by Duane Heisinger

Duane Heisinger, the oldest of three sons of Grace and Lawrence Heisinger, was born in 1930 and raised in Fresno, California. After several years in college and a year in the Air Force, he entered the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating in 1956. He served thirty years in the Navy, retiring a Navy Captain with assignments primarily at sea including two ship commands, three combat tours in Vietnam, and over eleven years in overseas intelligence assignments including three years as the Defense Attaché, London. In recent years he has conducted extensive research on the life and death of his father as a POW of the Japanese in WWII. Duane and his wife, Judith have three married daughters and ten grandchildren.

“I remember the day Father left. I remember the pictures taken of us together with him in his Army uniform, I remember that long line we were in at the pier, waiting to say goodbye. Good family friends were nearby . . . What was happening? How could I help as mother’s tears were flowing? What did all this mean? None of us really knew . . .”

On April 21, 1941, Samuel Lawrence Heisinger said goodbye to his wife and family on the docks of San Francisco, and boarded a ship for Manila. Charting a successful career path with the Fresno District Attorney’s Office, the young Army reserve officer and lawyer accepted a new posting to Manila, working on MacArthur’s JAG staff. It would only be a year’s assignment and he would return to take up his duties once again in Fresno. Maybe it was a call to do something different, adventurous even answering a need to his country. Perhaps the motive was to advance his family’s financial security, especially after some very unsettling years during the depression. There had been a small build-up going on in the Philippines, but nothing much to worry about. After all, many felt that America needed to more closely scrutinize Japanese expansionism, even though there were debates going on in Washington as to whether the threat was real or imagined. By July, events in the Pacific took on ominous tones. More men came flooding in by ship, but necessary military supporting equipment was slow to arrive, and often from old stocks. The war came in December.

What happened next has continued to haunt Americans for 60 years. Captain Samuel Heisinger never came home, and it continued to influence me and my mother and two brothers and the families of thousands of others who were caught up in the terrible tragedies of Bataan and Corregidor during those first crucial months of late 1941 and early 1942. In the end, 20,000 Americans with even more Filipino troops marched off to POW camps from which 62 percent survived by war’s end. These POW survivors lived to tell the full story of America’s second biggest humiliation after Pearl Harbor.