GALESBURG, Ill. — A Galesburg World War II veteran celebrated his 100th birthday on Jan. 3, a milestone he and doctors weren't sure he'd make it to.
Originally from Table Grove, Illinois, Leland Chandler enlisted in the Army at 18 years old to serve during World War II. He was in Corregidor in the 60th Coast Artillery. At just 19 years old, Leland Chandler was serving in the Army and stationed in the Philippines when he was captured and taken to Japan as a prisoner of war.
"I worked in a steel mill for three and a half years as a POW," Chandler said. "It was terrible. If you didn't work, you didn't get anything to eat."
He and 400 other POWs worked 12 hours a day with only one bowl of rice to eat. They had to learn to speak Japanese or else they were punished. If something went wrong with their work, they were also punished.
One day Chandler broke his wrist and wasn't able to work. For a month, the other prisoners did his work while it healed.
"There was so many POWs dying, I began to wonder," Chandler said. "We slept in a factory where we worked, and one night a voice woke me up. I thought it was a guard telling me it was time to go to work, and it wasn't a guard. I looked up and there never was anybody there. But that voice was there and that voice said, 'You will get out of this prison camp. You will get through.'"
It wasn't until the end of the war that he was liberated.
"There was 400 of us in that prison camp. When we were liberated, there was 53 of us," Chandler said. "I weighed 190 pounds when I was in that prison camp. When I came out, I weighed 58 pounds."
He met his wife Ruth not long after. The two celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary last month.
"We set our wedding date on our third date and it was a year away," Ruth said. "We were told because of his experience that he would probably only live 10 years."
Doctors weren't sure if Chandler would be able to have children.
"I decided he was worth it," Ruth said.
The couple has five kids, three boys and two girls, that have had dozens of children and grandchildren of their own.
"What a blessing we got. We never thought it would happen," she said. "We just live each day and find the happiness that we have and enjoy it for whatever time we have left."
The most important thing in his 100 years of life is Ruth, Chandler said.
Nearly eight decades after being captured, he said he's forgiven those who captured him and that he's blessed to have lived the life he has since.
Chandler received three Purple Hearts and a Bronze star. He still has the telegrams that were sent to his mother from Washington DC letting her know he was captured, and another from when he was liberated. Chandler went on to work as a firefighter in central Illinois before moving to Galesburg.
"People always kind of joke with me about my age," he said. "They say, 'Well, a lot of people don't live that long.' I said, 'They're building my room upstairs and it isn't ready yet.' So I said I can't go. The Lord's got one more thing for me to do. And he hasn't told me, so I'm not going yet."
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