CONCORD — Henry John “Hank” Wilayto, 92, of West Concord, Mass., (formerly of Belmont), a national veterans’ advocate who survived the infamous Bataan Death March, passed away Feb. 28, 2009, four months after being diagnosed with acute leukemia.
Hank was born to Polish immigrant parents, Alexander and Genevieve Wilayto in Nashua, N.H. Hank graduated from Boston’s Cathedral High School in 1934, at the height of the Great Depression. In December 1940, he joined the Army and was stationed with the Quartermaster Corps at Camp John Hay in Bagio, Philippines.
The following December, the Japanese military attacked U.S. forces in the Philippines. Hank fought in the Battle of Bataan until the surrender of U.S. and allied forces on April 9, 1942, and with some 75,000 other U.S. and Filipino soldiers, was forced to endure the Bataan Death March, during which thousands died from exhaustion, disease, beatings and arbitrary executions.
Hank was held at the O’Donnell, Nielson Field and Cabanatuan prison camps and at Manila’s Bilibid Prison. After volunteering to work as a stevedore on the docks of Manila Bay, he and other POWs engaged in sabotage, including the disabling of three enemy warships.
Along with thousands of other POWs, Hank was then transported on the infamous prison “hell ships” to mainland Japan. Forced to work in the nickel mines at Camp Oeyama near Osaka, he continued his efforts to sabotage the Japanese war effort.
After the war’s end in August 1945, Hank was one of several prison camp survivors to found the American Defenders of Bataan and Corridor, a veterans organization for which he served as New England Chapter Commander in 1955 and National Commander in 1987. He also served on the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Advisory Committee for POWs and MIAs.
Hank graduated with honors in 1952 from Boston University with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and radio administration. He subsequently worked as an assistant disaster director for the American Red Cross, a manager for the Bedford M.I.T./Flight Test Facility, and purchasing agent of electrical procurement at L.F.E. in Boston. In 1963, he began a career at Computer Control Co., a Framingham company that in 1964 was acquired by Honeywell Inc., where he worked as international traffic manager until his retirement in 1982.
Hank remained active in veterans, community and church-related activities until shortly before contracting leukemia. He was a lifetime member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans; a trustee of the Massachusetts Chapter of American Ex-POWs; Chairman of the Veterans’ Service Committee of the Concord Lodge of Elks; and a volunteer at the Edith Nourse Rodgers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford.
A member of Our Lady’s Church of Concord, he served that congregation as a Eucharistic minister and lector and as president of the church’s chapter of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. He was also a president of the Center Club of Concord and member of the Friends of the Council on Aging.
Hank also enjoyed traveling, including his many trips to Cape Cod and Florida. In addition, he was an enthusiastic bowler and fisherman.
Hank is survived by his wife of 62 years, Helen Mary (Butchard) Wilayto; his five children, Anne Marie Bishop, of Milton, Philip Henry Wilayto, of Richmond, Va., Allan John Wilayto, of Pepperell, Kathryn Helen MacDonald, of Brewster; and Margaret Elizabeth Gallagher of Shutesbury; his sister, Genevieve Leszczynski, of Beverly; and 10 grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his sister, Alfreda Kulik, of Salem, and his brother, Raymond Wilayto, of Boston.
A funeral was held Wednesday, March 4 from the Dee Funeral Home, Concord, followed by a funeral Mass in Holy Family Parish, Concord.
Interment with military honors followed in St. Bernard’s Cemetery, Concord.
Concord’s town flag flew at half-staff on Wednesday, March 4 in recognition of Mr. Wilayto’s service to his country during World War II.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, c/o Holy Family Parish, 55 Church Street, Concord, MA 01742 or Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care of Massachusetts LLC, 275 Grove Street, Newton, MA 02466.
Arrangements were under the care of Dee Funeral Home of Concord.
For online guest book visit www.deefuneralhome.com.