Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath
by Michael Norman and Elizabeth M. Norman
Both of my grandfathers served with the American armed forces during World War II: one was a sergeant for the Army in the Pacific and the other was an Army Air Corps co-pilot of a bomber based out of England. Although neither of my grandfathers spoke of their experiences during that time, lately I’ve found myself drawn to a wide collection of works regarding World War II, including my latest read, Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath by Michael and Elizabeth M. Norman.
Although the title suggests the book is primarily about the Bataan Death March, I found it to be slightly misleading. In reality, the book follows the experiences of Ben Steele, a Battle of Bataan survivor, from his arrival in the Philippines in late fall of 1941, the battle for the Bataan peninsula, the ‘death march’ to the POW camps, transportation to Japan to work in a mine, and Steele’s return to the United States in 1945. Several stories of others who fought on Bataan, including members of the Japanese Imperial Army, are also interwoven with Steele’s story.
Tears in the Darkness is not a book for everyone. Parts of the story, especially descriptions of how POWs were treated, both soldiers and civilians, are difficult to read. But the Normans also include descriptions of what happened in Japan’s politics and milieu of the army that allowed war crimes in the Pacific during WWII to occur. As a result, I feel I have a much better understanding of what cultural events and context led to the horrors in the Pacific. (Sadly, I see many of those cultural events being repeated today in other parts of the world.) The authors also describe Ben’s life after returning to the U.S. and, as a result, I think I better understand why my grandfathers never shared their experiences with their grandchildren.