Tom Hach, community activist extraordinaire, is a tireless worker, bringing the truth and transparency to all citizens of Lake County and the State of Ohio.
We heard Tom tell the story of his “Uncle Jimmy”, and were fascinated by the story. We asked Tom to write the story so everyone can see the sacrifices made by prior generations so that we could live with the freedom and liberty we sometimes, unfortunately, take for granted.
Tom, thank you for service and we appreciate all of your efforts to mobilize and engage your fellow Americans to come to the aid of their country.
A Family’s Story and Ties to Today
At a recent event, I had the chance to speak about the things we all need to do to preserve freedom, liberty and the American Way. As part of my talk, I delved into some of my family’s history to make the point that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance; and for some generations, eternal vigilance means taking up arms and going to war. After the event, I was asked to recount my family history, and some other things I said during the talk which ultimately resulted in this article.
In my family, there are now four generations in a row which served in the military. My maternal grandfather and his two brothers served in WWII, my father served in the Marine Corps in the late 1950’s. I retired from the Navy Reserve in the late 2000’s, and my son joined the Navy in December, 2019. My grandfather’s generation is now gone, but their experience serving the country is worthy of being recounted to this generation.
My grandfather, George, was in the Army and served in Italy toward the end of the war; and at one point, his unit forced the surrender of a much larger German unit. His older brother, Harmon, was also in the Army and he was a tanker in North Africa. During action against the Germans, his tank was shot out from under him, and he spent several years recovering at an Army hospital in Washington State. The one silver lining to his horrific experience was that he met his wife, a nurse, while he was recuperating.
George and Harmon also had a younger brother, my great uncle Jimmy, and I’d like to take some time to tell some of his story. Upon graduating from high school in Johnstown, Ohio, Jimmy joined the Army Air Corps and was stationed in the Philippines in 1940. Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked many places, including the Philippines, and the Allies pulled back from the main cities to the Bataan Peninsula. When the Peninsula fell to the Japanese in the Spring, 1942, the Allied Prisoners of War (POW’s) were forced marched to a POW camp. This event became known as the Bataan Death March, and thousands of American and Filipino POW’s were murdered by Japanese troops or succumbed to exposure and dehydration during the march. After the war, the Batann Death March was determined to be a War Crime by an Allied Military Commission.
Jimmy survived the death march and was a POW at Camp O’Donnel in the Philippines for about two years. In the second half of 1944, as the Allies were advancing to retake the Philippines, the Japanese evacuated the POW’s to the Japanese home islands. They did this by putting the POW’s on ships bound for Japan; however, many POW’s were inadvertently killed when Allied submarines torpedoed the Japanese ships the POW’s were on.
For the trip to Japan, Jimmy ended up on an oilier, which had a comparatively shallow draft compared to most ships. He theorized the reason his ship made it through was because the Allied torpedoes were set to run too deep and passed under his ship’s keel. Though he was fortunate to make it to Japan, his journey was far from pleasant.
If taking a straight course, a ship can transit from the Philippines to Japan in about 3 days; however, because of the submarine threat, the ship he was on traveled in a zig-zag pattern and the transit took over 30 days. During those 30 days, the POW’s, including Jimmy, were forced into a hold on the ship with no ventilation, no light and no bathroom facilities. I cannot begin to imagine the stench and squalor Jimmy, and the rest of the POW’s had to endure those 30 days at sea.
Upon reaching Japan, Jimmy was set to work as a slave laborer in a town on one of the southern islands. I am not sure what type of work he performed during this part of his imprisonment, but he did relay a chilling episode from that time. To reduce the Japanese ability to sustain the war, the Allies fire-bombed many cities, which were mostly constructed of wood. The city where Jimmy was located was one of those cities targeted. As told by him, the city was set on fire and the fire turned into a fire storm. The fire burned all around the compound where he was imprisoned, but he, the other POW’s and their guards survived because they got into a pond, which was next to the building where they were housed. Only God knows how many people perished in that attack, but it is clear fate is sometimes punctuated by irony.
Jimmy was then moved to one of the northern islands, and this time he worked as slave labor for Mitsubishi making drive shafts for the Japanese version of the PT boat. He knew the Japanese were continuing to lose the war because over time he saw more and more Allied aircraft. The day Jimmy was told the war ended, the POW’s were in formation, and the man standing next to him literally fell down dead from the shock of the news.
The Allies air dropped food and supplies to the POW’s, whose locations were marked by “POW”, which was painted on the roof of the buildings where they were housed. As Jimmy said, for several weeks you could hear cans of food being opened 24/7. About a week after the war ended, the former POW’s left the compound and made their way to the nearby seashore, and, what always gets me is, they passed out candy to the kids as they walked through the town.
Jimmy was eventually liberated, and sent home to Ohio. During the voyage to the west coast, he and the other POW’s had “head of the line” privileges for meals and all other things.
To finish out the stories of the three brothers, my grandfather, George, who was a kind gentle and thoughtful man, passed away from cancer in 1987 when I was at Navy Officer Candidate School. Harmon, who I did not know very well, lived on the family farm in Johnstown, and died in September, 2001. His funeral was on September 11, 2001, and we learned of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon while traveling down I-71. At the funeral, there was a 21-gun salute in honor of him and his military service, and I picked up one of the spent shells and carried it with me when I served in Iraq in 2006 and 2007 and it is now part of my shadow box.
The WWII generation generally did not talk about their war experiences until later in life, so I didn’t learn Jimmy’s story until the late 1990’s. Starting a few years later, I traveled with my family to visit Jimmy and his wife, who lived in Napoleon, Ohio, once a year for many years. He passed away in 2012 at the age of 92. I would have liked to have had the chance to spend more time with my grandfather and Harmon, but I am so glad I, and my family, at least had the chance to know Jimmy.
I started this article by talking about freedom, liberty and eternal vigilance, and I will end it this way too. One of the takeaways from the story of these three brothers is what common people, yet still great in character, perseverance and dedication, can do when they band together. The majority of us are fairly typical in most ways, and yet all of us have elements of greatness too. Like the WWII generation, we need to band together to restore America’s founding principles of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness and that all men are created equal before the law. In most generations throughout history, defending freedom has come down to the young, who have the physical strength to bear heavy loads, walk long distances and to wage war.
If America and her founding principles are going to be saved, no one is going to do it but people like you and me! However in defending America today, we are lucky because we do not have to be young and able-bodied to make a difference. Today people of all ages can use their phones, computers as well as reach out to people directly to tell them that preserving America is a worthy and honorable undertaking!
Starting later this year, we are going to need to form new organizations and collaborations like we have never done before. We are going to have to open our wallets and checkbooks and fund these efforts to a level we have previously never done. Finally, we are going to have to engage in the battlefield of ideas as if the future of America depends on it, because it does! These are tough times, but if we take our inspiration from these three brothers, I know there is nothing out there we cannot overcome to win the day!
The Huff family…circa 1978
From Left to Right in the picture:
George Huff (Tom’s Grandfather)
Harmon Huff (Tom’s Uncle)
Aggie Huff (Tom’s Aunt)
James “Jimmy” Huff (Tom’s Uncle)
We salute all of them for their service and sacrifices to our Country.
Their efforts must not be in vain…join us in fighting back the darkness that is enveloping our Country.