Friday, April 26, 2013

Tears in the Darkness

I want to tell you about Ben Steele... again.  Ben is the father of one of our friends. I met him a time or two but I have to say, at the time, I really had no idea who or what he was. Truthfully, I didn't really ponder him much at all. He was an older gentleman who seemed nice enough. I had heard he was an artist. Mostly, though, he was just Rosemarie's Dad and I didn't ask many questions about his life. It is a good lesson to me. No one is a blank canvas. Everyone has a story worth telling. Ben got a chance to do just that.

Ben was a Montana boy who went off to war during WWII, ending up in the Philippines. He just wanted to serve his country and get back to being a cowboy in Montana. His life took a very awful detour! Ben ended up among those Americans captured. He endured the Bataan Death March. He survived a horrible sailing to Japan, where he was held as a P.O.W. He was close enough to Hiroshima to hear the explosion when the bomb dropped!

Ben Steele is the key character in the book Tears in the Darkness, written by Michael and Elizabeth Norman.  It is one of the most difficult books to read. Don't get me wrong, it is well written. The problem is, it is brutally honest. The things Ben and the thousands of other Americans and Filipinos endured are so horrible, I could not have imagined it worse.

Ben Steele saw such atrocities! He suffered disease, injury and near starvation. Even as I type these words I know that I am not giving you a good picture of what happened to him. It is so horrifying, I can't quite bring myself to tell you more.

A few years back Mike's Mom gave us the gift of a trip to Oahu. Our first day there we toured Pearl Harbor and learned more about the horrors of war that had occurred in that beautiful place. Somehow I felt that I didn't have the right to enjoy Hawaii until I'd suffered through some of that. I guess that is kind of how I feel about this book. I felt it was important that I finish it; that I try to understand what this kind art instructor from Montana had endured in his youth.

It is a hard experience, even to just read about. I just looked back at my old posts and one year ago I talked of this book, even though I'd not yet finished it. Honestly, after that, I had to put it aside for awhile. Only recently did I bring it out to finish. I do recommend this book, but not for the horrible stories so much as the bright spots that shined out, even during the worst times.  It is incredible to read about the courage those men had. Many risked their own lives to help each other. Mostly, though, I was so impressed by the unbelievable endurance shown by men such as Ben Steele.

The best part, to me, was the place of peace and forgiveness that Ben Steele eventually managed to settle in. After reading all that he went through, all that he saw, it is hard to understand how he finally came to let go of the anger and hatred. It's all there in the book, though.

From the point of historical value, this book really gives more depth to what you may have learned in a classroom about that period in time. I learned so much! Anyone who values historical perspective will find value in this book.

As I prepared this post, I found a wonderful site where you can hear Ben Steele himself tell part of his story to the couple who authored the book. It may take a couple of seconds to load up but I hope you will take the time to listen. Ben Steele also documented many of his experiences through his art. He's a gifted artist and his work is sprinkled throughout the book.