Mims Attends monument Dedication for Old Unit
BY FLORENCE GILKESON
Bataan Death March survivor John Mims of Aberdeen was in Columbus, Ga., on Aug. 12 for dedication of a memorial honoring the 31st Infantry Regiment.
Mims, an 88-year-old retired U.S. Army master sergeant, was among the last visitors to leave the Walk of Honor at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center at Fort Benning.
The black granite memorial is topped by a grayish-white polar bear in recognition of the regiment's nickname, "The Polar Bears," according to an article in the Ledger-Enquirer newspaper.
The dedication marked the 95th anniversary of the regiment, which was deployed to Siberia in 1918, served in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq as well as its famous deployment in World War II.
Mims has vivid memories of that day in April 1942 when he was among the 75,000-plus American and Filipino soldiers who were forced to surrender to Japanese forces at the end of the battle of Bataan. Mims told Ledger-Enquirer reporter Ben Wright that they had run out of food, water and ammunition.
Japanese soldiers forced their captives to march the 60 miles to another camp, where they were held as prisoners of war until Japan surrendered three years later. The captives were tortured, starved and forced to endure fierce heat and other dangerous weather conditions, were brutally beaten and denied medical treatment.
Of the estimated 10,000 soldiers who died on the death march, 650 were Americans.
In addition to repeated beatings, Mims told the reporter that one Japanese soldier knocked out all his front teeth when he stopped to pick up a dropped bottle.
"I picked it up and handed it to him, and he didn't thank me or anything," Mims said in the interview. "He busted all my teeth out and hit me with the soda water. It was like a light bulb. It just exploded."
Mims quoted the enemy soldier as saying that it was a death march and all marchers were expected to die.
When the Japanese surrendered in 1945, the survivors were rescued and were taken to hospitals for treatment and rehabilitation.
Mims said it was his Christian faith that kept him going during the ordeal.
"The Lord, he will keep you going," he told the Georgia newspaper.
Mims was photographed standing in front of the memorial with fellow Death March survivor Paul Kerchum, 91, of Arizona.
Mims was accompanied by his wife on the trip to Georgia.
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