Return to the homepage
Start a search
Archive fees
Search tips
Customer service

Antonio Dattorro, Bataan survivor, artist, dies at 82

BYLINE: Patricia Keefe 
DATE: 04-04-2001
PUBLICATION: Providence Journal Company
PAGE: C-06 
NORTH PROVIDENCE - Antonio Dattorro, an artist whose last work was to recreate with charcoal and paint the terror of the infamous Bataan Death March that he survived as a soldier during World War II, died Saturday at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Providence. He was 82. 

Mr. Dattorro began producing the haunting depictions in his 60s, when his powers as an artist were beginning to fade but nightmares about the Death March and his life in prison camps had begun to haunt his sleep. 

"I wanted to tell the story, what a thing we went through," Mr. Dattorro told a Providence Journal reporter in an interview in 1999, after he had been awarded the state's highest honor, the Rhode Island Cross. 

"I don't know why God did that to me, left me alive while hundreds died," Mr. Dattorro said of the 65-mile forced march through the jungles of the Philippines in 1942. 

His artwork of the march, and of the three years he spent as a Japanese prisoner of war, was later displayed at the Rhode Island National Guard Command Readiness Center, in Cranston. 

The march occurred in 1942, after Japanese forces had captured the Philippines, when they brutally forced 25,000 soldiers to walk to transport ships that took them to prisoner-of-war camps in Japan. 

Thousands died on the way to the ships, with Japanese soldiers often shooting them or stabbing them with bayonets if they stopped or sat down. 

In the work camps, the survivors of the march endured a hellish life. Mr. Dattorro recalled how his back was broken by Japanese soldiers who jumped on him, while he worked in a rice field. His teeth were knocked out with a rifle butt, he said, and his forearm pierced by a bayonet. 

The terror ended in August 1945, after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, which was near the work camp. The Japanese abandoned the camp, and their former prisoners walked to the destroyed city. 

"You can't believe it," Mr. Dattorro recalled of Hiroshima. "Whoever was killed was cooked." 

He had weighed 170 pounds when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, where his first duties had been painting pictures on the noses of fighter planes and bombers. 

When he returned to the United States four years later, he weighed 86 pounds. 

After the war, he earned a master's degree at the Rhode Island School of Design, in Providence. 

He later taught drawing and painting there. Mr. Dattorro also helped to improve art programs at Hope High School and other schools in Providence, and ran a successful art gallery in the city. 

Rarely mentioning his war experiences to his family, he began the war pictures knowing that they would be his last in 1983, several years after his wife's death. 

A charcoal drawing showed the death march, the prisoners walking at gunpoint day and night. Paintings of the POW camps depicted skeletal prisoners working in fields, then being shot by guards, their corpses eaten by rats. 

"I have been painting and drawing for 30 years, and have never had the desire to paint or draw pictures about that portion of my life," he wrote when he began that work. "Now, I feel I must. Not only for me, but for all the survivors and the dead, and also to give me a reason for having existed." 

In addition to the Rhode Island Cross, he was awarded two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts. He held a lifetime membership in Chapter 1 of the Disabled American Veterans. 

Mr. Dattorro was the husband of the late Jennie Dattorro. Born in Providence, a son of the late Domenico and Emilia D'Attorro, he was a lifelong resident of Rhode Island. He had resided most recently at Venturi Green. 

He leaves two sons, Jon C. Dattorro of Stanford, Calif., and Anthony D. Dattorro of Henderson, Nev.; five sisters, Ida Zarrella, Dorothy Martinelli and Evelyn Ferrullo, all of North Providence, Esther Scorpio of Greenville and Sylvia Robbio of Las Vegas; a brother, John D'Attoro of Johnston; a grandson; several nieces and nephews; and his caregiver, Robin DeLuca of Cranston. He was a brother of the late Josephine Colletta. 

The funeral will be held Saturday at 8 a.m. at the Prata Home, 1488 Westminster St., Providence, followed by a graveside committal service with military honors at 10 in St. Ann Cemetery, Cranston. 


Copyright © 2001 The Providence Journal Company
Powered by ProQuest Archiver
Privacy policy