Theodore's World: Bataan Death March Survivor Awarded Bronze Star, Purple Heart

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December 18, 2008

Bataan Death March Survivor Awarded Bronze Star, Purple Heart

Command Sgt. Maj. David D. Holmes spends time with World War II veteran Chief Master Sgt.-retired Charles Dragich after a ceremony Wednesday in which Dragich received medals for his service.

Bataan Death March survivor awarded Bronze Star, Purple Heart

Star Telegram

ARLINGTON — Charles Dragich survived the fighting in the Philippines, the Bataan Death March, a "hell ship," two bouts of malaria, near starvation, an air raid and slave labor.

He emerged from a Japanese prisoner of war camp in 1945 at half his normal weight of 160 pounds, then promptly re-enlisted. He wore the uniform of the Army, and later the Air Force, for 26 years, retiring in 1964 as a chief master sergeant.

Rather improbably and inexplicably, Dragich left the military without any decorations for fighting and surviving one of World War II’s most inhumane episodes — a forced 65-mile march in which thousands perished.

But on Wednesday, the 92-year-old Dragich received his due.

Army Lt. Col. Ronnie Williamson, commander of the Dallas/Fort Worth recruiting battalion, pinned a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, POW Medal and Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal on Dragich during a ceremony in Arlington attended by several dozen family members and friends.

"Mere words cannot measure the amount of gratitude we have for your service to our nation," Williamson said. "Your sacrifices and the sacrifices of your comrades during World War II and the Bataan Death March have paved the way for many of us serving today, including myself. So, please, let these medals represent just a token of our country’s appreciation for all that you have done."

Dragich, one of only a few hundred men still alive who survived the Bataan Death March, said he had accomplished everything he had ever wanted in life, without the medals.

He survived captivity, fathered seven daughters, worked in flight operations at General Dynamics, earned a commercial pilot’s license, and even served as a translator for the Romanian gymnastics team on a trip to the U.S. That’s a pretty full life by any measure.

"You know, I could not speak English in the first grade," he said. "I failed first grade."

He knew he had earned at least some of the medals, but didn’t really pursue a correction in his records because "I was not hard over on medals."

His family and friends, though, took up his cause.

It started about two years ago with Kay Alexander, who works at the Veterans Affairs dental clinic in Fort Worth, who couldn’t imagine why he did not have a Purple Heart. She called Roy Dell Johnson, a Korean War veteran and leader in the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

He called U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, and she contacted the Air Force.

"The Air Force kept turning him down," Johnson said.

They then asked the Army to investigate the matter, and in a few weeks, Dragich had a chest full of decorations.

His wife, Ana, and six of his daughters plus their families attended the ceremony, as did Alexander and Johnson. His daughter, Debra Keeton, who lives in Dallas, said her family was so familiar with his stories of being a POW that they never considered he didn’t have the medals from it.

"I know when he goes home today that he will do a lot of reflecting on that period in his life," Keeton said. "This might have been a secret dream of his. I know he is moved. And as his family, we are so grateful and so glad that this happened now and wasn’t done posthumously."

Still spry and quick-witted (he joked about having a "motor mouth"), Dragich said he owes much of his good health to his wife’s cooking and a regular exercise regimen.

"I’m a very lucky man," Dragich said.

Wild Thing's comment.......

This is an incredible story of an incredible and brave man. This is long overdue.

Something else I would like to mention.

20th Annual Bataan Death March ....March 29th, 2009

The Bataan Memorial Death March is a challenging march through the high desert terrain of White Sands Missile Range, N.M., conducted in honor of the heroic service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II, sacrificing their freedom, health and, in many cases, their very lives.

19th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March

The Bataan Memorial Death March is more of a memorial than a race. The history and memoriam of the Bataan Death March is what this event is all about. A record number of soldiers and civilians came together at the White Sands Missile Range Base to pay tribute and to honor to the soldiers who were in the original march in the Philippines during WWII. It also pays tribute and honor to the sacrifices of those who have gone before them. This year the Bataan survivors answered the roll call during the opening ceremony
Thirty two amputees from Iraq and Afghanistan also took part in the Bataan Memorial Death March with almost all completing the entire 26.2 mile distance. Soldiers and civilians alike, in the heavy division, carried a minimum of 35 pound packs the entire distance. It was a perfect day until the wind picked up in the afternoon adding yet another obstacle to the runners and marchers.


And there is also this fantastic book called " Ghost Stories".

The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II's Most Dramatic Mission
by Hampton Sides

Posted by Wild Thing at December 18, 2008 04:47 AM


Thank you for this story. My Grandfather was a World War II Veteran Serving in Sicily and I believe Normandy. He was peppered by shrapnel. I am not sure if he got a Purple Heart for it though. I am told that Serving was the Proudest thing he had ever done. He died in 1986, 2 years before I was born. It makes me sad. I never knew him; I wish I did.

Posted by: JohnE PFC U.S. Army at December 18, 2008 06:42 AM

WT, I have a personal friend, Louis B. Read, who is a survivor of the Battan Death March. He is a member in the Chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, of which I belong.

He wrote a book in 2004 (autobiograpy) called "No Bugles, No Parades. He is like a Father to me and I admire him so much.

I really wish you could meet him.

Posted by: Steve Gaston, USMC at December 18, 2008 07:04 AM

One of my neighbors back in CA was a POW in the Korean War. He was only 16 - yep, he lied to the recruiter. So many went through such incredible ordeals and so few know about them.

I'm so glad Charles Dragich got his medals - finally!

Posted by: yankeemom at December 18, 2008 07:39 AM

I have known several Bataan Death March survivors. They epitomize the Great Generation.

Growing up I was a WWII history buff and read about Joe Foss, ErniePyle, the Battered Bastards of Bastogne, etc. Reading anything about American POWs was always the hardest. Our enemies in all the 20th Century wars and now the War on Terror have always treated American POWs with contempt and torture and death.

Charles Dragich did not waste his life after his POW years. Sounds like he is still getting the most out of it. Maybe that good life is his best medal.

Posted by: TomR at December 18, 2008 11:38 AM

Thank you Chrissie

I knew one, August Phillips, he was married to a Filipino woman, he has passed to a better reward but he'll live on in my memory. I have read many tales of that horror.

My biggest fear in Vietnam wasn't of dying it was of being captured. The two John's made sure that any hope for POW's and MIA's there will forever be buried.

Tom said it properly:

"Our enemies in all the 20th Century wars and now the War on Terror have always treated American POWs with contempt and torture and death."

Contrast that with Guantanamo Bay all you liberal bastards out there.

Posted by: Jack at December 18, 2008 01:00 PM

Recently, Reverand Wright revisited Pearl Harbor from the pulpit and blamed America for killing 80,000 innocent Japanese when we dropped the two A-bombs, in 1945 by the way. Funny, how he can rewrite history with the stroke of a pen.

Funny, how he could forget all the attrocities of the Japanese and how he can convenietly forget to mention a little tidbit that actually happened: Jeremiah Writght failed to mention, Pearl Harbor and what really happpened, Wake Island two weeks later then the Bataan Death March, The Rape of Nanking by the Japanese, where 1.7 Million innocent Chinese Civilians were slaughtered and butchered,by the innocent Japs, Selling of young Korean Girls into brothels for Jap Soldiers. Then there was the rape and burning of Manila, in the Phillipines.

Troubling is the spreading of Wrights propaganda, the spreading of lies, the rewriting of history. Most troubling of all is the President elect, Barry Obama believes this same crap about Our country.

As far as dropping the two A-bombs, it saved over a Millon American Casualties. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

When Truman was asked about the high casualties from Hiroshima and Negasaki, his reply was something of, 'I never heard any apologies for Pearl Harbor.'

Posted by: Mark at December 18, 2008 04:10 PM

JohnE PFC U.S. Army, thank you so much for sharing about your Grandfather. I am so sorry you never got to meet him. I never met mine either and I know you feel. He would have been so proud of you John for serving our country as well.

Posted by: Wild Thing at December 18, 2008 07:25 PM

Steve Gaston, USMC, how wonderful. I wish I could meet him too. I would love to thank him in person for his service. Please let him know that so many of us truly appreciate what he has done.

That is such a special thing that you know each other, I am sure he is feeling fortunate to know you as well. I know I am.

Posted by: Wild Thing at December 18, 2008 07:28 PM

Yankeemom, thank you for telling about your neighbor you had. Yes they are special men.

Posted by: Wild Thing at December 18, 2008 07:30 PM

Tom.....this brought tears to me eyes.....

"Maybe that good life is his best medal."......

I think it has to have been too.

I agree, it is hard to read about our POW's. And one thing, one area that our country should feel shame for are the ones we left behind. There will always be a place in my heart that hurts for this happening.

Posted by: Wild Thing at December 18, 2008 07:36 PM

Jack, well said. I would have felt the same way. I think that would have to be the one thing that would be the very worst to be a POW.

Posted by: Wild Thing at December 18, 2008 07:38 PM

Mark, thank you, I was so shocked with the lastest sermon of Wrights. And not one person in his audience stood up and said what Wright was saying were lies. Not one. I sure would have, I would have. He slandered and attack our military in the most horrific way in what he said.

Thank you for this too.....

"When Truman was asked about the high casualties from Hiroshima and Negasaki, his reply was something of, 'I never heard any apologies for Pearl Harbor.'"

Posted by: Wild Thing at December 18, 2008 07:42 PM

Wild Thing thanks, I also just learned of a Great-Great Uncle, a British Infantry Officer who was killed in World War I at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Posted by: JohnE PFC U.S. Army at December 18, 2008 07:45 PM

JohnE PFC U.S. Army, I wish so much all these that served would have made it home. With all my heart I wish that. I am so proud of each one of them. America would not be the country it has been without our military and the special people like you and others that have served our country.]

Thank you for telling me about your Great-Great Uncle.

Posted by: Wild Thing at December 19, 2008 02:29 AM