George Small was born February 28, 1908, in Montreal, Canada. He graduated from the Polytechnic Institute of New York in 1935 with a degree in chemical engineering. In April,1941, he volunteered for active duty in World War II and was dispatched to the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines as a Major in the Army.
In George's own words written for his 98th birthday, "Sixty four years ago I was not sure that I would live long enough to celebrate my 35th birthday. My unit, the 31st Infantry, was fighting the Japanese Army on the Bataan Peninsula. We were in poor physical condition because of malnutrition and disease. There was no medicine available for the diseases of malaria, dysentery and other intestinal diseases.
On April 3, 1942, a large Japanese force landed on Luzon and began to advance to the Bataan Peninsula. Our Army was unable to stop their advance so on April 9, 1942, the commanding officer of the forces on Bataan, General King, surrendered all troops on Bataan.
The surrender of 76,000 American and Philippine troops was the greatest defeat ever suffered by the American military. The events that followed General King's surrender reached a climax with the horrors and atrocities of the 65-mile Bataan Death March. Denied food and water, robbed of their personal possessions, forced to march under a hot sun and halt in areas where even the most primitive sanitary facilities were lacking, clubbed, beaten by their Japanese conquerors, General King's men made their way into captivity.
At Camp O'Donnell where the POWs were interned, men died at a rate of more than 30 each day because of the deplorable conditions.
After being assigned to a burial detail for a fellow POW that succumbed to the horrific conditions, George wrote in his memoirs "The starvation he endured was the same we were all facing. I thought of my own physical condition. I was suffering from severe weight loss, malnutrition, beriberi, scurvy, pellagra, malaria, dysentery, edema, intestinal parasites, jaundice, and probably other diseases. My heart was beating. I was still alive and determined to struggle for survival. I was not going to force my parents to grieve for a lost son. I must survive. I returned to my barracks determined to overcome any danger that threatened my life."
Everyone that knew George came to know that this internal fortitude and desire to live that he developed as a POW would be the standard he would live by for the rest of his life. Nothing was ever able to beat him down, and he fiercely held on to his belief in life and living.