Sunday, December 10, 2006

Family reunites and finds closure

By Alison Damast
Staff Writer Southern Connecticut Newspapers
"I am at peace because I know where he is, even if he is at the bottom of the Subic Bay in the Philippines,"

Maj. Karol Anthony Bauer sent a letter to his wife's sister in Darien in June 1941, asking her to buy a bouquet of roses with the $10 he enclosed for his wife, Marjorie, who had just sailed for the United States from the Philippines.

"Please buy Marjorie some roses for me because it will be our anniversary soon and please take Nancy off Marjorie's hands for a few days because I know what a handful she is," he wrote.

It was one of the last correspondences Marjorie and Nancy, then 5, received from Bauer, who was serving with the 45th Infantry Regiment, the Philippine Scouts.

Bauer grew up on a dairy farm in Hammondsport, N.Y, and was the second-oldest of nine children.

He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., in 1936, where he met his wife, Marjorie, at a school dance.

"He loved to dance, and he had a great sense of humor," said his daughter, Nancy Earnest, now 68. "He carried me around and spoiled me rotten."

Karol and Marjorie married in June 1937 and had Nancy soon afterward.

The family followed Bauer from his first permanent assignment with the 26th Infantry Regiment in Plattsburgh, N.Y., to the Philippines, where he was assigned to the 45th Infantry Philippine Scouts.

He was an eager officer described as a motivated "doughboy" by his fellow West Point graduates.

After the Battle of Bataan ended in the Philippines in April 1942, Bauer and the rest of his outfit were taken prisoner by the Japanese.

They were part of a group of 16,000 Americans and 54,000 Filipinos who became POWs and participated in the Bataan Death March, a brutal event in which the starving men marched north up a highway to a prison camp in the sweltering heat.

The U.S. prisoners, including Bauer, were moved to a prison camp near a city called Cabanatuan.

It's a part of history many people are unfamiliar with, said Chris Schaefer, a spokesman for the Philippine Scouts Heritage Society, a group that honors the men who served in the Philippines during World War II.

"It is an era of history that doesn't get as much attention as it probably deserves," Schaefer said. "People are very aware of Pearl Harbor for the most part but most people are not aware that the U.S. was attacked in the Philippines on the same day."

Bauer is described in a passage of the 1984 book "Some Survived" by Manny Lawton, an U.S. Army captain who wrote an eyewitness account of the death march.

Lawton encountered him in Cabanatuan and the men exchanged greetings and talked about the toll the war had taken on them.

"Bauer didn't much resemble the short wiry, neat officer with crew-cut black hair I remembered," Lawton wrote in the book. "Before me now stood a weak gaunt ghost of the West Pointer of only a few months earlier. His cheeks were sunken and his eyes deep set, but his warm smile was still with him."

Bauer, then 31, was one of 1,619 POWs transferred from the camps to a Japanese prison ship, the Oryoku Maru, on Dec. 13, 1944.

The men were subjected to brutal conditions on the ship and were crowded together, deprived of food and beaten by the Japanese.

Roll call was taken each day on the ship and Bauer was not listed as present on Dec. 15, right before the ship sank.

The ship was not marked with Red Cross emblems, and U.S. dive-bombers did not realize the vessel held 1,619 troops.

Back home, Bauer's wife and family received word he died as a POW in the Philippines. A member of the Army came to the family farm and delivered a flag to his mother, Caroline, along with the news her son had died.

"She went into such deep grieving over him that she would not say anything about him after that," said Antoinette McIntyre of Darien, formerly Antoinette Bauer, Karol's youngest sister and the only one of the eight Bauer siblings still alive.

The news also reached Marjorie, living in New York City with her daughter at the time.

"They were very much in love," Nancy Earnest said. "She was devastated by his death. As she grew older, it became harder and harder for her to talk about."

McIntyre, 80, a Darien resident, only recently learned how her brother died.

She knew he was a POW on a prisoner ship during World War II, but was unaware until several years ago he had been on the Oryoku Maru, she said.

Her son, Creighton Demarest, researched his uncle's history and discovered he had been on that vessel, known by historians as a Japanese "hell ship."

"I am at peace because I know where he is, even if he is at the bottom of the Subic Bay in the Philippines," McIntyre said. "Somehow, knowing where he had perished made me feel a little better. It put a closure to it for me at that point."

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