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.

Hot Reads

Review: Sienna Mercato

Review: Sienna Mercato

Matthew Porco, one of our Chefs of the Year, designs the menus at Sienna Mercato's downtown establishments.
An Open Letter to Local Sports Reporters

An Open Letter to Local Sports Reporters

PittGirl has had enough of the criticism of fanatics and asks the media to stop labeling everyone.
Film Noir Fall Fashion

Film Noir Fall Fashion

Fall into autumn with a fashion landscape awash in black, white and nifty shades of gray.
8 Foodie Day Trips (and a Few Weekends, Too)

8 Foodie Day Trips (and a Few Weekends, Too)

Hoping to take a leaf-peeping road trip? Keep food at the top of your priority list and consult our lineup of eight destinations, most within 150 miles of the city.

The 412

Awesome Hyperlapse Video Takes You Through Pittsburgh at Warp Speed

Awesome Hyperlapse Video Takes You Through Pittsburgh at Warp Speed

Instagram’s new Hyperlapse technology was made for Pittsburgh.
The 10 Most Important Concerts in Pittsburgh History

The 10 Most Important Concerts in Pittsburgh History

We went one on one with legendary promoter Rich Engler to get the scoop on which shows have stood out over time.
8 Photos That Best Capture Summer in Pittsburgh

8 Photos That Best Capture Summer in Pittsburgh

Just because the season's winding down doesn't mean you have to be glum. Savor these images that capture all that you love about the city.
Pittsburgh: America's Most Livable City ... Again?

Pittsburgh: America's Most Livable City ... Again?

It feels good to be at the very top of The Economist's list of high-ranking metropolises in the continental U.S.

Hot Reads

Review: Sienna Mercato

Review: Sienna Mercato

Matthew Porco, one of our Chefs of the Year, designs the menus at Sienna Mercato's downtown establishments.
Film Noir Fall Fashion

Film Noir Fall Fashion

Fall into autumn with a fashion landscape awash in black, white and nifty shades of gray.
An Open Letter to Local Sports Reporters

An Open Letter to Local Sports Reporters

PittGirl has had enough of the criticism of fanatics and asks the media to stop labeling everyone.
8 Foodie Day Trips (and a Few Weekends, Too)

8 Foodie Day Trips (and a Few Weekends, Too)

Hoping to take a leaf-peeping road trip? Keep food at the top of your priority list and consult our lineup of eight destinations, most within 150 miles of the city.
From Field to Fork

From Field to Fork

We put together this dynamic guide to help you find and engage with the region’s sustainable producers of meat, honey, alcohol, fruits and vegetables.
Sometimes Your Best Friends in Life Aren't on Facebook

Sometimes Your Best Friends in Life Aren't on Facebook

PittGirl wonders if it's still possible to raise kids to be big-hearted people in an age of self-obsession.