Lt. Charles Frank, US Army, circa 1941
Army Lt. Charles Frank

Prince Frederick, MD – On Tuesday evening, March 14, Calvert County resident and businessman Jon Frank shared what he described as “kind of a family story.” Frank’s 90-minute presentation at Calvert Library’s Prince Frederick branch told the story of surviving wartime captivity during World War II. Frank’s father, Charles, was part of the largest surrender in U.S. military history on the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines in April 1942. Charles Frank, an Army lieutenant and a veterinarian, didn’t become a free man until the summer of 1945, a few days after the Japanese surrender.

Frank came in possession of his father’s wartime effects following his mother’s passing in 2015. “I gathered up all the materials and started cataloging,” said Frank, who explained the collection including approximately 90 items. Next month Frank and his siblings will be traveling to New Orleans to present the collection to the National WWII Museum.

Charles Frank born in rural Pennsylvania in 1915 and grew up on a dairy farm. He went to veterinarian school and signed up for the Army reserves and was assigned to the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps. He was one of a dozen vets assigned to the Philippines. Frank was sent to the Philippines in late November 1941, a short time before the Dec. 7 Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor plunged the U.S. into war. The Philippines were attacked the following day.

While Lt. Frank sent a telegram home to Pennsylvania stating he was “safe and sound,” the American and Filipino soldiers were in great peril. They were badly outnumbered by the Japanese forces. There weapons were so outdated—World War I issue—that the U.S. Government had long stopped manufacturing ammunition for it. With nearly 50 horses and 80 mules lacking food and water, many of the equine were sacrificed for food. Additionally, the Americans were exposed to tropical illnesses such as malaria.

Following the surrender, many of the captured soldiers were relieved of their personal possessions. Anyone who had Japanese money in his possession was executed, the rationale being the tender was likely taken from a dead Japanese soldier. “The Bataan Death March,” was a six-day trek in the tropical sun with virtually no food and water. An estimated 10,000 men died during the march. Jon Frank noted his father was fortunate in that he was allowed to ride in one of the pickup trucks for prisoners. Details about what occurred on Bataan were not revealed to the public until after the war. The Bataan Death March was deemed a war crime by an Allied commission.

Jon Frank explained that his father did not keep a diary but did provide the Army with an 18-page “after action report” on his captivity. The elder Frank, who died in 1995 at the age of 80, also compiled a list of “food hints and suggestions” and kept a list of home addresses of other POWs. While he was held prisoner, Lt. Frank sent six postcards home. Each was limited in content by his captors. During the over 1,200 days he was a prisoner, Lt. Frank and other POWs were moved to camps in other parts of the Philippines and Japan, traveling in crowded railroad freight cars and ships. When one of the transport ships was bombed by the Allied forces, Lt. Frank sustained injuries. After his freedom, he was awarded a Purple Heart.

In early September 1945 Frank wrote a letter home letting his family know he had been liberated. He was returned to San Francisco in October 1945. Jon Frank said his father weighed less than 100 pounds when he returned to the U.S. He was sent to a hospital in Staunton, VA. Two years later, he married a nurse who had cared for him during his hospitalization. Charles Frank was promoted to captain and his military career continued until 1967. “We lived in some wonderful places,” Jon Frank recalled of his life in a military family. Jon Frank’s parents—both veterans–are both buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

During the question and answer session following his talk, Frank explained that his father did get “back pay when he was released.” In later years, Charles Frank would have periodic “flashbacks” related to his POW experience. The elder Frank was also active in two veterans’ groups, one for ex-POWs and another for survivors of Bataan.
When asked what his father thought of the iconic General Douglas MacArthur, Jon Frank admitted, “he didn’t like MacArthur.” His father, said Jon Frank, thought

MacArthur, who had served as a military advisor to the Philippine Government prior to World War II, was too political. The elder Frank had a much higher opinion of General Jonathan Wainwright, a military leader who was known to jump in foxholes with frontline soldiers. Wainwright himself had been a prisoner of the Japanese.

Of his family’s pending trip to the National World War II Museum, Frank declared, “we are privileged to take this down to New Orleans.”

To find out more about the National World War II Museum visit the facility’s web site

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