April 9, 2017
Bataan Death March: The History You Need To Know

Survivors of the Bataan Death March gathered in San Francisco to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the infamous event. The Saturday ceremony featured speeches from the survivors who shared their experience and offered a 21-gun battery salute to thousands of American and Filipino soldiers who lost their lives in the march.

While people commemorate the day every year, very few know the history behind the Bataan Death March. The U.S. surrendered the Bataan Peninsula on the main Philippine island of Luzon on April 9, 1942, during World War II. Following the surrender, the Japanese army forced around 75,000 American and Filipino troops on Bataan to move to prison camps located 65 miles away.

The Japanese guards mistreated the soldiers while they trekked in intense heat. Thousands of soldiers collapsed in the process that came to be known as the Bataan Death March. The three-month battle marked the role of the Philippines in the Second World War. The marchers were mostly kept without the supplies of food and ammunition in their three-month journey.

Going through the history of Bataan Death March takes researchers to another event on December 7, 1941. On this day, Japan bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. The day after the bombing, the Japanese troops started the invasion of the Philippines. Within a month of the commencement of the invasion, Japan took over Manila, the capital of the Philippines. On April 9, 1942, U.S. General Edward King Jr. surrendered the troops at Bataan seeing the deteriorating conditions of the Filipino and American soldiers because of the lack of food and other support.

Executive Director of California's Bataan Legacy Historical Society, Berkley, said that there were some Americans who were aware of the Filipino soldiers starving for days. "Despite fighting without any air support and without any reinforcement, they disrupted the timetable of the Imperial Japanese army," she said. "That was their major role, to perform a delaying action. And they did that beyond expectations."

The San Francisco ceremony to remember the Bataan Death March was attended by several veterans. One of them was the former wartime machine-gun operators who reached the spot to honor those who lost their lives in the march. Ramon Regalado, according to reports, was starving and also suffering from malaria when he escaped his Japanese captors. He attended the event on Saturday and paid a tribute to those who completed their march and reached their destiny during the Second World War.

The Japanese hold victory parade in Manila.
The Japanese hold a victory parade in Manila. [Image by Keystone/Getty Images]

Another survivor of the Bataan Death March who needs a mention here is former Army Captain Jose P. Javier, aged 107. He is the oldest survivor of the Filipino World War II troop. He is a medical doctor by profession and has written a 143-page book, A Century's Journey. The story is about his life as a soldier.

Moreover, a road is named as Bataan Road after the Bataan Death March initiated during the Second World War. The street by the same name is there in the United States as well as the Philippines. The name of the street honors the American as well as Filipino soldiers who fought collectively in the battle. Organizer Jerome Kleinman said that the U.S. Bataan Road was a part of Camp Shanks. It is the army base that is considered the largest point of soldier embarkation that proceeded for the European frontlines during World War II.

"The name 'Bataan' in 1942 was synonymous with 'Remember the Alamo,'" Kleinman said. "It was a call to the United States public for whatever they needed to win a war that they weren't prepared for."

The Bataan Death March commemoration is a way to preserve the history, Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart said. The supervisor also added that it was a learning experience for those who were unaware of the battle and the march.

"It's about learning history, it's about celebrating the accomplishments of the veterans, it's about trying to make sure that atrocities are prevented," Stewart said.

[Featured Image Keystone/Getty Images]