Thanks to several local veterans, the memorial to Dr. Joseph H. Sawyer, a Navy veteran who survived three years of Japanese imprisonment during World War II, is now near the entrance of Marshfield’s Veterans Memorial Park. The memorial, originally on a Furnace Street traffic island, was moved to the park from the high school, where it was in an inconspicious spot.
Veterans have moved the forgotten stone that memorializes a soldier who survived the Bataan Death March during World War II.
Now, they say, they hope to find out more about the soldier, Dr. Joseph H. Sawyer, who returned to Marshfield to practice medicine after the war.
A memorial stone for Sawyer, a Navy lieutenant who died in 1959, was on a traffic island at Furnace Street and Plain Street. After Furnace Street was rerouted and the island eliminated, the stone was on the lawn in front of Marshfield High School, virtually hidden between two bushes.
Vietnam veteran Doug Brown and several other veterans from the local VFW post moved the stone last month to Veterans Memorial Park to better honor Sawyer. They plan to rededicate it on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
“It was lost up there (at the school),” Brown said. “Anybody who enters the park now sees this stone.”
Brown said Sawyer was captured at the Cavite Naval Base during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in 1942. He was one of the 75,000 American and Filipino prisoners who went on the Bataan Death March, a 60-mile trek in which about 10,000 of the prisoners were killed.
Sawyer spent three years in captivity before being liberated from the Bilibid prison camp in the Philippines in 1945. While in captivity, he was forced to amputate both of his own legs, Brown said.
Sawyer returned to Marshfield in a wheelchair, lived at the top of Coast Guard Hill and practiced medicine. He frequently rolled his wheelchair down to the Bridgewaye Inn; others would roll him home, Brown said.
“I guess he was a colorful character,” Brown said. “I don’t think anybody in town knows the whole story of Doc Sawyer.”
Brown said he learned about Sawyer because the annual Memorial Day parade would include a stop at the traffic island on which Sawyer’s memorial was located. For many years, Sawyer’s widow, Catherine, would come to the event. She died in 1984.
Brown did some research on Sawyer, collecting stories, photographs and letters from friends. He plans to seek out Sawyer’s Navy records.
But, he said, he still doesn’t know how Sawyer came to amputate his own legs. He also doesn’t know who made the plaque or how it got to Sawyer’s island on Route 139. He hopes the memorial’s new home, near the entrance of Veterans Memorial Park, brings out more stories.
“I’m really happy to see this stone here so its not lost anymore,” Brown said. “After everything that man went through, he deserves a place of honor.”
Sydney Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.