The Big House brought out red, white (a little maize) and blue this weekend in honour of Veterans Day Wednesday, taking the opportunity to remember and honour the historic accounts of the U.S military.
During the afternoon Saturday against Rutgers, every branch of the military had its flag shown, and at halftime, parachuting onto the field was a Special Operations unit. Although the whole game was full of exciting moments like this, probably the most inspirational were in the first and third quarters, when the public address announcer retold the stories of two famous veterans.
A member of the 1944 Wolverines football team and second lieutenant in the Marine Corps in World War II, Col. George Babe; and a prisoner of war in Japan and forced captive of the Bataan Death March, Dr Eugene Bliel, were both recognized.
Bleil commented that he thought the festivities were fantastic and that it was a great honour. He earned a chemistry degree at Michigan State and graduated from the U-M Medical School in 1955. He added that he is probably one of the only guys alive from the 17th Pursuit that was shipped to the Philippine islands. He was in the Air Corps before there was an Air Force.
A young Eugene and his brother Marvin had recently graduated from Belleville High in Van Buren Township in 1938. Unfortunately, their job search got them nowhere and the siblings ended up homeless.
Convinced that enlisting in the military would supply them with food, compensation and housing, the siblings joined the force. During the following four years, Eugene was posted in the Philippines, in a town near Manila, as an aircraft mechanic – approximately the time Pearl Harbour was attacked by Japan, bringing the United States into World War II.
There was a need for more men, so Bleil was assigned to a provincial infantry that battled to control the Bataan Penninsula. His fellow troops, including himself had no choice but to surrender, and the Japanese chose to march a band of 78,000 prisoners without water or rest to a prison camp. Thousands died during the march, and several more died in the terrible labour that followed.
For the last years of the war, Bleil spent a total of 1,245 days as a prisoner of different Japanese camps – 6 in total. He survived the terrible conditions and was finally freed when the war ended in 1945.