Boyt, Gene 1917–2003

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Boyt, Gene 1917–2003

(Eugene P. Boyt)

PERSONAL:

Born March 29, 1917; died 2003. Education: Attended University of Arizona and the Missouri School of Mines (now the University of Missouri, Rolla).

CAREER:

Engineer and writer. Worked as engineer with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Military service: U.S. Army, rose to the rank of captain in the Corps of Engineers; served in World War II; prisoner of war.

WRITINGS:

(With David L. Burch) Bataan: A Survivor's Story, foreword by Gregory J.W. Urwin, University of Oklahoma Press (Norman, OK), 2004.

SIDELIGHTS:

Gene Boyt, born Eugene P. Boyt, was a prisoner of war in the Philippines during World War II. His life and his experiences as a prisoner of war are described in his book Bataan: A Survivor's Story, which Boyt wrote with David L. Burch. Richard Meixsel, writing in the Virginia Quarterly Review, called Bataan "an invaluable memoir, both a tribute to the men with whom he served and an indictment of America's lack of preparedness" when entering the war.

The memoir begins with an account of Boyt's youth, where he first lived under the crushing hardships of poverty in Oklahoma. Next the author describes the onset of the Great Depression. After this, he details his work in the Civilian Conservation Corps in mid1930s Arizona. After completing his engineering education thanks to a scholarship, Boyt is quickly made a member of the army corps of engineers, and within a few weeks he is stationed in the Phillippines, where he oversees the expansion of an airfield base to accommodate large bombers. The authors recount how American forces, including Boyt, were eventually overwhelmed by Japanese forces. They follow Boyt's capture and his time as a prisoner of war, including his participation in the infamous Bataan Death March.

"I wrote Bataan: A Survivor's Story for two reasons," noted Boyt and coauthor Burch in the book's introduction. "First I hope to contribute to a more complete history of both the Bataan Death March and the broader POW experience. Second, I feel compelled to bring my story to later generations of Americans. I hope to demonstrate that, with perseverance, life's worst hardships can be overcome, and impossible odds can be beaten."

The book describes the unthinkable deprivation and brutality that Boyt and his fellow prisoners of war suffered at the hands of ruthless Japanese guards. Overall, Boyt spent forty-two months in Japanese internment camps. Several reviewers have noted that a highlight of the book is the first-person detail it provides about the Bataan Death March. The march began in April 1942 and involved the forced transfer of some 75,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war, resulting in the death of approximately 18,000 of these prisoners. Writing in Infantry magazine, Randy Talbot noted: "They marched in the blazing sun that sapped their strength and were starved, beaten, and deprived of water. Resting was rare, stopping in small clearances where they could only sit. Thirst became an obsession, as prisoners left the formation to drink out of fetid pools of animal waste along the roadside. Boyt carried a bottle of iodine that the looting guards missed. It purified his water, thus saving his life while many others succumbed to dysentery, adding to the death toll."

Although Boyt survived the march due to luck and careful observation concerning how to elude the wrath of his captors, his ordeal was just beginning. Over the next three-plus years he would face a variety of harsh treatments, including beatings, forced labor, and starvation. Although the focus is on the prisoner-of-war experience, the authors also write about the hubris of U.S. General Douglas MacArthur and how he mistreated his subordinates with his callous manners.

"First-person accounts such as this are gems in a genre often filled with works that are well-researched, but that lack the emotional depth of a personal memoir," wrote Steve Leonard in Military Review. A contributor to the Internet Wire noted: "Boyt's fast-paced and inspirational account is, in many ways, representative of the generation of Americans who fought and won history's greatest armed conflict."

Writing in the book's introduction, the authors point out that Boyt did not remain bitter after the war: "Bataan did not extinguish my faith in humanity. I still believe that most people, regardless of their race, are decent and desire peace. That is an idealistic goal, but we must strive for it anyway. A key to global peace is to examine openly the barbaric deeds of the past, no matter how unpleasant, and vow not to repeat them."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Boyt, Gene, and David L. Burch, Bataan: A Survivor's Story, foreword by Gregory J.W. Urwin, University of Oklahoma Press (Norman, OK), 2004.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, February 15, 2004, Roland Green, review of Bataan: A Survivor's Story, p. 1020.

Infantry, November-December, 2007, Randy Talbot, "No Uncle Sam: The Forgotten of Bataan," p. 49.

Internet Wire, March 30, 2004, "World War II Veteran and POW Pens Memoir of Bataan Death March, Japanese Internment Camps."

Military Review, November-December, 2006, Steve Leonard, review of Bataan, p. 108.

Virginia Quarterly Review, winter, 2005, Richard Meixsel, review of Bataan, p. 286.

ONLINE

Best Ever blog—Missouri S&T Web site,http://bestever.mst.edu/ (February 27, 2008), "Those Who Came before Us Were the Best Ever."