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I JUST WANTED TO LIVE!
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Short Version
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 Department of History
University of Florida
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This documentary is based on the oral histories of four men who were POWs held for more than three years by the Japanese during World War II. These men, as well as the rest of the U.S.-Filipino forces, had barely survived the three-month Battle of Bataan in the Philippines. They fought with minimal food rations and inadequate ammunition against a well-supplied Japanese army.

Following General Edward King’s surrender of his troops (60,000 Filipinos and 15,000 Americans) on April 9, 1942, these men suffered the extreme brutality of the nine-day, 70-mile Bataan Death March, and then the horrific internment camps of O’Donnell and Cabanatuan. Arguably, however, the most nightmarish part of these POWs’ ordeal was being crammed into the so-called Japanese “Hell Ships.” Then, having endured all this inhumane treatment, the prisoners became slave laborers in Japan for the remainder of the war.


 As the historian and editor at the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program for a number of years, I worked closely with the program’s large World War II collection of oral histories. In the spring of 2008, I told the program’s film editor, Deborah Hendrix, that we had the makings of a documentary based on the horrors that four men experienced. During the next eight months, we put together this documentary titled “I Just Wanted to Live!” I wrote the script and narrated it, and Deborah assembled the historic film footage to accompany these POWs’ years in hell.

 Our film premiered on November 10, 2008, at the University of Florida in a program whose overall title was “Testimony of War.” Three of these four ex-POWs, Conrad Alberty, Victor Cote, and Herbert Pepper, are still alive, and two of them (Victor and Herbert)—at that point in their late 80s—attended the premiere. Herbert Pepper even came directly from his hospital bed in Lake City saying he just had to be there. Many of these men’s family members came from across the country to attend this film screening.

 Deborah and I made an hour-long documentary, but for presentation purposes, we created a shorter version that lasts 35 minutes, which is the version presented on this Crooked Fences website. These men’s oral histories were not conducted with the intent that they would one day be part of a documentary. We carefully selected passages from their audio interviews and added common themes based on their everyday near-death experiences. This film is graphic. It shows the darkest side of war.



This documentary is now used as an educational resource in five museums across the country:
The Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project in Washington
The National POW Museum in Andersonville, Georgia
The National World War II Museum in New Orleans
The National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas
The Veterans Museum & Memorial Center in San Diego

And—documentarian Ken Burns even has a copy.
 The three surviving ex-POWs in this film have all told me that almost every day they think about their 41 months in a living hell. Those memories have not gone away with the passage of time.
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A long line of prisoners on the Bataan Death March

A long line of prisoners on the Bataan Death March
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 Filipino citizens forced to view murdered POWs.
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Japanese soldiers celebrate after the fall of Bataan
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CLICK ON LINKS BELOW
I JUST WANTED TO LIVE!
Long Version
THE MAKING OF
"I just wanted to live!"
SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL
HISTORY PROGRAM
I JUST WANTED TO LIVE!
Short Version
THE NATIONAL
POW MUSEUM
THE NATIONAL WW II
MUSEUM IN NEW ORLEANS
THE PACIFIC WAR
 MUSEUM
VETERANS
HISTORY PROJECT
By: Diane Fischler
American POWs with their hands tied behind their
backs, obviously suffering from hunger and
dehydration.
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A very large group of American POWs wait to begin the Bataan Death March.
Many of these men never reached the prison camp.