Sidney Stewart, 78; Bataan Death March Survivor

 

By Richard Goldstein,, 5 April 1998

Sidney Stewart, a survivor of the Bataan death march and three years in Japanese captivity in World War II, who wrote the highly praised memoir "Give Us This Day," an account of how the prisoners endured their intense suffering, died on March 18 at a hospital in Paris. He was 78 and lived in Paris.

The cause was complications from emphysema contracted by inhaling coral dust while laboring as a prisoner of war, said a colleague, Dr. Abby Adams-Silvan of New York.

Stewart, who became a psychoanalyst after the war and opened a practice in Paris, was a soldier in Manila when Japanese forces landed in the Philippines in December 1941. He was among the troops evacuated to the Bataan Peninsula.

When Bataan fell, on April 9, 1942, the Japanese rounded up 10,000 American troops and tens of thousands of Filipino troops and ordered them to walk 65 miles north to a prison camp, providing little food or water. In this infamous chapter of the war, at least 600 Americans died, and of the 10,000 who surrendered about 4,000 were alive when the Japanese prison camps were liberated in August 1945.

Stewart, more than 6 feet tall, weighed 65 pounds when he was freed by Soviet troops from a Japanese prison camp in Manchuria.

While a patient at a Veterans Administration hospital, Stewart wrote his memoir, telling how he and 18 men he had known in Manila coped with imprisonment, brutality, and impending death.

The memoir, published in France in 1950 and in the United States by W.W. Norton in 1957, told how the men had supported one another and how their religious faith had been tested. Of the 19, only Stewart survived the war.

The title "Give Us This Day" was a tribute to the Rev. Bill Cummings, a Roman Catholic priest who ministered to the men. Cummings was reciting those words from the Lord's Prayer when he died of dysentery aboard a so-called hell ship, in which prisoners were jammed with little water or air.

It was also Cummings who uttered one of the war's most famous observances, at a field service on Bataan in 1942: "There are no atheists in foxholes."

In his memoir, Stewart recalled how, in the summer of 1944, he composed an imaginary letter home from a camp in Davao, the Philippines, telling how imprisonment, in a sense, freed a man.

"The men here no longer wrap themselves in a cloak of pretense as we have to do in our everyday life when we are free," he wrote. "They are themselves, no better, no worse, than you would expect them to be, but they are themselves. And we have learned to accept each other. Men now discuss their past life with a freedom we would never expect if we were home.

"Here they have become good men, for every man has learned to live close to death. And close to death, most men are better."

Stewart did not harbor great bitterness toward his tormentors.

The imaginary letter continued: "Yes, I know that at home you all hate the Japanese, and there is much to make you feel that way. But here we do not hate them perhaps as much as you do, because now most of us speak their language and we have learned to understand their superstitions, their beliefs, their religion, their way of life. Oh, yes, they are brutal. But it is the brutality of ignorance and superstition."

In a review in The New York Times, David Dempsey, a former correspondent with the Marine Corps in World War II, wrote: "So brutal are many of the incidents that in places the book defies belief; and yet, through its immense picture of human courage in the face of suffering, it reinforces our faith in the ultimate triumph of man's spirit."

Stewart, an Oklahoman, went to France in 1948 to study. Suffering from post-traumatic stress, he entered psychoanalysis. When that helped him, he decided to become a psychoanalyst. He also obtained a doctorate in literature from the University of Paris.

He is survived by his wife, Dr. Joyce McDougall, a psychoanalyst; a stepson, Martin McDougall, and a stepdaughter, Rohan Collier, both of London; a brother, Worley, of San Diego; and three grandsons.


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© 1998 by Neil Mishalov