Monday, February 08, 2010

Weather and stuff


JONESBORO, Ark. – The air is full of snow, but it’s not sticking to the pavement. We have maybe 4” on the bare ground and there’s more on the way.

I’m back in town, having gone home after lunch to let the dogs out and pack and ship an book sale.

I was shocked this morning when, the genealogical web site where I’ve created a family tree, notified me that my cousin Jo Ann, is about to turn 79. Holy crap! How can I have a cousin who’s pushing 80?

And then I remembered my cousin Norman Lauchner, who was a young naval officer in World War II and spent the war as a Japanese prisoner of war after the fall of Corregidor, is something like 89 years old. That’s assuming he’s still living. I’ve heard nothing to the contrary, but there’s no guarantee anyone would let me know if he died.

I did a Google search for him and found this story from the Rancho Palos Verdes Daily Breeze:

December 9, 2005

Nick Green, Palos Verdes Daily Breeze

norman lauchner For much of the 50 years after Norman Lauchner's liberation from a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in the Philippines, where he spent three years in captivity during World War II, he spoke little of his ordeal.

"When you get out of there, your initial thought is to erase it all," said the 84-year-old Rancho Palos Verdes resident.

But a chance meeting at a Torrance store with fellow Rancho Palos Verdes resident Joe Monfiletto, a World War II military memorabilia collector with an unlikely link to Lauchner, has prompted the veteran to willingly dredge up the painful memories of his harrowing experience.

"Joe was the first person I met who really knew what I was talking about,"Lauchner said.

It was on Monfiletto's 64th birthday in September that the two met as they wheeled their respective shopping carts out the doors of the Torrance Costco.

The pair found their cars parked almost next to each other in the store's lot.

Striking up a conversation, Lauchner complimented Monfiletto on his choice of vehicle -- a Toyota -- and observed that he handled advertising for the company for a decade until his 1985 retirement.

Surmising Lauchner's age, Monfiletto casually asked whether he had served during World War II.

"His response was, 'Not only was I in World War II, but I was in a POW camp in the Philippines,' " Monfiletto recalled.

"Which one?" Monfiletto asked.

"Bilibid," responded Lauchner, mentioning the name of a large camp on the outskirts of Manila where he was held after the fall of a U.S. base on Corregidor, a strategically located island in Manila Bay.

"Wow," Monfiletto said.

A couple of years before, Monfiletto, who is married to a Filipina, had come into the possession of an unusual autograph book secretly compiled by a former prisoner in Bilibid.

Its fragile pages, hand sewn into a cover made from a Japanese army uniform, contained the signatures of about 200 POWs.

Monfiletto researched his unusual find, hoping to learn more about it.

Lauchner did not recall signing the book, but after chatting for a while, the pair exchanged e-mail addresses.

To Monfiletto's surprise he discovered Lauchner's signature, rank and hometown written in neat, cursive handwriting in pencil within the autograph book.

Monfiletto called Lauchner.

"You were a Navy ensign and you're from Frankfort, Indiana," Monfiletto told Lauchner, much to his astonishment.

Monfiletto had always nurtured an interest in the Pacific Theater.

His wife had an uncle who died on the infamous Bataan Death March.

Monfiletto lived in Japan for five years. And even as a child, Monfiletto devoured history books, not novels.

"The interest was there, the history was there and I started reading more and more about the war in the Pacific to where you might call it an obsession," he said.

Over 35 years, Monfiletto avidly acquired books, medals, swords, dozens of historic flags and the like.

Then a Torrance memorabilia dealer, knowing of his interest, offered him the autograph book.

"When I got it, there was no indication of which POW camp it came from," Monfiletto said.

"Part of the excitement of the whole thing is researching things like this."

Piece by piece, using a spreadsheet of the names he painstakingly compiled, Monfiletto discovered the book's origin.

Meanwhile, Lauchner had done his best to suppress his memories of his time in captivity that began at age 22.

The few mementos that remained from that period of his life were consigned to exile in his attic.

A deck of cards his mother had sent, worn from countless games of solitaire, served only to underline the isolation he felt stuck in a prison hospital bed with potentially life-threatening kidney stones.

A tiny ragged pair of shorts graphically illustrated how Lauchner's weight had dropped from 165 pounds to a mere 117 pounds, a consequence of a meager ration of two bowls of rice and water a day.

And a fragile scrapbook he secretly filled with lists of books he read and songs he heard symbolized the unrelenting passage of indistinguishable humid days.

"It's not a reminder of a happy time," said his wife, Gail. "He didn't really want to ever have them out."

But something about Monfiletto's knowledge struck a chord with Lauchner.

"That unusually strange situation that put me, my (shopping) cart and my car so close to yours was really great," Lauchner wrote in an e-mail.

"This was the first time I've met someone who really knew about Bilibid and Corregidor."

Monfiletto,  Lauchner and their wives met for a steak dinner.

They talked. And talked.

"He can relate to Joe, and Joe understands what he is talking about and the pressures he went through," Gail said.

"He knows the places probably better than Norm does because he's studied it."

But now the history he had wanted to forget -- and his role in it - - has been given new life.

For her husband, Gail said, his relationship with Monfiletto is a form of therapy.

For Monfiletto, the friendship is an opportunity to put to practical use a hobby and knowledge he had long cultivated.

"The chase (of memorabilia) is important, but the research of this stuff is even more important," he said. "You become part of that experience.

"It's often said that 30,000 World War II veterans die every month," Monfiletto added.

"People throw history away -- this is part of keeping it alive."

1 comment:

DSK said...

Norm is indeed alive, but unfortunately not well. We expect him to pass soon, and I came across your article while preparing an obit. If you email me I can get in touch with you with more information. My email is