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.
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.