War Hero

March/April 2009

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War Hero

Harley Soltes/The Seattle Times

In January 1945, a battalion of U.S. Army Rangers faced the mission of their lives: free more than 500 American and Allied prisoners from a Japanese POW camp in the Philippines. A 25-year-old officer led the raid. Every POW was rescued.

Robert Prince, ’41, died January 1 in Washington State. He was 89. Prince was hand picked for the rescue mission (see 2001 story). Time was of the essence: the Japanese War Ministry had issued a “kill all” policy. Prince and his battalion set their plan in motion, crawling toward the camp for 60 hours before surprising the guards with gunfire. Many POWs, survivors of the Bataan Death March dressed in rags, thought the raid was a trick and had to be forced out; the sick and wounded were carried.

Prince returned from the war a hero. He received the Distinguished Service Cross and toured the country on a war bond campaign. He settled down to market apples in Washington and raise two sons with his wife, Barbara. He was sworn into the U.S. Ranger Hall of Fame in 1999.

Prince’s story was retold in two books and inspired the 2005 movie The Great Raid, where James Franco played Prince. But Prince refused to be called a hero. In an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Prince said, “People everywhere thank me. I think the thanks should go the other way. . . . Nothing for me can ever compare with the satisfaction I got from freeing those men.”

Prince’s wife and a son, Stephen Robert, predeceased him. He is survived by his son Jim; two grandchildren; and one brother.

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