest during the trek. Thousands who fell behind from exhaustion were killed, some bayoneted, some buried alive. Scholten was a prisoner of war for three years, four months, 22 days, 18 hours and 37 minutes, a tally forever seared in his mind and one he often repeated to family members. He was liberated August 18, 1945.

“I’d pray every night no one would try to escape” Scholten said in a 1989 interview.
“The sergeant of the guard carried a big sword and he used it…10 men for every one that tried to escape.” He added that one of the most distinct horrors was the randomness of the camp executions. He credited his youth and strength to his survival. On one occasion four of his teeth were smashed in by a rifle butt – one of the milder efforts by the Japanese to break morale.

Scholten recalled at one camp a commandant who gave the men a week to learn to count to 50 in Japanese – or it would mean death. Seven days later Scholten struggled through, but was forced to watch 17 soldiers beheaded for not learning the count. “We saw the executions for escaping, but his was different.”

During that 1989 interview the reporter said at one point Scholten broke down and had to walk away to compose himself.

From the Philippines he was transported by Hell Ship to Japan for forced labor in coal mines. There he would work as much as 14 hours a day. When his name appeared on a list of prisoners being transported to Japan, it was the first time in more than a year that his family knew he was alive. Scholten returned to the United States weighing only 80 pounds, down from 170 pounds.

After he recuperated in an Army hospital he saw combat as an infantryman in Korea before retiring from the Army in 1962.
After four years as co-owner with his wife Fran, of a pizza/restaurant in Greenbelt, Scholten returned to active service.
He retired a second time in 1969, after three years as the Southern Maryland Amy Recruiter. From 1971-1975, he taught military history and was chief drill instructor at the Old Charlotte Hall Military Academy.

A son, William H. Scholten, said his father continued to serve his country and even recruit for it during the Vietnam War out of patriotism and honor. He said his father knew someone had to serve to preserve the American way of life. William said his father also learned enough Japanese during his time in captivity to retain some fluency for the rest of his life. He even taught his grandchildren how to count in the language.

His military decorations include the Bronze Start, two Purple Hearts, the Army Commendation Medal and to awards of the Combat Infantry Badge. He was also a member of the EX-POW’s of Maryland.

His wife, Frances Lugenbeel Scholten, whom he married in 1946, died in 1984. A daughter, Pamela Ann Reinoehl, died in 1988.
Besides his son William, Scholten is also survived by four other children; Linda S. Slade, David C. Scholten, Robert Scholten Jr., and John Braden Scholten Sr.; 14 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Credit: Adam Bernstein Washington Post Staff Writer
              Quan April 2002

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