January 7, 2012

Yesterday was the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Bataan. This was the first major land battle American forces fought in World War II. They fought with no reinforcements, resupply, or hope of rescue. They lived on half, then half of half rations and still managed to fight on. From their perspective they were abandoned by their country due to Roosevelt's Europe First Policy which put the Pacific Theatre (and therefore them) on the backburner. General Douglas MacArthur, Commander, US Armed Forces Far East (USAFFE)- their commanding officer, was ordered by President Roosevelt to Australia and even the President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines (then an American territory heading toward independence), left the islands. Still, they fought.  

For four months.

The battle was fought by tens of thousands of Filipino conscripts and volunteers, US Army, National Guard, plane-less US Army Air Corps personnel, ship-less Sailors and the China Marines. On the water a smoking, bombed out submarine tender provided machine services and the various Navy gunboats and small ships where fated to make their stand with Bataan and the military headquarters of Corregidor Island, standing off the coast of Bataan and in the mouth of Manila Bay, denying Japanese forces use of it. And of course it was fought by the Philippine Scouts- the Army's elite force in the islands. They had the honor of making the last cavalry charge in American history during the Japanese invasion and this battle would see three of the War's first Medals of Honor given to Scouts.

The battle ended April 9, 1942 with the largest surrender of American forces in history. The worst was yet to come. 72,00 defenders, American and Filipino, would be forced to walk over 100 kilometers through the hottest month of the year and over the mountainous terrain of Bataan to a prison camp. 12,000 died, many outright murdered by the IJA, along the way. An additional 1,500 Filipino soldiers where bayoneted to death for "taking too long to surrender". The survivors of the Death March became slave labor for the military, used and spent, worked to literal death, like any other resources their captors had at their disposal. Many would not live to see liberation in 1945... but that's for another day. I won't speculate on why they fought, what motivated them or drove them, I don't like putting words in the mouths of the dead. Today, I just want to remind everyone that they fought and to remember the bravery of the "Battling Bastards of Bataan".

I've had the good fortune to visit Bataan, much of Old National Road, where the Death March took place, is still in place and an obelisk is placed every kilometer to let you know what kilometer of the march you're at. I visited Kilometer 0 at Mariveles and we went through Zigzag Road, where the marchers where led up. Our car had trouble chugging up it. It's hard not to become emotional as you go up the Road, especially on Zigzag and see the marker, knowing that those men, after such a lengthy battle, had to endure this form of Hell. The obelisque are like grave markers for the many who died on the way. While in Bataan I stayed in Dinalupihan with my adopted Filipino family, near where the battle began and also visited Mt. Samat, where it ended. Mt. Samat is one of the most touching war memorials I've been to and the view from the 300 foot cross atop the mountain is spectacular as well. We also rode a bancay, a traditional Filipino boat, to Corregidor. Corregidor is a fortress island, mostly intact, all the guns and surrounding fortifications still in place and well maintained. If I can get a chance I'll load up pictures so that y'all can see it too. Though my advice is to go and experience it for yourself.

Mariveles, Bataan Province, Philippines

This metal 'Soldier's Grave' is part of the Death March Memorial at Kilometer 0, where the march began in Mariveles. An identical sculpture is on Corregidor as well. We found this by accident, we were driving to the bancay boats to get to Corregidor when we missed our turn. I noticed the Death March marker we passed said "2 km" on it, so I asked our driver if he could go another two kilometers before turning around. Sure enough two kilometers down the road, across the the beach and nestled in a quiet little park next to a Jollibee fast food restuarant was the Death March Kilometer 0 Memorial Park.


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