Death March Survivor Visits USS Bataan

Story Number: NNS071025-17Release Date: 10/25/2007 4:12:00 PM
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By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW/AW) Brian Anderson, USS Bataan Public Affairs

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (NNS) -- A Bataan Death March survivor presented four books of his memoirs to Bataan's Commanding Officer, Capt. Rick Snyder, during a visit to the multi-purpose amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) Oct. 18.

Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Anton "Tony" Bilek's book, "No Uncle Sam," describes his story of survival through the death march, his imprisonment under the conditions in the Philippines and Japan, and his servitude as a slave laborer in the Japanese coal mines.

"It's about what happened, and what we did about it," Bilek said. "I am proud to say I survived the death march and three and a half years in prison camps. I just wanted to tell people about what really happened."

Bilek and his grandson, Cody Evans, traveled from Illinois to visit the second ship to bear the name of Bataan, and pay his respects.

"I am here to represent all of the Filipinos and Americans who were with me and came back alive, and also for those who never did come back," Bilek said. "This would mean so much to all of them. I am so happy to be here because being here and seeing this gives me a whole different perspective of today's Sailors."

After serving 20 years in the Air Force, Bilek never got the chance to set foot on a ship. Bataan was his first.

"We got lucky," said Bilek. "After seeing the ship's website, we started calling around and got a contact for the ship. We decided to take a week off and take a chance. All I wanted to do was see it, to see MacArthur's crypt. I never thought I would get the chance to come aboard. This really is a dream come true," added Bilek.

"Anton Bilek is a direct link to our heritage," said Bataan's Commanding Officer, Capt. Rick Snyder. "It's his sacrifice that brought the name Bataan to life. I would have done whatever I had to get this man aboard, and Norfolk Naval Shipyard security personnel bent over backwards to facilitate his visit."

Bataan is the fifth ship of the Navy's Wasp-class ships. She was commissioned Sept. 20, 1997, and is the second U.S. Navy warship to bear the name. CVL-29 was an Independence-class small aircraft carrier that was commissioned in November 1943. After serving in both World War II and the Korean conflict, CVL-29 was decommissioned in 1954.

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Air Force Master Sgt. (Ret.) Anton
071018-N-3286A-052 PORTSMOUTH, Va. (Oct. 19, 2007) - Air Force Master Sgt. (Ret.) Anton "Tony" Bilek, speaks with USS Bataan (LHD 5) Commanding Officer, Capt. Rick Snyder, about his days spent as a prisoner of war in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. Bilek is a Bataan Death March survivor, one of 75,000 American and Filipino troops forced to endure the Death March, a weeklong, ninety-mile hike involving more than 10,000 people. Bilek and his grandson (left) traveled from Illinois for a chance to see the ship. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Brian Anderson (RELEASED)
October 22, 2007
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