Editor’s note:This is the third in a series leading up to National Purple Heart Day on Aug. 7. On that day, Purple Hearts Reunited will return lost medals to eight military families. The ceremony will take place at Federal Hall in New York City, the same location where George Washington was sworn in as our nation’s first president on April 30,1789.
Pvt. Dan Lawrence Feragen survived the Bataan Death March during World War II, but later died while a prisoner of war. He was buried in an unmarked grave, his remains left undiscovered until after his parents passed away. His relatives never received his Purple Heart, but on Aug. 7, Purple Hearts Reunited will deliver the private’s medal to his nephew Lyle Feragen. This is Pvt. Feragen’s story, as told by Purple Hearts Reunited:
Feragen grew up on his father’s cattle ranch in Montana and at the age of 17 moved to Colfax, Wash., where his older brothers were working. At 19, he enlisted in teh Army at Fort Lewis. After training, he was selected to serve in the Philippine Department assigned to Service Company, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division stationed in Manila, Philippines.
On Dec. 7 1941, just hours after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the Japanese Imperial Army invaded the Philippines. For four months with little food or supplies, the men of the 31st along with other American and Filipino military forces held off the Japanese invasion. On April 9, 1942 with most of the fighting forces on Bataan sick and wounded, Maj. Gen. Edward P. King made the decision to surrender the Bataan fighting forces.
Just hours after Gen. King waved the flag of surrender, the remaining 25 men of Service Company were ordered to form a line of resistance in their bivouac area and hold the enemy while 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry withdrew. Service Company was to follow, fighting a delaying action. The goal was to allow the 3rd Battalion to escape and make it to Corregidor Island where Gen. Jonathan “Skinny” Wainwright was still fighting.
The 3rd Battalion moved out rapidly to Mariveles. After about two minutes of small arms fire from an unseen enemy on a hill to their front, a platoon of Japanese tanks drove into their position stopped and delivered heavy machine gun fire. Armed with only rifles and pistols, Pvt. Feragen and the rest of the men of Service Company, 31st Infantry were captured.
From the bivouac area, Pvt. Feragen and the other men were marched over 60 miles in 110-degree heat with no food or water to POW Camp O’Donnell, what is now known as the Bataan Death March. On the Death March, the men suffered brutal treatment from their Japanese captors. If a man would fall out of the column, he was either struck with a bayonet or shot. Pvt. Feragen made it through the Death March to POW Camp O’Donnell. He stayed there for a month and was then one of 100 POWs selected for a POW labor detail and was transferred to POW Camp Olivas, San Fernando, Philippines. Camp Olivas was an old Philippine military training barracks. The labor detail involved gathering up scrap metal around the Bataan Peninsula. All the scrap metal was then loaded on ships bound for Japan to be recycled into war materials. On June 17, 1942, Pvt. Feragen died from mistreatment at the hands of his captors, malaria and dysentery.
The soldier was buried in an unmarked grave without his clothing or identification surrounded by 14 other POWs who died there. In 1945, after the liberation of the Philippines by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the grave of PVT Feragen and the other men were exhumed by the US Army and transferred to Manila but the men could not be identified. In 1948, the Army hired an anthropologist to try and make identifications of the “Unknown” men. Through dental records and known information in PVT Feragen’s service records, he was identified and buried in the American Military Cemetery in Manila, Philippines. But by this time, Pvt. Feragen’s parents had died and never knew their son was found, therefore, a Purple Heart was never issued.
About Purple Hearts Reunited: This nonprofit foundation that returns medals of valor to veterans or their families in order to honor their sacrifice to the nation. Since its beginning, the organization has returned over 350 lost medals, traveled over 100,000 miles, visited over 42 States, and has directly affected the lives of 100,000 people. They were also recently highlighted on the popular History Channel Show American Pickers.
About the Purple Heart:The original Purple Heart, designated as the Badge of Military Merit, was established by George Washington – then the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army – by order from his Newburgh, New York headquarters on Aug. 7, 1782. The Badge of Military Merit was only awarded to three Revolutionary War soldiers by Gen. George Washington himself. Gen. Washington authorized his subordinate officers to issue Badges of Merit as appropriate.
Although never abolished, the award of the badge was not proposed again officially until after World War I. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, confidentially reopened work of a new design and by Executive Order of the President of the United States, the Purple Heart was revived on the 200th Anniversary of George Washington’s birth, out of respect to his memory and military achievements, by War Department General Order No. 3, dated Feb. 22, 1932. Today, the Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those wounded or killed while serving, on or after April 5, 1917.
An estimated 1.8 Million Purple Hearts have been awarded in our nation’s history. Today, in addition to being awarded to those who fight overseas, the Purple Heart is also given to military personal who display bravery and valor as prisoners of war and while fighting certain types of domestic terrorism.