Bataan Death March – April 1942 – World War Two

While part of the Japanese army landed on Java in the Dutch East Indies, marched into Soerabaja, separated and incarcerated families, a horrifying, atrocious event took place on the island of Luzon in the Philippines after the fall of Bataan, known as the Bataan Death March. If you have never read the details, perhaps this article, quoted from http://www.Roger will give you an idea of the cruelty of the Japanese.  And this was only the beginning of three and a half years of brutal Japanese oppression in Southeast Asia.

map of bataan One of the earliest and most severe mistreatment of prisoners of war became known to the world as the DEATH MARCH.  All troops, both Filipino and American, gathered at various points on Bataan after the April 1942 surrender to the Japanese and then were forced to march 65 miles from Mariveles on the tip of Bataan to San Fernando under conditions that no one believed could happen.  All valuables were confiscated; Jack Heinzel recalls: “All prisoners were stripped of personal possessions, watches, jewelry and cigarettes by the oncoming Japanese front line troops.” There was very little food, no water and no medical attention to the sick and wounded.  Ferron Edwin Cummins attests in “This Is My Story” that “we were placed in a kneeling position, searched again and left sitting in the hot tropical sun for about six hours without food or water.” Abie Abraham began his account, “The men started to march in a long column on the dusty road.  For many of the bloody, frail men this was the last march. The sun beat down unmercifully on the marchers with a continuous drum by the Japanese guards to hurry.  Furthermore, the Japanese treated the POWs with savage brutality. As Albert Brown recalled, “Those who fell out of line or failed to follow orders were met with beheadings, stabbings, or shootings.” In an article about ex-POW Paul Ehney, Curtis Norris writes: “Along the way, numbers of them were slaughtered by bayonet, sword, gun, truck, whatever the Japs could use to kill. Many wounded were buried alive, their moans smothered by hastily-shoveled earth. There was no rhyme or reason to the killings. They occurred as the fancy hit the individual Japanese soldier.” Around 70,000 men began the trek to the north, but only 54,000 arrived at Camp O’Donnell.  No one was ever able to record the exact death toll since many were unaccounted for or just escaped.   Approximately 600 of those who perished were American, and between five to ten thousand  were Filipinos.

Arriving at San Fernando, the troops were literally shoved and stuffed into small railroad cars with no room to sit down for last leg into Camp O’Donnell.  They received no water, no food and the heat from the tropical sun was relentless.  Thus they came to the end of the road, suffering from every disease imaginable.  They were dirty, unkempt, pale, bloated, and lifeless.  They looked aged beyond their years and had nothing to look forward to except degradation. Of those who survived to reach the Japanese prison camp near Cabanatuan, few lived to celebrate U.S. General Douglas MacArthur‘s liberation of Luzon in 1945.

The United States had informed the Japanese government on December 18, 1941, that it (the US) is a party to the Geneva Convention of 1929 on Prisoners of War, and intended to apply the provisions to both captured armed forces and civilian internees which may be interned by the United States, and requested the Japanese government to apply those provisions to those captured or interned by the armed forces.  On February 4, 1942, the Japanese government cabled that “IT IS STRICTLY OBSERVING THE GENEVA CONVENTION AS A SIGNATORY STATE AND WOULD APPLY MUTIS MUTANDIS PROVISIONS OF THAT LAW TO AMERICAN PRISONERS OF WAR IN ITS POWER.”
Also on February 4, 1942, Japan cabled that, “ON CONDITION OF RECIPROCITY, JAPAN WILL APPLY GENEVA CONVENTION TO POWS AND CIVILIANS INSOFAR AS APPLICABLE, AND THEY SHOULD NOT BE FORCED TO PERFORM LABOR AGAINST THEIR WILL.”  These cables are totally inconsistent with the manner that the Japanese military and civilians mistreated American prisoners of war in their power.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Until next time.


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