|Bataan Death March survivor keeps faith with the past|
By Jennifer Calhoun
RAEFORD - John Mims was 15 years old the first time he joined the Army.
He joined during the Great Depression when he and his buddies were looking for a little money and something to eat.
He served 11 months before officials found out the truth about his age and kicked him out.
But that didn't stop Mims.
Two years later, he joined up again - still hungry, still underage, still ready for anything.
This time, however, he was sent to the Philippines, where his life would change forever.
Mims, now 88, is a survivor of the Bataan Death March - the brutal, 65-mile journey that killed thousands of prisoners during World War II.
This week, he and his wife, Nena, will drive nearly 2,000 miles to White Sands Missile Range, just north of Las Cruces, N.M., where he will attend the annual memorial of the march.
It may sound daunting for an 88-year-old in poor health, but nothing much stops Mims.
During his four years as a prisoner of war in Japanese camps, he was beaten, tortured, starved and isolated. His left hand was stuck into a bucket of lye, and his legs were broken with the blade of a bulldozer.
Even his teeth and jaw were shattered by a Japanese officer wielding a Coca-Cola bottle.
To survive, Mims ate dogs, cats, rats, snakes, grass and lizards. But when he left the camp, he weighed only 67 pounds, nearly 100 pounds less than when he got there.
Mims ended up serving nearly 27 years in the Army and settled in Hoke County with his late wife, Juanita.
He retired as a master sergeant.
"I've got to be a miracle of Jesus," said Mims from his home in the Ashemont community. "Because some of the stuff I've gone through, people don't go through."
It's why, after all these years, he keeps going back to the march memorial in New Mexico.
If he doesn't, he said, who will?
"I get to represent many, many, many people that didn't come back," he said. "As long as I can make it, I will."