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Overcoming Pain: Lessons From a World War II Hero

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Have you noticed the number of reports on pain relief recently? From The Seattle Times to The Wall Street Journal, the topic is getting lots of media attention.  

seeking relief from painIt’s made me ponder the options for someone facing pain and adversity.  This reminded me of talks I had  with Wally Zergman, my uncle who lived in Sequim, Washington.  As a survivor of the notorious Bataan Death March in May of 1942, he experienced more hardship then anyone I’ve known.  Before his death last summer, we talked extensively regarding his wartime experience.  

What did I learn?   

It was not a nutritious diet, adequate rest, exercise, prescription pain-killers or other medications that sustained him. There were very few, if any, of those options available.   

Walter ZergmanMy uncle overcame the pain of his imprisonment by utilizing the one thing his captors could not control–his thoughts. 

For instance, he kept himself mentally alert to the good going on around him and this alertness led to opportunities to improve his situation. He told me of resourceful plans he devised that brought him and his comrades another precious ball of rice, a little extra rest or a transfer to a less dangerous work detail. 

His indomitable sense of humor, his persistent ability to bring a smile to himself and to others made a positive impact. His expectation of recovery, also helped him to survive malaria and many other diseases that plagued thousands among the camps.     

A fellow prisoner of war named John Wyndham also found that his mental perspective helped him to overcome the adversity of his captivity.  Like my uncle, whose weight dropped to 68 lbs. at one point, Wyndham endured the same hardship of being deprived of a sufficient diet.  

Wyndham was a Christian Scientist who had learned about the health benefits of turning his thought to God. In an article for the Christian Science Sentinel he later wrote, 

“Many of the men fell out of the farm group because of illness.  Back in the camp the bamboo hospital was filled with sufferers from disease diagnosed as caused by malnutrition.  Yet, sustained by the truths I had learned, I was able to keep on working and marching…Christian Science helped me to come through without one day’s illness.  And although I was very, very thin when I was returned home, I experienced no ill effects.” 

The Ultimate FreedomMy uncle Wally also returned with no lasting health problems and lived to reach his 90th birthday.  Wyndham wrote about his confinement in his book, “The Ultimate Freedom.”  One online reviewer commented: “it was interesting to see how he came to recognize that his thoughts were actually influencing his life.” 

Wyndham went on to become a popular author, Christian Science practitioner and teacher.  In his later years, my uncle was an inspiration to other veterans and those who heard him speak.  I believe both men demonstrated that what we think can significantly impact our health and well-being.  

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About Bill Scott

Professionally, I'm a licensed architect in both Washington and California State. I love architecture, but when it comes to priorities, it’s hard to top good health. That’s why I’ve shifted my interest from the physical to the mental environment that we abide in. My articles focus on presenting helpful ideas regarding the important connection between what we think and our health. I’ve been writing for Blogcritics and other online and print publications since 2011 and I was published in the international medical/science journal, "Global Advances in Health and Medicine" in 2012. I also serve as the media and legislative liaison for Christian Science in Washington State. Feel free to contact me at: washington@compub.org or on Twitter @WilliamEdScott.
  • Fred Baldassarre

    Wally Zergman was with the USS Canopus. They were not on the Bataan Death March. He surrendered on Corregidor, in May 6, 1942, the Death March was on Bataan, on April 9, 1942.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    I knew two Filipino WWII vets in WA – one was waiting for a boat that was going to take him to the Bataan peninsula before the Japanese invasion, but it was sunk before it reached him in Manila, and the other was on the peninsula. He manned a machine-gun nest outside a Red Cross tent. An American officer came out and told him to go inside the tent because the Japanese would not shoot a Red Cross tent. The Filipino refused and so survived the strafing and bombing the Red Cross tent suffered. He saw it was a lost cause and left – some might say ‘deserted’ – but I wouldn’t say that since he joined the Filipino resistance till the end of the War.

    It is said that the more one really studies war, the more one hates war. I hate war with all my heart…because I’ve studied it most of my life.

  • Control your thoughts to control your own world !

    Screen out thoughts that are an emotional drain and feel better for it.
    Yoga and other forms of exercise could be a welcome release. Also, general reading can add to your perspective on life.

  • Cathy

    Thanks for the story about Wally Zergman. There are many great stories about similar experiences by other Christian Scientists that were involved in WWII in a book published by the CS Publishing Society called Christian Science War Time Activities. Highly recommended reading.

  • Virginia McCullough

    Thanks for these thoughts, Bill. And reminding me of “The Ultimate Freedom.” I have the book, but never read it. Now I think I will.