August 19, 2015

Loretta Swit to attend documentary’s premiere

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Emmy Award-winning actress Loretta Swit will be at Southern Illinois University Carbondale next month for the local premiere of a documentary that chronicles how Americans held as Japanese POWs during World War II used ingenuity, creativity and humor to survive. 

Swit will be in the Student Center auditorium at 7 p.m., Sept. 14, for “Never The Same: The Prisoner of War Experience.” Swit, a star in the 1970s hit television series, “M*A*S*H,” narrated the film by Jan Thompson, a professor in the Department of Radio, Television, and Digital Media. 

The event, sponsored by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, is free and open to the public.

“As we mark the 70th  anniversary of the end of World War II in September, showing Jan’s film is a fitting way to honor all those who have served our country,” David Yepsen, institute director, said. “We are honored Ms. Swit is coming to SIU to support the film and pay tribute to veterans.” 

The documentary features narration by Swit, and the vocal talents of actors including Alec Baldwin, Ed Asner, Jamie Farr, Mike Farrell, Robert Loggia, Kathleen Turner, Robert Wagner and Sam Waterston. The actors, who also include Robert Forster, Christopher Franciosa, Christopher Murray, Don Murray and John O’Hurley, dramatize entries from 17 diaries, along with poems, and songs.  The film includes more than 140 original drawings and cartoons, ranging from ingenious traps for catching rats and other animals for food, to recipes and cookbooks. 

The film includes the story of the infamous “hell ships” where the POWs were sent to Japan and Manchuria as slave laborers. The death rate was high due to suffocation, starvation, exposure and “friendly fire”; the POWs’ own U.S. bombers were unaware of the human cargo below decks. 

All of the re-enactment scenes were filmed in Southern Illinois and feature “extras” from the region. The film also has interviews with local residents Alt Brown and Ben Dunn, both of whom were held as prisoners by Japan. 

“I think it is wonderful that Loretta will be present for the Carbondale premiere,” Thompson said. “She has been a force behind this project in many ways.”

Thompson’s late father was a POW after his capture on Corregidor in the spring of 1942. The project and work on behalf of POWs has been a focal point of Thompson’s for the past 24 years. She is president of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society, and attended the private ceremony last month at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, during which Mitsubishi Materials Corp. executives apologized for using American POWs as forced labor in company mines during World War II.  

Thompson highlighted the horrors of the Bataan Death March in an award-winning 2011 documentary, “The Tragedy of Bataan,” featuring Baldwin’s vocal talents. A five-piece radio series that also chronicled the march aired on PBS. Thompson is also academic adviser to the award-winning “ 26:46” student-produced collegiate television magazine news program. 

More information on the film is available at For more information on the event, contact Shiloh Deitz, institute coordinator, at 618/453-4009 or by email at