Here at Patch, we're all about community pride. We continue our series on Syosset's spirit, highlighting members of the American Legion. Home to 162 members, many of whom were (are) captains of industry in and around town, these men and women served in active duty during wartime. American Legion Post 175 is named after Eugene S. Smith.
Soybeans and cornmeal kept the eldest member of the American Legion Post 175, Arnold Bocksel, alive through three-and-a-half grueling years as a prisoner of war in various Philippine war camps during WWII.
After reading Bocksel’s memoir, Rice, Men and Barbed Wire (Michael B. Glass & Associates, 1991), it’s hard to imagine how he survived and went on to live a long, fulfilling life.
Now 96, Bocksel still has an impish smile, gets around with help from a walker and even drove a car as late as last year. He loves golf, although he hasn’t gotten a few holes in for a while, and still misses his beloved wife of 38 years, Peggy, who died in 1984. Together they had four children, nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
After graduating from the State University of New York Maritime College in Throgs Neck, Bocksel volunteered for the Army in 1941 and was sent to Manila, Philippines. He became a chief engineer Army officer and after the war spent many years as general sales manager of FMC Corporation, retiring in 1976.
In his candid memoir, Bocksel chronicles one of the cruelest treatments of POWs by Japanese captors in various camps in the Philippines from 1942-45. He was at first sent to the Philippines on “mine plant” duty to help protect the harbor at Corregidor. Taken prisoner in Bataan, Bocksel was force to march four miles inland in Manchuria without food or water. Those who survived were put to work assembling parts at an aircraft factory.
After months, the prisoners “were packed into boxed-car trains without seeing the light of day for weeks, often shuttled off to another prison camp where many died,” he said. In one such camp, he became a cook and credits soybeans with saving his life--that and faith.
“We got through it as best we could by surrendering to our faith,” said Bocksel. “Not fanatical but just sheer core belief.” During that time, he survived malaria, dysentery, pellagra, scurvy, beriberi and hepatitis.
According to Bocksel, in the two years between October 1942 and December 1944 close to 5,300 were killed aboard Japanese vessels called “hell ships” transporting prisoners out of the Philippines.
Many of the officers of the Japanese military were tried after WWII at the war crimes trials. Two of Bocksel’s captors, Col. Matsuda and Lt. Murata, were hanged, and Cprl. Noda was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. As Bocksel wrote, he was released within seven years.
Bocksel never considers himself a hero, but says we should always celebrate “those who gave up their tomorrows so we could have our todays.”
He is a decorated war hero with the Purple Heart; Prisoner of War Medal; National Defense Medal; American Defense Medal w/Foreign Service Clasp; Asiatic Pacific Medal w/Bronze Star; WWII Victory Medal; American Campaign Medal; and Conspicuous Service Cross from New York State. Bocksel has been the guest of honor at various parties and Syosset’s Memorial Day parades for many years.
Created by Congress in 1919, the American Legion is the nation's largest patriotic veterans organization, devoted to mutual helpfulness, mentoring and sponsorship of youth programs, and devotion to our fellow service members and veterans. The American Legion is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization using grassroots campaigns to influence legislation in Washington.
The American Legion has 2.6 million members throughout 14,000 worldwide posts (55 various departments including one for each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Mexico and the Philippines). The Legion isn't about politicking but is issue-driven to improve the quality of the lives and rights of veterans. They rely on membership and greatly need the community's help and support.