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Madsen “Ty” Cobb Kokjer was Jody Beck’s mother’s cousin. Born in 1919, he grew up in central Nebraska.

In his junior year of college, Ty qualified to train as an Army Air Corps pilot. He arrived in Manila on November 20, 1941, after a year of training. The planes for his unit, the 27th Bombardment Group, Light, were weeks behind them. Hours after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, it bombed other bases around the Pacific, including those near Manila. Ty and other pilots became part of the “provisional infantry,” as U.S. and Filipino armies retreated to the Bataan Peninsula.

Short on food and with no reinforcements, an American general surrendered 78,000 soldiers – the largest surrender of troops ever in U.S. history, April 9, 1942. They began the Bataan Death March. Forced to walk in high heat with little water or food, hundreds died – or were murdered by Japanese guards – along the route. A  few, including Ty, escaped.

He hid for eight months with a Filipino family. During that time, he kept a diary in the form of letters to his parents. Like hundreds of his pre-war letters, he signed them, “Your Loving son, Ty.” The diary covered everything from the time he boarded a ship in San Francisco to his recapture on December 17, 1942. He spent the next 20 months in a prisoner of war camp.

Japan moved POWs throughout the Pacific to work a slave laborers. Ty was on the last ship to leave Manila for Japan in December 1944, on the infamous Oryoku Maru, where 1,619 soldiers were crammed into the hold. By the time they arrived in Japan, about 400 were still alive. Ty died in Japan on February 12, 1945, two weeks after the ship arrived. His parents, Jody Beck’s great aunt and uncle, learned of his death after the war was over.

Less than a month after the Oryoku Maru left Manila, General Douglas MacArthur and the U.S. Sixth Army landed on Luzon Island, where Manila is. The war in the Philippines ended in March 1945.

Jody Beck was a reporter for The Washington Star, an assignment editor at WRC-TV, taught journalism at the University of Maryland College-Park, and was director of the Scripps Howard Foundation Semester in Washington Program. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master’s degree from the University of Maryland.

Beck’s mother, Phyllis Kokjer Beck, was Madsen “Ty” Cobb Kokjer’s cousin. Beck knew Ty’s parents. But she was an adult when she learned about Ty’s wartime diary and hundreds letters written by Ty, his parents, and other relatives that were waiting for someone to tell the story of a young pilot who went to war.

 

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