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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Lester Tenney’s Interview

Lester Tenney served in the Phillipines during World War II and was captured at Bataan by the Japanese. He was a prisoner on the Bataan Death March, and forced to labor for a Japanese company. Many years after the war ended, he wrote “My Hitch in Hell” about the Death March, and worked to reconcile veterans and the Japanese community.

Date of Interview:
September 12, 2022
Location of the Interview:


Cindy Kelly: Today is December 3, 2013. I’m Cindy Kelly, President of the Atomic Heritage Foundation. With me, I have Lester Tenney. I’m going to start by asking Lester to say your name and spell it please.

Lester Tenney: Lester Tenney, L-E-S-T-E-R, Tenney, T-E-N-N-E-Y.

Maybe you could start by telling us where you were born and what your childhood was like?

Tenney: I was born in Chicago, Illinois on July 1, 1920. I spent most of my young career in and around Chicago. I joined the 192nd Tank Battalion National Guard on September 25th of 1940. I wanted to get my years over with for the fact that they started the enrollment inscription or volunteer service. So, I wanted to get my year over with. So, I joined the National Guard knowing that it was going to be mobilized in November of 1940. So, I knew that at the time. I didn’t know where I was going to go or what I was going to do, but I wanted to finish my one year.

Kelly: So, what happened?

Tenney: I finished my one year as I landed in Manila. One year later, I ended up in Manila on November 25th of 1941. And of course as you know, the war started just a week or so after that. That’s where I ended up serving, was in the Philippines.

Kelly: So tell us about what was your job? What did your company do?

Tenney: I was a radio operator and then I became a tank commander. This was all during the time of the fighting on Bataan and in the Philippines. We were in the first tank battle. In fact, the first tank battle of World War II was in the Philippines and it was on December 23rd of 1941 when our tanks met the Japanese up at Lingayen. Unfortunately no one knows about that. But, that was the first tank battle that the United States was in in World War II.

They [the Japanese troops] had artillery. They had flamethrowers. They had everything aimed at us. We went in with five tanks and within a matter of five minutes we lost our first tank. Lt. Ben Moran was the tank commander of the first tank and the first tank was hit with a shell in the track. Once a track is hit you can do nothing. The second tank, a shell went through the bow gunner’s seat and took the bow gunner’s head off. It went right straight through the tank. The third tank was destroyed pretty well. So, we had five tanks. Three of them were hit. Then, we ended up making a reverse to get out of there.

In the Philippines the tanks didn’t have a wide area to maneuver. We were on a road, one road with one tank behind the other. If you stop and think of it, the only tank that could fire at the enemy was the lead tank. The second tank, if he were to fire at the enemy he was going to hit the lead tank. So, tanks in the Philippines was not a very wise move. But, we were there anyhow. And, right after that we started the strategic withdraw down into Bataan, which was a part of the orange plan that was designed in 1935-36, that if Japan should attack the Philippines it was agreed to that we would have what was known as the Bataan Peninsula, is where we would all congregate and wait for supplies from Pearl Harbor. That was back in 1935 and ’36. Little did they know that there would be no Pearl Harbor available for us. So, that’s what really happened.

Kelly: So the battle was engaged, you say, just before Pearl Harbor? When was the battle?

Tenney: The first tank battle was on December 23, 1941 up at Agoo—A-G-O-O—up in Lingayen Gulf.

Kelly: At what point did you successfully reach Bataan?

Tenney: We started down around December 25th, down into the peninsula known as Bataan. It was a piggyback operation. The infantry would lead first, then the artillery would lead, and the tanks would stay there on the frontlines to hold the enemy off until our forces were about fifteen kilometers down. Then, they would set up. Once the forces would set up, then the tanks would leave. So, it was piggyback—the infantry, the artillery, and then the tanks. So, the tanks were always up in the frontline protecting the other troops until we landed back into the peninsula known as Bataan.

Kelly: So tell us what happened there.

Tenney: There we spent the next four and half months fighting the Japanese on a day-to-day basis, night-to-night. The Japanese would try to come down from these frontlines. They established a frontline at the Pilar-Bagac Road.

Well, the turning point came sometime in the first part of April when the Japanese didn’t get Bataan to surrender and it was a thorn in their side. They couldn’t accept the fact that they were still fighting when they expected to win in 45 days. What they did was they had a whole flotilla of Japanese forces with Yumata on the way to Australia. They turned them around and brought them back to the Philippines to capture Bataan. On the third of April is when the battle really started all over again. But at that time, it was a very serious battle. There was no time during the morning, noon, or night that there was not gunshot. The Japanese kept coming down. They would step over their dead. Our machine guns got so hot that the barrel would just curve like that. The barrel turned like that. So, once the machine gun’s barrel started to turn we would leave. It was a horrible situation until April 8th.

General McArthur sent word down to our General [Edward P.] King and sent a message from his post in Australia. The message was: “This garrison will not surrender. If all else fails you will charge the enemy.”

McArthur wanted the men to die fighting. He did not want them to surrender. General King felt that if he did not surrender the forces then, Bataan would be known throughout the world as the slaughtering point of World War II.

So General King, in spite of the order from General McArthur, and knowing that he could be court marshaled, ended up surrendering all the forces on Bataan. That was 12,000 Americans and 58,000 Filipinos. Seventy thousand troops were surrendered that morning, April 9th of 1942. No one knows anything about Bataan. We know a lot about Pearl Harbor and other things, but nobody knows about Bataan, unfortunately.

Kelly: Seventy thousand.

Tenney: Then the march started to take us to prison camp. It became known as the Bataan Death March. It was called the Bataan Death March not because of how many died, although out of the 12,000 Americans only about 1700 lived to come home at the end of the war. But, the reason it was called the Death March was because the way they killed you. If you stopped walking you died. If you had to defecate, you died. If you had a malaria attack, you died. It made no difference what it was; either they cut your head off, they shot you, or they bayonetted you. But you died if you fell down. So, that was why it was called the Bataan Death March, because the bodies were strung along the side of the road. A man would die, they would kick the body onto the side of the road or put him on the road and let a Japanese truck roll over them. It was barbaric slaughter. It was just— nothing else to say. That’s what happened on Bataan until we got to your first prison camp.

We had no food or water. The temperature was about 106, 108 degrees. We were all sick. We all had malaria, dysentery. We had gunshot wounds, bayonet wounds. We were in no position to walk and yet we had to do that. We were on 1/3 rations from July 13th. We were on 1/3 rations. We were eating iguanas, monkeys, and snakes. That was our diet. So, we were in no position to really make a march. And, that’s what happened to us.

Kelly: So, how many made it through?

Tenney: Well, we’ll never know. The true number has never been calculated because we don’t know how many died along the side of the road where the Japanese just never bothered burying the body at all. So, we only know the number that were captured on Bataan was around 12,000, maybe 11,800 and something. The number that actually came home that we could pretty well attest to was about 1200, maybe 1500 men total. So we lost, during that 3 ½ years—from the time of the surrender to the time of the end of the war, in that 3 ½ years, of that 12,000 men, I would say we lose 10,500 of them.

Kelly: Would that be true of the 58,000 Filipinos?

Tenney: No, although it was very bad for the Filipinos. The Japanese treated them really bad. But, they were allowed to go back to their barrios, to their little homes, to their villages. So, in spite of the fact that many of them started the march, many of them were able to leave the march and blend in with the rest of the civilians and/or just go back home. The Japanese did allow the Filipinos to go back home. So, they never did have the total problem that the Americans had.

We were Caucasians to the other race. We were just no good. The Japanese had a philosophy. They lived on the Bushido code of conduct. The Bushido code of conduct was one that said you shall not surrender. If you surrender you’re a coward. So, if you surrender you’re a coward. If you surrender, you’re lower than a dog. No one would do that. The Americans, who surrendered, were treated as they were a dog all that time because that was their philosophy. That’s what we had to live with all those years. It never changed.

Kelly: Of course that’s at odds with Geneva Agreement.

Tenney: Those who lived to get to that first prison camp, what happened there was again the men were dying at 200-250 a day from the effects of the march, from dysentery. We had no water. You would see water on the side of the road in carabao wallows. The carabao would sit in there and bathe. We would see that and spread the scum along the side and just drink the water. The result was dysentery, real bad dysentery.

So, when we arrived at that first prison camp, some of the men that were alive, they died within the next thirty days just from the dysentery that they had contracted. It was just plain slaughter all along the way. If you lived through the first prison camp, then they took—in my particular case, they took 500 of us and put us in the hull of a ship and gave us ½ cup of water a day and ½ ration of rice a day, ball of rice. We went on our way to Japan. It took thirty-two days and we were in the hull of a ship. The men who died on the ship, the survivors would sort of hold an auction for the ration of the rice and the water of the dead men. It’s not the kind of thing you want to even think about, but it was there.

We lived on the ship, going to Japan. We ended up in Japan. Our particular ship with 500 men got there alright. But, in the total picture, there were twenty-six ships that American POWs—Americans that were capture on Bataan, Corregidor, and other islands in the Philippines. Of the twenty-six ships that went, twenty-six ships went down in the water with the prisoners in it because the Japanese refused to put POW markings or Red Cross markings on the ships. So, the Americans bombed the ships—torpedoes and bombs and submarines. Twenty-six ships went down. We lost about 10,000 men just in the water. So, we’re talking about a horrific situation that we had to live through.

Now, once we lived and got to Japan, our group—my 500 men and myself—we ended up being sold to Mitsui Coal Mine. Mitsui bought us from the Japanese military at so much a head and we ended up shoveling coal. I shoveled coal in a Japanese coal mine twelve hours a day, every day, for three years. The only way you got out of work is if you got hurt, and sometimes you had to get hurt by doing it yourself. So, we broke our own bones. We broke our own hands, legs, arms, foot, whatever we could break to see if we could get a couple of days out of work in the mine. That’s how we lived for the next three years.

We didn’t know anything about that first atomic bomb that was in Hiroshima. We knew something was up because of the Japanese in the coal mine told us that there was a big bomb and big explosion. A lot of people were killed. But, we knew nothing about it until the 9th of August, I believe it was, of 1945 when we heard an explosion and we saw a tremendous cloud rise. We were in our prison camp in Omuta, which was right across the bay from Nagasaki. So, it was the bomb at Nagasaki that we heard. I guess we were witnesses to it because we were right there. We didn’t know what it was. But, the war ended one week later.

Kelly: It’s an amazing story. You’ve spelled it out in this marvelous book.

Tenney: Tried to.

Kelly: You did: My Hitch in Hell. We’ll just continue chronologically. What happened then? Once you heard, a week afterwards, that the Japanese surrendered, were you free at that point?

Tenney: Yes. We knew that we would be free when the war ended if four things ever happened. We knew this for years. Number one: If we didn’t have to go to work. Number two: If we ever got all the rice we wanted to eat. Number three: If we ever got a Red Cross box—which Red Cross sent there, but we never got them. And, number four: If we didn’t have to bow to the Japanese every time we saw them. And, on August 15th we went to work in the coal mine and about an hour later we came home. Everybody was talking. What happened? It was the first time in three years, no work?

And then at 10 o’clock in the morning they put us in a big mess hall and they gave every man a Red Cross box. This Red Cross box is a box Red Cross provided for prisoners. In that box were sardines, salmon, cigarettes, a Hershey bar—different things of that nature, just as a Red Cross box. So, each man got a Red Cross box—the first time in 3 ½ years. Man, something was happening. We just didn’t know what. But, it was very exciting.

Then at noon we went in for our lunch meal. For the whole three years we were in Japan our meals consisted of a bowl of rice, three times a day. That was it—a bowl of rice three times a day. Occasionally you’d get something different, maybe occasionally you’d get some vegetables, but by the time you got to the vegetables there was nothing. But basically it was three bowls of rice. So, we came into the mess hall on that particular day at noon, and as we went through the line to get a bento box of rice, the cook behind the trolleys would say to us, “You want more rice, fella?”

We would say “What? Yeah! Pack it on!”

Man, they would pack the rice on. We would sit down. We knew something was happening. We just didn’t know what until about 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

I spoke enough Japanese that my friends asked me to go out and say hello to the Japanese without bowing and see what happened. Now, if you don’t understand: if you do what they say, it’s okay. If you don’t bow, they beat the hell out of you. I went out and in Japanese I said [Foreign Language]. I didn’t bow. About two seconds later he bowed to me. I knew the war was over—no question.

At about 5:30 or 6:00 that night they put us in the hole—1700 men by that time, Australians, New Zealanders, Englishmen, Dutchmen, Javanese. So, our camp had 1700 men. We were all in the parade area where we had to go every morning and every night for roll call. We got there and the Japanese came in with all their trucks. On every truck was a machine gun. The Japanese commander tapped on his truck and he said very loud to all of us, “Japan and America are now friends.” And they drove off.

So, in answer to your question, we were just standing there. We had no idea what was going on. The Japanese drove off. They didn’t kill any of us. That was it. Period. That was the end of the war for us.

Kelly: So, what did you do?

Tenney: Some of the men went into town looking for some of the guards, looking for some of the Japanese in the coal mine. We were beaten quite severely by the Japanese civilians in the coal mine as well as the guards. It would be nothing to be beaten with a pick axe or a hammer or a shovel. When they sling a shovel at your face and they break the bones, hit pretty hard, it hurts. So, some of the men went out looking for them to kill them. That’s really what they wanted.

But, it was really amazing. The group that I went with, we started to look for some of the Japanese, but then we found some other Japanese women just bowing to us and being very polite—inviting us into their house for tea and a snack, whatever they had, and they were so friendly. I would say in a matter of one hour we were no longer looking for the Japanese. We were just happy to be alive. I guess that’s really it. We were so happy to be alive and so shocked to be alive. So, that’s what we did. That’s my story.

Kelly: I don’t understand how you survived. How did you survive all of this mentally as well as physically?

Tenney: Well, I think I survived the Bataan March by establishing goals. When the march started it was awful—the beatings, the hollering, and the men being killed immediately was awful. So, I said to myself if I’m going to get out of this I’m going to have to set a goal. I saw a herd of carabao in the distance and I just said, I have to get to that herd of carabao. That’s it. That’s my goal. I don’t care how long it takes me—a day, a week, a month, two hours, whatever it is—I have to get there. And whatever I did, I did with a philosophy that I had to get to that herd of carabao.

So, the Japanese hollered at me, told me to do something, I did whatever they said, whatever they did, because I knew that if I fell down I’m dead. I had to stand up. So, that was my goal. I established goals. When I got to the herd of carabao, I would see something else in the distance and I would establish a goal for that. I just kept doing that—a goal, a goal, a goal. Luckily, I was able to deal with it. I had my problems, same as everybody else. I had a very severe attack of malaria and dysentery that I thought I was dead, but somehow or other I pulled through. So, that’s what we did.

Kelly: What about your comrades? How did they survive? Did they have goals like you or what did they do?

Tenney: Well, that’s a sad situation because some of my comrades died. At the very beginning in that first 30 days, in that first prison camp, on the march, some buddies who were wonderful people they just said I can’t go on any further. Or, I don’t want to go on any further. Or, I’m not going to continue this. Let me die and get out of here. So, many of them prayed to die. We prayed to live and prayed to die. Some died and some lived. There’s no way of knowing why one or the other. We all had the same thing. We all lived the same. We ate the same. We worked the same. We did the same. The only thing that was different was our philosophy of life. That was the only thing that was different. But those who wanted to die, died. You couldn’t stop them. That’s my buddies.

Kelly: You have been in touch with some of your survivors?

Tenney: Right now, there’s very few left alive. From the Bataan Death March, I don’t think there’s ten men left alive today. Joe Alexander, he called me from Texas.

He says, “How’s it going?”

I said, “Well. What about you?”

He goes, “Oh, I got problems. I can’t see and I can’t walk and I can’t hear.”

I said, “Yeah, well that’s true for all of us, you know.”

That’s my problem. I don’t hear too well, I don’t see too well, and I don’t walk too well. But the hell with everything else, I’m still here!

Kelly: So tell us about what your project has been over this last I guess sixty years—seventy almost—to try and bring some reconciliation to this process.

Tenney: Yes. To just drift from 1945 to 1995, that’s a good drift, because during that period of time my goal was just to live and I didn’t care about being a POW. Nobody knew about it and never talked about it. It was not important. Just get my life back in order.

In 1995, I wrote the book My Hitch in Hell, but amazingly the next thing that happened was that in 1995 the Japanese prepared a bill and funded it with $160 million. They invited all POWs and their families to come to Japan for peace and friendship—all POWs, except Americans. In 1995 they passed a bill; they funded the bill; they had the money—all POWs except Americans. In 1995 we started to ask questions, why? I asked my own government. I asked senators, congressmen. I asked the president. I asked ambassadors: “Why? How can this be?” I got zero answers—zero. Nobody cared.

Then, in 2009, I had written letters to the ambassador Fujisaki, who was the Japanese ambassador to the United States. Ambassador Fujisaki contacted me. He said, “Come to the embassy, I’d like to talk with you.”

I said, “I can’t. I’m busy. I’m here at the cemetery laying a wreath to the Unknown Soldier.”

He said, “Well, how about coming tomorrow?”

I said, “I’m leaving tomorrow for San Diego.”

The ambassador said, “Well would you and your wife come to my residence?”

I said, “Yes.” So, Betty and I left the cemetery and went to the Ambassador Fujisaki’s residence, which is a magnificent place. It is beautiful.

When we got there, Ambassador Fujisaki said to me, “What is it you POWs want? What are you so upset about?”

I said, “There is three things we wanted. Number one: We wanted an apology from the Japanese for doing what they did to unarmed POWs—disgraceful, the killings, and the slaughter. Number two: We wanted to be treated equally: why they invited all POWs except Americans? We wanted to go back to Japan at their expense and go back to the prison camp we were in to show our family this is where we were. Number three: We want an apology from the Japanese companies who used and abused us—in my case Mitsui. [Foreign Language]. Eighty-six different companies used Americans.”

He said, “We will work on it.” We spent a few hours there—very kind, he and his wife. That was November 11th of 2009. In February of 2010, which is three months later, the state department called me and the Japanese embassy had asked the State Department to get me to prepare a list of the POWs to go to Japan and if I would lead the program. They budgeted $160,000. So, they figured that they had enough money for fourteen people to go. With first-class air fare, first-class everything.

So, I put together a group of seven POWs and next of kin or family, or whoever wanted to go. We did go. When we got there the first day we were greeted by Ambassador [John V.] Roos, the US ambassador to Japan. The next day we were at the Japanese Diet, where the minister of foreign affairs, in front of all the cameras and all the television stood up while we sat down where he offered us an apology for the inhumane treatment that the Japanese soldiers delved out to us.

So, we got the apology. We got the trip there. The only thing we have not gotten as of right now, the Japanese companies say that they’re not the same company they were at one time, so they don’t want any part of it. I think they’re afraid of being sued and that’s it.

I brought a lawsuit against the Japanese company Mitsui. My lawsuit was filed in 1999 against Mitsui. The Japanese only had one witness—one witness—and that was the United States State Department; the witness for the Japanese against Americans. At that time, they were against the Americans. They said that the treaty solved all issues. Therefore, we had no course of action. This went on for four years. We had a group of lawyers from some of the largest and most prestigious law firms in America that did this all free of charge because they felt that we were entitled to get this apology. We never asked for any money. That was never the issue at all.

To make a long story short, we still have not received that. That’s the next thing on my agenda—to see how I can get an apology from them for allowing their employees to beat us and they did nothing about it. Except for that, we’ve enjoyed Japanese friends. During this process, my wife and I made some tremendous friends, Japanese friends, who invite us back to Japan to lecture to college students.

I had one professor, a Japanese lady, Yuka, who invited us back there for two weeks, all expenses paid. I said to Yuka, “Who is going to pay for this? Where are you getting the money?”

She said, “My mother died and left me an inheritance. I choose to use that inheritance to let the students know what happened with the war. And, will you come and lecture to them?”

I did. I made so many wonderful Japanese friends.

During this period of time I realized that I had to forgive or I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t go there and talk with them if I hadn’t learned to forgive and get on with my life. So, the forgiveness that I did was not for them. The forgiveness was for me. By my forgiving, I opened up my door. I’ve often said that my friends who still hate, they’re still prisoners. They’re still prisoners. They have not been released yet.

So, I did this. It has been a wonderful thing. Thousands of people that I’ve met are friends. We’ve gotten so much from the Japanese. The State Department has worked so hard. The Japanese embassy has worked very hard with us. So, we’re all doing the best we can under the circumstances.

I think that what happened last night where the Japanese honored me, what they honored me for was so wonderful in my philosophy—in my thinking. They honored me for improving the relationship between Americans and Japanese. You know the philosophy: one person can do a lot? Well, here it is. I’m one person. Here they were, the Japanese community, saying to me I’ve helped create a relationship. That was a very great honor for me.

Kelly: It sounds like it was well deserved.

Tenney: That, I won’t argue about. I just tell the story the way it is. Anything else?

Kelly: Is there anything else that you see as next steps, other than the company’s apology that ought to happen, to improve relationships?

Tenney: I like to say at the end of a…I can’t talk. What is this old soldier doing now? I’m ninety-three years old, on my way to ninety-four. And, we started about six years ago because I never received a care package. I never received anything from home. I made the decision that the kids fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan were going to get a care package. So, we formed a company called Care Packages From Home. I got some of my friends in the retirement area where we live to donate money and donate time. Slowly we developed this company. It’s a 501(c)3 organization. We send care packages.

Up to this point, we’ve already sent almost 17,000 care packages. Every care package accommodates between eight and twelve soldiers. So, we have actually helped, in some way, about 160,000 of our troops overseas. They get care packages from us. They get letters from us. They get information saying we are proud of what you are doing and we are behind you. The letters we get back are just wonderful because these kids just are so thrilled to know that there are total strangers—total strangers—sending them gift boxes. So, it’s a wonderful thing. We’ve been doing it and maybe with the luck of God and a little prayer here and there, maybe we’ll continue for a while.

Kelly: That is marvelous.

Tenney: It’s very difficult. I got married before I was in the service. I think it was about September of 1941, before we went overseas, to a girl that I had been dating for a long time—Clara. When I came home, she had been told I was missing in action, presumed dead, and she waited three years. When I didn’t come back, she remarried. So, when I came home I came home to this woman that I was in love with that I wanted to lead my life with, to find that she had been married to another man. So that was a tremendous, traumatic experience. I developed post-traumatic stress very seriously. I felt I did anyhow.

So, I had a lot of stress to deal with. I think that the end result was at the end of about thirty or sixty days I just looked at myself in the mirror and I said I have to get on with my life. My life is just more important. What I just went through is not important anymore. Now, from this point on. So, that’s what I did. It was from this point on that was important, nothing else. I think that’s really what had happened.

I told no one about my being a POW for years. I mean I’m talking about for lots and lots of years—except my family. I remarried and they knew I was a prisoner of war, but I don’t think they really understood what being a prisoner of war was. I don’t think they ever really delved into my life and what it was, watching men get killed. Having men die. Having men hope to die and dying, and you live. It’s traumatic. I don’t know how else to say it. You get to the point when you see this happening you don’t want to make good friends because you don’t want to lose them. That’s what happens.

I had a few very close friends, but they’ve since died. Lou Britten died. Bob Martin died. These are close friends of mine. Nobody really understands what a person went through. And even today, no one really understands what a person that survived this kind of traumatic experience puts his life through. I’m talking about on a day-to-day basis.

You know, having to aim a gun and shot somebody is a traumatic experience. Sometimes it’s just a mental problem of what you have to do that’s a tremendous experience. So, when you kill somebody, when you see somebody killed, when you see the blood splat around, it’s traumatic. Some people deal with it differently than others. I’m one of the ones that dealt with it the best way I could. I think I’ve dealt with it pretty good.

Kelly: So you basically pulled yourself up by your own bootstraps. I mean, there was no psychological counseling available, or was there?

Tenney: No. We had nothing. The United States had nothing. They didn’t even know what post-traumatic stress was. I’m currently writing a book. I’ve got probably, with a little luck, maybe two or three more months to finish it. It’s on post-traumatic stress. The book ends with the importance of forgiving as one of the ways of dealing with post-traumatic stress. I have a whole chapter on forgiving—what’s the importance of forgiving and why we do it. Maybe the book will come out before I fade out. I don’t know. We’ll try. Anything else?

Kelly: That sounds like a very important contribution. Family members— what am I missing? What are the best stories that you’ve heard that he hasn’t shared?

Unidentified Male: When you got home, back to the states, how did you feel as a returning Vet? How did the surrender affect the way you felt when you came back home to the throngs of waving Americans?

Tenney: Our ship came back and landed in Seattle. It was a traumatic experience because after all these years, we were landing in the United States, and the ship landed and there wasn’t anyone there to say welcome home. No officer, no parade, no nothing. They docked the ship and, “Get off and go here and go to sleep. Tomorrow morning you leave.” I mean it was a real downer. After 3 ½ years of being a prisoner of war we came home and no one knew, no one cared, it was a downer for every one of us.

And, maybe that downer is what stayed with us all those years. Having the feeling that nobody gives a damn is a very strong feeling. And, when nobody gives a darn, you sort of start flying around. You don’t know what you’re doing right. I think that had a big impact on me—having no one really to say hello. Welcome home soldier—no one.

You see it in the movies. They came back from Vietnam, they came back from Korea, they came back from being a prisoner, they get off the plane and there’s Navy officers shaking their hands and everybody’s welcome home. We sit there and we look, “Eh, never happened to us.” So you deal with it. You deal with it. You just get on with your life and you do that best you can. Thank you.

Kelly: Was that because you were POWs? Were there committees waiting or crowds waiting for the enlisted soldier returning?

Tenney: There was no one at the dock when our ship landed, no one. When they finally told me that I was going to go to the ship general hospital, that’s where I was going to go. We stayed overnight in Seattle at a camp—at a military camp. The following morning they took us by truck to the railroad station like a herd of cattle. When we got to the railroad station, they handed each man their own papers. Mine was for a hospital. Everybody had a different hospital. We didn’t know where. We took the train and I got off the train, I guess it was a day later. They came and picked me up and took me to Chicago Hospital. When I got to the hospital, my mother and father and my brother was there at the hospital. But, they weren’t there when that ship landed. They weren’t there anytime during that. I got to the hospital and my family was there. That was it.

Kelly: I assume for all of those 3 ½ years you had no communication?

Tenney: No. None. None of any consequence. Okay?

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