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Date of Issue: September 17, 2008

Original Islander, Bataan survivor Steve Raymond passes away

/9-17-08/reunion-diamant-raymond-377.jpg
Peggy Diamant and Steve Raymond, friends from the "early years" on Anna Maria Island visit on the Island in 2007.

Bataan Death March survivor Steve Raymond, an original Islander who grew up in Anna Maria, has made his last formation. He passed away peacefully at his home in Lecanto, Fla., on Sept. 7, according to his wife. He was 92 years-old, and one of the few remaining survivors of that infamous march.

In tribute to Steve, indeed to all World War II veterans and all veterans, his story as it appeared in the March 14, 2007, issue of The Islander is reprinted here.

Steve Raymond: ‘Too Dead to Die’

If you are one of those people who believe that the Japanese military of World War II considered Americans a worthy opponent and deserving of decent treatment in combat or as prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention, do not read this column. In fact, you probably won’t want to read Anna Maria native Steve Raymond’s recently published book, “Too Dead to Die,” about his experiences as a POW of the Japanese. This story and Steve’s book could shatter your conception of how “civilized” soldiers act in wartime.

Unlike many other WW II veterans, Steve Raymond has no pictures of himself in uniform during the war.

You see, where Steve was “stationed,” there were no cameras. There were also no latrines, no uniforms, no telephones, no medical care, no food and no compassion. There was only disease, cruelty, inhumanity and death. On rare occasions, there was survival.

Steve Raymond was a POW of the Japanese for nearly three-and-a-half years.

Steve Raymond was one of the war’s rarities, one of the lucky ones. He lived to tell his story. More than 100,000 other Allied personnel captured by the Japanese during the war died at the hands of their captors. That was out of about 250,000 POWs held by the Japanese. In other words, Steve only had a 60 percent chance of survival from the day of his capture on April 9, 1942.

Steve was in the U.S. Army Air Corps in the Philippines in April 1942 when approximately 18,000 American soldiers surrendered to the Japanese on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines. It was the largest surrender by the U.S. Army in history, and its greatest tragedy.

The 18,000 Americans along with 55,000 Filipino soldiers, were force-marched about 100 miles after their surrender to internment. An estimated 20,000 soldiers - 5,000 Americans and 15,000 Filipinos - died on the march, although official records have been impossible to come by the past 65 years. They were hacked to death, beheaded, butchered, starved to death, deprived of water, trampled on by Japanese tanks and trucks, deliberately shot for no reason other than they wanted some water, killed by the Japanese if they fell behind, or otherwise slowly bayoneted to death just for pleasure.

Steve made it to the Camp O’Donnell POW camp as a Death March survivor only to discover another hell awaited. He spent nearly three-and-a-half years as a Japanese prisoner of war. He survived the brutality, indifference, cruelty and contempt of the Japanese. He survived systematic torture, starvation, disease and deprivation. He survived killing just for killing’s sake.

He survived because he was “Too Dead to Die,” as he says in his own words.

Steve’s story really begins here on Anna Maria Island in 1916.

Steve’s dad, Elmer “Shug” Raymond, had homesteaded property on the north end of the Island, which had a total population in those days of about 25 people, maybe 40 during the winter months. When Steve’s mom, Mimi, became pregnant, she told “Shug” that she refused to deliver a child in the woods with the only medical care being a mullet.

“Dad arranged for a boat coming around the peninsula from Tampa for Jacksonville to stop and pick up mom,” said Steve. The boat continued up the east coast and Mimi got off in New Jersey, where Steve was born on June 30, 1916.

Mother and infant son returned to Anna Maria Island later that year and Steve grew up as just about the only child on the Island, which at that time probably had more rattlesnakes and alligators than people.

Graduating from Bradenton High School in 1933, Steve spent a year at the University of Florida before an illness cut his collegiate career short. He returned to Bradenton and worked as a reporter for the old Bradenton Herald and at a local print shop.

In 1940, the U.S. government declared that all men over the age of 18 had to register for the draft. Not wanting to be drafted into the foot-slogging infantry, Steve, already 24 years old, enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, an outfit that didn’t seem to mind that he was color-blind and had been rejected by the Navy.

After basic and advanced training in Savannah, Ga., Steve got his first leave and returned to the Island where he hung around a place called Todd’s, which today is the Sandbar Restaurant.

By this time, Steve and his buddies could see the war clouds gathering, although most thought the United States would jump into the European war first.

Little thought was given to a war with Japan when Steve and his Air Corps unit was ordered to Manila in the Philippines to join the 248th Material Squadron, part of Gen. Doug MacArthur’s 27th Bomb Group. They arrived on Nov. 20, 1941, not realizing their safe world had only 19 more days before it would be forever shattered.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, they also attacked the U.S. air bases in the Philippines. Because Manila is across the international date line, it was Dec. 8, 1942, when the Japanese caught MacArthur’s Air Corps napping on the ground and destroyed nearly 80 percent of all combat aircraft in the Philippines on the first day of the war.

Steve and his fellow soldiers, however, didn’t think the Japanese would last a week.

“But deep down, we knew how unprepared we were for the attack. We knew there were no replacements for the aircraft we lost. With no planes, we quickly became infantrymen. Our job was to fend off the Japanese while we awaited replacements.”

They never came.

Bottled up by the Japanese on the Bataan peninsula, surrender for the American-Filipino Army came on April 9, 1942.

Steve credit’s his survival on the march to a couple of pals, Geissman and “Deacon,” and his realization that to stop marching would mean certain death. His friends had to drag him the last few miles to the trains that took the prisoners to Camp O’Donnell.

In his book, Steve has recorded the words of the Japanese commandant of the POW camp, as translated by a Filipino collaborator.

“The captain, he say Nippon has Java and Sumatra. He say you are miserable specimens because you do not stand at attention while an officer speaks to you. The captain, he say you are beneath contempt. He say you are completely at his mercy and anyone who tries to run away will be killed. He say escape is impossible.”

The captain told the POWs that they could expect “no mercy” and that it was only through the “benevolence of the Japanese military code” that they had been permitted to live this long.

With that, Steve began his three years and four months of captivity at the hands of an indifferent Japanese Army. He was liberated on Sept. 5, 1945, at a POW camp in Japan, 20 days after the Japanese had surrendered.

After his liberation, Steve returned to Anna Maria Island in time for Christmas 1945. By then, there were a lot more people on the Island and a number of soldiers were home from the war and trying to be civilians.

But the war was not over for Steve. Back in Anna Maria, alcohol helped him forget what he had been, what he had seen and how he had survived. He often wondered if, as a civilian, he could survive the savagery and inhumanity of the Japanese.

Survive, he did.

Already with some newspaper experience, Steve entered the University of Missouri in 1946 and studied journalism. It was here, Steve says, that he “rejoined mankind.” He met his first wife, Mable Sublett, at the university and graduated with a master’s degree in 1950.

Steve joined the staff of the old Tampa Times and eventually owned his own weekly newspaper, the Palmetto News in Palmetto. He finished his journalism career with the Tampa Tribune in 1978. He and Mable had three daughters: Sandra, Barbara and Stephanie. He is retired and lives in Lecanto near Crystal River.

It took Steve nearly 45 years to fully complete his memoirs. His original diary had been lost in a long-forgotten POW camp in Japan. He wanted to have them published, but either couldn’t find a publisher or didn’t have the money to publish the book himself.

In 2003, his manuscript reached the hands of Mike Pride, the editor of the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire. Mike agreed to take Steve’s manuscript, “straighten it out and find a publisher.” He succeeded.

“I turned 90 years old on June 30, 2006,” said Steve. “Getting ‘Too Dead to Die’ into print has been a race against time. Finally, the race is won.”

Steve Raymond - truly the original member of Anna Maria Island’s Greatest Generation.

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