WELLSBURG - As fewer World War II veterans are living, the number who survived the Bataan Death March also are dwindling.
But those behind the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Museum at the Brooke County Public Library are working to preserve that often overlooked aspect of American history with two special events next week.
Area residents will have an opportunity to learn more about the march through a one-day class held as part of West Liberty University's Community University for Life Long Learning and participate in a walk in honor of the tens of thousands of American and Filipino troops who were captured following a five-month battle against Japanese invaders of the Philippine Islands. About 70,000 troops were forced to walk 65 miles through subtropical heat, without food or water. Many were suffering already from fatigue, malaria or dysentery and succumbed to illness or exhaustion, while others were shot, stabbed with bayonets and beheaded with swords.
Those who survived were transported to prisoner of war camps where they were forced to work for the Japanese war effort. An estimated 600 to 650 Americans and 5,000 to 10,000 Filipinos died, said Jane Kraina, the museum's coordinator.
The museum originated from a display at the Brooke County Public Library created by Ed Jackfert, a Wellsburg man who also served in the Philippines during World War II. He was assisted with the display by his wife, Henrietta.
It has been expanded upon through numerous contributions from other members of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, a group of veterans who served on the two Philippine Islands, and their families.
Kraina said the group has designated the museum as its national archive for writings, photos, military memorabilia and other items related to the veterans' experience and it's believed to be the largest collection of such material.
Mary Kay Wallace, library director, said it's appropriate that a class about the march be presented at the library from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday. The class will be taught by Kraina and WLU Professor Emeritus Richard Lizza, who taught history at WLU and West Virginia Northern Community College.
The cost for the class is $25, which includes all 15 courses offered through the program, many of them held at WLU's Highlands Center. Anyone interested in participating is encouraged to contact Jeff Knierim, WLU vice president for community development, at (304) 336-8301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Area residents also are invited to participate in a walk on April 9 commemorating the 71st anniversary of the Bataan Death March.
Registration will begin at 5 p.m., with the walk set to begin at 5:30 p.m. on Wellsburg's Yankee Trail near the Rite Aid store and extend to Seventh Street and back to the library. Parking will be available at the Wellsburg Fire Hall adjacent to the paved trail. The cost to participate is $10, with proceeds going to efforts to establish a larger showcase for the museum.
Wallace said plans for a million-dollar addition to the library have been put on hold, in light of the difficult economic times.
"We still have nice donations coming in but not to the point that we could build," she said.
Wallace said current efforts are focused on creating additional space within the library, including an area of the Elmer Vincent Meeting Room, to display items donated by the veterans.
Veterans of the Bataan Death March and their families are being invited to submit photos of the veterans so they may be reproduced as posters to be carried by participants in the walk.
For information about the walk, call the library at (304) 737-1551.