WWII P.O.W Survivor Celebrates 90th Birthday - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

12/15/07- Hawkins

WWII P.O.W Survivor Celebrates 90th Birthday

"If I'd have known I was going to live this long, I would've taken better care of myself," said WWII veteran Hayes Bolitho. 

He jokes about his age, but not about what all he has seen, being a P.O.W for two and half years at concentration camps by the Japanese.  Hayes Bolitho describes working in the rice fields as excruciating slave labor.

"Sometimes they'd hit us with rifles, and we'd fall down, then they'd hit us for falling," said Bolitho.  "Then they'd stand us up again, and they'd hit us again.  If we bled they'd hit us for bleeding."  Bolitho and more than 800 other American P.O.W's were crammed like sardines in a Japanese ship. Then a torpedo hit from an American submarine.

"When the torpedo hit the ship most of the fellows were killed," said Bolitho.  Bolitho narrowly escaped through a hole in the side of the ship. 

"Water through me up on deck and when it did I broke my arm, had three broken ribs, and a broken jaw," said Bolitho.  "I was trying to take a life jacket away from a Jap and he took a swing at me with a bayonet and I got a slice in my side that was six inches long and an inch wide."  Despite all the pain and gunfire raining down from dive bombers, Bolitho swam miles to a South Pacific island, reaching freedom.  He and a few others then had to survive living in the jungle.

"I had a friend who ran into some eggs, so he was cracking eggs in my mouth and chasing it with water," said Bolitho.  After 23 days, the men were rescued by an American submarine and Bolitho would eventually be discharged.  Yet, still to this day one question lingers.

"Trying to figure out why I was rescued, why I was saved when so many men, who were top-notch people were killed or they were drowned," said Bolitho.  "Two and a half years, I mean, I honestly never thought I'd come back.  I didn't think there was a chance that I'd ever get out of there alive."  By the grace of God and his incredible bravery he did survive, and at 90 years old, lives to be a heroic figure to many East Texans.

Bolitho's family threw him a party Saturday night with a special guest.  Congressman Louie Gohmert was there to speak.

Courtney Lane, Reporting  clane@kltv.com

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