Wild Bill Begley has seen and endured things no one should.
Begley, who served as a senior master sergeant in the Air Force from 1941 to 1961, was a prisoner of war during World War II after his plane was shot down. He is also a survivor of the 60-mile Bataan Death March in the Philippines, where thousands of Filipino and American soldiers were forced to march to Japanese prison camps.
Many were denied food and water along the way. Those who collapsed were killed.
Begley, 93, saw soldiers beheaded. He was tortured, beaten unconscious and used for slave labor. He survived on watery soup, snakes, lizards and monkeys.
“It was a horrible planet at that time,” said Begley’s wife, Lenora.
Now, 70 years after Begley was liberated, he and three other veterans who live at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center Fresno were finally recognized for their time as prisoners of war.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3225 in Clovis and the hospital organized a short ceremony Monday morning to present Prisoner of War medals to the four men.
The other honorees were: Sgt. Jennings Brown, Sgt. George Dillard and Staff Sgt. Thomas W. Richardson.
“It’s past due,” Lenora Begley said. “He deserves it.”
The VFW held a similar ceremony at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District in September honoring more than a handful of veterans who were prisoners. When members learned that four more men were living at the hospital, the group organized a way to honor them, said post commander August Flach III.
“It’s a special privilege for us to honor them,” Flach said. “I can’t even imagine what they endured.”
Brown, 92, was imprisoned for nine months in the Stalag Luft IV and Stalag Luft I camps in Germany, where he was beaten and tortured.
Brown was a gunner and cameraman on bombers in the Army Air Corps. He was shot down in 1944 over the Black Forest in southwestern Germany and parachuted out with his crew. Brown avoided capture for 26 days, living on water from streams and raw vegetables and fruit.
“We’re very honored,” said his daughter, Lin Brown, to have him “recognized for his sacrifice.”