Book highlights Larned doctor
who survived Bataan death march
Editor’s Note: Dr. William Brenner and his wife, Carlotta, recently attended the centennial anniversary of Sacred Heart Parish in Larned.
BY KATIE OWSTON
Before Bill Brenner left to serve in World War II, his wife Josephine promised to write to him twice a week. When 63 of those letters were returned unopened, she didn’t know if her husband was dead or alive, but she kept on writing.
She eventually learned that Bill, a physician, had been among those captured by the Japanese shortly after his unit arrived in the Philippines. After surviving the 60-mile Bataan Death March and time in three Japanese death camps, Bill returned home to his wife and son at the end of the war, four years after he had left.
When Linda (Fox) McCaffery, who received her master’s degree from the University of Northern Colorado in 1976, contacted him to see if he would share his experiences through an oral history project she was working on, he politely declined.
A year later however, McCaffery, a history instructor at Barton Community College in Great Bend, received a phone call from Brenner, who lived in the nearby town of Larned, saying he had changed his mind.
After McCaffery and Brenner’s initial meeting, Brenner brought his wife along for the second. As he recounted his experiences, his wife began to cry.
“Bill never told Josephine what he saw and went through during the war,” said McCaffery. “Many of the things he was telling me, she was hearing for the very first time.”
During that meeting, McCaffery learned about Josephine’s returned letters, sitting in a shoe box unopened, because Bill had decided they’d be too painful to read.
“While discussing the letters, Bill suggested we share not just his story but the hardships his wife endured as well,” said McCaffery. “First we thought of putting on a program, then we considered writing an article and eventually, we decided it was best to write a book.”
“I’m Praying Hard for You - Love Letters to a Death Camp: The World War II Ordeal of Bill and Jo Brenner” (pictured above) is a combination of Josephine’s letters and Bill’s words. The book, which took McCaffery three years to research and write, tells the story of how the couple’s love for one another helped them never give up hope, even in the worst of circumstances.
Sadly, Josephine passed away in 2001 before the book was published.
McCaffery and Brenner hope to commission a bronze statue with the proceeds from the book’s sales. The statue will be of a soldier returning from war, with a woman and child running toward him, and it’ll be dedicated to all who served and all who waited.
Katie Owston is a senior studying journalism at the University of Northern Colorado.
The Bataan Death March
In 1942, the Imperial Japanese Army forcibly marched some 60,000 Filipino and 15,000 American prisoners of war 60 miles across the Bataan Peninsula to Camp O’Donnel, following the surrender of American forces after the Battle of Bataan.
Somewhere between 2,500 – 10,000 Filipino and 300 – 650 American prisoners of war died along the journey due almost entirely to the barbarism of the enemy soldiers.
On the march was Dr. William Brenner, who witnessed even more unspeakable destruction when he came through Nagasaki, Japan following the dropping of the atomic bomb.
Dr. Brenner was born in McCracken in 1915. He and Josephine, who died in 2001, had six children. He later married Carlotta Chacon. The two reside in Larned, where William continues to serve Sacred Heart Parish by leading the rosary. Carlotta serves as Eucharistic Minister, visits the elderly and helps with funeral dinners, among her other volunteer activities.