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

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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.

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