Bataan Death March Canteen and Cup

A POW captures World War II in a canteen carving

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by Tom Wancho, Exhibit Planner

Thrive. Survive.

Perhaps those two words best sum up the life and military career of Kearie Lee Berry (1893–1965). The Texas native attended the University of Texas at Austin where he thrived for the football team and track and field squad between 1912–1916.

During his senior year, Berry left UT to enlist in the Texas National Guard. After a 10 month stint with the Second Texas Infantry serving on the Mexican border, he participated in the combined American and British military action in the Soviet Union.

Berry was promoted to captain in 1921 and returned to the United States to become an infantry company commander at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. In 1924, he returned to UT to complete his degree and stayed in shape by starting for the Longhorn football team–as a 31-year old.

After college, Berry resumed his military career and continued to thrive as an instructor and leader. He was eventually transferred to the Philippines in November 1941, prior to the Pearl Harbor bombings that prompted U.S. entry into WWII. Berry was promoted to the rank of Colonel and commanded a regiment that was cut off from its main force in the mountains of the Bataan Peninsula in 1942. Following five brutal days of fighting, Berry’s troops successfully withdrew, but it was all for naught. As the Japanese naval and infantry forces converged on the area, General Douglas MacArthur was forced to retreat from the island, leaving Berry and other U.S. defenders trapped. Berry and his men surrendered to the Japanese army on April 9, 1942.

The inhumane Bataan Death March followed. The 65-mile forced march went north from Mariveles, on the southern end of the Bataan Peninsula, to San Fernando, an American pre-war training site. Prisoners endured sub-human living conditions. Of the 70,000 captured American and Filipino prisoners of war, 15,000 died from thirst, starvation, exposure, whippings, beheadings, bayonetting, or gunfire. 

Berry survived the march and carved a poem, The Battling Bastards of Bataan, into one side of his canteen (see poem text below). The poem, written while he waited to be rescued, expressed his frustration at being a prisoner of war. On the other side of the canteen, he engraved his name, rank, unit, and the names of the Japanese POW camps where he was held captive for the next 40 months. The cup also has engraved signatures of various officers who were imprisoned with Berry.

Berry, rescued with his men in 1945, was promoted to Brigadier General in 1946, and retired from active military duty on May 2, 1947. That same year Texas Governor Beauford Jester appointed Berry as Adjutant General of Texas. As Adjutant General for 14 years, Berry supervised the military department of the state, overseeing the Texas State Guard, the Texas Army National Guard, and the Texas Air National Guard in case of a national emergency or war. He retired from public service in 1961.

Thrive and survive. For Kearie Lee Berry, it was his way of life.


Here’s to the battling

Bastards of Bataan

No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam

No aunts, no uncles

No cousins or nieces

Neither pills nor planes

Nor artillery pieces

And nobody gave a damn.

See this and other artifacts on the Interactive Texas Map

Bataan Death March Canteen and Cup Artifact from Austin, Texas
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