Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bataan Death March Survivor Finally Gets Some Help ... From Bethlehem Township

Quiet. Unassuming. A man of few words. But Bethlehem Township resident Joe Filko (pictured left) has an incredible story to share with you.

Filko, age 91, is a member of what Tom Brokaw calls "the greatest generation any society has ever produced." Growing up on a farm in Springtown, this athletic young man pitched and played first base for his high school team. Long before soccer was popular, he was a semipro. Even today, he does his own yardwork.
But that's not his story.

Filko worked for over 30 years at PBNE railroad, and after that, ran a gas station from his Easton Avenue home.

But that's not his story, either.

What makes Joe stand out is he is one of the lucky few to survive the Bataan Death March, followed by 3 1/2 years as a POW in both the Philippines and Japan.

Hit by shrapnel and recuperating in a hospital bed, Joe was rousted by Japanese and forced to march the 60 miles from the southern Bataan Peninsula to Camp O'Donnell. Soldiers were beaten, bayoneted and even beheaded by Japanese officers on horseback, testing their samurai swords. "It was pretty rough," Filko quietly states.

For 3 1/2 years, Filko survived on one or two small bowls of rice a day, a food he can no longer eat. He explained that POWs were placed in groups of ten, and if one of them got out of line or tried to escape, all ten were shot.

When Japanese discovered he was a farmer, he was sent to Japan to work in the rice paddies, which might very well have saved his life.

Filko did see General Douglas MacArthur ... once. Ironically, it was on the day MacArthur left Corregidor Island for Australia. "He went for help, but we didn't get it right away," Filko adds, "He left [General] Wainwright, and he was a pretty good man."

General Jonathan Wainwright, who held Corregidor for two months after MacArthur left, is the highest ranking officer to be captured during WWII.

Although he could never bring himself to buy a Japanese car, Filko holds no grudges. "It doesn't bother me," he stoically states.

These days, Filko's battles are with his yard. In addition to his property on Easton Avenue, he has a vacant lot on Flamer Road where trees, instead of artillery, attack. After a recent storm, a few trees went over on what might be the Flamer Road right-of-way, or perhaps Filko's own property. This 91 year-old combat vet was preparing to take them on himself when Bethlehem Township Public Works came by and moved the trees for him.

After seventy years, Filko finally got some help from the government, and right away, too. Bethlehem Township's Public Works Department was unable to do much about Corregidor, but they cleared away a few fallen trees for Filko, who went through hell for us.


Anonymous said...

Hat's off to this hero. I'm unfit to hand him his boots. The greatest generation, however, may well be the current one that fights radical Islam voluntarily, and continues to enlist with several shooting wars going on. Unlike their WWII predecessors, they have a choice to fight or not. And they continue to put aside a very cushy existence and choose to fight and die in godawful places. God bless all our warriors. Brokaw had it wrong, however.

Lighthouse said...

I read Brokaw's book several years ago, and it's title is appropriate. Bethlehem Township's PW Department also does a great job from street maintenance, snow plowing, park maintenance, to yard waste recycling. I know they jumped in and helped pump out basements following the effects of a hurricane a few years ago, and I applaud them for helping Mr. Filko. Most importantly, thanks to Mr. Filko, and all other veterans, who have sacraficed in a myraid of ways to make this a great country to live in.

Tom said...

GOD bless you, Sir!!!

Anonymous said...

One hell of a story, most of us blowhard punk asses could never make it.

I bow to your success sir


Anonymous said...

Great story,having gone through not only the war but also the great depression makes him deserve our praise.In comparison makes the current complainers seem like cry babies.The boomers have had it better than any generation in our history.

Chris Miller said...

Mr. Filko
Thank you

Anonymous said...

Mr. Filko, echoing everything that has been said, my deepest thank you for all you've done.

The Banker

Gary said...

I would like to publicly thank Bernie O’Hare for his article and kind words about my father. I’m sure when Dad reads the blog, along with the comments by readers, it will bring a tear to his eye as it did to mine. Thank you Bernie.

Gary Filko

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr. Falko for your service to our country. Its also nice to hear that the town helped this fellow out and did not play hardball.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Gary, Your father is a great man, and it was an honor to spend some time with him yesterday. Sometime next week, I'll copy this blog and the comments for you and your father.