(U.S. Air Force photo)

With the Imperial Japanese Army hot on his heels, Oscar Leonard says he barely slipped away from getting caught in the grueling Bataan Death March in 1942 by jumping into a choppy bay in the dark of the night, clinging to a log and paddling to the Allied-fortified island of Corregidor.

After many weeks of fighting there and at Mindanao, he was finally captured by the Japanese and spent the next several years languishing under brutal conditions in Filipino and Japanese World War II POW camps.

Now, having just turned 100 years old, the Antioch resident has been recognized for his 42-month ordeal as a prisoner of war, thanks to the efforts of his friends at the Brentwood VFW Post #10789 and Congressman Jerry McNerney.

McNerney, Brentwood VFW Commander Steve Todd and Junior Vice Commander John Bradley helped obtain a POW award after doing research and requesting records to surprise Leonard during a birthday party last month.

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Photo via U.S. Air Force

The Bataan Death March became known as one of the most brutal war crimes perpetrated by the Japanese during World War II. The horrific cruelty started April 9, 1942, at the conclusion of the Battle of Bataan, a three-month engagement in the Philippines between Japanese forces and American and Filipino forces that ultimately led to Japanese victory. Nearly 75,000 soldiers instantly became prisoners of war and were forced to march 60 miles over the course of a week until reaching their final destination: prisons at Camp O’Donnell, a former U.S. Army installation, and Cabanatuan on the island of Luzon.

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Courtesy Photo From Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune

The headline jumped at me like a Bouncing Betty: “Department of Defense Planning to Let Illegal Immigrants Enlist.” The words evoke images of prison-tattooed gang members wading across the Rio Grande, sprinting from exhausted Border Patrol agents to the nearest recruiting office, exclaiming “Sign me up, pendejo!” and giving an MS-13 salute as they board the bus for Benning. The story was, on its face, too unrealistic to believe. There had to be more to it than what the headline suggested.

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