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Hamptons Life

Nov 14, 2011 2:23 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Bataan Death March Has Local Ties

Dec 5, 2011 10:05 AM

“I would not be here if it weren’t for President Truman,” Ms. Birks said. “I would not have a life. Roosevelt died, and they left those people for dead. They didn’t care. It’s the worst thing that ever happened.”

“Absolutely. Terrible,” Mr. Bass added.

“My father told us that he could have never made it anther year because it was so cold in the winter,” Ms. Birks said. “He would have never, ever made it.”

Weighing just 75 pounds, Mr. Birks was transported to Guam, his daughter recalled.

Ben Steele, an artist and fellow prisoner of war who is featured in “The Tragedy of Bataan,” described the survivors as “just knees and eyeballs,” Ms. Thompson said, adding that Mr. Steele’s drawings are also included in the documentary.

Eventually Mr. Birks was quarantined and then moved to Saint Albans Naval Hospital in Queens, where he met his future wife, Margaret, who worked as an administrative assistant at the hospital. On June 15, 1946, they were married at the Saint Albans wedding chapel, their daughter said.

At age 38, Mr. Birks retired from the military and moved with his family—which now included Ms. Birks and her brother, the late William Birks—to Westhampton Beach, where he started an excavation company. The family’s lineage traces back to Thomas Rogers, who signed the Mayflower Compact, and, more locally, William Rogers, a Southampton settler in 1640, Ms. Birks reported.

“The Rogers are very strong people. We’re survivors,” she said.

Despite what he had been through, Mr. Birks had an incredible sense of humor, his daughter recalled, and he was a wonderful cook.

“He was also an expert marksman. He could take a gun, a .357, and shoot 60 out of 60 shots at 60 years old, with one arm,” Ms. Birks said, referring to the one-armed shooting technique.

On April 14, 1981, Mr. Birks died from lung cancer. He’s buried in the Westhampton Cemetery with his Rogers predecessors, Ms. Birks said.

Mr. Birks’s granddaughter and Ms. Birks’s niece, Briana, who lives in Sayville, said that though she never met her grandfather, his story gives her strength.

“This whole thing that happened with him just gives me courage with everything in my life,” the 20-year-old said. “I appreciate every day that I’m here and it’s amazing to think I come from someone who survived what he did.”

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