Lester Tenney, a survivor of the Bataan Death March whose harrowing oral-history account of his ordeal as a WWII prisoner of war is an unforgettable component of The National WWII Museum’s Digital Collections, died Friday, February 24, in Carlsbad, California. He was 96.
Tenney’s postwar life was dedicated to education—both as a university business professor and as a staunch advocate for his fellow POWs in the quest for official acknowledgment by Japan of the wartime atrocities they endured. He was a regular speaker at the Museum, most recently capping the 2016 International Conference on World War II with a stirring presentation titled “The Courage to Remember: PTSD—From Trauma to Triumph.”
“He gave the speech of his life,” said Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, PhD, the Museum’s president and CEO, in a message to his staff following news of Tenney’s death. “Lester’s DNA resides in this Museum.”
Tenney was tank commander with the 192nd Tank Battalion when he, along with 9,000 American and 60,000 Filipino troops, surrendered to the Japanese at the Battle of Bataan in April 1942. The ensuing Bataan Death March killed thousands during a 90-mile forced march to POW Camp O’Donnell.
“Number one, we had no food or water,” said Tenney in his Museum oral history. “Number two, you just kept walking the best way you could. It wasn’t a march. It was a trudge. . . . Most of the men were sick, they had dysentery, they had malaria, they had a gunshot wound.”
Their Japanese captors showed no mercy for the ill or wounded, Tenney said. “A man would fall down and they would holler at him to get up,” he added. “I saw a case where they didn’t even holler at him. The man fell down, the Japanese took a bayonet and put it in him. I mean, two seconds.”
Tenney’s march lasted 10 days. Conditions at Camp O’Donnell killed thousands more prisoners. Tenney survived that camp and others, passage to Japan in a “hell ship,” torture, and three years of forced labor in a coal mine before he was liberated at the end of the war. His WWII experiences, which he documented in a memoir titled My Hitch in Hell, haunted him all of his life.
“I feel guilty many times, even today,” Tenney said in his oral history. “I feel guilty that I’m back. I feel guilty that I’m living such a wonderful life. I feel guilty that a lot of my friends didn’t come back. Nothing I can do about it, but I can feel guilty because I feel that they were better than I was. I’m sure that my buddies who came back all feel the same.”
After the publication of his memoir in 1995, Tenney “shifted into a role as a prominent thorn-in-the-side of Japanese authorities unwilling or unable to acknowledge what had happened during the war,” said his obituary in TheSan Diego Union-Tribune. “Stories he shared with reporters, civic leaders, schoolchildren in the United States and Japan,” along with his published memoir, “eventually wrung apologies from government leaders and from one of the corporate giants that benefited from POW slavery.”
Tenney is survived by his wife of nearly 57 years, Betty, a son, two stepsons, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Our deepest condolences go out to his family, friends, and fellow WWII veterans. Our gratitude for Lester Tenney’s service and sacrifice—and for his decades of dedication to ensuring that his wartime experiences and those of his fellow POWs would not be forgotten—lives on.
Lester Tenney’s oral history is part of The National WWII Museum’s Digital Collections.
Edward Tipper, ‘Easy Company’ D-Day survivor and Museum friend.
Edward Tipper, an American hero and extraordinary friend to The National WWII Museum, has died at age 95.
Tipper jumped into Normandy with “Easy Company” on D-Day—a mission immortalized in Museum founder Stephen E. Ambrose’s book Band of Brothers and in the later HBO miniseries of the same title—and volunteered his time on numerous occasions to share his WWII experiences and advocate for the significance of the Museum’s mission.
We grieve his loss and for his family, but celebrate his long, full life and courageous service to the forces of freedom. We are proud to count an oral history recorded by Tipper among the Museum’s collection of more than 9,000 first-person accounts of World War II.
“He was one of the great ones of Easy Company—tough, humble, generous, honest, never exaggerated his role in training or in combat,” said Museum founding president & CEO Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, PhD.
Tipper and Dr. Mueller appeared together at Museum events in California, New Orleans, and North Carolina, at which they discussed Tipper’s training with Easy Company in Georgia and England, his D-Day experience, and the harrowing days that followed. Tipper’s interviews were always unique and hugely popular with audiences.
Born in 1921 and raised in a working-class area of Detroit, Tipper first tried to enlist in the Marine Corps following the attack at Pearl Harbor. When he was refused induction due to an improper overbite, “I felt like punching someone,” he once told a reporter.
Instead, Tipper volunteered for the paratroopers and joined Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, at Camp Toccoa in Georgia.
When Tipper was asked in interviews if there was one good thing he could say about Captain Herbert Sobel, the controversial early commanding officer of Easy Company, Tipper credited the tyrannical officer’s physical training demands, saying they ultimately helped to save his life.
“All (Sobel) could do better than anyone in the company was run, and we hated Sobel so much, we kept on running just to spite him,” Tipper said. “When I was blown up by a shell, I know I would have died before I got to the medics on a ship if it hadn’t been for my physical condition and training.”
Tipper was wounded on June 12, 1944, when he and Easy Company were engaged with the enemy at the town of Carentan. As he finished clearing out a house, a mortar shell exploded near Tipper, destroying his right eye. He also suffered breaks in both legs. Fellow Easy Company members Joseph Liebgott and Harry Welsh were the first to reach Tipper and carried him to a nearby aid station. Tipper was sent to a hospital in England, and later to the United States, where he spent a year in army hospitals before returning to civilian life.
Tipper earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for service, among other honors. In 2011, he received the French Legion of Honor Medal, the highest honor awarded by the French government.
Bart Ruspoli, who portrayed Tipper in Band of Brothers, spoke with Tipper on the phone several times during production, and met him at the 2001 world premiere of the miniseries, staged in Normandy.
“One of the greatest professional honors a person in my line of work can have, whether it be in front of the camera or behind, is to tell the story of someone who made a difference,” said Ruspoli, now a writer, director, and producer for London-based Next Level Films. “Not to just their friends and family, but to everyone, everywhere. Something few people can truly say they have done. Ed Tipper and the men of Easy Company did, and they will not be forgotten.”
After the war, Tipper attended the University of Michigan and received a masters degree from the University of Northern Colorado. He was a high school teacher in Iowa and Colorado for nearly three decades, and received a John Hay Fellowship in 1960 to study English at the University of California, Berkeley. He also traveled widely with his family, which he started late in life. Tipper married for the first time at age 61, and is survived by his beloved wife, Rosie, and daughter, Kerry.
“We didn’t talk about the war,” wrote Kerry Tipper in a Facebook post about her last conversation with her father. “His greatest sense of pride and accomplishment came from being a loving son to his mother. It came from his near 30 years of teaching. From his years traveling the world. And finally from the 34 years he gave to his small but adoring family.
“My dad was generous in every sense of the word. He was open-minded and surprisingly progressive. Never took things at face value. Challenged every assumption, every foregone conclusion. This to me remains one of the most incredible things about him. He was defiant. He refused to accept limitations set by others. And that he did—he spent his life proving others wrong; defying all the odds.”
Edward Tipper and his wife, Rosie, attended the Road to Berlin grand opening in December 2014.
Comic about Kuroki "Nisei Hero" from the Collection of The National WWII Museum
Kuroki and Curator Kim Guise at The National WWII Museum
Kuroki and Curator Kim Guise listen to and watch Kuroki's storiy in the Dog Tag Experience at The National WWII Museum
Kuroki in front of the Nebraska labelled train car at The National WWII Museum
Kuroki and friend Joe Duran at The National WWII Museum
Kuroki speaking at Heart Mountain War Relocation Center , April 24, 1944. Courtesy National Archives
Nebraska native Ben Kuroki volunteered days after Pearl Harbor, but was rejected by the Army because of ancestry. Months later, he was inducted into the Army Air Corps, slipping through on a technicality. In 1942, Kuroki fought to be sent to Europe as a clerk with the 8th Air Force. There, with a shortage of aerial gunners, Kuroki became part of a crew. He flew 30 combat missions in Europe including raids on the Ploesti oil fields. Upon returning to the US, Kuroki was asked to visit Topaz, Heart Mountain and Minidoka with recruiters trying to solicit Nisei volunteers. Seeing American citizens like him under armed guard was a shock that Kuroki would never get over. After receiving special permission from Secretary of War Henry Stimpson, Kuroki flew 28 missions with the 20th Air Force over Japan. His crew named their B-29 “Sad Saki” in honor of Kuroki, who they termed “Most Honorable Son.”
His quiet determination, courage, and humility are his legacy. Every day at the Museum, Kuroki’s legacy lives on as visitors to the Museum follow his life during World War II in our interactive Dog Tag Experience.
He was an inspiration to all who came in contact with him, and he will be missed.
Ben Kuroki’s oral history interview conducted by Museum Historian Tom Gibbs in 2013 (one of Mr. Kuroki’s last) can be viewed in our Digital Collections.
Louis Zamperini at The National WWII Museum in 2011
This week marks the release of Angelina Jolie’s film about Louis Zamperini based on Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 bestseller, Unbroken. Mr. Zamperini shared his emotional story with the Museum in the form of an oral history in 2011. It can be viewed in our Digital Collection.
Zamperini, an Olympic track runner, served as a bombardier in the 307th Bombardment Group, 7th Air Force, flying B-24 Liberators in the Pacific. Zamperini’s aircraft went down in the Pacific and he and the two other survivors from his crew were adrift for 47 days. Captured and tortured by the Japanese, he survived the war, regaining freedom on August 20, 1945. Zamperini was one of the 34,648 Americans held prisoner by the Japanese during WWII. Nearly 40% of those men died in captivity, a staggering 12,935 lives lost.
Read more about the Museum’s collection Pacific Theater POW artifacts and the story of the Ofuna Roster. Visit the Museum on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 for a Lunchbox Lecture on the Ofuna Roster and the ties to Unbroken and Zamperini’s story.
I had the good fortune to participate in the planning and execution of a special exhibit and symposium the Museum held in 2007 When Baseball Went to War. We were lucky to have with us many Hall of Fame and other great baseball players who were also World War II veterans.
Veteran baseball players at the 2007 Duty, Honor, Country: When Baseball Went to War Conference
Veteran and Major Leaguer Lou Brissie officially opens the special exhibition Duty, Honor, Country: When Baseball Went to War in 2007 at The National WWII Museum
Their stories and camaraderie made it such a special gathering. Because of our baseball focus, I had the chance to meet a veteran whose smile, kindness and twinkle in his eyes sticks with me today. His name was Lou Brissie. Lou was a pitcher and a patriot.
Gary Bedingfield, who runs a website Baseball in Wartime, was also at the conference with Mr Brissie and I and said it best:
The fact that Lou Brissie ever stepped foot on a baseball diamond again after World War II, let alone pitch in the major leagues, is a testament to this man’s sheer determination, courage, and will.
Esther Williams, like many stars of her time, traveled for bond rallies, USO shows and hospital visits to troops, but despite her appearances, her likeness may have logged more miles than she ever could in person.
Esther (due in part to the abundance of photos of here in swimwear) was a popular pin-up already when two buddies in the Royal Australian Navy exchanged a forged, signed photo of the “bathing beauty.” The photo eventually became a prize that was distributed from one ship to another in a new naval tradition and was the source of great esteem to the ship who possessed it. The original photo was retired after traveling an estimated 4,000 nautical miles (copies are still in circulation and Ms. Williams herself was known to send authentic signed copies to ships that had garnered the “Esther Williams Trophy”).
Williams continued her “military service” after the war when, allegedly, she was inspired when she heard that the WAVES were issued a less-than-supportive swimsuit as part of their uniform. She personally modeled a version that was a significant improvement for the Secretary of the Navy, who immediately placed an order for 50,000 suits.
Ahn Sehong had to go to China to recover a vanishing — and painful — part of Korea’s wartime history. Visiting small villages and overcoming barriers of language and distrust, he documented the tales of women — some barely teenagers — who had been forced into sexual slavery during World War II by the Japanese Army.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Patty Andrews never served in the military, but she and her singing sisters certainly supported the troops.
During World War II, they hawked war bonds, entertained soldiers overseas and boosted morale on the home-front with tunes like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” and “I Can Dream, Can’t I?”
Andrews, the last surviving member of the singing Andrews Sisters trio, died Wednesday at 94 of natural causes at her home in the Los Angeles suburb of Northridge, said family spokesman Alan Eichler in a statement.
“When I was a kid, I only had two records and one of them was the Andrews Sisters. They were remarkable. Their sound, so pure,” said Bette Midler, who had a hit cover of “Bugle Boy” in 1973. “Everything they did for our nation was more than we could have asked for. This is the last of the trio, and I hope the trumpets ushering (Patty) into heaven with her sisters are playing `Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.'”
Patty was the Andrews in the middle, the lead singer and chief clown, whose raucous jitterbugging delighted American servicemen abroad and audiences at home.
She could also deliver sentimental ballads like “I’ll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time” with a sincerity that caused hardened GIs far from home to weep.
From the late 1930s through the 1940s, the Andrews Sisters produced one hit record after another, beginning with “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” in 1937 and continuing with “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar,” `’Rum and Coca-Cola” and more. They recorded more than 400 songs and sold over 80 million records.
Other sisters, notably the Boswells, had become famous as singing acts, but mostly they huddled before a microphone in close harmony. The Andrews Sisters – LaVerne, Maxene and Patty – added a new dimension. During breaks in their singing, they cavorted about the stage in rhythm to the music.
Their voices combined with perfect synergy. As Patty remarked in 1971: “There were just three girls in the family. LaVerne had a very low voice. Maxene’s was kind of high, and I was between. It was like God had given us voices to fit our parts.”
Kathy Daris of the singing Lennon Sisters recalled on Facebook late Wednesday that the Andrews Sisters “were the first singing sister act that we tried to copy. We loved their rendition of songs, their high spirit, their fabulous harmony.”
The Andrews Sisters’ rise coincided with the advent of swing music, and their style fit perfectly into the new craze. They aimed at reproducing the sound of three harmonizing trumpets.
Unlike other singing acts, the sisters recorded with popular bands of the 1940s, fitting neatly into the styles of Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, Bob Crosby, Woody Herman, Guy Lombardo, Desi Arnaz and Russ Morgan. They sang dozens of songs on records with Bing Crosby, including the million-seller “Don’t Fence Me In.” They also recorded with Dick Haymes, Carmen Miranda, Danny Kaye, Al Jolson, Jimmy Durante and Red Foley.
The Andrews’ popularity led to a contract with Universal Pictures, where they made a dozen low-budget musical comedies between 1940 and 1944. In 1947, they appeared in “The Road to Rio” with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour.
The trio continued until LaVerne’s death in 1967. By that time the close harmony had turned to discord, and the sisters had been openly feuding.
Midler’s cover of “Bugle Boy” revived interest in the trio. The two survivors joined in 1974 for a Broadway show, “Over Here!” It ran for more than a year, but disputes with the producers led to the cancellation of the national tour of the show, and the sisters did not perform together again.
Patty continued on her own, finding success in Las Vegas and on TV variety shows. Her sister also toured solo until her death in 1995.
Her father, Peter Andrews, was a Greek immigrant who Anglicized his name of Andreus when he arrived in America; his wife, Olga, was a Norwegian with a love of music. LaVerne was born in 1911, Maxine (later Maxene) in 1916, Patricia (later Patty, sometimes Patti) in 1918.
All three sisters were born and raised in the Minneapolis area.
Listening to the Boswell Sisters on radio, LaVerne played the piano and taught her sisters to sing in harmony; neither Maxene nor Patty ever learned to read music. All three studied singers at the vaudeville house near their father’s restaurant. As their skills developed, they moved from amateur shows to vaudeville and singing with bands.
After Peter Andrews moved the family to New York in 1937, his wife, Olga, sought singing dates for the girls. They were often turned down with comments such as: “They sing too loud and they move too much.” Olga persisted, and the sisters sang on radio with a hotel band at $15 a week. The broadcasts landed them a contract with Decca Records.
They recorded a few songs, and then came “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” an old Yiddish song for which Sammy Cahn and Saul Kaplan wrote English lyrics. (The title means, “To Me You Are Beautiful.”) It was a smash hit, and the Andrews Sisters were launched into the big-time.
In 1947, Patty married Martin Melcher, an agent who represented the sisters as well as Doris Day, then at the beginning of her film career. Patty divorced Melcher in 1949 and soon he became Day’s husband, manager and producer.
Patty married Walter Weschler, pianist for the sisters, in 1952. He became their manager and demanded more pay for himself and for Patty. The two other sisters rebelled, and their differences with Patty became public. Lawsuits were filed between the two camps.
Patty Andrews is survived by her foster daughter, Pam DuBois, a niece and several cousins. Weschler died in 2010.
Today, I had the privilege of connecting with students from Ohio during a Virtual Field Trip to talk about the contributions and sacrifices of Senator Daniel Inouye, who passed away yesterday of respiratory complications. Inouye was in his 49th year of service as Senator from Hawaii and was a WWII veteran of the “Go for Broke” 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Inouye vividly remembered the attack on Pearl Harbor, and rushed to help as a medical volunteer in the aftermath. Once the ban was lifted on Japanese Americans in the military, Inouye enlisted and soon rose to the rank of platoon leader. In the last months of the war, Inouye lost his arm while attacking a machine gun nest. His right arm was severed by German fire as he was attempting to throw a hand grenade. He pried the grenade out of his right hand and threw it with his left into the nest. For his actions that day, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
In our Virtual Field Trip about Japanese Americans in WWII, we specifically discuss Inouye’s sacrifices and the eventual upgrade of his award to the Medal of Honor. During the war, only one Japanese American was awarded the Medal of Honor. Over fifty years later, a study revealed twenty-two Asian American soldiers were denied the Medal due to racism, including Senator Inouye. During the videoconference, we listen to the President’s speech at the award ceremony in 2000, where he says of these deserving men, “They didn’t give up on our country, even when too many of their countrymen and women had given up on them.”
Senator Daniel Inouye receiving the Medal of Honor from President Clinton on June 21, 2000
Inouye never turned his back on his country, especially when he enlisted and served while fellow Japanese Americans were being interned on the U.S. mainland. Connecting with students to talk about WWII history is rewarding, as they understand the sacrifices of American soldiers and citizens alike. These lessons are especially meaningful to students when they learn about Senator Inouye and other selfless WWII veterans.
Posted by Chrissy Gregg, Virtual Classroom Coordinator
Today, a day shy of his 92nd birthday, pioneering jazz pianist and band leader Dave Brubeck passed away. Brubeck was one of post-war jazz’s great innovators, bringing improvisation and unusual and often challenging time-signatures and folk rhythms into the mainstream musical vernacular. His 1959 opus, ‘Time Out,’ became the first jazz album ever to sell over a million copies. However, before the million-sellers, Brubeck was merely one of over 16 million Americans who found themselves serving in WWII.
Completing college in 1942, the 23 year-old Brubeck was drafted into the Army. Qualifying as a sharpshooter, Private Brubeck arrived in France ninety days after the initial D-Day landings as a replacement in A Company of the 140th Infantry Regiment of Patton’s Third Army. Advancing rapidly, Brubeck’s unit was informed that they would likely see action soon. It was in this instance that Brubeck’s life was altered. Brubeck remembered in an interview for Ken Burns’ 2000 documentary, ‘Jazz.’
‘They said you know you’re going to have to be at the front soon, but tonight there’s going to be some girls come up and entertain you, Red Cross girls, so they had a piano on the back of the truck, where the side of the truck came down and made a stage, and they asked over their loud speaker, ‘Is there a pianist that will come up and play with, for us, because we need a piano player.’ So, I finally raised my hand. I remember I was sitting on my helmet, in a place called ‘The Mudhole’, and I went up there and a Colonel heard me play and he said, ‘This guy shouldn’t go to the front. We want to keep him here and form a band.’ We formed a band of two guys that were with me, that hadn’t been to the front and the rest of the guys were guys that had been to the front and been injured, shot and they would send them to me. My Wolf Pack Band was mostly guys that had the Purple Heart, we could play right at the front line because the front line troops, when you’re just ready to go into battle the USO doesn’t usually getup that far and if they did they wouldn’t be accepted as well as seeing guys that have already been wounded.
And that’s the way we did a lot of the rest of the war.’
Brubeck and his Wolf Pack Band (two members seen above), officially designated as the Third Army Replacement Depot Jazz Band, would, for the next two years, serve as entertainment on the front line and in the rear for Allied troops and later for the American occupying forces in Germany. The Wolf Pack Band was also notable for being the first racially integrated military band in American service.
Discharged in 1946, Brubeck returned to his home state of California to further hone his inimitable personal style; a style most certainly shaped by his experiences serving in the Second World War.
This post by Collin Makamson, Red Ball Express Coordinator at The National WW2 Museum
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world - why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today - so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.