Most folks recognize Dec. 7, 1941…the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. President Roosevelt called it “a day which will live in infamy.”
But I wonder how many folks recognize April 9, 1942? It is the date of the largest surrender of US forces in history – the fall of Bataan, in the Philippines. Bataan, a rugged peninsula on the main Philippine island of Luzon, is where Gen. MacArthur chose to establish a defensive perimeter to delay the Japanese conquest of the Philippines for as long as possible so that the defense of Australia could be organized.
Bataan’s low ground in the south was close to the fortress island of Corregidor. Although some supplies reached Bataan by submarine through the south, it was insufficient. Gen. MacArthur’s headquarters was at Corregidor, before he escaped by PT boat and then submarine to Australia. After Bataan surrendered, Corregidor fell to a Japanese amphibious assault about a month later, which ended formal military resistance.
The fall of Bataan was followed by the infamous Bataan Death March, in which some 75,000 starving American and Filipino POWs were forced to march some 60 miles in the heat with no food or water. Anyone who fell from exhaustion was bayoneted. The death toll is estimated in the thousands.
Here is the story of one survivor:
Word of the Death March was passed on to the Allies by Filipino and American resistance groups. This news was then used in propaganda efforts.
One of the units at Bataan was a New Mexico National Guard coast artillery group of about 1,800. Only about half the unit survived the war. Today, there is a Bataan Memorial in Albuquerque and an annual Bataan marathon.
Many years ago, I was on a business trip to Kissimmee, Florida, which is near Orlando. The meeting was in a one story building next to a park. As I walked towards the building I noticed a Philippine flag flying in the park. I was surprised to see this and so I went to the park to investigate.
Both the Philippine and American flags were flying near some sort of statute. As I arrived at the statute, I noticed a plaque and other items commemorating the Bataan Death March. At the meeting, I asked about the memorial and was told that local Filipino doctors had erected it.
At the end of the war, the Japanese general held accountable (Lt. Gen. Homma) was tried as a war criminal and executed by firing squad just a few days before the fourth anniversary of the fall of Bataan.
Survivors of the Battle of Bataan, Death March and POW camp formed an organization – the Battling Bastards of Bataan. At one time there were regular reunions in the Philippines.