Ed Bogdonovich was a 20 year-old Marine sergeant far from his home
on a Willard, Wis., farm when the attack on Pearl Harbor came on
Dec. 7th, 1941 - a day, President Franklin Roosevelt would later
proclaim, that would live in infamy.
The alert that sounded on Wake Island, where Bogdonovich was stationed, came a few hours after the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor 1,200 miles away. At the time, Bogdonovich and the servicemen at the US naval base never realized what was about to happen. "We thought it was just another drill," he said.
It was surprise bombing attack, he remembers, that turned into the grim reality of being a Japanese prisoner of war for nearly four years. That experience has made him appreciate the freedoms many Americans take for granted, he said in telling his story at The Highground last Friday.
The Dec. 7th program to commemorate Pearl Harbor Day "60 years to the day after the infamous attack on America " included participation by the Neillsville American Legion Post 73. Also taking part was the Neillsville Veterans of Foreign Wars Port 2241, of which Bogdonovich, now of Greenwood, is a member.
After the ceremony at the Veterans Memorial Park west of Neillsville, Bogdonovich paused to pay tribute at the World War II monument there and remembered Dec. 7th, 1941.
As 2,400 American servicemen lay dead and dying at Pearl Harbor, the American forces on Wake Island would only be beginning their fight, he solemnly recalled.
The bombing raid that came on what had dawned as a peaceful Sunday morning turned into a repeated barrage that would last for more than two weeks.
"It was every day," Bogdonovich said. "We fought them off for 16 days. They landed troops and we repelled them three times. We finally ran out of ammunition."
He and about 250 other US servicemen had to surrender. On Dec. 23rd, they were taken captive as POWs of the Japanese.
He will never forget that day, said Bogdonovich. It would be the start of 47 months of hard work, physical and mental abuse, and a wretched diet that reduced him and his fellow POWs to mere shells of their former selves.
For Bogdonovich, life became one of forced labor in a navy yard, working at a drill press making fittings for Japanese warships as armed guards watched over them. "We had to work from dawn until dusk," he said.
Hopelessness became a constant companion, as escape was clearly out of the question. "There was no possible way. We were surrounded by water," he said. "It would have been suicide."
Beatings came for the smallest of infractions of the rules. Some POWs were beaten just for talking to the guards. Several were summarily shot for merely approaching their captors who might have thought they were trying to gain certain favors. He himself was once beaten just for taking a pair of gloves to stay warm, Bogdonovich recalled.
The POW's diet consisted of watery soup and a cup of rice. "That was it everyday, he said.
For himself and the other Americans, Bogdonovich remembered, it became hard to function as human beings. Thoughts of freedom and comfort became last luxuries, eroded from their minds.
Life, he said, was simply a tedious and debilitating world of hard work, and marching to and from it. "It was just putting one foot in front of the other," he recalled.
World War II ended with Japan's unconditional surrender in August 1945, and Bogdonovich former POW was returned to American hands and freedom on September 4th. A strapping 165-pound soldier when first captured, he weighed just 84 pounds at the time.
Bogdonovich still remembers, and smiles, at the excitement of the occasion. "That was a happy day!" he said.
If there was anything positive that came from his captivity, he said, it served to enhance his appreciation for freedom and the American way of life even more.
Bogdonovich said that the surprise attack on America last Sept. 11th bring out some of the same thoughts as the one 60 years ago.
"I can't understand why they attack us and our way of life. W'ere such a strong nation," he said.
But Bogdonovich is convinced that, just as it had done with Japanese aggression so long ago, America's might and unity will ultimately win its current war on terrorism.
"There is no doubt about it" he said, "no doubt about it all."