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Former Japanese POW suffered from effects of captivity for rest of his life

'He actually used his medication to help his buddies. He was a wonderful person'

January 29, 2011|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • Harold Hart is shown in a recent photo. Hart was a Japanese prisoner of war during World War II.
Submitted photo

For most of his life, Harold Hart suffered from the aftereffects of tropical diseases that he contracted as a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II, but it was leukemia that finally took his life in 2004.

"He had constant health problems," said Harold Hart's 92-year-old brother, Lester Hart. "Then this leukemia set in when he was living in Frederick (Md.), and that of course, finished him off."

Harold Hart was a star athlete at Hagerstown High School. A story published June 10, 1940, in The Daily Mail noted that he set a record in the "running broad jump with a leap of 21 feet 5 1/2 inches."

"He was a good athlete," Lester Hart said. "He was just a good, clean young man."

Harold Hart joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in the summer of 1941, shortly after he graduated from high school. He was sent to the Philippines, where he was captured by the Japanese in April 1942. He and thousands of other prisoners were forced into the infamous Bataan Death March. He was a prisoner of war for 3 1/2 years.

Lester Hart said his brother married Kathleen V. Beacht Hart and the couple raised two children.

"He devoted his life to his wife and children," Lester Hart said. "He was very, very churchgoing — a very religious-type person."

Harold Hart worked for a Volkswagen dealership in Hagerstown after the war and moved on to become the mid-Atlantic service director for Japanese automaker Toyota.

Always dedicated to helping his fellow veterans, Harold Hart was a volunteer bus driver who shuttled patients to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va. On those trips, Harold Hart picked up medicine from the VA to treat recurring ailments that were a result of malaria and beriberi that he contracted during the war.

Lester Hart said his brother probably caught tropical diseases in captivity because he often gave his share of medicine to help others.

"He actually used his medication to help his buddies," Lester Hart said. "He was a wonderful person."

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