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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
died on the way to the ships, with Japanese soldiers often shooting them
or stabbing them with bayonets if they stopped or sat down.
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.
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.
can't believe it," Mr. Dattorro recalled of Hiroshima. "Whoever was killed
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
he returned to the United States four years later, he weighed 86 pounds.
the war, he earned a master's degree at the Rhode Island School of Design,
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.
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
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.
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."
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
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.
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.
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.