Bataan Death March: Top 10 Facts

There have been some detestable orders and actions by military leaders throughout time. One of the most recent was during World War II and occurred in the Philippines. It is called the Bataan Death March.

To summarize what the Bataan Death March was…

American and Philippine forces were tasked with holding the Philippine Islands from the Japanese. The Japs came in huge numbers and the defenders had to retreat. They retreated to Bataan which was across the Manila Bay.

Japanese soldiers were intent on taking Bataan as the Battle of Bataan lasted 3 months until low on ammo and unable to hold out, the surrender was made to the Japanese. And it was determined that there were over 60,000 military and over 30,000 civilians captured.

With no other way to transport all these prisoners to lock-ups at Camp O’Donnell, marching them to waiting trains was the only answer. The March was from Bagac, Bataan and Mariveles to Capas Train Station and loaded in boxcars for a standing room only ride to prison.

Here are 10 top facts about the Bataan Death March.

#1: When?

The Bataan Death March started on April 9th, 1942.

#2: How Far?

The distance comes in to approximately 65 miles.

#3: Evil Atrocities

Japanese soldiers were completely inhumane to the Filipino and American prisoners on this long march. They would

  • Beat them
  • Behead them
  • Bayonet them
  • and Shoot them

The majority of the American and Philippine soldiers and officers were injured in one form or another from Japanese abuse before they reached the prison. If not dying during the March, many died after it in prison.

#4: 3 Years

Those who lived through the March spent approximately 3 years in the confinement camps until the United States was able to retake the island in 1945 and release the prisoners.

#5: Japanese Reasoning For The Brutality

Within the hearts and minds of Japanese soldiers was “never surrender.”

It was ingrained in the soldiers from Japan that they should always choose death before surrendering. When a soldier surrenders, they believe that person loses all rights to ever be treated like a human.

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#6: If A Soldier Had Japanese Money Or Possessions

It was quickly discovered that if any allied soldier had any Japanese money or souvenirs, they would be killed immediately. The assumption was, if you had these, you must have taken it from a deceased Japanese soldier.

#7: The General Who Surrendered

General of the Army, Douglas MacArthur had ordered Major General Edward King Jr not to surrender for anything.

Disobeying that order when food and medicine was depleted, King was be the General who would order the largest surrender in American military history. Over 75,000 Filipino and American forces became prisoners of war.

King was treated terribly by the Japanese and he expected he would face court martial when he was freed.

No, Major General Edward King Jr was treated as a hero and passed away in Georgia at 74 years of age.

#8: Shovel Mercy

It is something we should each ask ourselves if we could show this kind of mercy…

When Filipino or American soldiers just could not go any farther, they would drop. Other prisoners were given soldiers and told to bury them; but they were still alive. Not wanting to bury a fellow soldier alive, they would use that same shovel to make sure the comrade was dead before burying him.

It may seem like an evil act but in fact, it was an act of mercy.

#9: The Bataan Memorial Death March

The Bataan Death March had an overwhelming effect on many in the State of New Mexico. The 200th Coast Artillery, a National Guard Unit from New Mexico, had many men die either fighting in Bataan, during the March or in the confinement camps.

The Army ROTC program at New Mexico University established the Bataan Memorial Death March in 1989. Now each year, both military and civilian people participate in a challenging march of either 14.2 miles or 26.2 miles.

No one is torturing you or stabbing you, but it is still grueling and a great reminder of what these troops endured.

If you would like to participate, just see #4 in the reference section.

#10: War Crimes

After the surrender of Japan, many of those responsible for the brutality and murders during the Bataan Death March were brought to trial…

  • Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma – Executed by firing squad
  • Prime Minister of Japan Hideki Tojo – Executed by hanging
  • General Seishirō Itagaki – Executed by hanging
  • Lieutenant General Akira Mutō – Executed by hanging

Final Thoughts

While researching and writing this post, I must admit, I had tears in my eyes.

You see, I am what is known as a military brat. My Father who was in the Air Force was stationed in Yokohama, Japan in the mid 1960’s. As a youngster in Japan, I was told how I was often ganged up on by Japanese kids who would say things like “you bombed my family.”

But what did their military leaders do to Americans?

It is sad that any of it happened. I am happy that Japanese and Americans now live in peace.

War is not pretty… It is not fun. But even in war, there are rules. If military leaders cannot follow those rules, they will be punished to the fullest extent.

I must admit, I will have a difficult time sleeping tonight because what these men endured will be haunting my dreams.

Your thoughts are???

Leave your answers below. Thank you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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