University Relations and Communications

Authors of bestselling book on Bataan Death March to speak at MSU Billings

July 6, 2009


Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269


Free presentation on “Tears in the Darkness” set for July 17


Tears in the Darkness book cover

MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — One thousand two hundred and forty-four days. That’s span of his life that Ben Steele spent as a Japanese prisoner of war and a story that has largely been omitted from the scores of books written about World War II.


That is until now.


The retired art professor from Montana State University Billings is now the central character in a new book, “Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath.” 


The book’s authors, Michael Norman and Elizabeth M. Norman, will be at MSU Billings for a special presentation on the book this month. The special presentation will be at 10 a.m. on Friday, July 17 in Library 148 on the MSU Billings main campus. It is free and open to the public.


ben steele.jpg“Tears in the Darkness” tells the story of one of the most gruesome episodes of World War II and what happened afterwards.  The authors draw on interviews with hundreds of American and Filipino survivors as well as the Japanese soldiers who forced sick and starving prisoners on a 66-mile trek to brutal prison camps, where some remained for more than three years.


As of last week, the book was No. 16 on The New York Times bestseller list for hardback nonfiction books.  The authors have been interviewed in the last couple of weeks on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program and on National Public Radio.


One of those Americans who remained in captivity is Steele, a central Montana cowboy who joined the Army Air Corps before the attacks on Pearl Harbor occurred.  He was captured during the spent 1,244 days as a prisoner of war. As the authors note: “He is the only American veteran, out of the two hundred we interviewed, who experienced almost every aspect of the battle, the surrender, the death march and its aftermath. He emerged from the experience with his sense of humor, and perspective, intact -- a man of remarkable insight and grace…”


After World War II, Steele returned to Montana where he did his art and worked as a professor of art at Eastern Montana College (now MSU Billings). At 91 years of age, he still draws and paints virtually every day. He will attend the presentation and offer some insights about interviews for the book and his part in history.


Elizabeth Norman, professor of humanities at New York University, is the author of “Women at War” and “We Band of Angels.” Michael Norman, professor of journalism at New York University and a former reporter for The New York Times, is a Marine Corps combat veteran of Vietnam and author of “These Good Men.”