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Elma survivor of Death March dies at the age of 90

Willie Davidson of Elma carried this picture of himself as a World War II Prisoner of War in his wallet.
Willie Davidson of Elma carried this picture of himself as a World War II Prisoner of War in his wallet.

Willie Davidson, a survivor of the Bataan Death March, died recently at his home in Elma at the age of 90.

Davidson survived both the Death March and more than two years in two prison camps in the Philippines and Japan when he served in the U.S. Army Air Force from about 1942 to 1946. Born in Kentucky, he grew up in Montesano and Elma, where he started his own company, Willie Davidson Logging. He retired in 1993. He died on April 28, 2013.

Davidson was the official parade marshal of the Veteran’s Day parade in Elma in 2011. He told The Vidette for an extensive profile, “My mom was told two times that I was dead, (that) the outfit was wiped out completely.”

When he walked into her East Satsop Road home the spring of 1946, “she was shocked … Nobody’d ever told her” he was alive, Davidson said.

He recalled being stationed on the Bataan Peninsula, when he was captured by the Japanese.

“We didn’t know what we were getting into,” he told The Vidette.

Though it was hoped the troops could hold out on the Bataan Peninsula until help arrived, that would not happen. After about 14 weeks of fighting, an estimated 75,000 battle-fatigued, malnourished soldiers, many of them also sick, were forced to walk, with almost no provisions, from the southern tip of the peninsula to San Fernando some 55 miles to the north, before being sent to prison camps.

He said he thought “it was all over, done for all of us, ’cause that’s all I heard is ‘they don’t take prisoners.’ ” At the road, “there was trucks and Japanese all over the place,” he said.

“They loaded us into trucks and took us down to Mariveles,” Davidson said at the time. When they got off the trucks at the site, at the southern tip of the peninsula, the Death March began.

They were “marched day and night, under blistering sun or cold night sky …,” a memorial panel at Mariveles says. “Many were ill, most were feverish, but none might rest …”

Thousands didn’t make it, and countless others died later in POW camps.

That Davidson survived the five days and four nights — or four days and five nights (he didn’t recall which) — of the Death March is at least partly due to his two buddies, Emmett Warfel and Louis Berlin; both of whom later died.

Davidson was kept in POW camps until 1945. He recalled being at a camp on a side of a hill at Nagasaki,when the atom bomb was dropped on the other side. Though there was a machine gun in the tunnel’s mouth, Davidson recalled the bright flash of the bomb. He was rescued a couple of weeks later.

Davidson is survived by his wife of 42 years, Phyllis, at the family home in Elma as well as children, brothers, sisters and other family.

There will be a memorial service at 1 p.m. on Friday at the Church of God in Elma.

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