In one of our preliminary research periods, I came across the story of Albert J. Bland in a brief excerpt written about him in The Elm. It stated simply that Bland was being held in a Japanese prison camp, no more, no less. I wanted to know the end of his story, and while I was relieved to discover that he survived this ordeal, I was horrified by the discovery that for over three years Bland suffered a fate worse than death.
Bland was born in Toronto in 1916 and raised in Egg Harbor, New Jersey. He was an athlete in high school and came to Washington College in the fall of 1935, where he played on the college football team as a tackle. According to college records, Bland only attended WC from September 1935 to December 1936, though alumni records show that he graduated in 1939.
He enlisted in the Army Air Corps (what would become the Air Force) in 1937, beginning his journey into World War II. At the start of the war, Bland was stationed in Nichols Field in the Philippines. However, after the American surrender at Bataan on April 9, 1942, Bland become a Japanese prisoner of war and was sent on the Bataan Death March. Bland survived the march all while helping to support an injured soldier.
From there, Bland remained a POW and was shipped throughout Asia until the end of the war. He was taken from the Philippines to Formosa, Japan, Korea, and Manchuria. Bland even spent time on the Oryoku Maru, a Japanese war ship known also as one of its "hell" ships.
Bland was finally liberated on August 20, 1945 after the Japanese surrendered to the United States. He was 98 pounds and blind from malnutrition. He spent one year recovering and regained his sight. He then continued to serve in the Army Air Corps until 1957, when he retired with the rank of Master Sergeant. Bland then worked in quality control until 1981.
He remained involved in POW affairs throughout most of his life, and even helped to create the Prisoner of War medal in 1985. Bland was awarded this very medal by President Ronald Reagan in 1988.
Bland died on the 58th anniversary of his liberation in 2003 at the age of 87. He was survived by his wife and three daughters.
Bland's suffering allowed the Allies (and even the Axis) powers to live in peace so many decades later. He said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun that had he known the fate that awaited him in Bataan, he would have chosen death in a heartbeat.
Source: The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Elm, the Washington College Alumni Catalog, ancestry.com.