Reality is a bayonet in the guts.
That's what George C. Faulkner Jr. would tell his oldest son, Craig, when he felt the wide-eyed youngster needed a reality check.
"He would say, 'Reality, huh? I'll tell you about reality — it's a bayonet in the guts,' " recalls Craig Faulkner, now 63, and a longtime Applegate Valley resident.
"Dad was tough, really tough," he adds. "But he was also an extremely complex man who had suffered a lot."
His father was a survivor of World War II's Bataan Death March in the Philippines, which began 70 years ago today. Army Air Corps Capt. Faulkner was one of the 60,000 American prisoners force-marched 70 miles to prison camps on the Bataan Peninsula in the spring of 1942. Some 10,000 of those prisoners perished from hunger, heat, exhaustion and brutality before the war ended.
And many like Capt. Faulkner, who died in 1988 just short of his 71st birthday, remained a prisoner of their experience long after the war was over.
Craig Faulkner has written a book, "Guts & Grace," about his father's fight to survive, to forgive and to ultimately find peace within himself. Published by Spoke Publishing of Ashland, the 300-page print edition is available on Amazon.com for $14.99, and the e-book can be found on Kindle, Nook and iBooks.
Aside from changing some names, the historical novel mirrors his father's life during the war and afterward, says Faulkner, who produces and hosts a vintage music radio program for Jefferson Public Radio.
His mother, Joan, a graduate of Stanford University, was an ambulance driver during the war years, as was the mother in the book.
While writing the novel, Faulkner relied on notes, journals and memoirs left by his father, as well as official documents and memories of witnessed events. He uses flashbacks as he weaves the storyline between the POW years and family life back in the Bay Area.
He writes of fatal bayonet attacks on defenseless prisoners during the grueling march, of barbaric efforts to survive in the sweltering hull of "hell" ships taking the POWs to Japan, of prisoners dying of starvation in Japan.
"I left a lot of stuff out — things that were too horrifying," says Faulkner, who was named Craig after his father's best buddy, who died in a hell ship.
"My point was to show his struggle to overcome what happened to him."
The book is endorsed by Medford resident Hideko Tamura Snider, who survived the atomic bomb dropped on her hometown of Hiroshima in 1945.
"For me, a Hiroshima survivor, his work is a precious gift and an eye-opener, letting me see the agony of the tortured on the other side and understand the multi-generational pain of war," Snider writes in the book's cover flap. "His father's path to self-knowledge and ability to find common ground leading to reconciliation truly resonates with that of my own."
After a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese swarmed onto the Philippine archipelago with 200,000 troops. They captured Manilla on Jan. 2, 1942, but then met stiff resistance from American and Philippine troops. Gen. Douglas MacArthur left the Philippines in March, leaving Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright in charge of the Bataan defenders. Following months of food and medical shortages, Bataan fell on April 9.
"Dad made the full length of that march," Faulkner says. "The Japanese were under a great deal of pressure from their higher-ups to get these men out of there so they could advance on Corregidor."
After all, the American and Philippine forces had held out for three months, thwarting the plans of the Japanese military command to easily capture the island of Corregidor.
Like the main character in the book, Capt. Faulkner, the son of a prominent San Francisco-area attorney, was a law student in California who dropped out of school to don a military uniform. He became a B-17 bomber pilot in the Army Air Corps.
"He was motivated by his ideals that America is worth preserving," his son says. "My dad was so proud and so hard. He was a bona fide tough guy."
He was also a bona fide hero who saved other prisoners when they were drowning.
When he returned to California after the war, he never went back to law school, instead becoming a management consultant.
"His animosity toward the Japanese came and went," Faulkner says. "From my cursory understanding of these things, he was a classical PTSD case."
But this was before veterans were diagnosed and treated for post traumatic stress disorder. His father received no treatment for his mistreatment during the war.
"One moment he would be the most engaging, warm-hearted personality imaginable," Faulkner says. "He would be very insightful. Then he would have these glacial moments, belligerent moments."
His father tried to find solace in the bottle, which only increased his anger and bitterness, Faulkner observes. That's when his father would tell him about the horror of POW survival, he says.
But in 1962, his father took his first trip back to Japan, a trip that changed his life, much like his initial trip to that country as a POW had changed his life.
"My father became a practicing Buddhist," he says. "I'd go visit my dad and stepmother in Hawaii, and they were wearing Japanese clothes and using Japanese words. That baffled me at first."
But he appreciated the fact his father had finally started down the road to find inner peace.
"His last words to me before he died were, 'I love you,' " Faulkner says, noting he replied in kind to his father.
For more information about the book, see www.gutsandgracebook.com.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at email@example.com.