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"I'm giving it back to you. But you'd better hide it, or you'll run into the same problem again."
Tonelli thanked the lieutenant, who mentioned that he had attended Southern Cal. The lieutenant somehow realized who Tonelli was and brought up the 1937 Notre Dame-Southern Cal game and Tonelli's role in it.
Amidst the horrors unfolding around him, the encounter would take on the quality of deus ex machina. That same day Tonelli saw the head of an American soldier on a bamboo pole, its eyes, nose, ears and mouth swarming with blowflies.
The hike, the GIs called it. Only later, when its sanguinary particulars emerged, did the public know it as the Bataan Death March. Historians can venture only a guess, but it's believed that of the roughly 12,000 Americans to set out, as many as 700 died or were killed en route. The death rate for the 66,000 or so Filipinos was even higher. All told, one man perished for every dozen paces.
It took Tonelli seven days to cover the nearly 60 miles from Mariveles to San Fernando. There guards packed the prisoners, 100 at a time, into steel railroad cars, virtual kilns in the tropical heat. Of the moaning, defecating, suffocating men, dozens expired during the several hours it took the train to rattle the 25 miles to Capas. The survivors were marched eight more miles to a converted Philippine army training ground called Camp O'Donnell.
O'Donnell was filled up with five times the number of men it was designed to hold. Only two water spigots worked, and both only fitfully because the Allies had done their best to wreck the camp before their retreat months earlier. The barracks were seedbeds for disease; Tonelli would come down with scurvy and beriberi in addition to the malaria that still afflicted him. Over a straddle trench that served as a latrine, he was forced to do pushups until he collapsed, exhausted, into it. It was at O'Donnell that the Japanese introduced a new grotesquerie, the "water cure," in which water from a hose was forced down a man's throat or up his rectum.
At O'Donnell the death rate for the Americans more than doubled; one of every six prisoners there died. By the middle of May the POWs were burying 30 comrades a day. It was during the Bataan campaign that an Army chaplain named William Cummings came up with the saying, "There are no atheists in foxholes." At night, in the loneliness of the barracks, Tonelli came to know its truth.
After about seven weeks the Japanese evacuated O'Donnell, moving its Americans to a camp to the northeast, at Cabanatuan. There 2,500 men expired over the next six months, 740 in June alone. A diphtheria epidemic alarmed the Japanese into finally permitting rudimentary medical treatment. But the death rate stabilized largely because deatii itself had culled the ranks, reducing the population to a sustainable level.
How had football prepared a man to survive this? Tonelli enlisted in crack condition, annealed by the rigors of his years at Notre Dame. More than 30 former college ballplayers participated in the Death March, and 12 survived, including ex-Texas star Kearie Berry, who was 48 when he was captured, and former Penn State halfback Elgin Radcliff, who later escaped and today lives in York, Pa. But it would be a stretch to assert that playing football had made these men survivors. At first, men pulled together much as teammates would, into mutual protection groups based on nationality, geography or regiment. And while the 200 th was as clannish as any for as long as it could be, eventually a prisoner wondered if, beyond a point, cooperation brought diminishing returns and a man shouldn't just look out for himself.
Everyone was under orders from the American commandant not to escape, and here lay one of the psychological cruelties of the Japanese captivity: It pit an individual's yearning to be free against the group's interest in working together to survive. The Geneva Convention recognizes the duty of a captured soldier to try to escape and forbids reprisals. (Japan had signed the Geneva Convention but never ratified it.) Yet the Japanese grouped prisoners into 10-man teams—blood brothers, the POWs called them—making clear that the escape or even attempted escape of one would ensure the execution of the others. Still, a prisoner crazed with malaria might make a run for it anyway; or the guards, laying food in plain sight just outside the fence, might lure an addled captive under the barbed wire, only to dispatch him by bayonet. So the Americans detailed their own guards inside the fence, to make sure that neither Tonelli nor anyone else would break this jail.