Albert Brown And The Will To Live

“Enjoy the next few years, Albert; you’ll probably be dead before you’re 50.” Those were the last words then Army Major Albert Brown heard as he walked out of a military hospital. He was in his mid-forties and his body had endured more than a man twice his age, more than any man should ask of his body.

Yet, he lived past fifty. In fact he lived until just a few days ago when he finally succumbed to life’s final battle. He was 105.

What made Albert special was not his enduring age. It was his will to live.

A Will To Live

Major Albert Brown (courtesy of NYTimes)

Over 1/2 a century ago, Albert had been an Army Captain serving in the Pacific Theater during World War II. His unit was stationed in the Philippines when the Japanese overtook the islands. Albert, along with 76,000 other Americans and Filipinos, was forced to march 66 miles to a Prisoner of War camp. The march later became known to the world as the Bataan Death March. 11,000 men died during the 5-day ordeal.

By all accounts, the Japanese were brutal during the march. They deprived the prisoners adequate food, water, and medical attention. Those who fell behind were bayonetted, decapitated, bludgeoned to death, or executed unceremoniously.

Albert recalled seeing a young soldier bayonetted in the back and left for dead simply because he had fallen behind. Albert vowed to himself at that moment that he would not, under any circumstances, fall behind the middle of the pack.

Once in the POW camp, Albert endured 3 long years of horrible conditions. He routinely witnessed beheadings and severe beatings. The prisoners were not provided for, either. When finally freed, his 6-foot frame weighed only 90 pounds. But he lived.

A Return To Life

After returning to the U.S., Albert spent 2 years in an Army hospital recovering. Due to the physical damage to his body, his career as a dentist was over. But he found other ways to earn a living and eventually landed in Los Angeles where he owned some apartments.

“I don’t know why I continue to live while others so much younger and stronger than I die,” Brown wrote in an autobiography. His co-author, Kevin Moore, said that perhaps it was because he kept his mind working. Moore goes on to say, in so many words, that it was Alberts insatiable will to live that kept him going.

Today, we have one fewer of The Greatest Generation here with us. But we can honor Albert Brown and remember what earned him the right to be considered a hero. We can learn from his experiences and develop in ourselves that insatiable will to live.

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6 Comments on “Albert Brown And The Will To Live”

  1. JK Bonner Says:

    Your article remarks that Albert Brown survived because of “Albert’s insatiable will to live”. Unfortunately, given the circumstances of his life and that he reached 105, as a reason your saying he had the will to live fails utterly to provide an answer. I have a strong will to live. I’d say that any normal human being who isn’t suffering from severe depression has a strong will to live. However, most of us won’t reach 105, strong will or not. Perhaps it would be better just to admit that the factor or factors that prevailed in Albert Brown’s body-mind allowing him to reach 105 simply aren’t known, and perhaps never will be.


    • Joe Says:

      Hi JK – Thanks for the comment. One of the most dangerous conditions facing someone who is attempting to survive through a tough situation is maintaining the will to live. Whether caught in an extreme survival situation or confined in a horrific POW camp, many people mentally give up. And when you do that, when you’ve lost the will to live, you won’t.

      That’s what I was referring to in my post. Albert’s mental toughness during the march and subsequent captivity, and his refusal to give up when the doctors told him he’d be dead in a few years helped him to carry on.

      You’re right, simply “willing it” will not guarantee you a long life; there are far too many factors involved as you’ve mentioned. But losing hope in a survival situation will almost guarantee that you won’t make it out.

      Thanks again for your comment, JK!



      • JK Bonner Says:


        I see your point. However, both Albert himself and you also allude to many who in the circumstances in which they found themselves (POW for 3+ years in a Japanese POW camp) gave up (assuming they didn’t die from starvation, maltreatment, or execution), Did they truly lose the will to live? Maybe. I honestly don’t know nor does anyone else. However, you are correct that if a person does see the situation as hopeless, they are more likely to die. But isn’t it just as possible that a person with a “will to live” ends up dying? A person in such a circumstance may simply lack the energy due to genetic factors or may lack the resistance to disease. Many in the POW camp, including Brown, contracted various diseases–somehow Brown survived all of them without benefit of any medical treatment. Again, possibly due to genetic factors, Brown survived. Maybe Brown had a terrific genome. Of course we don’t know that for sure but that’s why I said “the factor or factors that prevailed in Albert Brown’s body-mind allowing him to reach 105 simply aren’t known, and most probably never will be.” Saying those that died–again, excluding death at the hands of their captors–lacked the will to live, and those that didn’t possessed it makes “the will to live” lose any explanatory value.

        Note: I changed “perhaps” to “most probably” in my quote.

        BTW I salute Albert Brown, and all the other American and Philipino soldiers who made the infamous Bataan march–the March of Hell–for their heroism and for their service to their countries which ultimately extracted an enormous toll on all of them. I was about 2-and-a-half when the infamous march occurred.


        • Joe Says:

          Hi JK – I love good discussions like this. Thank you.

          Could a person with the will to live end up dying? Absolutely. Having the will to live doesn’t guarantee anything. And conversely, loosing the will to live doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be rescued.

          My point is primarily that during stressful survival situations, you must be mindful of your mental state. Loosing hope that you’ll make it out, loosing the will to live, greatly affects your chances of making it. When you find things hopeless, you get lethargic and even careless. Depression can set in and further complicate your attempt at survival.

          When you have that spark, that will to live, it doesn’t mean that the circumstances won’t overcome you. They certainly can. But with that will to live you can face more adversity and have the strength to keep fighting, to keep bettering your situation.

          But as you’ve pointed out, there are no guarantees.

          And like you, I greatly respect those that fought in WWII. They gave and gave for their country and their fellow soldier, even at great cost to themselves.




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