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A faithful Flyer's finest hours

A faithful Flyer's finest hours

Nick Thompson '23 November 10, 2022

For Aloysius “Al” Thomas Suttmann ’48, the University of Dayton’s motto of “for God and country” was a statement of how he lived his life.

The Battle of Bataan had ended. Captured American and Filipino soldiers were being forced onto crowded boxcars, standing shoulder to shoulder in 100- to 130-degree temperatures. Other captured soldiers were being led on a long march — what would become known as the Bataan Death March. Along the way, soldiers were left to sit in the hot, tropical sun until they died of dehydration. Others were shot dead when they became too weak to walk any further. Many soldiers would carry their comrades for miles to the POW camp just so they would be spared from death on the road.

This is just some of what POWs had to endure in the aftermath of the Battle of Bataan during the Second World War.

Among those was Major Aloysius “Al” Thomas Suttmann ’48, whose recollections of his time as a POW have been transcribed and documented in the book Faithful: Because of Love – A True Story of the Survival of the Defenders of Bataan.

The book is the result of transcripts compiled from a series of interviews with Al during which he detailed his experiences during World War II in the Pacific theater. The book was conceived by his two children, Tricia Suttmann ’71 and Clement Suttmann ’77, who said they wanted to let the world hear “Big Al’s voice” about his experiences during the war — something that was not mentioned  much during their upbringing.

“My dad never talked about his experience over there, other than to say he was the ‘guest of the emperor’ for three-and-a-half years.”

“My dad never talked about his experience over there, other than to say he was the ‘guest of the emperor’ for three-and-a-half years,” Clement said.

Bro. Tom Price sharing a laugh with Al Suttmann
Brother Tom Price, S.M. (left), sharing a laugh with Al Suttmann.


Tricia recalled the same. “He usually never discussed the war. However, it would sometimes come out in the most interesting ways,” she said. “When I was at UD, my friend wanted to be a conscientious objector regarding the Vietnam War, and my dad counseled him on doing that. My dad was not in favor of the Vietnam War and would often say, ‘You cannot win the war over there.’ That was interesting to hear him say from his own experiences.”

During World War II, Al fought at the attack on Clarks Field and the grueling Battle of Bataan. In the aftermath of the Bataan, Al — along with many other American soldiers — were taken prisoner by the Japanese. On their way to the POW camps, they endured the Bataan Death March where an estimated tens of thousands died along the route from starvation, physical abuse and execution.

Moving from prison camp to prison camp, Al faced grueling and unsanitary conditions. The Japanese starved the POWs and made them resort to drinking water from rainfall that pooled in ditches. Many POWs also became infected with malaria that went untreated. Al was part of a detail in charge of burying the dead soldiers in mass graves every three days.

Al ultimately survived the camps — something he credited to his deep and devout Catholic faith. However, the physical abuse and torture he faced in the camps left him with medical conditions that persisted throughout his life.

Al enrolled at UD in 1937 before the war on a football scholarship, but it was short-lived after sustaining injuries from a car accident. Having lost his athletic scholarship, he returned to his home in Enochsburg, Indiana.

While there, Al was recruited to play football and basketball at New Mexico State Teachers' College (now Western New Mexico University) and enrolled in 1939. While attending, he enlisted in the New Mexico National Guard, which was soon activated by President Roosevelt in January 1941. In September, Al and his fellow soldiers found themselves on boats sailing toward the Philippines.

Upon the war’s end, Al returned to UD to complete his undergraduate studies. While there, his mother’s cousin, Brother Tom Price, S.M. ’11, invited him to speak about his experience as a POW. In the audience during his talk was his soon-to-be-wife, Patricia “Patti” Justice Suttmann ’48. 

“My mom loved sharing the story of how her and my dad met,” Tricia said. “My mom went home later that evening and told her mom, ‘I saw the man I’m going to marry.’”

Al and Patti Suttmann with loved ones on their wedding day.
Patti and Al Suttmann (center) at their wedding.


They would encounter each other again soon, when Al needed a war crimes report to be typed and submitted to the Department of Defense.

“My mom was working toward a four-year degree in executive secretarial skills and was working part time as a secretary for the dean of athletics," Tricia said. “My dad came in to ask her to help type up his report.”

Al was immediately smitten with Patti. “He ended up asking her out to dinner about a week later, and they were engaged almost immediately,” Tricia said.

During their time together at UD, the couple were very involved on campus.

“My parents embraced their time at UD to the fullest,” Clement said. “They were in charge of the [Spirit Committee] that led the crowds, and they really helped build the spirit of the school back up because everybody was at war.”

“... they really helped build the spirit of the school back up because everybody was at war.”

In regard to his dad specifically, Clement said, “He was kind of a big man on campus — a humble but big man on campus.”

The two married in August 1947 and graduated in 1948, with their daughter Tricia on the way.

“My joke is that I have four degrees from UD,” Tricia said. “One from 1948 because my mother was pregnant with me when she and my father graduated, and then my poli sci degree, my MBA and my law degree.” Clement would also go on to attend UD.

Al and Patti were longtime supporters of UD. Al was also instrumental in the construction of the Fieldhouse, having been both chair and co-chair of the committee in charge of raising funds for its construction.

“My parents were among the first group to get season tickets at the Fieldhouse,” Clement said. “[They] had an incredible love for the University and had season tickets to the basketball games throughout their entire lives.”

Patti and Al Suttmann in their later years.
Patti and Al in their later years.

Al died in 1999 and, after his passing, Patti had the cassette tapes of his interviews about the war converted to CDs, ensuring that her husband’s voice was preserved. 

After Patti’s passing in 2004, Clement and Tricia listened to the recordings and spent hours transcribing them for the book. 

“That's the only real knowledge we have of what happened to him,” Clement said.

Tricia said listening to the recordings was an emotional experience for them both.

“Making the book was profound,” she said. “My brother and I were concentrating on every word and every experience. And some of those experiences reduced us both to tears and we were in disbelief that he survived those experiences as a POW.”

The siblings said their father’s experience never affected his faith and how he approached people and life.

“After all that he experienced, he was never bitter.”

“After all that he experienced, he was never bitter,” Tricia said. “I grew up with a man that was extremely positive. With every person he encountered, he was much more interested in their story than anything he had to say about himself.”

Tricia said her father’s upbringing as well as experiences at UD help explain Al’s unwavering positivity and persistence — and can be a model for us all going forward.

“I credit his upbringing and attending UD where he was instilled the ideals of learn, lead and serve,” she said. “I think about this day and age of strife and anger and contentiousness and not respecting our fellow human beings. But in the worst of circumstances, these POWs did the opposite, and it really brought them through. Love of your fellow soldier, compassion, sharing — that’s the only thing that will bring this country through.”

Soaring on eagle's wings