Customer Reviews: Escape From Davao: The Forgotten Story of the Most Daring Prison Break of the Pacific War
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on June 13, 2010
[i]Escape From Davao[/i] by John D. Lukacs. Simon & Schuster, 2010. 429 pp.

I heard about this book only about a week or 10 days ago. Although I meant to wait a bit, I just couldn't (My mother always said I lacked patience!) and an order through Amazon followed. I received the book late last week.

I had read William Dyess' book [i]The Dyess Story[/i] in junior high. Then, my occasional meeting with Sam Gashio, increased my interest. I was a bit suspicious of Lukacs' credentials, since this was his first book and he is a sportswriter by trade.

Lukacs did an excellent job on the book and it sort of capped all the other stories of the escape from Davao Penal Colony in early 1943 by 10 Americans and two Filipinos. Althought the story has been told by several of the escapees, this is the first recent history. ("10 Escape From Tojo" was a gathering of the "Life" Magazine articles of 1944).

The book was divided roughly into four parts: 1) biographies of all twelve and what they did prior to the surrender. 2) The Bataan Death March and capture (a few were captured on Corregidor or on other places; 3) Life in prison camp and the escape; 4) Arriving home and the attempts to get the story of the POW camps published (one escapee was recaptured several months later and executed).

Many of the wartime accounts had to skim over what happened during the actual escape attempts until arrival in Australia. Lukacs did a good job of showing the troubles and difficulties in reaching the guerrillas and proving they were legitimate escapees. He also describes the rivalry between Wendall Fertig and other guerrilla leaders. I had always thought the escapees left together, but they were evacuated in three groups over several months. One small surprise was that Grashio was evacuated by the submarine [i]Bowfin[/i], currently on display at Pearl Harbor (which I saw in 2005.

One point that Lukacs made over and over, was without the help and cooperation of the local Filipino population. Two were convicted murderers. Lukacs writes touchingly of one of the escapees visiting a dying Manuel Quezon and obtaining pardons for both.

The last hundred pages of the book (besides the epilogue) details the attempts to get the story told to the American public, which was one of the main reasons the prisoners escaped. What followed was nearly six months before the red tape could be removed. Tragically, William Dyess was killed in a P-38 crash before this could happen.

The epilogue was interesting to me, personally. All but one of the escapees has since passed away. Sam Grashio, my personal hero, in 1999. At least two of the Marines saw further combat in the Pacific towards the end of WWII, which surprised me. I recognized several names that I had contacted during the time I wrote my magazine articles in the 1980s.

The book is a great compilation of what happened during the only large-scale prison break from a Japanese POW camp of World War II. It describes well the tragedy, horror and bravery of the prison camps and the "March". It is well-written and very readable.

Well worth purchasing, or at least, reading.
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VINE VOICEon June 6, 2010
As June 6 is observed as a day of commemoration for D-Day, the world pays their respect to those who fought the European theater of World War II off the shores of Normandy in 1944. But another greater part of the war had also been occurring within the other side of world, the War in the Pacific, and a war within the home front involving disclosure of POWs within this front of the war and uplifting the censorship that same year that would reveal the complexities and misconceptions that took place two years prior, a few months later after Pearl Harbor, and in the Philippines, the infamous Bataan Death March in 1942. John D. Lukacs takes into account and clarifies the major events by acknowledging and recognizing the forgotten heroes that returned as well as those who did not in his detailed narrative Escape From Davao: The Forgotten Story of the Most Daring Prison Break of the Pacific War.

Lukacs elaborately documents the circumstances surrounding the Bataan Death March and the American and Filipino forces that were taken prisoner by the Imperial Japanese Army and sent to Davao Penal Colony awaiting the imminent. However, this would be one of the successful prison breaks to occur during the war, and Major William E. Dyess would be responsible for leading the men to freedom earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and later recommended to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor but also pursuing another war, exposing the horrid conditions that thousands of individuals had to experience during the torrential ordeal that would eventually be posthumously shown in his own account Bataan Death March: A Survivor's Account. But the interesting element about Lukacs's narrative is that he does not recycle Dyess's story but rather expands upon it providing a chilling and haunting aspect to this historical narrative of the survivors and the major participants, and the controversy centering on the full disclosure and the limiting of information that would be dispersed to the press and the public, which contributed to the misconceptions generated during the war as depicted in a Chicago Tribune political cartoon in January 1944 that shows POWs in a desperate, helpless, and dying state with the caption that reads: "I Guess the European Front is More Important." Indeed, cartoons as well as the various references in the book are suggestive of the political atmosphere that permeated and appalled those who survived as well as their families.

After reading Escape From Davao, one may see that this story is an important part of the War in the Pacific and World War II. In addition, it further shows the continuous need to examine this part of the war and different perspectives that existed that one is still not aware of or have forgotten. Without the key participants, such as Edward Dyess and his story, the historical narrative puzzle of understanding would not be possible. Beyond the prominent names of leaders that one has read or studied in their history textbooks, Dyess's experience and the many unnamed individuals of those who endured the struggles are relevant in telling and examining the subject of history, and again, another teachable moment.
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on June 6, 2010
Due to John D. Lukacs' excellent reporting, this gut-wrenching story of the defeat of American forces in the Philippines and their inhumane treatment at the hands of their Japanese captors still has the immediacy today that it did in 1942 and 1943. And the escape of ten of those prisoners has a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction ring, despite the passage of time. And nearly as amazing as their escape was the remarkable reaction of the War Department and of the White House to the message they brought home. They were forbidden to tell anyone what they'd seen. They weren't even allowed to speak to the families of prisoners who were still in captivity. Policy makers were perfectly aware that America's "Europe First" strategy would be questioned once the Japanese atrocities were known. But once the story was told, the American public began purchasing war bonds with a frenzy, proving that the gag order was a monumental blunder.

Lukacs brings every scene to life with recreated reality: "Leaning his angular frame against a post, Dyess struck a match to light a cigarette; the flame illuminated his hunger-chiseled features and serious demeanor. After a whispering sizzle of glowing red tobacco and burning paper, he exhaled his thoughts in hushed tones." And as the escapees listened to jungle drums in the night, "It must have seemed as though they were traveling not just through a wild jungle, but through time itself."

Lukacs puts the Japanese atrocities in stark perspective: While only one percent of Allied prisoners died in captivity, thirty-seven percent would perish at the hands of the Japanese. Lukacs also concludes that this incident would forever shape the way Americans got war news; even the most shocking news would never again be suppressed.

Here are a couple of errata for a subsequent printing: p. 77: "pastry" should be "pasty." P. 144, in two places, "Abes-san" should be "Abe-san."
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on August 2, 2010
My father, Samuel C Grashio, was one of the escapees from the Davao Penal Colony in the Phillipine islands during WWII."Escape from Davao" written by John Lukacs is by far the most complete narrative on that subject. Although many others, including the escapees, have written about this event none have researched as thuroughly and intensly as has John Lukacs. His historical, political and human insights about the escapees and the escape itself are second to none. He includes bios of each of the escapees before, during and after the escape that compliments this historical event as none other has. His narrative reads more like a novel than a historical event. It is one of those books that you cannot put down until completion.
In his book John introduces the reader to an array of characters that were all pertinent to the success of the escape as no other author has. He also expains the political state of the US government that put a "gag" order on all the escapees that would not allow them to divulge any aspect of their escape to anyone not even their wives and families. It took Ed Dyess, one of the leaders of the escape months before he was allowed to write a very censured version of the escape, conditions in the prison camps, and inhumane treatment that the American and Phillipine soldiers endured. It is a must read for all history buffs as this was the only succesful mass escape from the Japanese.
McArthur eventually sent submarines to the islands to take the escapees to Australia where they were eventually debriefed. All but one, Leo Bollens, made it to Australia and freedom. Leo was eventually recaptured and tortured to death. If real life excitement is your cup of tea then "Escape from Davao" is a must read for you.
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on April 17, 2013
My father in law was a survivor from Corregidor in 1942. I had heard many of his horror stories as well as a few humorous ones. His descriptions of the inhumane treatment at the hands of the Japanese was borne out in this book. The escape itself should have been a wake up call to our government about the treatment being doled out to our prisoners in the Philippines. Unfortunately, the Europe first policy prevented our government from acknowledging what they knew about the fate of our gallent, as well as our allies gallent soldiers, sailors, airmen,marines and countless civilians.

The story of this escape is very thorough and informative to a new generation that perhaps have become blinded by the fact that this war took place 70 years ago against an enemy who we now consider a staunch ally. The whole world needs to be reminded about the horrors of war and that not every enemy combatant treats their captives in a humane manner.

That being said, the story of the escape ends approximately 50% of the way through the book. The balance is a more boring epilogue. Four stars is the best I can offer.
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on February 3, 2013
Lukacs has four big things going on in this book:
1) introducing the personalities of the key players, including Macarthur
2) The experience of surrendering the Philippines to the Japanese, the Bataan Death March, the downfall of Corregidor, the POW camps and hell ship transports.
3) The escape and the guerilla fighters
4) The censorship and propaganda of the War Board and the President -- refusing to allow the escapees to tell about the atrocities, and then coordinating the release of their stories with Allied powers and a War Bonds campaign.

In order:
1) 2 stars. This is barely interesting -- you don't care very much at all about these men or their relationships. No good information is given to make you even LIKE them or recognize their names/personalities. Maybe TWELVE GUYS is too big a number to adequately cover/personify in a book of this length.
2) 1 star. This story is told better in the following books:
Ghost Soldiers Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue Mission
Bert Banks' memoir Back from the living dead: An original story describing the infamous March of Death ; 33 months in a Japanese prison and liberation by the Rangers
All This Hell All This Hell: U.S. Nurses Imprisoned by the Japanese -- especially describes the tunnels on Corregidor.
3) 4 stars -- this part was very good -- could have used a better map or more maps, but the trek through the jungle and the connection with the guerillas was very good reading.
4) 5 stars -- this part will outrage you at the cynical response of official Washington.

This book is worth a read -- I recommend it, although I wish parts of it were better written. Get it from the Library.
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on July 17, 2010
This is the absolute best book to come out about World War II in a long time - period. For one thing, the escape from the Davao Penal Colony by ten US servicemen and two Filipinos was the most amazing event of the entire war, and not only that, it was one that changed the course of the war - once the White House's attempt to clamp a lid on it was finally overcome. The second thing is that the major player, Air Corps Major William Edwin Dyess, had already become known as the hero of Bataan. Dyess and the other airmen - the rest of the escapees had come from Corregidor - endured the horrors of the infamous "death march" up the Bataan Peninsula on the way to Camp O'Donnell. Thousands died on the march and thousands more in the camp. But once these heroes - and they were heroes, heroes whose accomplishments exceed that of any of the others that are so often recognized as heroes - reached safety they found themselves fighting more battles. Their first was agains the self-proclaimed guerrilla "general" Wendell Fertig, who looked down on them because they had been surrendered. (Fertig was a former civilian who had gotten a commission after the outbreak of war and set up his own fiefdom in northern Mindanao.) It wasn't until they encountered the mysterious Naval officer "Chick" Parsons who was on Mindanao on a secret mission that they acheived any success in their quest to be evacuated to Australia so their story could be told. Once they reached freedom, their only friend turned out to be the man military "historians" love to hate, the egotistical (but brave and capable) General Douglas MacArthur who told Dyess that their story needed to be told, but he was afraid they were going to meet resistance when they reached the US. He was right - resistance came from the very highest level of government from a President Franklin Roosevelt who feared that their revelations would jeapordize his own political career, and cause the American people to question is "Germany first" policies It was only after Dyess met his untimely death after giving an interview to the Chicago Tribune that the White House decided they could no longer prevent the story from being told, so they decided to capitalize on it by allowing it to be released in conjunction with the newest war bond drive. This is a must-read book for anyone interested in World War II and a "should read" for all Americans. John Lukacs has done an excellent job of telling the story. If you can only read one book this year, this is the one to read.
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on June 16, 2011
The author does an excellent job and is well researched. These men endured things that most people couldn't imagine. I know as my father, Col. Ernest E. McClish was one of those men. I know that surviving on bugs and bark, jumping down from trees on enemy supply lines, and knowing that as an officer - if you were caught - your head could well end up on a poll as a lesson to other US commanders. War is no walk in the park, and this war is often overlooked, particularly this story that is amazingly presented. The author did interviews and his personal interest is evident in a very gripping book! This book would be excellent alone if it were fiction, but it is a true story! - C.McClish
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on December 10, 2011
I was both shocked and thrilled when I saw William Dyess' picture on the first edition of this book. He looked just as he did to me 70 years ago when my brother and I walked 4 houses down our dirt street to his parent's house. He had just returned from the Pacific war, though we didn't know from where. But he was our town hero, and spoke to some 2,000 of our local residents at the local football field. No one knew what he really wanted to say. I was top secret.

I recall the Samauri sword he showed us, which he said was used to behead someone. Of course, I recoiled at that. And then he left his hometown to return to the war.

It was such a tragedy that William was killed before the hidden secret was revealed by the Chicago Tribune and became a front-page exclusive serial. His diary was then released by his widow and told the story in his own words.

The Bataan Death March and the exploits of Dyess' fighter squadron to save Manila and the Phillipines actually began one day before Pearl Harbor. With only one airplane resting in a swamp, the mechanics band-aided it together to fly out officers to Corregidor. Dyess had been ordered to leave with the company, but refused rather than abandon his men. The airplane was called "The Candy Clipper", and I got to see it in the WWII aircaft museum in Orlando, Florida...where it still flies.

Several years ago I was in Australia staying with friends. The wife told me that she had worked in downtown Brisbane after the war. Her desk was something she was so proud of. But not knowing its history, one day men came in and took her desk--which made her upset. Then they identified it: it was the very desk MacArthur used when he directed the war from Brisbane. So I went there and climbed the stairs to that place and stood behind that desk
because I had a picture of Dyess and two other officers standing beside the General. MacAuthur decorated Dyess and knew of the secret he was ordered to give to President Roosevelt. So sad that Dyess never received the Medal of Honor, for which he was recommended.

John Luckas' book is a classic, superbly written and amazingly just as alive as if he had been walking in Dyess' footsteps, though he himself now lives three generations removed.

Mary E. Adams
Wasilla, Alaska
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on July 3, 2010
John Lukacs's book on the escape of ten American POWs from the Davao Penal Colony in April of 1943 is exceedingly well researched, historically accurate, and written with enough personal details to elicit deep empathy for the suffering and the hardship endured by the escapees. These men who dared to overcome almost insurmountable odds are a breed of Americans that can truly be called the best of the Greatest Generation.

The author was not satisfied with just reading diaries, reports, or data stored in archives. John Lukacs actually went to the Philippines to interview surviving witnesses and to visit the scene of battles in Bataan, the internment camps in Camp O'Donnell, Cabanatuan, and Bilibid Prison in Manila. I had the pleasure of accompanying John in a hired rickity pump boat that sailed along the western coast of Bataan so that he could see for himself the particular area where the Battle of the Points took place.

I think this is one of the few books on the war in the Philippines that gives credit where credit is due: to the Filipinos, my countrymen. No American would have dared or even entertained the thought of escaping from Japanese captivity if they were not sure that Filipinos would help them, give them shelter, and extend to them other forms of assistance that would assure their survival.

Ray Hunt, who was also a member of the 21st Pursuit Squadron and whose commanding officer was the late Capt. William E. Dyess, escaped while on the Death March, was aided by Filipino civilians, and eventually joined a guerilla unit that operated for three years in Central Luzon. After the war had ended, Ray Hunt wrote:

"The saddest memories I retain from World War II are those related to our postwar treatment of Filipinos. Seldom in history have one people been so loyal to another or suffered so much for another as the Filipinos did for Americans. ... [T]hroughout the struggle the Filipinos shared our hardships, fought beside us, and risked their own and their families' lives for us. Those of us in the central plains of Luzon could not have survived at all without regular aid from local civilians. Many such civilians lost everything they had for trusting us too much. We owed them protection and defense, yet when the war was over we expected them to be grateful to us for having at length rescued them from further disasters of our making, disasters that had already cost them perhaps a million dead .... Yet, despite it all, most ordianry Filipios were overjoyed when the American army returned."

John Luckacs has created a magnificent work of literary history, written
in a suspensful style that will grip you,the reader, by the throat with a tenacity that will not allow you to lay down his book before you have read the last page. The prologue alone is worth much more than the price of this book.
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