"My goal is to help as many Veterans as possible in any way within my authority."
Having served as a World War II veteran and prisoner-of-war, Harry Corre knows all too well what soldiers have been through.
At 90 years old, Mr. Corre considers it his call of duty to help veterans deal with the tragedies of war by serving as a patient advocate at the VA West Los Angeles Medical Center and as a veteran service officer of the nonprofit organization, American Ex-Prisoners of War.
Mr. Corre was captured by the Japanese while serving as an Army Corporal in the 59th Coast Artillery Regiment in the Battle of Bataan of 1941. After fighting in the largest surrender of American and Filipino troops in military history, the 19-year-old Boston native was a part of the infamous Bataan Death March. He marched for two days with no food or water and witnessed soldiers being killed and bayoneted for exhaustion, dehydration and battle wounds.
With death breathing down his back, Mr. Corre saw only one alternative: escape. He dove off the side of the road into the jungle during a dark and rainy night. He swam through the shark-infested waters as he headed to Corregidor.
But the taste of freedom did not last for long. He was recaptured at the fall of Corregidor. He contracted diphtheria and spent one year in Cabanatuan's Zero Ward Hospital, the final stop for most soldiers.
After spending an additional year at Cabanatuan's main camp, Mr. Corre was sent to Japan on a cargo ship that previously transported horses. Horse manure and dried urine covered the floor. There was no water or ventilation. One cup of rice and drinking water that was lowered by bucket was their daily meal. Soldiers were allowed to use outhouses that were hung over the side of the ship once a day. Many soldiers were seasick and had dysentery.
Once in Japan, Mr. Corre worked for a year and a half in horrific and dangerous conditions at a privately owned coal mine that ran thousands of feet under the ocean. He worked for 10 to 14 hours a day for 10 days straight. Yellow jaundice, weakness, hunger, constant fever and wounds from work became a part of his daily life. Two cave-ins nearly took his life.
Mr. Corre's nightmare of being a POW for more than three years would be over by the war's end in 1945. He witnessed the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. A few days later, work at the mine had come to a halt. American forces arrived to repatriate Mr. Corre, who weighed a meager 97 pounds.
Sixty-eight years after his experience, Mr. Corre's commitment to his fellow veterans perseveres. Since 2006, he has served as a patient advocate of the VA West Los Angeles Medical Center, where he has helped hundreds of veterans with problems or issues; he assists them with completing paperwork, navigating the VA system and helping them with the transition to living a civilian life. As a service office for the American Ex-Prisoners of War, he serves as a voice to those who have been weakened by the tragedies of war and helps them heal their emotional scars. In addition, Mr. Corre is the American Ex-Prisoners of War coordinator for the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center and the Los Angeles VA Regional Office. He was the West Los Angeles chapter commander for the American Ex-Prisoners of War for six years, state commander for two years and is now serving as the West Los Angeles chapter adjutant. Mr. Corre has never been recognized for his sacrifice and dedication.
Memories of the POW experience still echo in Mr. Corre's mind, but like a true soldier, he continues to march on, helping veterans like himself find their way back into normal life.