‘A hero in their midst’

WWII vet sur­vived Bataan Death March

New Haven Register (New Haven, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Pam McLoughlin

“The death march and POW camp were both se­vere and deadly. I sur­vived in part be­cause I had a can that held wa­ter.” — Mau­rice Chartoff

WOOD­BRIDGE — At age 95, World War II vet­eran Mau­rice Chartoff quickly re­calls the sim­ple item that helped him sur­vive the deadly 60-mile Bataan Death March dur­ing World War II: a can to fill with wa­ter along the way.

He shared his wa­ter with many, fill­ing the can at arte­sian springs along the way, and sur­vived, only to then be put in a se­ries of work camps as a Ja­panese pris­oner of war for the next 3½ years.

“The death march and POW camp were both se­vere and deadly,” said Chartoff, who re­sides at Brook­dale Wood­bridge se­nior liv­ing com­mu­nity. “I sur­vived in part be­cause I had a can that held wa­ter.”

In his first as­sign­ment af­ter the march, Chartoff was placed

on a haz­ardous road build­ing as­sign­ment that most did not sur­vive and led to his hos­pi­tal­iza­tion be­fore go­ing on to the next camp. He was sick, weak, work­ing in the hot sun with lit­tle wa­ter and food, which con­sisted mainly of rice.

Of 325 men on that road job, only 50 sur­vived and Chartoff was among them, said his daugh­ter-in-law, Karen Chartoff.

His time in the mil­i­tary started in 1941 when, af­ter a year at the Univer­sity of Ver­mont — he grew up in Ben­ning­ton — Chartoff de­cided to en­list in the U.S. Army be­cause he didn’t have enough money to at­tend a sec­ond year.

He was 20 and fig­ured he’d get an ed­u­ca­tion in the mil­i­tary.

“I didn’t think it was this way,” he said of what would ul­ti­mately hap­pen dur­ing his time of ser­vice. He was trained as a ra­dio op­er­a­tor.

He was based in Manila, Philip­pines, when World War II broke out and when the Ja­panese took the cap­i­tal city, Chartoff was cap­tured with his unit in Bataan.

He was forced into the 60-mile march, in which the Ja­panese trans­ferred Amer­i­can and Filipino POWs be­tween prison camps. The march took the lives of 3,000 oth­ers.

Chartoff, a soft-spo­ken man, said they took away his watch, wa­ter, food, suit­case and hel­met for the walk, which dur­ing the day was in hot sun.

Some­one gave him the can along the way and he filled it with wa­ter and what lit­tle food they got, shar­ing with oth­ers.

He also vol­un­teered dur­ing the walk to help bury bod­ies of those who couldn’t make it. Many soldiers who stum­bled or fell dur­ing the death march were shot or bay­o­net­ted, he said.

For some rea­son, they let him keep that can, Chartoff said.

Rife with se­vere phys­i­cal abuse and killings, the Bataan Death March was later judged to be a Ja­panese war crime, ac­cord­ing to a press re­lease sent to the Reg­is­ter on his (Chartoff’s) be­half.

The camps he was held at in­clude O’Don­nell, Bil­li­bid Prison in Manila, Ca­banat­uan Camp No. 1. Then, in 1944 un­til lib­er­a­tion, he was moved to a camp in Ja­pan.

In tes­ti­mony he gave to the United States War Crimes Of­fice in 1946, Chartoff spoke of Amer­i­can pris­on­ers, in­clud­ing him­self, be­ing slapped, hit, mis­treated and in some cases, se­verely beaten.

They were made to work even when sick or in a weak­ened state and he re­called a work party be­ing sent out in a ty­phoon.

His tes­ti­mony showed the cru­el­ties in de­tail.

“Un­til July, 1945, we ran to the train when­ever an air raid alarm sounded. Many pris­on­ers were beaten for not run­ning fast enough,” he told the in­ter­viewer.

He also told them that in July 1945 they con­tin­ued work­ing even with Amer­i­can planes over­head and anti-air­craft be­ing fired at them.

“We were al­lowed to go to the shel­ter only af­ter bombs had fallen,” he told the war crimes in­ter­viewer, not­ing an oc­ca­sion when one POW was killed and an­other lost his arm.

He tes­ti­fied: “We were only given three rest days a month and on these days we were not al­lowed to rest un­til the mid­dle of the af­ter­noon and not then if we de­sired to be is­sued cloth­ing or turn cloth­ing in for re­pair.”

Chartoff spent about 3½ years in cap­tiv­ity un­til he was lib­er­ated at the end of the war, when at 6 feet tall, he weighed about 95 pounds.

Chartoff said he felt ex­hil­a­rated upon be­ing lib­er­ated in 1945 and he climbed an elec­tric fac­tory with smoke stacks across from the camp as food and bev­er­ages were dropped from a mil­i­tary plane.

Af­ter re­turn­ing from the war, he grad­u­ated from Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in 1950 and be­came an elec­tri­cal engi­neer.

Although the ser­vice wasn’t what he ex­pected at 20, Chartoff said it was worth it to get that ed­u­ca­tion.

“It al­lowed me to get an ed­u­ca­tion at MIT,” he said.

His son, Dr. Stan Chartoff, for 27 years a re­servist in the U.S. Air Force, said his fa­ther didn’t talk about his war ex­pe­ri­ences while he was grow­ing up.

“It’s a amaz­ing what these World War II vets have been through,” said Stan Chartoff, who has been de­ployed many times, in­clud­ing to Saudi Ara­bia, Ger­many and Afghanistan.

Karen Chartoff, Stan’s wife, said that World War II group of vet­er­ans didn’t tend to talk about their ser­vice upon re­turn­ing — they just got back to life.

Mau­rice Chartoff set­tled in New Jersey with his now-late wife, Doris, and he came to Wood­bridge so he could be close to his son and daugh­ter-in-law.

Mon­ica Gi­u­liano, ac­tiv­i­ties co­or­di­na­tor at Brook­dale, said she was touched dur­ing the ded­i­ca­tion of a vet­er­ans wall at the fa­cil­ity when an­other vet­eran an­nounced to the au­di­ence that while it was nice to have a wall, it was even bet­ter to have a “hero” in their midst, re­fer­ring to Mau­rice Chartoff, who re­ceived ap­plause.

Chartoff said he doesn’t con­sider him­self a hero at all. He said he was given two guns, which he would never use, and also, he said, he was never shot at by some­one else.

World War II vet­eran Mau­rice Chartoff, 95, talks about how he sur­vived the Bataan Death March. Arnold Gold / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

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