reprinted from American History Illustrated, June 1985
Captain Ashton's book is not one that can be leisurely read in one evening. It
is a large book, spanning nearly 500 pages, and covers one of the most significant
events in American military history. It is also easily read and entertaining
evoking the full flavor of the war years. It is the story of sacrifice, sometimes
death, sometimes survival, and valor. Captain Ashton is able to cover the whole
range of battle, defeat, and aftermath. Being an army doctor, he was virtually a
free agent, having the opportunity to cover all zones of battle.
The author presets the state in his book. He briefly touches on his early career,
his romance with his wife, and then as a young army doctor, his deployment to the
Philippines. Here we we get the feel of the Islands situation several months prior
to the outbreak of war. Then comes the reality of war. Captain Ashton witnessed
the defense of Luzon not as a military doctor, but as a military man. While his
major task throughout the war years was saving lives as a doctor, he was also a
good military observer. He covers the hardships of the ill-fated defense of the
Islands in the early days of battle, and the many stopgap actions that at least
slowed the enemy advance, and gave some breathing room to the already hard-pressed
United States military in other parts of the Pacific.
The actual defense of the Philippines has been overlooked by many historians. The
United States took a heavy loss and most experts leave it at that. But Ashton
covers the heroic action of those valiant men who had a terrible job of defending
these islands while the United States was in no position to offer assistance. The
defenders were on their own as it were. Captain Ashton also covers those protocol
foulups, such as the cache of food that was denied to the Filipino soldiers
because it was said to rightfully belong to the Japanese government. The Bataan
Death March may have received most of the historical coverage, and rightfully so,
but Captain Ashton does a fine job in describing how the American and Filipino
forces stalled the Japanese advance. And he does not recall past actions taken
from the accounts of generals, official documents and historians, but from a
soldier who was there.
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Local Doctor Describes Unsung Heroes of War
reprinted from the Santa Barbara News Press, April, 1985
By Walker A. Tompkins, local historian and former News-Press staff writer
When FDR described the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as a day that would
"live in infamy," was he aware that a worse fate, measured in human suffering.
awaited the 24,339 American ser vice men trapped in the Philip pines? Of these,
600 would soon be killed in action while 23,739 were captured and put into hell
camps or prisons where 13,000 would die as POWs.
Among the 10,739 soldiers, sailors and marines who lived to return home after the
war, most of them broken in health, was a young Army surgeon, Paul Ashton. He had
volunteered for duty in Manila following his graduation from UC medical school and
one year of training at Letterman Hospital. Now, 40 years later, Dr. Ashton of
Santa Barbara has set down his eye-witness history of the Battle for Bataan, the
Death March, the surrender of Corregidor and his life as a doctor saving uncounted
POW lives in such notorious Japanese prisons as Bilibid, O'Donnel's and
His skill with a pen equalling his skill with a scalpel, Capt. Ashton's story.
illustrated with previously unpublished photographs and loaded with military maps,
charts and sketches, is not for the squeamish. But it is an important addition to
the vast amount of documentation of the Pacific Theater struggle during World War
II. Ashton's book gives a more vivid look at American patriotism, heroism and
superhuman endurance as prisoners of war than is to be found in such best sellers
as Duane Schultz's "Hero of Bataan, the Story of Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright."
As the adjutant of a medical battalion, Capt. Ashton was given roving assignments
which put him in a unique position to observe and record the holding action on the
Bataan Peninsula which delayed the Japanese invasion schedule by five months.
Considered a humiliating defeat in 1942, from the vantage point of 40 years it has
become obvious that the heroism of American forces on Bataan and their long seige
on Corregidor barred Japan from the use of Manila harbor, unquestionably saving
Australia from being overrun by Hirohito's invaders early in the Pacific war and
making possible later American victories climaxed by the bombing of Hiroshima.
When food and ammunition finally ran out, the Americans trapped on the Bataan
Peninsula were forced to surrender. For the next three years Capt. Ashton was
preoccupied with treating the sick and wounded. The notorious "Death March," 90
miles in tropical heat, plumbed a new low in man's in humanity to man. It involved
55,000 Filipinos and 8,000 Americans.
Any man who dropped out because of sickness, delirium, or fatigue, suffered
barbaric punishment including emasculation, disemoweling, amputations or being
clubbed to death. Capt. Ashton estimated the daily fatalities at 400 men.
The book tells how Capt. Ashton treated malnutrition, diarrhea and dysentery for
himself (he dropped from 210 to 100 pounds) and his fellow POWs by mixing mud and
water. Following the fall of Corregidor, sealed off from any knowledge of how the
war was going! the prisoners found their only hope in General MacArthur's vow, "I
shall returnl" čas he did, three years later.
Captain Ashton's captors at Bilibid Prison eventually put him on trial and
sentenced him to be executed Feb. 4,1955. The "Yanks and tanks" liberated
Bilibid's POWs Feb. 3!
One of the officers on MacArthur's staff, a Col. Kenneth Lamb, in charge of
compiling his torlcal records of the war, became a friend of Capt. Ashton's, and
both men moved to Santa Barbara after the war. Before his death Col. Lamb turned
over his rare unpublished records to Capt. Ashton, who includes 116 pages of
facsimiles as a epilogue for his book.
Plea for veterans
Capt. Ashton's narrative ends on the euphoric note of MacArthur's rescue
operations and his return to California to a reunion with his mother and young
wife, Yvonne, by then a Wave in the U.S. Navy. They raised their family in Santa
Barbara, where he became a prominent member of the local medical community,
founding the Tri-Counties Blood Bank in 1950 and co-founding the Goleta Vallev
Community Hospital in 1965. But for six out of 10 of his fellow POWs, the war was
far from over.
They have since died of service connected disabilities in the four decades that
have passed since their liberation from enemy tyranny, many of them denied VA help
because their discharge papers carried clean bills of health.
"There are only 2,000 of my fellow POWs still alive, and most of them are ill,"
Dr. Ashton reports. "Give them 100 percent disability and the VA medical care they
deserve! They can't last much longer."
Dr. Ashton is disturbed by what he regards as America's drift toward apathy and
unpreparedness. "It may well come to pass," he predicts, "that our next debacle
like Pearl Harbor . . . will not serve to arouse the sleeping nation, steeped in
love, as it fumbles to fight off another treacherous enemy who strikes without
warmng. The next time there may not be enough determined men left, only those with
flowers in their hair chanting. Hell no, we won't go!"
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