Voices: Jesse Knowles

Jesse Knowles was a survivor of the Bataan Death March. Born in Merryville, Louisiana in 1919, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1939. He was captured by the Japanese army at Bataan and held for 1,228 days. After the Bataan March he was transferred to a Japanese Prisoner of War camp in Mukden, Manchuria. Knowles remained active in veteran organizations throughout his life. He was a commander of his area and district Veterans of Foreign War, and member of the American Legion, the American Ex-Prisoners of War. After leaving the army he worked as a draftsman and free land supervisor for Amoco Oil, became a civic leader and served in both houses of the Louisiana State Legislature. He died in 2006. His poem, “They,” is the best known poem that was written about the Bataan Death March.


 
    They

Strange things were done under the tropic sun
By the men in Khaki twill
Those tropic nights have seen some sights
That would make your heart stand still
Those mountain trails could spin some tales
That no man would ever like
But the worst of all was after the fall
When we started on that hike

'Twas the 7th of December in '41
When they hit Hawaii as the day begun
'Twas a Sunday morning and all was calm
When out of nowhere there came the bombs
It didn't last long but the damage was done
America was at war with the rising sun

Now over in the Philippines we heard the news
And it shook every man clean down to his shoes
It seemed like a dream to begin
But soon every soldier was a fighting man
Each branch was ready to do its part
Artillery, infantry, Nichols and Clark

And then they came on that Monday noon
They hit Clark field like a typhoon
That Monday night the moon was clear
They razed Nichols from front to rear
As the days went by more bombers came
And soon only a few P-40's remained

Then the orders came and said retreat
That no man would be seen on the city streets
So across the bay we moved at night
Away from Manila and out of sight
Deep into the jungles of Bataan
Where 15,000 were to make a stand

Here we fought as a soldier should
As the days went by we spilled our blood
Tho' the rumors came and went by night
That convoy never came in sight

April 7th was a fatal day
When the word went around that we couldn't stay
That the front line was due to fall
So the troops moved back one and all

The very next day the surrender came
Then we were men without a name
You may think here's Where the story ends
But actually here's where it begins
Tho' we fought and didn't see victory
The story of that march will go down in history

We marched along in columns of four
Living and seeing the horrors of war
And when a man fell along the way
A cold bayonet would make him pay
For those four months he fought on Bataan
Then they'd kill him 'cause he couldn't stand

The tropic sun would sweat us dry
For the pumps were few that we passed by
But on we marched to a place unknown
A place to rest and a place to call home
Home not that you might know
But home to man that suffered a blow

Then to O'Donnell Camp en masse
Some never back thru' those gates to pass
In Nipa huts we lived like beast
Bad rice and camotes were called a feast

Our minds went back to days gone by
When our throats were never dry
Of our wives, our mothers, and friends
Of our by-gone days and our many sins
And about four thousand passed away
And how many more no man can say
For no tomb stone marks the spot

Piled together as a rubbish heap
The remains of men
Who were forced to retreat

Now I want to state and my words are straight
And I bet you think they're true
That if you gotta’ die it's better to try
And take them with you too

It's they that took us that fatal day
It's they that made us pay and pay
It's they that counted us morn and night
It's they that again we wanted to fight
It's they that made us as we are
But it's not they that'll win this war
For the men in khaki will come some day
And take us back to the U.S.A.
Where thirty to fifty were buried in lot