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November 2009 Amy Bakker article

Posted on 3 October, 2012 by in

Jackson Citizen Patriot

By Jackie Smith


Larry Martin often struggles to find the words that best describe Jackson resident Amy Bakker. In fact, only one word comes to mind: heroism.

The wife of a Dutch military man, Bakker lived on the island of Java in Indonesia with family while her husband, Paul, was taken prisoner by Japanese forces in the early 1940s. She will share her story at 10 a.m. Saturday at First United Methodist Church, 275 W Michigan Ave.

It’s the 13th installment and final program for the third year of Larry Martin’s “World War II, In Their Own Words,” which is, in part, put on through theĀ Jackson District Library.

“I’ve interviewed women, but I’ve never had any who had as compelling a story as Mrs. Bakker,” Martin said. “She just has a fascinating story. This is the first woman I met who was in harm’s way.”

Bakker and her husband lived on a plantation in Indonesia when in December 1942, the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked, he was drafted into American allied forces. But the wealth of the plantation left when her husband did, and Bakker and her two daughters were forced to move in with her parents and other immediate family members.

Money was tight for the family of 10 adults and three young children. Possessions such as jewelry, clothes and drapes were sold under the Japanese occupation to buy food.

“They had our money. It was not worth a penny. It was just paper,” she said. “At least we could eat again for a few months.”

Another challenge of living in a war region, Bakker said, was simply being female. She said “they were always after women.”

In 1945, Bakker’s husband was freed, but an Indonesian uprising abolished any post-war Dutch colonization. Bakker, a native Indonesian, was again left separated from her Dutch spouse.

“I couldn’t reach my husband,” she said. “I couldn’t go out to sea unless I had proof he was alive, but I didn’t know if he was alive.”

Paul Bakker eventually sent his wife a letter and the two were reunited after two more years.

The family immigrated to the U.S. in 1958, but it would be years before Bakker grasped the full concept of her husband’s experience. While a prisoner, Paul Bakker was forced to work on the Death Railway, or the Thailand-Burma Railway, as partially depicted in the 1958 movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai.”

Amy Bakker had seen Martin’s DVD of interviews with men who had similar experiences. The men wore loin cloths and were so thin their ribs stuck out. Bakker was shocked.

It was also years before May Dowley, Bakker’s youngest of four daughters, fully grasped her parents’ experiences before her father died in the late 1970s.

“My mom talked, not about the bad parts, but about the situation,” Dowley said. “Dad did talk to me the year before he died. That’s when he talked about the emotional part of it.”

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