Harold Bergbower knows too well the price of freedom is not free. He is a 97-year-old World War II veteran. He joined the Army Air Corps in May 1939. His unit arrived in the Philippines in July 1940. On December 8, 1941, he was injured by bomb shrapnel, taken to the hospital at Clark Field, and declared dead. He woke up in the morgue and walked back to his unit. During the early months of WWII, he made three missions in a Martin B-10, fought on horseback with the Filipinos on Bataan, and escaped from Bataan by boat with some Filipino scouts. They made it down into Mindanao, where he fought with the infantry until his capture in May 1942. Bergbower was a Prisoner of War for 39 months.
He said one way he survived the internment was to create another world in his mind, so he dreamed of being on a farm. It took his mind off the reality of his life, which was disease and starvation. He was down to 78 pounds when he was at Davao and was about 107 pounds when he got liberated. He would also keep the memory of his childhood and the food he had enjoyed at home, especially his mother’s cherry and rhubarb pies.
Bergbower learned of the end of the war from a Red Cross worker. After that, food was dropped to the prisoners in 50-gallon drums. He recalled it was the best food he had tasted in “years and years.” He was in the Tokyo Harbor when the surrender with the Japanese was signed. He said he was a hundred yards from the battleship.
Upon returning to the States in 1945, he remained in the military, retiring in August 1969. He has contributed much to his community. He has made numerous talks to students around Phoenix. He volunteered for many years with the Peoria Unified School District. He remains an active supporter of the Phoenix Zoo. He also shares his military career experiences with the service members at Luke Air Force Base.
Bergbower says lessons learned from his life are numerous, including:
- Help others – The motto of the American Ex-Prisoners of War is to help those who cannot help themselves. The Agua Fria Chapter of the American Ex-POW supported servicemen who are at Crossroads. He is an active member of his church, where he also helps families in need.
- Forgiveness – In 1954, the Air Force sent him back to Japan to help them set up a training command. His family lived among the Japanese people. Then in 2011, he participated in the Friendship and Reconciliation program.
- Patriotism – There is no place like home. He still wears his uniform with pride. No matter which political group is in charge, he says, “That is my Commander and Chief.”
We are honored to have World War II Air Force Veteran Harold Bergbower as a Veteran Grand Marshal for the 2017 Phoenix Veterans Day Parade.
We hope you will join us at the 21st Annual Phoenix Veterans Day Parade on November 11, 2017, to see all our Veteran Grand Marshals. This year’s parade theme is “SILENT SACRIFICE: Honoring Our Cold War Veterans.” The parade typically boasts more than 100 entries, and this year will have a special float with nearly 20 Vietnam Veterans riding on it. The parade will also feature patriotic floats, high school marching bands, JROTC marching units, color guards, Veterans Service Organizations, animals, novelty units and much, much more.
For more information on the parade and the parade route, click HERE.