Bataan Day

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On April 9, 1942, 12,000 American soldiers surrendered to the Japanese at the tip of the Bataan Peninsula, which juts into Manila Bay in the Philippines. For nearly five months, the troops had fought ferociously against overwhelming odds until they ran out of food, medical supplies and ammunition. As prisoners of war (POWs), they and thousands of Filipinos were taken to a camp run by the Japanese army. This grueling series of marches are now known as the Bataan Death March. The 60th anniversary of this tragic event will be commemorated during PBS' 2002 National Memorial Day Concert. Following are some compelling - facts about the March.

bulletDuring World War II, there were approximately 78,000 Allied soldiers stationed in Bataan including 12,000 Americans and 66,000 Filipinos. The poorly trained Filipinos, most of whom had never fired a weapon, were thrown into frontline combat against highly trained Japanese troops. Americans from non-combatant outfits, such as air corpsmen, and in some instances even civilians, were also formed into provisional infantry units.


Following the surrender, the Japanese army assembled the captive Fil-American soldiers in the various sectors in Bataan, but mainly at Mariveles, the southernmost tip of the Peninsula. Although American trucks were available to transport the prisoners, the Japanese decided to march the soldiers to their destination.


The Death March was really a series of marches, which lasted from five to nine days. The distance a captive had to march was determined by the point at which he started on the trail. The full route was 55 miles long from Mariveles, Bataan, to San Fernando, Pangpanga. At San Fernando, the prisoners were placed into cargo trains and transported to Capas, Tarlac, a distance of around 24 miles. They were then marched another six miles to their final destination, Camp O'Donnell.


It is estimated that about 24,000 men died during the March as the tired, sick and starving troops were repeatedly beaten and denied food and water. Many of the soldiers lost their lives to dehydration and heat exhaustion. Those who tried to stop for water or to accept food from the local people were also killed.

bulletApproximately 1,600 Americans died in the first 40 days in Camp O'Donnell. Almost 20,000 Filipinos also lost their lives in their first four months of captivity in the same camp. O'Donnell did not have the sanitation sub-structure or water supply necessary to hold so many men and there was little medicine available to treat the dysentery and beriberi that was common among the POWs. An inadequate diet also contributed to the high death rate.
bulletOn June 6, 1942, the Japanese transferred all Americans to Cabanatuan, north of Camp O'Donnell, leaving behind 500 as caretakers and for funeral details. They in turn were sent to Cabanatuan on July 5, 1942. The Filipino prisoners were paroled, beginning in July 1942.
bulletCabanatuan, for most prisoners, ended up being a temporary POW camp. The Japanese had a policy - in direct violation of the Geneva Convention - that prisoners were to be used as a source of labor. Most were sent to various other camps in the Philippines, China, Japan and Korea, where they were used as slave labor. Some worked in mines, others in farms and factories, while yet more unloaded ships in port areas, for the remainder of the war.
bulletMost Americans did not find out about the atrocities that took place in Bataan until January 28, 1944, when the U.S. government released a joint report from the Army and Navy. This was compiled from the sworn statements of officers who survived the March and POW camps.
bulletBataan Day is a national holiday in the Philippines when large groups of its citizens solemnly re-walk parts of the death route and pay homage to the victims of the March. The battleground of Bataan is now a national shrine. In the U.S., the Bataan Memorial Death March takes place each year at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. More than 3,000 marchers from across the U.S. and from overseas tackle a 26.2-mile route through high desert terrain in honor of those who served.

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