Honoring our Veterans: The Bataan Death March

On March 23, servicemembers and civilians will participate in the 25th annual Bataan Memorial Death March in honor of the heroic service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II, sacrificing their freedom, health and, in many cases, their very lives.

Marchers come from around the world to participate in this memorial event. For many for the personal challenge, the spirit of competition or to foster ‘Esprit de Corps’ in their unit. Others march in remembrance and honor of a family member or Veteran who was in the Bataan Death March or was taken a prisoner of war by the Japanese in the Philippines.

Video: Members of the Western Kentucky University ROTC train for the 25th annual Bataan Memorial Death March:

History of the Bataan Memorial Death March

During the Battle of Bataan, American and Filipino soldiers had held out for four months against the Imperial Japanese Army, while every other island and nation in the Pacific and Southeast Asia fell to the Japanese. By March 1942, Japan controlled all of the Western Pacific except the Philippines.

With no U.S. Navy ships capable of bringing the needed reinforcements to Bataan (because of the recent attack on Pearl Harbor), the soldiers lived on half rations in the hot, tropical jungle for months. Nevertheless, they fought back against Japanese attacks and defeated the Japanese Army at battles along the Bataan defense line and along the rugged coastline of the peninsula. By the first of April, 1942, most of the starving men had lost as much as thirty percent of their body weight and they became so weak that they could barely lift their weapons. As medical supplies ran out, malaria, dysentery and other tropical diseases ravaged their ranks. 10,000 men were confined to the two open-air jungle hospitals for wounds and illnesses, and less than half of the remainder could be considered “combat effective”—defined as a man who could walk 100 yards without staggering and still have enough strength left to fire his weapon.

On April 3, 1942 the Japanese Army launched its final assault on Bataan. Although the starving American and Filipino soldiers fought as best they could, they were no match for the fresh troops the Japanese brought in for the attack. As General Homma’s army rolled back the front line on Bataan, General Edward King, the American field commander, made a fateful decision—on April 9 he surrendered rather than see any more of his starving, diseased men slaughtered by the advancing Japanese Army. At this point 75,000 soldiers became Prisoners of War: about 12,000 Americans and 63,000 Filipinos. What followed was one of the worst atrocities in modern wartime history.

Inside the large barracks where men slept on brick deck, two blankets, and straw mat and a thin pad. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center (http://www.carlisle.army.mil/ahec/).

A general view of American prisoners of war (POW) cheering at their liberation from Japanese prison camp at Cabantuan, Luzon by the 6th Ranger Infantry Battalion. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center http://www.carlisle.army.mil/ahec/).

American prisoners of war who have just been liberated by the 6th Ranger Infantry Battalion at Cabantuan, Luzon (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center http://www.carlisle.army.mil/ahec/).

Related blogs: http://armylive.dodlive.mil/index.php/2012/04/remembering-gen-harold-k-johnson-bataan-death-march-survivor/

A special thank you to the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center for providing the historical content for this post.


Honoring our Veterans: The Bataan Death March