World War II, Prisoner of War
Survivor of Bataan Death March, also known as Death March of Bataan and in Japan called "Batan Shi No Koshin"
Duties: Driver, Officers Transportation, VIP Transportation. Deliver combat operational orders
Edgar John McIlvain, U.S. Army Air Corps
Medals Awards: Purple Heart, American Defense Medal, Asiatic Pacific Medal 1 Bronze Star, Philippine Liberation Medal/Star
CCC- Civilian Conservation Corps. This was part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal program ran by the U.S. Army. It had no uniforms issued and was a public works project that gave employment to males between the ages of 18 to 25 years old whose unskilled labor was to be used only on conservation projects and only on land owned by a state or the U.S. government.
Married: July 2, 1946 to Pauline Anna (Ludlow) a wedding ceremony held in Hartford, Conn.
Children: John Allen and Deborah Ann
Grandchildren: Joshua, Jacob, Brian, Ben and Jill.
Edgar John McIlvain was born on the Fourth of July in Red Oak, Iowa. He was the son of Edgar and Mary (Peterson) McIlvain. He lived on a farm and it was noticed early on as a child that Edgar was quite the marksman. Family members recall even as a child when food was needed for the table McIlvain was given three shells. Knowing the expert shot he was the family always counted on three birds in his pack on his return from a day of hunting.
Because his grandfather was a college professor, the McIlvain family was constantly moving and eventually the family resided at 289 Chestnut St. in Fredonia.
McIlvain received his education at Fredonia High School and after school held various part-time jobs. McIlvain received his high school diploma from Fredonia High School in 1938.
He held early jobs including working in the new CCC instituted by our government as part of the New Deal. Work in the CCC landed him in Allegany State Park, working in various jobs from bridge building, water lines, building roads to sidewalk construction.
In August 1939, McIlvain joined the Army at the Buffalo recruiting station. He was sent directly to the Philippines for his training with the army air corp. As a new recruit in May of 1941 he was assigned to Clark Field in the Philippines. Clark Field at that time was considered a major air strip in the Philippines. McIlvain recalled during those times that it was common to see the Japanese navy patrolling the coastal waters around the islands. While he was on duty the army near feared that war would ever come from Japan. However, for McIlvain, fear was in his mind. On Dec. 8, he wrote in a letter to his brother Mac that he wished he would be transferred from the Philippines before the barrel of dynamite he was sitting on blew up. Dec. 8 in the Philippines was actually Dec. 7. 1941, in Hawaii.
On Dec. 8 this barrel of dynamite exploded. It was recorded that the same morning that 54 Japanese planes hit the airstrip where he was guarding prisoners at the time. Records show this attack came three hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Raids were constant, bombs were being dropped daily, around the clock.
On Dec. 24, 1941, Japan had landed forces ready to occupy the entire island, with the Philippines basically being a training island. Weapons and modern military war equipment to fight a war were non-existent. The American forces along with Philippine forces were being scattered and each day the numbers were getting smaller and smaller. Food was nearly gone. The U.S. troops were forced to surrender. On April 9, 1942, after harassing the enemy in a delaying action until their ammunition and food were exhausted, surrender came. Immediately the Phillippines and Americans were separated. The enemy had divided the troops into groups of 1,500 so it would be easier to control their imprisonment and movements.
The Battan Death March is a story that each member has inbedded in his own mind and will be written in their own words.
This story is about a local hero who spent a normal life for 23 years, a life which he had full control of. He could go, do or say what he wanted knowing if it wasn't right what the consequences could bring. Then came April 8, 1942, when he and 11,796 Americans no longer had control of their lives. It wasn't because they were paralyzed and couldn't move body parts or because they were sick with a disease. It was because they all were now POWs. A prisoner for the next five years, McIlvain now would be told when to stand, sit, work, eat and talk. He would be told everything by the Japanese soldier.
If the rules were broken he had no idea of the consequences whether it be a beating or death. It all depended on the way that one Japanese soldier felt at that time or day. Killing an American didn't warrant a trial or any plea. Death could come from this Japanese soldier that had no rank, no authority, no power other than what his mind felt at that moment. To the Japanese soldier surrender meant no honor. Along with this feeling one would have after being liberated from that camp in Japan and then sent back to the Philippines for treatment after the memories of that island still lived in McIlvain's mind.
When he came back home, he lived on Route 20 across from the Fredonia Grange. That's when the Fredonia service organizations along with the area came together. In 1947, they started to raise funds to help construct a home for McIlvain to help him with the disabilities received during the war.
The area drive started with a projected date of Aug. 1, 1947 as the goal to break ground. Area veteran organizations along with banks, businesses and the public started to raise the $15,000 needed to complete the project. The home would give McIlvain and his family a place to enjoy the life that he deserved. It was a way to thank him for what he gave our country. The house was constructed on Main Street in Fredonia. After years of enjoying this gift from the area, his love for crafts made him create in his home a business people as the hobby shop. This place was home for one of our area's war heroes.
Edgar McIlvain was a hero. Not just because he was part of the Bataan Death March and had his life run by someone else every day for five years. He was a hero because while he was a prisoner in a Japanese Steel Mill he had the will to sabotage war items that were being used against Americans. He knew his death was inevitable if he was caught. That is why Edgar McIlvain is our hero of the week.
NEXT WEEK: Edgar McIlvain's story of the Death March as told by himself.
- Submitted by John Fedyszyn, Fredonia with information provided by family members