The Bataan Death March is one of many dire moments of World War II history that saw the unnecessary death of thousands of U.S. and Pilipino soldiers.
On April 9, 1942 the U.S. surrendered the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines to Japanese forces. Approximately 75,000 U.S. and Filipino troops were taken prisoner by Japanese forces as a result of the surrender. Those prisoners were forced to march in intense heat and suffered abject treatment from their captors. Thousands did not survive the march.
Those who did survive the march ended up in one of many Japanese prisoner of war camps, including the Cabanatuan prison camp. It was that camp that held Monroe Oliver Carlson. A graduate of Colorado School of Mines, Carlson was an engineer in the mining industry prior to to the United States entering into the war. He had not been a stranger to conflicts, having served in the Burma Mines Co., during World War I.
After the first Great War, Carlson married Hazel Eliza Curtis in Gunnison and the two would tour the country and world together. Carlson worked for the Utah Fuel Company in Somerset, Colo. and, prior to World War II breaking out, accepted an engineering job in the Philippines. By 1938, Carlson had established himself on the pacific island enough to send for his family without knowing what was to come.
When the United States joined the Allied forces in World War II, Carlson became part of the Demolition Forces and, shortly thereafter, was captured by Japanese forces. He was one of the 75,000 to come face-to-face with death during the Bataan Death March, before being interned at Cabanatuan. Though the numbers are not clear, it is estimated that somewhere between 5,000 and 18,000 Pilipino soldiers died during the death march and between 500 and 650 American soldiers perished as well.
As she was in the Philippines at the time of war, Hazel Curtis Carlson, also found herself among those imprisoned by Japanese forces. Though accounts of her imprisonment are not well known, it is known that she was held at the Santo Tomas Prison Camp for three years.
Santo Tomas - also known as the Manila Internment Camp - was one of the largest civilian internment camps in the Philippines. By 1942 the prisoners numbered in the thousands with 3,200 estimated Americans, 900 British and hundreds from other Allied nations living in harsh conditions that included very little food and limited access to medical care.
Prior to moving to the Philippines to join her husband, Curtis Carlson attended Loretta Heights in Denver and the Colorado Teachers College in Greeley. She graduated from the Colorado Teachers College and began teaching in Somerset (near Gunnison) as one of few teachers in the mining town. It was there that she met Monroe Carlson and the two wed in 1920.
Though women in prison camps is a story that has been covered, the novel “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” for example, paints a vivid picture of the atrocities endured by women and children interned in Burma, Hazel Carlson’s story is still a unique one.
“Some time ago we were informed by the Office of the Provost Marshal General that both Mr. and Mrs. Carlson were civilian internees of the Japanese Government,” reads a letter from the War Service Bureau of the New York Life Insurance Company. “Mr. Carlson confined to the Philippine Military Prison Camp #10 and Mrs. Carlson to Santo Tomas Camp.”
Both Carlson and his spouse died in wartime conflicts. Monroe Carlson boarded a transport to Japan with other POWs, when American planes sank the ship he was on and his body was lost at sea.
After spending three years in the Santo Tomas Prison Camp Hazel Curtis Carlson died at the hands of a stray bomb after American entered the camp in attempt to rescue the thousands of prisoners held there.