The real Bataan Death March
and Death Camp, Camp O'Donnell
We're the battling bastards of Bataan.
No Mama, no Papa, no Uncle Sam.
No aunts, no uncles, no nephews, no nieces.
No rifles, no planes, or artillery pieces.
And nobody gives a damn.
Written by War Correspondent Frank Hewlett
The Death March
The Japanese Navy blockaded Bataan and nearby Corregidor, and prevented any food, ammunition or medicine from reaching the U.S. troops. Following Pearl Harbor the U.S. Navy was decimated and could not deliver relief to the Philippines. For months the soldiers on Bataan lived on half rations in the hot, tropical jungle. 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. But without supplies they could barely hold out. 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.
The Battle of Bataan ended on April 9, 1942, when U.S. General Edward P. King surrendered to Japanese General Masaharu Homma. At that 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 historythe Bataan Death March.
Once the surrender went into effect, the Japanese rounded up the American and Filipino soldiers and organized them into groups of 100 on the only paved road that ran down the Bataan peninsula. The Japanese assigned four guards to each group. They lined the men up four abreast, and they began marching them north toward Camp O'Donnell in Tarlac Province.
The transfer was conducted in three stages. First, the prisoners marched fifty-five miles from Mariveles and Bagac, on Bataan, to San Fernando. Although some Japanese soldiers tried to help the large number of sick and wounded, captives who could not make it were usually promptly bayoneted. From San Fernando they were transferred by train to Capas. Finally, from Capas there was another march of about seven miles to Camp O'Donnell, the Death Camp, site of Navy Transmitting Facility, Capas.
The treatment of the captives, although always bad, varied widely, with some groups of men getting frequent breaks and food while others received neither supplies nor rest. Despite nearby springs, the prisoners were often denied water, and the only food many got was that which Filipino civilians threw to them from the sides of the road.
As the emaciated men proceeded north up the highway in the blistering heat, the Japanese guards summarily shot or bayoneted any man who fell, attempted to escape, or stopped to quench his thirst at a roadside spigot or puddle. The men were given little water or food for the entire length of the Bataan Death March, which took about five days for each group to complete. The guards chased off, bayoneted or shot any Filipino civilian who tried to give water or bits of food to the passing lines of prisoners. At various points along the route of the March they singled out prisoners, sometimes in groups, tied them to trees or fences, and shot them to death as examples to the others. The Japanese guards killed between 7,000 and 10,000 men on the Death March - they kept no records and no one knows the exact number. If a man fell, it was certain death unless another could pick him up and support him.
On the twenty-four mile train ride from San Fernando to Capas, Tarlac the captives were crushed into hot box cars with no ventilation. Those with dysentery added to the filth and stench already prevalent in the cars. Although a few escaped, many died in the train cars.
From September through December 1942, the Japanese gradually paroled the Filipino soldiers to their families and to the mayors of their hometowns, who would be held personally responsible for each man's conduct. To be paroled a soldier had to sign an oath that he would not participate in guerrilla activity, and he had to be well enough to walk. Anyone who was too sick to walk was simply held in camp until he either got well or died. By the time Camp O'Donnell closed in January 1943, after eight months of operation, 26,000 of the 50,000 Filipino Prisoners of War there had died. American prisoners were transferred to Cabanatuan.
Conditions in Cabanatuan were marginally better than Camp O'Donnell, and the prisoner doctors were able to somewhat stem the disease and death rate. However, as U.S. forces pulled closer to the Philippines in 1944, the Japanese decided to evacuate the American prisoners to Japan and Manchuria, to use them as slave laborers in Japanese factories and coal mines. Thousands of men were crammed into the dark holds of cargo ships so tightly that the men could not sit or lay down.
Again, food and water were scarce, sanitary facilities were virtually non-existent, and the heat in the closed holds of the ships was unbearable. Men suffocated to death standing up. In some cases, the guards would not even let the dead bodies be removed from the holds.
The Japanese ships were unmarked and some of them were attacked by American planes and torpedoed by American submarines. Once they arrived at the slave-labor camps more of the men died of malnutrition and exposure. By the time Japan surrendered and the U.S. Army liberated the Bataan Prisoners of War, two-thirds of the American prisoners had died in Japanese custody.