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Spokane Man's Escape From Japanese POW Camp Retold in Film

(Grashio Family)

It’s a story of Word War two that few remember, The only mass escape of American prisoners of War from a Japanese prisoner of war camp. One of those men was Spokane native.

Author John Lukacs has worked for almost 20 years on uncovering the story of the prisoner of war escape. He originally published a book, called Escape fromDavao, which has now been made into a film entitled "4-4-43".

It tells the story of a group of 10 U.S. servicemen and two Philippinos, who were survivors of the battles of Corregidor and the Batann death march, who managed to escape from a Japanese prison camp in the Philippines, and make their way back to the US.

Among the men was Spokane native and Gonzaga University Alumna Sam Grashio.

Lukacs: “I describe him in my book as a holy terror. He was an altar boy at St Als, but at the same time was a troublemaker, he new how to have a good time, he was jumping train cars, but was also an incredible athlete.”

Grashio became a pilot, one of the few fighter pilots who managed to get airborne when the Japanese attacked the Philippines in December, 1941. He managed to shoot down one enemy plane before his plane was damaged and he was forced to land. Lukacs interviewed several of Grashio’s friends and family members for the film.

The story of the escape is an amazing tale, and without giving away the entire story, Lukacs says they were able to walk out of the main gate. Even more amazing, when the men finally make it back to the US months later, the government decided to keep their story a secret.

Lukacs: “But the others that came home they were muzzled right away, they were threatened with court martial if they spoke about the escape , the atrocities. They couldn’t talk to the press at all,It was difficult for them , they figured this was the way to help those who were suffering, those who had died.”

Lukacs says the wife of one of the men managed to leak the story to the press after her husband died in early 1944. The government quickly changed their tactic, and allowed the survivors to go on tour with celebrities in an effort to sell war bonds, and tell the story of the Japanese atrocities during the Batann death march.

Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.