ABIE ABRAHAM JULY 31, 1913 -- MARCH 22, 2012 SURVIVOR OF DEATH MARCH, VOLUNTEER [Corrected 04/10/12]

By Schaarsmith, Amy McConnell | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), March 24, 2012 | Go to article overview

ABIE ABRAHAM JULY 31, 1913 -- MARCH 22, 2012 SURVIVOR OF DEATH MARCH, VOLUNTEER [Corrected 04/10/12]


Schaarsmith, Amy McConnell, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


After surviving disease, starvation and brutal violence during the Bataan Death March and the years of confinement as a Japanese prisoner of war that followed, one might think retired U.S. Army Sgt. Abie Abraham had earned the right to rest.

Instead, Mr. Abraham spent the rest of his long life -- until he became too sick at age 96 to continue -- working to improve the lives of others, from the families of American soldiers lying in unmarked graves in the Philippines, to would-have-been juvenile delinquents bound for George Junior Republic back home in Butler County, to veterans of his war and others at the Butler Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

"He was a good man, and his story should be told -- he touched a lot of lives, not only when he was a soldier, but also helping people at the VA and at George Junior," said his wife, Christine Abraham, of Renfrew, Butler County. "Whenever he saw a need, he tried to help."

Mr. Abraham died Thursday after a long illness at the VA hospital where he had, in healthier days, served the hospital's greatest amount of volunteer time ever: 36,851 hours accumulated over 23 years. He was 98.

Mr. Abraham was born July 31, 1913 in Lyndora, the son of the late Elias and Esther Thomson Abraham. The third of the Abrahams' 11 children, Abie Abraham completed just two years at Butler High School -- but as a young teenager already had earned a place in the Guinness World Records book for sitting in a tree in Alameda Park for 3 1/2 months, his wife said.

In 1932, Mr. Abraham enlisted in the Navy in 1932, followed by the Army in 1934. He was stationed in the Philippines with his first wife, Felicidad, and their three young daughters in 1941 when the Japanese attacked the Bataan Peninsula, beginning a three-month siege that cut supply lines of food, medicine and ammunition to the American and Philippine soldiers.

"They pretty much ate anything -- monkeys, horses, snakes -- anything they could get their hands on," Mrs. Abraham said.

American commanders, their soldiers so emaciated and ill with dysentery and malaria and just two days from running out of food altogether, surrendered April 9, 1942, and left more than 12,000 American soldiers on Bataan in the hands of the Japanese. An additional 60,000 Filipinos also surrendered.

The Japanese Army showed no mercy, refusing Mr. Abraham and the other prisoners food and water for six days and seven nights as they marched them toward a prison camp in the country's interior.

By the time Mr. Abraham was rescued by Army Rangers 3 1/2 years later, just 513 Americans remained.

"It took a long time for him to gain weight," Mrs. Abraham said. "He was shot in the leg, had scars from shrapnel in his back, was stabbed, had malaria. He went through hell over there."

But instead of returning immediately to the United States, Mr. Abraham agreed to a request from Gen. Douglas MacArthur to help recover the remains of soldiers who had died during the death march so they could be buried properly. …

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