Martin C. Evans

One of America’s Oldest POWs Dies

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2011 at 1:59 am

Arnold Bocksel, honored at a birthday celebration a few years ago at the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale.

One of America’s oldest former prisoners of war died Sunday at a nursing home at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport.

Arnold Bocksel, a Syosset resident and former Army Chief Warrant Officer who survived the Bataan Death March, was 98, and suffered from dementia.

He was born in 1913, the year before World War I began, and enlisted in February, 1941, when he was 27. Having earlier graduated from State University of New York Maritime College, he was stationed in the Philippines aboard the USAMP Harrison, a mine planter assigned to defend Manila Harbor from Japanese attack. He was captured when the nearby isle of Corregidor fell in May, 1942.

He survived the infamous 60-mile forced evacuation to Bataan that claimed the lives of as many as one in four prisoners. Often, those who could not keep pace or who were considered insubordinate were summarily beheaded.

Further evacuated to Manchuria, where he helped run the prison camp mess hall, Bocksel drew the admiration of fellow inmates when he angrily confronted their captors for the starvation rations provided.

“They could have killed you right then and there with the swords they all carried on their side,” a fellow prisoner, Vernon Stroschein, wrote to Bocksel in 1984. Stroschein died in 1988 in Arizona.

Bocksel was liberated by Soviet troops on May 17, 1945, his mother’s birthday.

“Mom, I made it,” Bocksel later recalled saying tearfully, as liberating troops arrived. He weighed an emaciated 98 pounds, was riddled with parasites, and spent two years recuperating in military hospitals.

After returning to New York, he got a job as a salesman with Coffin Turbo, a pump manufacturer that supplied shipbuilders worldwide. Bocksel used the Japanese language he had picked up as a prisoner to help make sales to ship builders in Japan.

“When I asked him where he had learned Japanese, he told me he had been a guest of the Emperor for three and a half years,” said his son, Robert Bocksel, of Manhattan. “He never bore any bitterness, never blamed the sons for the sins of the fathers.”

In addition to Robert, survivors include two other sons – Donald Bocksel, of Syosset, and Arnold C. Bocksel, of Manhattan, and a daughter, Merrie Hines, of Syosset. His wife, who was born Peggy Larkin, died in 1984.

A funeral Mass is scheduled for 9:45 a.m. today (Thursday) at St. Edward The Confessor Roman Catholic Church, in Syosset. He will be buried at Nassau Knolls Cemetery, in Port Washington.

He held the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart among other military citations. But he always insisted he was not a hero, family members said.

“He never thought he would survive the war,” Hines said at his wake Tuesday. “So he considered every day he had as a gift.”

  1. May he rest in peace. A true and humble American hero….

  2. The Bocksel family lived on our block in Whitestone, NY in the 50s, before they moved to Malba. They were a lovely family… I can still recall playing ‘Red Rover’ and ‘Hide and Seek’ with all of the neighborhood children… and the Bocksel children were among us! May both Arnold and Peggy rest in peace. Perhaps there’s a new 4th Avenue up there, with all of our loved ones, again sharing those moments!!!

  3. With all due respect, if Mr. Bocksel was captured when Corregidor fell in May 1942, then he could not have been on the Bataan Death March – that happened in early April 1942. He was undoubtedly eventually imprisoned with Bataan Death March survivors in the Philippines and later transported to Mukden with them but he could not have been on the march.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: