Monday, June 10, 2013

The Bataan Death March Trail

It was on April 9, 2012 when we went to Corregidor Island for an overnight stay.  We went around the Island on a guided tour and it was a great experience.  There, we saw the remnants of the war that were preserved.  We also experienced the lights and sounds show that has depicted World War II events.

Dennis has educated me with facts about what has transpired during the World War II predominantly in Corregidor Island. He mentioned that General Jonathan M. Wainright and his men, numbering 10,000, held on to Corregidor, until they were forced to surrender by the Japanese troops on 6 May 1942. While we were on our Corregidor tour, he also relayed  to me the historical events that transpired during the war as we visited the different significant spots contributory to such. But our journey back to World War II did not end there.  We went to Mariveles, Bataan and Bagac, Bataan to see the kilometer marker which showed the beginning of the Death March. The Death March has commenced on two start-off points. We visited a few places which has a historical significance to this one nightmare, the Philippines has ever experienced. We visited the Capas POW Concentration Camp, the old train station in Capas, Tarlac and even went as far as Cabanatuan to see the POW Camp where the Americans were brought to.  However, we were not satisfied with our trip. So when he came home again this 2013, we decided to go back.

When he went back to the US after his 2012 vacation, the topic about World War II was part of our conversations.  Time and again, we would be talking about the places he wanted us to see.  In my mind, I was already calculating how soon he would be coming back home again. I have already started writing down the places that were included in our topics.  Tracing once again the Bataan Death March  trail was not missed as he also mentioned to me about an old train station in San Fernando, Pampanga,which has also a significant role.

History would say that On December 8, 1942 (local time), the Japanese struck the American-held airbases here in the Philippines which was simultaneous with the attack of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Caught by surprise, a majority of the military aircraft on the archipelago were destroyed during the Japanese air attack. To make it even worse, the Japanese followed their surprise air strike with a ground invasion. As the Japanese ground troops headed toward the capital, Manila, American and Filipino troops retreated on December 22, 1941 to the Bataan Peninsula, located on the western side of the large island of Luzon in the Philippines.  Quickly cut off from food and other supplies by a Japanese blockade, the American and Filipino soldiers slowly used up their supplies. First they went on half rations, then third rations, then fourth rations. By April 1942, they had been holding out in the jungles of Bataan for three months and were clearly starving and suffering from diseases. 

There was nothing left to do but surrender. On April 9, 1942, U.S. General Edward P. King signed the surrender document, ending the Battle of Bataan. Gen. King spent three and a half years as a captive of the Japanese and was often mistreated by them because of his rank. The remaining 72,000 American and Filipino soldiers were taken by the Japanese as prisoners of war (POW). Nearly immediately, the Bataan Death March began. (Bataan Surrender)

Inspite their conviction to hold on and not be held captive by the Japanese Imperial Army, both Gen. King and  Gen. Wainright expected court-martial  for disobeying the surrender order. However, they were treated as heroes when they were finally freed.

The Bataan Death March was a 70-mile forced march of American and Filipino prisoners of war by Japanese forces during World War II. Approximately 72,000 American and Filipino soldiers were forced to surrender to Japan's Imperial Army after their defeat in the grinding, three-month-long Battle of Bataan (January 7 - April 9, 1942). (Bataan Death March)

Kilometer Marker
Historical Marker of the Death March
A stone that has the inscription of  "US Army-Bataan detachment"
This historical landmark needs to be maintained, protected, preserved and respected.  Incidentally, at that time that we were there, they have just commemorated the Fall of Bataan on April 9, 2012. With some youngsters seated in pairs by the landmark and a few teenagers who were just playing around, I believe that they are not really well informed of the significance of this site.

The Death March began with the goal of bringing the 72,000 captured American and Filipino POWs from Mariveles, Bataan to Camp O'Donnell in Tarlac. To do this, the prisoners were to be marched 55 miles from Mariveles to San Fernando, then travel by train to Capas. From Capas, the prisoners were again to march for the last eight miles to Camp O'Donnell. The prisoners were separated into groups of approximately a hundred, assigned Japanese guards, and then sent marching. It would take each group about five days to make the journey. The march would have been long and arduous for anyone, but the already starving prisoners were to endure cruel and brutal treatment throughout their long journey, which made the march deadly. (Brutal Treatment)

To continue with our visit to the historical landmarks of the Bataan Death March, we went to the train station in San Fernando, Pampanga on April 26, 2013, few days after Dennis arrived from the US.  It was already restored and recognized as a historical landmark. Prior to its restoration, it became a squatter's area.  Kudos to the City Government of San Fernando for their effort to restore and preserve important landmarks as this.  
Restored Train Station in San Fernando, Pampanga
The marker of the Death March reads "At this railroad station of San Fernando, the Filipino and American Prisoners of War who had been marched all the way from Bataan to Pampanga, in one of the ghastliest forced marches in history, were loaded like cattle in boxcars, where, because every compartment was packed to the limit, many were suffocated or crushed to death during the trip to Capas".

Last year, we already visited the train station in Capas where the POWs were brought to before they were again herded to Camp O'Donell. The old train station was not preserved as compared to the one we saw in San Fernando.  It seemed deserted and if you are not familiar about our history, you wouldn't even take a second look on what is written on the marker. The marker reads "At this railroad station of Capas, the Filipino and American prisoners of War, who survived the horrendous trip from San Fernando, during which so many smothered to death in the densely crowded cars, were unloaded and forced, although on the point of collapse to march the 6 kilometers to Camp O'Donnell, where they were concentrated".

Even after arriving at Camp O'Donnell, the survivors of the march continued to die at a rate of 30–50 per day, leading to thousands more dead. Most of the dead were buried in mass graves that the Japanese dug out with bulldozers on the outside of the barbed wire surrounding the compound. The death toll of the march is difficult to assess as thousands of captives were able to escape from their guards (although many were killed during their escapes), and it is not known how many died in the fighting that was taking place concurrently. (Camp O'Donnell)

Dennis and I also went to Camp O'Donell in Capas. The Capas National Shrine has been redeveloped during the time of President Fidel V. Ramos to show genuine reverence to the World War II soldiers who were part of the Death March. This used to be a cantonment for the military training of Filipino youth but later named as Prisoners of War Concentration Camp during the Fall of Bataan. Today, it is now known as the Capas National Shrine.
A Boxcar where the Filipino and American POW were loaded
On June 6, 1942, the Filipino soldiers were granted amnesty by the Japanese military and released. The American prisoners continued to be held. Camp O'Donnell was hell to the prisoners. They would line up once a day for water. Men were weak and dying from illness. The American prisoners of war were eventually  moved from Camp O'Donell to Cabanatuan. (Cabanatuan)
In recollection, our trail to the Bataan Death March did not only allow me to see (physically) these landmarks and historical sites, rather, it has made me realize that I need to involve myself more in learning about our history.  To me, there are still a lot of things in abstraction. I am grateful that Dennis has opened a new avenue and has paved the way for me to go back to my roots and understand what is it all about heroism in defense of one's country.

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