Sunday, April 10, 2016

Today in History

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Bataan Death March

Today is the second day of the ten-day Bataan Death March, which began yesterday, April 9, in 1942, almost immediately after Gen. Edward King, commander of all ground troops on Bataan, surrendered his 76,000 soldiers (66,000 Americans and 10,000 Filipinos) to the Japanese invaders. It was the largest surrender in American history and one of our most devastating defeats.

Gen. King had little choice. The Battle of Bataan had started on January 1st, and King had no naval or air support, no supplies aside from what they had in store. He had put his men on half-rations almost immediately, and many developed malaria and dengue fever. Despite this he and his men managed to hold out for 99 days, delaying Japan's plans and providing a propaganda victory for America.

The Japanese were unprepared to hold so many prisoners, so the American and Filipino soldiers in Bataan were stripped of their weapons and belongings and forced to march north to the railway in San Fernando, Pampanga, a distance of 66 miles. They were boarded on boxcars and taken further north to Capas, Tarlac. From there they were marched another 7 miles to Camp O'Donnel, whoch the Japanese had converted to  prison camp. The entire trip took 10 days. Only 54000 prisoners arrived alive at the camp.

As word of King's surrender spread, other pockets of Allied troops surrendered as well, and they were added to the march. All the prisoners were treated with contempt by the Japanese captors, who viewed surrender as shameful and captives as chattel. They were beaten to keep up with the march. The sick and exhausted soldiers who fell behind were bayoneted or beheaded, their bodies left on the road or rolled into ditches. The first major atrocity occurred near the Pantingan River in Pilar, Bataan, where around 400 Filipino officers and NCOs were executed. This massacre was attributed to the infamous Masanobu Tsuji, one of the worst war criminals of Japan.

It's hard to know the exact numbers, but estimates are that around 500 Americans and 2,500 Filipino soldiers were killed during the march. In Camp O’Donnell after the march, the estimate is that around 26,000 Filipino soldiers and 1,500 Americans died of starvation and disease.

After the war, Lt. Gen. Homma Masaharu, commander of the invasion forces in the Philippines, was charged with responsibility for the abuses during the march and at Camp O’Donnell. He was tried in Manila and executed by firing squad on April 3, 1946. Masanobu Tsuji never answered for his crimes, and was later elected to the Diet in Japan and wrote many books about his wartime exploits. He later vanished in Laos.

My prayers and thanks go to the valiant defenders of Bataan.


  1. I shall bookmark your excellent site forthwith! And the best account of the Bataan Death March I've ever read was (is) Sidney Stewart's memoir, "Give Us This Day." He was a survivor of that march, and time in a Japanese prison camp. Not sure the book is still in print, but it should be. Dad read it aloud to my brother and I when we were teenagers.

    1. Hi Patrick!
      Was your dad in the Philippines in WW2?
      Btw I checked - there is a kindle version of it here
      I'll have to put it on my to-read list. Thanks!