Ed Bogdonovich was a 20 year-old Marine sergeant far from his home
on a Willard, Wis., farm when the attack on Pearl Harbor came on
Dec. 7th, 1941 - a day, President Franklin Roosevelt would later
proclaim, that would live in infamy.
The alert that sounded on Wake Island, where Bogdonovich was
stationed, came a few hours after the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor
1,200 miles away. At the time, Bogdonovich and the servicemen at the
US naval base never realized what was about to happen. "We thought
it was just another drill," he said.
It was surprise bombing attack, he remembers, that turned into the
grim reality of being a Japanese prisoner of war for nearly four
years. That experience has made him appreciate the freedoms many
Americans take for granted, he said in telling his story at The
Highground last Friday.
The Dec. 7th program to commemorate Pearl Harbor Day "60 years to
the day after the infamous attack on America " included
participation by the Neillsville American Legion Post 73. Also
taking part was the Neillsville Veterans of Foreign Wars Port 2241,
of which Bogdonovich, now of Greenwood, is a member.
After the ceremony at the Veterans Memorial Park west of
Neillsville, Bogdonovich paused to pay tribute at the World War II
monument there and remembered Dec. 7th, 1941.
As 2,400 American servicemen lay dead and dying at Pearl Harbor, the
American forces on Wake Island would only be beginning their fight,
he solemnly recalled.
The bombing raid that came on what had dawned as a peaceful Sunday
morning turned into a repeated barrage that would last for more than
"It was every day," Bogdonovich said. "We fought them off for 16
days. They landed troops and we repelled them three times. We
finally ran out of ammunition."
He and about 250 other US servicemen had to surrender. On Dec. 23rd,
they were taken captive as POWs of the Japanese.
He will never forget that day, said Bogdonovich. It would be the
start of 47 months of hard work, physical and mental abuse, and a
wretched diet that reduced him and his fellow POWs to mere shells of
their former selves.
For Bogdonovich, life became one of forced labor in a navy yard,
working at a drill press making fittings for Japanese warships as
armed guards watched over them. "We had to work from dawn until
dusk," he said.
Hopelessness became a constant companion, as escape was clearly out
of the question. "There was no possible way. We were surrounded by
water," he said. "It would have been suicide."
Beatings came for the smallest of infractions of the rules. Some
POWs were beaten just for talking to the guards. Several were
summarily shot for merely approaching their captors who might have
thought they were trying to gain certain favors. He himself was once
beaten just for taking a pair of gloves to stay warm, Bogdonovich
The POW's diet consisted of watery soup and a cup of rice. "That was
it everyday, he said.
For himself and the other Americans, Bogdonovich remembered, it
became hard to function as human beings. Thoughts of freedom and
comfort became last luxuries, eroded from their minds.
Life, he said, was simply a tedious and debilitating world of hard
work, and marching to and from it. "It was just putting one foot in
front of the other," he recalled.
World War II ended with Japan's unconditional surrender in August
1945, and Bogdonovich former POW was returned to American hands and
freedom on September 4th. A strapping 165-pound soldier when first
captured, he weighed just 84 pounds at the time.
Bogdonovich still remembers, and smiles, at the excitement of the
occasion. "That was a happy day!" he said.
If there was anything positive that came from his captivity, he
said, it served to enhance his appreciation for freedom and the
American way of life even more.
Bogdonovich said that the surprise attack on America last Sept. 11th
bring out some of the same thoughts as the one 60 years ago.
"I can't understand why they attack us and our way of life. W'ere
such a strong nation," he said.
But Bogdonovich is convinced that, just as it had done with Japanese
aggression so long ago, America's might and unity will ultimately
win its current war on terrorism.
"There is no doubt about it" he said, "no doubt about it all."