The book on past-life regression Dave Bercaw of West Fork, Ark., read in the 1980s was, by many contemporary accounts, unconventional. To arrive in a state in which to “remember” a life you may have once lived, it didn’t advocate undergoing the widely-accepted practice of hypnosis, it recommended suffering.
“I had read a book pooh-poohing the use of regression hypnosis in past life recall,” Bercaw said. “Instead, the author had recommended concentrating on the most negative emotion one could summon.”
Doctors and detectives trained in regression hypnosis had at various times tried to hypnotize Bercaw, and failed. So Bercaw tried the suggestion of this book*, concentrating on the first things to come to mind – sweat, thirst, and exhaustion.
Images began to race.
“I recalled events taking place in North Africa and Italy wherein I was a British infantryman during World War II,” he said. “The memories were vivid and graphic, even unto today, 20 years later.”
Bercaw lie on his bed and focused on these feelings. Soon, sensory input began swimming through his head.
“The first result was the sound of a diesel engine being gunned, followed by a very vivid scene,” he said. “In that scene, the sound of the diesel engine was coming from a truck on the road in front of me which was driving past. It was an old type of truck, olive green, which was used to transport troops and supplies.”
Gunfire and artillery-damaged palm trees dotted a land of sand around the military truck, a column of black smoke rose from the horizon. From Bercaw’s perspective, he stood in a line of soldiers dressed in khaki shorts, shirts, and doughboy helmets. Looking down at his hands, he held a carbine with a wooden stock.
But his focus was on his immediate superior.
“In front of me was a guy, dressed the same way as the rest. He had a dirty face and was sweating,” Bercaw said. “He had chiseled features and was shouting at me. I don’t know exactly what he was saying because I was tuning him out, but I do recall him saying something about how worthless I was. He also had a strong British accent.”
Trucks rolled past as the officer berated the soldiers, kicking up clouds of dust and sand that Bercaw tasted.
Then the past-life event was over.
“That was all,” he said. “Afterwards, that feeling (thirst, heat, sweat) has never bothered me again.”
Thoughts, memories of a past life as a British soldier during the bloodiest conflict on our planet, haunted Bercaw to the point he had to go there again.
“Having had some success with the technique, I cast about for some other negative emotions,” he said. “Another one that I came up with was the feeling of guilt whenever I saw a third party do something wrong or embarrassing. This was a completely irrational emotion, but one I suffered with through childhood and into young adulthood. It was a very strong emotion and in a sense, disabling.”
Over a number of days, Bercaw lie on his bed and remembered being in Italy during the war.
“What it recalled, overall, was that another guy and I were running up an enclosed stone spiral staircase,” he said. “It was wet with dampness or dew, and I kept slipping and was having trouble not falling. The other guy was running in front of me, and he was dressed in the same khaki shorts and shirt and doughboy helmet. I had my carbine in front of me again running up the stairs. I was in a blind panic.”
Bercaw’s WWII British self knew he ran toward someone about to be executed – and it was because of him.
“The spiral staircase went on forever it seemed, and my panic just kept rising,” he said. “Finally, we burst out onto a plaza. My partner was on my right, and directly in front of me, another British soldier was seated on a wood chair in the center of the plaza.”
The man on the chair had been tied down – he wore a black blindfold.
“In front and to our left was a firing squad made up of British soldiers,” Bercaw said. “As we reached the plaza and I opened my mouth to scream at the squad to stop, the order was given and the squad opened fire.”
The man’s body jerked as bullets tore through his torso. The chair rocked backward from the impact and dumped the body onto the stone plaza.
“The feeling of horror and guilt was overwhelming,” Bercaw said. “To my shame, I said nothing, which compounded my guilt. That was the end of what I saw.”
Bercaw wants to know the identity of his WWII self.
“I was curious as to who this British soldier might have been, whether I could trace back to see if any of this was real, and what British military executions took place during the North Africa and Italy campaigns,” he said.
Bercaw has tried to discover who this person may have been. He thinks the man’s name was George James Miller, but has found no proof.
“To date, I haven’t been able to trace back to see if there was a George Miller in the British Army who soldiered through North Africa, Sicily and Italy,” he said. “At any rate, George didn’t seem too keen on soldiering and, as I was born nine years after the war, apparently he didn’t make it out of the situation.”
Much later, during a high school trip, Bercaw’s son traveled to Italy and came home with more than either expected.
“He brought back pictures of the monastery which I had been in,” Bercaw said. “Looking at the pictures, I could visualize the location in the monastery where he was when he took the pictures.”
*After more than 20 years, Bercaw did not remember the title of the book.
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