A Great Escape

ESPN sportswriter John D. Lukacs changes direction to write about an amazing WWII feat of bravery.



"The Japanese didn't think there'd be anyone left alive to tell this story," says John D. Lukacs of the survivors of the 14th Army in the Philippines during WWII.

Photo courtesy of Simon & Schuster

(page 1 of 2)

During the waning months of 1941, a badly outnumbered and outgunned outpost of the American military fell to the Japanese 14th Army in the Philippines during World War II. In early 1942, some 90,000-100,000 American troops and their Filipino allies were sent on a 63-mile death march up the Bataan Peninsula and into waiting Japanese prison camps.

Those who survived random execution by Japanese foot soldiers along the way had to endure "the most diabolical of nightmares" in prison camps like Davao, according to Maj. William Edwin Dyess, who was imprisoned there and escaped in 1943 with nine other American POWs in the one of the boldest prison escapes in American military history—and the only successful group escape from a Japanese POW prison.

Export, Pa., native John D. Lukacs, 33, a graduate of The University of Notre Dame and a well-known sports writer for ESPN.com and other national publications, has brought forth this remarkable story in a new book by Simon & Schuster, Escape from Davao: The Forgotten Story of the Most Daring Prison Break of the Pacific War. Lukacs interviewed the few remaining survivors and was granted full access to their letters, photographs and scrapbooks in order to create this, his first work of history.

Q+A

How did you decide to make the journey from sportswriter to historian?

My father, John F. Lukacs, was a history teacher at Springdale High School. Growing up, we were inseparable, and he took me on many trips to Civil War battlefields—no trips to the beach. He hung out with older people, veterans, and I heard their stories.

These soldiers accomplished something bigger than most of us can imagine. After majoring in American studies at Notre Dame, I started my career as a sportswriter and contributor to ESPN, but I eventually wanted to move away from covering football. I wanted to write about legitimate heroes. The Pacific and the soldiers who fought in that theater weren't getting the attention they truly deserved. I thought that this hole in history could be filled by someone like me.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh

Our exclusive list of the region's 584 leading physicians across 76 specialities.
Endless Challenges: 48 Remarkable Hours with 8 Pittsburgh Doctors

Endless Challenges: 48 Remarkable Hours with 8 Pittsburgh Doctors

Follow eight physicians over two days as they perform surgeries, consult on end-of-life care, treat accident victims, discuss hospital programs –– and then reset and do it all over again.
The Commoner — Too Much of a Good Thing?

The Commoner — Too Much of a Good Thing?

Chef Dennis Marron designs a menu of modern-American fare at The Commoner in the downstairs space of Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh.
What Inspires Ray Gastil's Careful Plan for Pittsburgh's Future

What Inspires Ray Gastil's Careful Plan for Pittsburgh's Future

How will the city’s new planning director stoke Pittsburgh’s next generation of developments?
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Two Pittsburgh Restaurants Closing; Kings Leaving the Family

Two Pittsburgh Restaurants Closing; Kings Leaving the Family

One of the eateries has been a staple in Bloomfield for more than a half-century.
Who's Carson? Why Does He Have His Own Street?

Who's Carson? Why Does He Have His Own Street?

Some of the names synonymous with Pittsburgh have surprising histories behind them.
Aviary Determined to Have Dwindling Condors Leave the Nest

Aviary Determined to Have Dwindling Condors Leave the Nest

The National aAviary is working to send ’Burgh-born birds back to their natural habitats to boost endangered populations.
Are You Missing Out? Why More People Love Life in Butler County

Are You Missing Out? Why More People Love Life in Butler County

Cranberry Township is crammed, but people still are flocking north.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh

Our exclusive list of the region's 584 leading physicians across 76 specialities.
Endless Challenges: 48 Remarkable Hours with 8 Pittsburgh Doctors

Endless Challenges: 48 Remarkable Hours with 8 Pittsburgh Doctors

Follow eight physicians over two days as they perform surgeries, consult on end-of-life care, treat accident victims, discuss hospital programs –– and then reset and do it all over again.
The Commoner — Too Much of a Good Thing?

The Commoner — Too Much of a Good Thing?

Chef Dennis Marron designs a menu of modern-American fare at The Commoner in the downstairs space of Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh.
What Inspires Ray Gastil's Careful Plan for Pittsburgh's Future

What Inspires Ray Gastil's Careful Plan for Pittsburgh's Future

How will the city’s new planning director stoke Pittsburgh’s next generation of developments?
Dare to be Different — PittGirl's Better Ways to Use Social Media

Dare to be Different — PittGirl's Better Ways to Use Social Media

You can use social media to change your life and the lives of those around you in a positive way.
Pittsburgh's Top 10 in April

Pittsburgh's Top 10 in April

The 10 best things to do in April in Pittsburgh.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module