Last week, I went to Sundance, America’s largest film festival. But the most memorable part of my experience didn’t come from watching one of the many films there, it came from a picture of a World War II veteran with an incredibly gripping story.
Meet Tim Kolczak, a U.S. Army veteran with a unique passion that’s touching lives across America.Image Credit: Tim Kolczak/Independent Journal Review
Armed with a camera, Kolczak spends his time photographing veterans, so people don’t forget them and their selfless sacrifice.Image Credit: Tim Kolczak/Independent Journal Review
Independent Journal Review met Kolczak at Remind the Nation, a veteran-themed event at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Kolczak had some of his powerful images on display at the event on behalf of his organization, the Veterans Project.
One photograph in particular stuck out to us. It was a World War II veteran who endured an unthinkable nightmare.Image Credit: Tim Kolczak/Independent Journal Review
We had to know more.
Kolczak told Independent Journal Review:
“I was kind of in a hurry at Starbucks, and I was on my way to go photograph a female Navy veteran. A message on Facebook pops up from one of my followers, who served in the Marines.
He said he met someone that I have to meet, a World War II veteran who survived the Bataan Death March. I didn’t know much about the Bataan Death March, so I just listened.
The story I was told about the World War II veteran was nothing short of incredible, the kind of the thing you think would come from a blockbuster movie in Hollywood.”
So Kolczak scheduled a day to go out to a nursing home in rural New Mexico to meet Alfred Haws.Image Credit: Tim Kolczak/Independent Journal Review
Behind the face of the 99-year-old, dying Haws was a tremendously powerful account of a hero.Image Credit: Tim Kolczak/Independent Journal Review
Kolczak pulled us out of the nursing home and into World War II’s Pacific Theater:
“Private First Class Alfred Haws had been battling the Japanese in the Philippines for over four months. But the force he was a part of wasn’t enough to hold back the enemy.
He was captured and forced to march 65 miles to a prisoner-of-war camp. He didn’t get to rest or take a break for a snack. Sleeping or stopping ended with your body on the ground and a Japanese soldier cleaning the blood off their bayonet. Some were even ran over with trucks.
The Japanese would play mind games with the captive, too. Philipino women in the fields would pretend that they were going to help the American soldiers escape. Those who bought the lie and went towards the women would find themselves being butchered by the Japanese.
At one point in the march, the cruelty went to even more of an extreme; Haws saw a pregnant woman be sliced open by the Japanese and left on the road to die.”
Haws told Kolczak about the horrendous conditions in the camp:
“The only food the Japanese gave to us was rice. But the rice wasn’t like the rice you or me have with a meal. It was run through urine and feces.
My brother was with me in the camp, but he didn’t eat the rice, so he died. No funeral arrangements were made, no military honors. My brother died in my arms and then they dumped his body in a hole with the other dead.”
Haws was routinely beaten with things such as shovels and rods if he didn’t work fast enough. He would eat rocks at times, because he liked the way it felt in his mouth, to have something solid to chew, even if it was as gritty and hard.
Haws recalled a moment in the camp he thought he might die:
“One of the Japanese soldiers pulled me out of line, stuck a round in his revolver, and shoved the barrel into my gut. He rolled the chamber then pulled the trigger a few times. I believe God protected me. The gun didn’t go off.”
Still, he watched people die around him everywhere, some of whom he saw dig their own graves. His living hell didn’t end for 1,321 days. But it would come at a major price.
“On August 8, 1945, I was a member of a detail who worked in a steel mill. That morning, the air raid sirens blew. Bombs were going off but we couldn’t hear them because of the sounds from the mill. We weren’t allowed to go to the shelters.
15 minutes after the sirens went off, my arm was severed at the shoulder.
The Japanese weren’t around to administer first aid, so I had to make a tourniquet. Five hours later, the Japanese treated me poorer than I had myself. Eight hours after that, the Americans were there, I was nearly dead. An American doctor held me down and hacked off my arm.”
One day after Haws lost his arm, he saw the nuclear blast over Nagasaki, Japan.
He went into the camp weighing 180 pounds, and he left weighing 85 lbs.Image Credit: Tim Kolczak/Independent Journal Review
When he came back from the war, he didn’t broadcast his story or ask for any publicity; he went straight back to work on the farm.
During his time with Kolczak, Haws was no longer capable of taking care of himself.
He had to be fed, bathed and cared for by his daughter.Image Credit: Tim Kolczak/Independent Journal Review
On January 13th, 2017, Haws passed away. Kolczak received a message from Haws’ daughter:
“I’m so glad you came when you did so you could meet him. If you had waited you would not have been able to tell his story.”
In response, Kolczak said, “It was the ultimate honor. Please believe me when I tell you nobody’s had as powerful an impact as your father had on me.”
Image Credit: Tim Kolczak/Independent Journal Review