Before Pearl Harbor, some saw the need to serve. Dale Gilbert was one such warrior.
Dale entered the Army in 1940 and after four months of training, in March 1941 he was transferred to the Philippine Islands as part of the coast artillery. Then the tide turned. Pearl Island was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941. The Japanese had temporary control of the sea and went to work to secure as many of the islands in their part of the world.
The Philippines took a massive beating. The destruction of a major portion of the United States Navy opened the door for the Japanese fleet to move unencumbered, it also destroyed the
supply chain for Allied troops.
Dale participated in the battle for Luzon, the battle for Bataan and the Battle for Corregidor. As supplies of medicine, food, ammunition and replacements dwindled, Dale and his fellow soldiers knew that they were faced with being overrun by the Japanese troops.
Corregidor fell on May, 7, 1942. Dale did not know that this situation was better than what lay ahead.
The battle for the Philippines raged from Jan. 7, 1942 through April 9, 1942. By the end of the battles over 72,000 Allied prisoners fell into the hands of the Japanese military. Dale was one of these prisoners, he would spend almost three years as a POW in some of the most vicious conditions experienced by any member of the armed services.
Dale was imprisoned at Cabanatuan Prison Camp along with some of the survivors of the Bataan death march. The camps provided slave labor for the Japanese and became death factories for the prisoners.
Dale witnessed hundreds of prisoners being bayonetted and clubbed by the guards for even minor violations. Once Dale watched helpless as a group of prisoners was tied over a large ant hill and covered in molasses to be eaten by the ants.
At other times, he saw prisoners shoved into oil drums and burned alive. A prisoner life had no value and could be ended on a whim. Yet Dale survived, minute by minute, day by day and year by year. He survived.
The death toll of American and Philippine fighters was massive. In the Bataan death march 20,000 prisoners died on the 60-mile trek. At Cabanatuan prisoners came and went. The healthy were sent off to slave for the Japanese. The frail were left in camp to die.
Due to a diet of almost exclusively rice Dale was stricken with Beriberi, a severe vitamin deficiency. He watched as over 4,000 of the 7,000 prisoners died. He watched as the population dwindled to only 500 some odd prisoners, most on the verge of starvation and fighting diseases that they had never heard of back home.
When Dale Gilbert awoke on Jan. 30, 1945 he had no idea that day would be any different than each day for the past 32 months. There would be a fight for food, a fight against his disease, and the eternal fight to escape the cruelty of the guards.
But this day was different. 100 U. S. Rangers and Alamo Scouts joined with 200 Filipino Guerillas to execute what would come to be called “The Great Raid.”
Slipping 30 miles behind enemy lines, the rescuers executed a raid on Cabanatuan. When the smoke cleared over 500 Japanese were dead, some at the camp and others at a nearby barrack facility. 492 military and 33 civilian prisoners, many extremely sick and starving, were led back to American lines.
Dale Gilbert survived. He fought every day for several years with only one thought driving him forward. To get back to his family and the farm in Ashton.
Tom McDermott is a Flagg Township Museum historian and Rochelle city councilman.