Tuesday, April 9, 2013

April 9, 1942 - The Bataan Death March begins

Thousands of American and Filipino service members were forced by Japanese forces to walk through an 80-mile stretch of land without being able to stop for a drink of water or rest. Immediate death came to those who fell or showed signs of weakness. The Allied troops who survived endured much more suffering as prisoners of war. Up to 10,000 Filipino and 650 American prisoners of war died (some totals go to 15,000 for both forces) before they could reach Camp O'Donnell.

In June 2001, Dana Rohrabacher, a U.S. congresswoman, described and tried to explain the horrors and brutality that the prisoners experienced on the march:

They were beaten, and they were starved as they marched. Those who fell were bayoneted. Some of those who fell were beheaded by Japanese officers who were practicing with their samurai swords from horseback. The Japanese culture at that time reflected the view that any warrior who surrendered had no honor; thus was not to be treated like a human being. Thus they were not committing crimes against human beings.  The Japanese soldiers at that time felt they were dealing with subhumans and animals.
Already suffering from battle fatigue, The Filipino and Americans troops were strained to utter exhaustion by this long march on foot, as many were physically ill as well.  Filipino townspeople risked their lives by slipping food and drink to the POWs as they went by.

POWs who could not keep up were summarily executed. Stopping to relieve oneself could bring death, so many chose to continue walking while doing so.

Some guards made a sport of hurting or killing the POWs.  Most of the POWs got rid of their helmets because some Japanese soldiers riding on passing trucks hit them with rifle butts. Enemy soldiers savagely toyed with POWs by dragging them behind trucks with a rope around the neck. Guards also gave the POWs the "sun treatment" by making them sit in the sweltering heat of the direct sun for hours at a time without shade.

POWs only received a few cups of rice, and little or no water. Thirst began to drive some of the men mad, but if a POW tried to drink stagnant, muddy water at the side of the road, he would be killed. Artesian wells along the route poured out clean water, but the POWs were not allowed to drink it.

From The Official Site of the National Museum of the USAF :
The POWs marched roughly 65 miles over the course of six days until they reached San Fernando. There, groups as large as 115 men were forced into boxcars designed to hold only 30-40 men. Boxcars were so full that the POWs could not sit down. This caused more to die of heat exhaustion and suffocation in the cars on the ride from San Fernando to Capas. The POWs then walked seven more miles to Camp O'Donnell. At the entrance to the camp, the POWs were told to lay out the few possessions they still had; any POW found with any Japanese-made items or money was executed on the spot.