SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah man who survived one of the most brutal periods of captivity during World War II died Sunday in Salt Lake City.
Ninety-six-year-old Theodore “Ted” Kampf was the last living Utah resident to survive the Bataan Death March and the last to be held captive as a prisoner of war in a Japanese forced labor camp, where he was kept for 3 1/2 years.
According to nephew Robert Race, despite the hardship Kampf endured in his time as a POW, he was one of the kindest people he ever knew.
“He was a great man,” Race said. “He was a quiet man who only had one daughter. Otherwise, it was just him and his wife, and they were always kind.”
Race said Kampf seldom spoke about his war experience until the last two years of his life, when he began to open up about it and gave his family a glimpse into the overwhelming ordeal he and his comrades endured at the hands of their captors.
“I was in his front room when he started sharing for the first time,” he said. “When we would go over as a family, he would sit in his chair very quietly and he would share a story.”
Kampf volunteered and served in the Army Air Corps in the early days of the war in the Pacific theater, Race explained, and was sent to the Philippines where they attempted to defend the coastline with only limited weapons. Surrounded and outnumbered by Japanese forces, 76,000 U.S. soldiers were forced to surrender, he said.
Arriving at the mainland harbor in the Philippines, they were marched more than 50 miles to where trains would take them to an airstrip to be flown to Japan and used as forced labor, he said. On the way, they were starved, given little water and many fell ill, he said.
“Ted remembers the Japanese bayoneting those who stopped to rest or just couldn’t go on,” Race said. “He carried some of the sick soldiers so they wouldn’t be killed. It was brutal he said, the treatment and injustice that was handed to the Philippine and American prisoners at the hands of their captors.”
In one story, Kampf recalled how the Japanese rounded up about a thousand American soldiers, and as he watched helplessly, they pushed the captives into an underground bunker and rolled 50-gallon barrels of gasoline into the bunker and set them on fire, killing them all.
Race said Kampf managed to survive 16-hour days in Japanese factories and other forced labor work, eating only small amounts of rice each day. There was just one water faucet for thousands of men to survive on, he said.
The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, 3 1/2 years into their ordeal and eventually, the Red Cross came and put all the POWs on trains to Tokyo to be transported to hospitals throughout America. At the time of his liberation, Kampf weighed only 78 pounds.
In 1947, Kampf became part of the newly created U.S. Air Force. He served a total of 20 years in the Army Air Corps and the Air Force, receiving two Bronze Stars, numerous citations and awards. He retired with the rank of senior master sergeant.
Race said he believes the harsh treatment his uncle faced, and witnessed others go through, had a lifelong impact on him.
“I think that’s why he was so kind,” Race said. “He saw the real cruelty of man and chose not to be like (that). He never said harsh words to anyone and never criticized anyone in all the 36 years I knew him.”
In later years, Kampf attended luncheons honoring POWs in Utah and was awarded a special medal for his service by Gov. Gary Herbert.
He wanted everyone to know that after the war, he harbored no animosity toward those who treated him and his fellow soldiers so cruelly, and moved on with his life, Race said.
“He truly was one of the last of the ‘Greatest Generation,'” Race said. “He was always one to say, ‘We all need to love each other and be kind to each other.'”
Kampf leaves behind one daughter, LaVon Kampf, who has served the Catholic Church for over 50 years as a member of the Marianist Sisters of San Antonio, Texas.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated Monday at 2 p.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, 715 W. 300 North. Following the service, the Utah Patriot Guard will accompany family and friends to Fort Douglas for burial.