the bataan death march -- 6/10/14

Today's selection -- from The Most Dangerous Man in America by Mark Perry. In the very first months of America's involvement in World War II, the small combined U.S. and Philippine military force defending the Philippines was trapped on the peninsula of Bataan before being overwhelmed by the Japanese and surrendering. This led to the infamous Bataan death march of U.S. and Philippine prisoners. Eleven thousand Americans entered Japanese captivity in the Philippines, the largest number of U.S. soldiers to be taken prisoner since the American Civil War:

"At 7:00 on the morning of April 9, [1942] ... [General Jonathan] Wainwright directed his staff to broadcast on Radio Freedom the news of Bataan's surrender. 'Bataan has fallen,' the announcer said. 'The Philippine-American troops on this war-ravaged and bloodstained peninsula have laid down their arms. With heads bloody but unbowed, they have yielded to the superior force and numbers of the enemy.' [They] continued to hold out, but it would only do so for another thirty days, as [Japanese commander Masaharu] Homma launched an all-out attack, with thousands of his soldiers storming [the] beaches. ...

"After a courageous defense, waged for another three weeks, Wainwright surrendered the Corregidor garrison on May 6. He met directly with Homma, seated opposite him on the porch of a home in southern Bataan, where a Japanese escort had deposited him. Gaunt (he was over six feet tall but weighed only 160 pounds) and wearing simple khaki, Wainwright refused to surrender all American forces on the other islands of the Philippines, despite Homma's insistence. But two days later, his own command now surrounded, Wainwright relented. In addition to agreeing to an 'unconditional surrender,' Wainwright was forced to announce its terms by radio from Manila. While humiliated, Wainwright believed that had he not followed the Japanese instructions, the 11,000 -- plus men who were still on [the island] would have been executed. ...

"The sheer tenacity of the American defense was certainly a part of the reason why, within twenty-four hours of Bataan's surrender the month before, a brutal retribution was carried out against the surviving Americans and their Filipino allies.

"The Bataan Death March, one of the most shameful episodes in Japanese history, began on the afternoon of April 12, as 75,000 American and Filipino soldiers (the exact numbers are uncertain) were forcibly walked from Bataan northward to Balanga (a distance of twenty-five miles) and then north again to San Fernando, another thirty-one miles. The march started with the summary execution of between 350 and 400 Filipinos, some dispatched by sword-wielding Japanese officers. In the days ahead, those who collapsed during the march were executed and those who were overcome by exhaustion were driven over by Japanese trucks. Bayoneting of weak soldiers was common; executions by a single bullet to the back of the skull were an hourly occurrence. The Americans and Filipinos were forced to drink stagnant water from puddles or roadside buffalo wallows. Of the 78,000 who made the march, between 7,000 and 10,000 Filipinos died or were murdered, as were between 500 and 700 Americans.

Prisoners on the Bataan Death March. Dead soldiers on the Bataan Death March

"One of those who marched was Harold K. Johnson, who would later become army chief of staff. 'I saw my first Jap atrocity that [first] morning,' he later remembered. 'Not far off, in a field, a Filipino was on his knees pleading with a Jap officer. You could see the man's arms in the air, imploring the soldiers to spare his life. The Jap laughed and shot him through the chest.' The Americans were forbidden to get out of line to find water, so some tried to sneak away. If caught, they were killed. Those who couldn't walk were put on trucks in a journey to an assembly point where they were thrown by the side of the road. A young American, Major Henry Lee, survived the march, but not the war. He was interred at Babanacyuan Prison Camp, where, for two years, he speared fish for food, adding frogs from nearby swamps to his meals. He was eventually transferred to Cabanatuan Camp, and then, in October 1944, he was moved to Bilibad Prison in Manila, a fetid, dank, and overcrowded dungeon. In December, Lee and more than 1,500 other Americans were packed into the Oryoku Maru, a 'hell ship' bound for Formosa. Lee was killed when the ship was sunk by American bombers in Formosa Harbor on January 9, 1945."


Mark Perry


The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur


Basic Books


Copyright 2014 by Mark Perry


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