LEBANON, Tenn. (WKRN) — Bill Leslie was only 4-years-old when Japanese soldiers raided his family’s home in the Philippines during WWII.
“As young as I was, I knew something was terribly wrong,” Leslie recalls.
The intruders barked orders to pack belongings.
“My mom stopped them and said, ‘just a minute. The Red Cross told us we are only going to be gone three days,'” Leslie continues, “and the interpreter just shook his head and said, ‘No. Long time.'”
At gunpoint, his mother, father, and 2-year-old brother joined thousands of others who’d been rounded up.
“The official name of our internment camp was Number 1 Manila,” Leslie says.
For several years, the family endured horrific conditions. Leslie’s mother gave birth to a little girl while imprisoned. The baby didn’t survive.
Menus show breakfast consisted of 4 ladles of watery mush. Lunch was a ladle of rice and stock, if any food was given at all.
“There just never was enough food,” Leslie remembers, “Who’s going to die first? You or the horse? That was a standing joke in the camp.”
In January 1945, the U.S. Army returned to the Philippines seeking to undo the imperial Japanese Army’s conquest of 1942. Word traveled quickly. The Japanese high command issued an order to kill prisoners of the war and not leave any evidence.
Leslie witnessed horrifying acts.
“They convinced these POWs to dig these trenches. Then they rounded them all up, put them in the trenches, and burned them alive with gasoline,” Leslie says as tears well up in his eyes.
America’s liberation of Manila was no easy feat.
“Nothing like this had ever been done before,” Leslie says.
Saturday, February 3rd at 8 p.m.
“There was a real vicious firefight right at the main gate. There were about 50 to 60 tanks. We were liberated. There are all kinds of POWs singing, running around, and hugging GIs.”
The 44th Tank Battalion had broken through the gates to save Leslie.
“I found that they were organized right here in Lebanon,” he says. Trained part of the storied Tennessee Field Maneuvers.
“I’ve always thought that was a huge coincidence that those tanks may have driven,” he trails off as tears fill his eyes. He points to his front yard.
“You know that book Tom Brokaw wrote, The Greatest Generation? He stole that from me,” Leslie says, “Because for 30 or 40 years I was calling them,” he trails off again while looking down his hand shaking.
Leslie was calling them the greatest generation that ever lived. He was so appreciative of the men who risked it all to save him, at just 16-years-old Leslie joined the Marines. He served seven years.