Did you know this about the IW Knights of Columbus?
Over the next three weeks World War II veteran Paul Kerchum tells his story entitled: "In My Heart, I Forgave". For those of us living nearly 80 years later, this story seems unimaginable!
“Shortly before his 18th birthday, Paul Kerchum enlisted in the U.S. military to escape the gritty industrial towns of Ohio and western Pennsylvania where he had grown up. Now 101 years old, he recalls here his experiences as a POW, his long military career, the transforming influence of his wife, and why he joined the Knights of Columbus more than 40 years ago, as a charter member of Logan De Rosier Council 7521 in Benson, Ariz.”
“I lived in a poor community during the Great Depression, and it was customary at age 16 to drop out of school and help support your family. I worked for two years until Jan. 6, 1938, when I decided to join the Navy and see the world. The first thing the Navy recruiter asked was: ‘Do you have a high school diploma?’ ‘No,’ I said. ‘Go across the hall. They’ll take anybody.’ So, I joined the Army instead.”
“After a two-year tour in Hawaii, I reenlisted and joined B Company, 31st Infantry in Manila, where I was a machine gun squad leader.
I was in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. They soon had control of the air and seas in the Philippines, and in early January 1942, they broke through the main line of resistance. The 31st Infantry pulled a counterattack that led to a 13-day battle.
On the 13th day, a Japanese mortar exploded and threw me flat on my face. It destroyed my helmet. When I came to, two men were escorting me, and I kept saying, “I don’t want to go to the hospital.” And I didn’t. That’s when I started to pray. When the bullets were flying around, and bombs were bursting all around you, I said the Hail Mary. Believe me, I prayed.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur then implemented War Plan Orange, which called for all of the troops to retreat. When we retreated to the Bataan peninsula in Luzon, we were on half rations and in terrible shape. On Good Friday, April 3, the Japanese manned a massive offensive, and on April 9 Gen. King, commander of the troops on Bataan, surrendered an exhausted, hungry and disease-ridden army.”
“What followed became known as the Bataan Death March — 55 miles (88 km) north from Mariveles to the San Fernando railhead. Men were shot, bayonetted, beheaded or beaten to death on that hot and dusty road. A lot of times I didn’t see it. I took the middle of the file, kept my eyes forward, watched the legs in front of me and just kept walking. When somebody ran out of the file, I’d hear shots. One time, I saw somebody beaten to death when he ran out to get some sugar cane.”
“At San Fernando, we were stuffed into boxcars, standing room only. We were offloaded at the village of Capas, then had a 9-kilometer hike to the first prison camp, Camp O’Donnell. A Japanese officer greeted us. I’ll never forget his words: ‘You are not prisoners of war,’ he said. ‘You are captives and you’ll be treated like captives’.”
Part II of Paul’s story will appear next week or find the link to our feature story - and information on the Knights of Columbus at IWKnights9981.com/bulletin or on facebook.com/IWknights9981 and NOW on Twitter at twitter.com/IwKnights.
Links Related to this week’s column:
Service and Sacrifice
Knights of the “Greatest Generation” tell their stories of faith and courage as veterans of World War II
By Paul Kerchum, Tom Rossi and Louis Graziano, with Columbia staff - Columbia Magazine(11/1/2021)
Click here to read the article
Merry Christmas from the IWKnights!
The IWKnights of Columbus Council would like to wish you and your family a very merry and Blessed Christmas 2021.
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