History of the Bataan Death March of April 1942
After the US and Philippine Forces surrendered to the invading Japanese Imperial Army in Balanga, Bataan in the Philippines, a total number of 75,000 troops and militia went down from the mountains of Mariveles and the rest of the Bataan province from their defense positions and assembled to different areas on the shores of Bataan. But Mariveles became the “staging point” where the POWs were assembled and accounted. Almost of these troops were weak from the lack of food, sleep, medications, and due to lingering sickness brought about by the harsh environment in the mountains as they defended their positions for the past three (3) months since the Japanese Imperial Army invaded the Philippines on December 8, 1941.
On the early morning of April 9, 1942, the surrendered troops were considered as Prisoners of War (POW) of the invading forces and they were assembled and accounted for. The Japanese Army ordered these POWs to “march” from the place where they were assembled, along the shores of Mariveles, Bataan, up to the Railway Station in San Fernando, Pampanga. The route of the march covers a distance of 102 kilometers!
The POWs were exposed to the intense heat of the summer sun during the “march”. The daily routine would consist of starting the march as the sun rises with the stronger ones leading the group. The weaker ones would be left on the middle and sides of the road only to be “killed” by the Japanese soldiers guarding them. Reports of torture, bayonet-stabbing, gun-butt strokes, decapitating of heads by Samurai-wielding Japanese officers, and shooting of prisoners were flagrant during the march. There were also reports of weak soldiers being run-over by speeding trucks/vehicles and tanks by the invading forces.
The civilians along the route who would try to help the POWs in terms of water, food and assistance would also be killed and hurt by the guarding invaders. The soldiers/POWs were not given any water, food, or any assistance during the march. At sunset, the march stopped and the prisoners were guarded while they rest and sleep but there were no food on site or medical assistance given to them.
As the days passed, more of the POWs died along the route but the lucky and the stronger ones would be able to escape under the cover of darkness during night time. But the atrocities of the invading forces continued without let-up during the march. POWs would be lined up on the side of the street without the proper burial proceedings and they were left for the civilian folks to have them buried in shallow graves or pit holes. It is hard to find out on how many of the POWs died along the route of the march.
The stronger ones were able to reach the San Fernando Railway Station in 5-6 days but the slower ones would take them twice the duration.
The POWs were packed like sardines in “box carts” which were pulled by a train and more of them died due to suffocation and weakness on their bodies. After a 50-kilometer ride going north in these “box carts”, they alighted at the Capas, Tarlac Railway Station. From this station, the POWs walked another 6 kilometers to reach their destination---Camp O’Donnell POW Concentration Camp.
Out of the 75,000 POWs, only 54,000 survived the march, making the event as most inhuman act being done to prisoners by an invading force in the history of warfare in the world.
Personal accounts of survivors of the Bataan Death March could be easily accessed through the Internet and from books published in the past.
Let this be an event not to be forgotten by everybody. Thus, it is a yearly event that is commemorated to honor our heroes and our war veterans.