Bombing of Cavite Navy Yard

The Philippines was the site of some of the most important battles in World War II. For the Japanese, the Philippines was not so much an objective in its own right but a stepping stone for its conquest of Southeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean. The Philippines was a US commonwealth at the time war started that was promised independence in 1946.

Japan launched a surprise attack on the Philippines on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Initial aerial bombardment was followed by landings of ground troops both north and south of Manila. The defending Philippine and United States troops were under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, who had been recalled to active duty in the United States Army earlier in the year and was designated commander of the United States Armed Forces in the Asia-Pacific region. The aircraft of his command were destroyed; the naval forces were ordered to leave; and because of the circumstances in the Pacific region, reinforcement and resupply of his ground forces were impossible. Under the pressure of superior numbers, the defending forces withdrew to the Bataan Peninsula and to the island of Corregidor at the entrance to Manila Bay. Manila, declared an open city to prevent its destruction, was occupied by the Japanese on January 2, 1942. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Philippine defense continued until the final surrender of United States-Philippine forces on the Bataan Peninsula in April 1942 and on Corregidor in May. Most of the 80,000 prisoners of war captured by the Japanese at Bataan were forced to undertake the infamous "Death March" to a prison camp 105 kilometers to the north. It is estimated that as many as 10,000 men, weakened by disease and malnutrition and treated harshly by their captors, died before reaching their destination. Quezon and Osmeña had accompanied the troops to Corregidor and later left for the United States, where they set up a government in exile. MacArthur was ordered to Australia, where he started to plan for a return to the Philippines. *

By some estimates over 1.1 million Filipinos were killed during World War II. This is out of a wartime population of 17 million. "Every Filipino family was hurt by the war on a very personal level," one sociologist told the New York Times.

Attack of the Philippines

Japanese tank crew

The Japanese bombed the Philippines on December 8, 1941 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Using planes based in Formosa (Taiwan), the Japanese bombed Clark Field in the first thrust of their invasion. Half of the U.S. Army's Far East aircraft, including scores of B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, were destroyed on the ground as they were at Pearl Harbor. With the American air forces incapacitated, the Japanese were able to invade by land.

According to Lonely Planet: “ When Japan bombed Hawaii's Pearl Harbor in 1941, other forces attacked Clark Field, where General Douglas MacArthur was caught napping, despite many hours' warning. Within two days, Japanese troops landed at Vigan in North Luzon, eventually driving the allied Filipino and US troops to the Bataan Peninsula, opposite newly occupied Manila. From here, soldiers and civilians alike faced not only relentless bombardment but also hunger, disease and disillusionment.” [Source: Lonely Planet]

Describing the first day attack in Manila, Carlson Romulu wrote: "We hadn't long to wait after Pearl Harbor. The next day I stood on the balcony of the Herald building and saw the first enemy planes cut down through the skies like great aerial bolos. Fifty-four Japanese sky monsters, flashing silver in the bright noonday sun, were flying two magnificently formed Vs. Above the scream of the sirens the church bells solemnly announced the noon hour. “

"Unprotected and unprepared, Manila lay under the enemy planes," Romula wrote. "The capital had stopped moving. Trams were frozen in their tracks. Cars and carromatas, drawn by skinny ponies, were pulled obediently against the kerbs. There was no sign of panic---everybody was watching the planes."

Approximately 7000 miles separated the Philippines from the west coast of the United States. Hawaii was only 2000 miles closer. Supplying or coming to the rescue of the Philippines during a Japanese attack was difficult to say the least, the Filipino defense was something called War Plan Orange which called for U.S. troops to withdraw to Bataan peninsula and Corregidor during an invasion.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur

Douglas MacArthur was in the Philippines at the time of the attack. Incredibly headstrong, egotistical and arrogant, he served in three major wars (World War I, World War II and the Korean War) and had an a major impact and stirred up trouble in each one. As the lord of Japan after World War II he was regarded as “senior to everyone but God.” He is one of the most controversial of all American generals. [Source: Geoffrey C. Ward, National Geographic, March 1992]

MacArthur was born January 26, 1880 in Fort Dodge, Arkansas. His father was a Civil War and Spanish-American War hero and the military governor of the Philippines under U.S. President William McKinley. MacArthur’s mother was so determined that her son be a success that she took out a room at West Point so she could make sure the light was on in her son's room, showing that was studying. At West Point MacArthur graduated number one in his class with a grade of 98.15. Only two cadets were reputed to have had higher scores; one of them was Robert E. Lee.

In 1914, MacArthur took part in a mission in Mexico in which he said he killed seven men. He was denied the Medal of Honor because he could offer "no incontestable proof." In World War I, MacArthur was the chief of staff of the France-based Rainbow Division. On the front lines he refused to wear a helmet or a gas mask but wore a soft cap along with a cigarette holder and a four-foot woolen muffler knitted by his mother. Once, a shell exploded in the courtyard of a chateau where he was dining. Remaining seated, while all his guests hit the floor, MacArthur said, "All of Germany can not make a shell that will kill MacArthur. Sit down again, gentlemen, with me." By the end of World War I, the 38-year-old MacArthur had become a colonel, the head of the Rainbow Division, and earned seven Silver Stars for bravery, four other U.S. medals and 19 honors from Allied nations.

MacArthur had a reputation for fearlessness. He walked among bursting shells and artillery fire in war zones like it was nothing. He told Patton, when he flinched after an explosion, "Don't worry major. You never hear the one that gets you." MacArthur wasn't very popular among both officers and enlisted men because he was regarded as a seef-serving, publicity hound who blamed mistakes on subordinates while grabbing the glory for himself for successes, making sure his face and corncob pipe were in the newspapers under the headlines of important victories. Once MacArthur told a commander to capture a key town "or don't come back alive." When the commander achieved the objective and was heralded in the press for it, MacArthur threatened to reduce his rank and send him home.

MacArthur's Military Career Before and After World War II

MacArthur's mother used her connections to further her son's career. She help get him promoted in 1918 to brigadier general, without the recommendation of the nations top general Pershing, and become the youngest ever commandant of West Point. In 1922, MacArthur married a woman in her 30s who had just rejected Pershing's proposal.


In 1930, MacArthur became the U.S. Army chief of staff under U.S. President Herbert Hoover. At that time he was known for sometimes wearing a kimono while in his office. In 1932, at the height of the Depression, about 25,000 unemployed veterans descended on Washington demanding a "bonus" for past services. Even though the U.S. president had ordered that the veterans be left alone, MacArthur ordered soldiers to use force to disperse the protest and then called a press country in which he bragged he had saved the U.S. from a revolution.

After making quite a name for himself in Japan and Korea after World War II MacArthur returned to the United States in 1951. In 1952, he became head of a large corporation and was the keynote speaker at the Republican national convention. MacArthur was mentioned as a Republican presidential candidate in 1944, 1948 and 1952 but the movements never panned out. MacArthur died in Washington D.C. on April 5, 1964. He was buried in the MacArthur Memorial, at Norfolk, Virginia.

MacArthur in the Philippines

In 1922, when he was 42, MacArthur was stationed in the Philippines as commander of the Manila district. He believed he received the post from General Pershing because MacArthur was having an affair with Pershing's former mistress. When MacArthur returned to Washington he brought with him a Filipina mistress, nicknamed "Dimples," whom he installed at a Washington Hotel. She soon grew tired of her isolation and began having affairs to amuse herself. She eventually settled in California after MacArthur paid her $15,000 to keep quiet. [Source: Geoffrey C. Ward, National Geographic, March 1992]

In 1935, General Douglas MacArthur came to the Philippines at the invitation of Manual Quezon, the man who became the Philippines’ first president in 1945. In 1937, MacArthur retired from the army but continued his work in the Philippines. Quezon gave him the rank of Field Marshall and helped set him up in a seven-room penthouse at the Manila Hotel. On his trip to the Philippines MacArthur met Jean Fairbanks, whom he later married and had a son with.

In July 1941, under the advise of Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, Roosevelt appointed MacArthur as the commander of the Far east. MacArthur thought that War Plan Orange was rubbish. He drew up plans to put together a 400,000 man army, “set up to dispel any invader.” When the Japanese invasion came the Philippines army was woefully unprepared. Most soldiers had never held a rifle let alone fired one.

MacArthur and the Attack of the Philippines

MacArthur, who had recently been named commander of the U.S. forces in the Far East, reacted too late during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in December, 1941. He had enough time to order the B-17 bombers and P-40 fighters at Clark and Iba airfields into the air before Japanese planes arrived but failed to do so. On this issue MacArthur was quick to pass blame onto his subordinates.

MacArthur believed that Japanese near-sightedness kept them from being good pilots, which is one reason why he didn't take precautions to move his planes from the Philippines before the Japanese attacks. After the attack he believed the Japanese planes were flown by white mercenaries.

MacArthur was criticized for failing to strengthen his troops and for denying permission for U.S. bombers to raid Japanese bases in Formosa in the hours after Pearl Harbor. As senior commanding officer, he was responsible for the debacle in the Philippines. MacArthur escaped official reprimand because of friends in high places.

Japanese Invasion of the Philippines

Between December 10 and 24, 50,000 Japanese landed on northern and southern Luzon, the main island of the Philippines. About 43,000 of them landed at Lingayen Gulf, northwest of Manila, in southern Luzon and quickly advanced on Manila.

With the American air force out of action, the Japanese army faced little opposition. The Filipino army was quickly overrun and the U.S. army was forced to fall back on War Plan Orange. American soldiers were well positioned on Luzon but MacArthur failed to provide them with adequate supplies and thousands needlessly died of malaria, dysentery and hunger.

Within a couple of weeks the Japanese had captured most of Luzon. Fearing encirclement MacArthur abandoned Manila and ordered a retreat to the Bataan Peninsula and the island of Corregidor, 30 miles away from Manila.

Most American and Filipino soldiers fled to the densely-forested, mountainous Bataan Peninsula where they were cut off from Corregidor but fought bravely despite being unprepared and undersupplied until April 9 when, exhausted and disease-ridden, they surrendered. One survivor later told Smithsonian magazine, “We had lots of weapons, but we didn’t have any ammunition.” Their last stand took place on Mount Samat, where American and Filipino forces had concentrated and were subject to a fierce artillery barrage from the Japanese followed by an attack from infantry men and tanks. It was said blood was spilled on every rock. Thousand of dead were buried in unmarked graves.

The United States had been in the Philippines for than 40 years and had plenty of time to prepare defenses on the strategic islands but didn’t. The threat of a Japanese attack had been present for some time yet the 24,000 Americans under MacArthur’s command had only just began to train the Filipino forces. Steve Wadel, a West Point historian, told Smithsonian magazine, “What happened at Bataan was an underestimation of the enemy. We were training Filipinos for what appeared to be a coming war, and yet they were cut off from our stores of weapons and provisions, which filed warehouses in Manila, Under these conditions, collapse becomes a matter of time.”

In the Philippines, while the Americans and Filipinos were holding off the Japanese at Bataan, President Quezon had twenty tons of the treasury's gold bullion and silver pesos loaded on the submarine USSTrout and taken to Australia. Another 350 tons of silver pesos, worth more than Php15 million (almost $8 million), was dumped in the waters off southern Corregidor in May 1942 and several million dollars in paper currency were burned after the serial numbers were noted and radioed to Washington. [Source: Charlie Avila's Marcos Chronology Report, bibliotecapleyades.net]

Fighting at Corregidor

The battle at Corregidor was the only place that Allies put up a fierce resistance during Japan's initial sweep through the Philippines and Southeast Asia. A force of 12,000 Americans and 40,000 Filipinos, lacking air support and cut from supplies and reinforcements, held off a superior and better-equipped Japanese invasion force for six months before MacArthur escaped to Australia. It is estimated that 100,000 Filipinos were killed. Supplies promised the men at Corregidor never arrived. On the matter, Secretary of war Henry Stimson said privately "There are times when men have to die."

Corregidor was a fortress on a tadpole-shaped island in Manila Bay also called Corregidor. It was as much as network of tunnels as it was a fortress. Inaugurated by the Spanish and later built up the Americans, it consisted of two major underground passageways: the Malinta tunnel which contained MaCarthur's headquarters and 1000-bed hospital; and the Navy Command Tunnel. Some 13,000 people were holed up Corregidor and several thousand more were at three smaller fortresses in Manila Bay. [Source: William Graves, National Geographic, July 1986]

Describing the first week of fighting, journalist William Graves, who was 14 a at the time, wrote: "I don't think anybody on Corregidor will ever go to hell, because we had our share today...We could see [Japanese] planes being thrown around when the shells exploded. One plane was hit and it broke formation...After that we got into the car and got down the tunnel. A little while later the bombing started topside. They were using a bunch of dive bombers and down in the tunnel we felt big vibrations. The raid ended about 2:15 and during the whole time they were bringing in the wounded and dying. One fellow they carried in [had] no feet, just bloody stumps. The wounded guys are the worst part of war. Almost 50 percent of the injuries have been limbs blown off by shrapnel. 16 guys died after they got here and they're all out in the hall. One guy was a friend of mine. Just before the raid he offered to take me for a ride in his little Crosmobile." [Source: William Graves, National Geographic, July 1986]

he Japanese lost one third of their soldiers on the landing of Corregidor due to heavy equipment that dragged them underwater and unpredictable currents that brought them in range of the U.S.'s seven- ton cannons that hurled 1,000 pound projectiles eight miles in any direction.

The Japanese bombed Corregidor for five months. By the time they were finished the entire island was pockmarked with bomb craters: an average of one every square 25 yards. Shelling often went all day. "Shells have an eerie scream or whistle," Graves wrote, "but if you hear the whistle it means the shell has gone by and it won't hit you...This firing is not so effective. It is merely a nuisance. It has only killed one and wounded four so far." Once a donkey was hit. "Dinner the next afternoon was a unique occasion," Graves wrote later, "featuring tough but unmistakably fresh meat."

Surrender at Corredigor

MacArthur's Escape and the Last Stand at Corregidor

On March 11, 1942, after holding out for nearly three months, MacArthur left Corregidor while ordering the men that stayed behind to fight. MacArthur maneuvered through a Japanese blockade in a PT boat during his escape. One general described MacArthur choice to escape from Corregidor in a PT boat instead of a submarine as "a stroke of genius." Before he left he took a gift of a half million dollars from the president of the Philippines. Dwight D. Eisenhower received a similar offer but refused the money "explaining that it was against army regulations."

By all accounts MacArthur's performance at the Philippines was a disaster. He never received an official reprimand for his failure to free his men on Bataan, which MacArthur only visited once during the retreat, but was instead called the "Lion of Luzon" by one newspaper.

After MacArthur's departure, U.S. and Filipino forces held on for a few weeks at Corregidor but they were weakened from malaria and the decision to share their food with civilians. To save food the people at Corregidor ate only two meals a day, and often these consisted of only Vienna sausages and sauerkraut. To keep their spirits up rumors were circulated about hundred-mile-long convoys coming to their rescue. Graves and his family escaped from the fortress on a converted yacht that delivered them to a submarine waiting in Manila Bay, which took them to Freemantle Australia.

On May 6, 1942, Corregidor was overrun by Japanese. The Battle of Corregidor was not at total loss. It slowed the Japanese "timetable of conquest" and gave the Allies precious weeks to organize their forces and prevent, among other things, a sweep into Australia. MacArthur told the people of the Philippines from Australia, "I shall return." The men that remained in Corregidor were taken prisoner by the Japanese and sent north of Manila to the Japanese-run prisons at Cabanatuan. They generally had it less bad than the soldiers on Bataan. They had better food and living conditions and lower rates of malaria and other disease than those that endured the Bataan Death March.

Ordered to maintain a 'holding action', MacArthur's other abandoned troops soon fell to the Japanese with the unconditional surrender of around 76, 000 people - 66, 000 of them Filipinos. Those still able to walk began the 120 kilometers 'Bataan death march' from Bataan to San Fernando, and on to prison camps in Capas, Tarlac. As many as 20, 000 people died along the way and another 25, 000 died while imprisoned. This event is honoured with the annual Araw ng Kagitingan (Bataan Day) public holiday on 9 April.

Bataan Death March

The Bataan Death March refers to the forced march in April, 1942 of captured American and Filipino soldiers for 65 miles across the Bataan Peninsula from the seaside town of Mariveles to San Fernando, where they were loaded on railroad cars and carried 24 miles to Capas and forced to march eight miles more to a prison at Camp O'Donnell, a former Filipino Army training base, on Palpanga Province. [Source: Donovan Webster, Smithsonian magazine, March 2004]

On April 9, 70,000 Allied soldiers (including 14,000 Americans and the rest mostly Filipinos) under the command of Maj. Gen. Edward P. King turned themselves in to Japan as prisoners of war. The next day they were “registered” and divided into groups of 100 to 200 and started on their forced march. Most of those who took part in the march were soldiers that remained in the Philippines after the loss of the Bataan peninsula and Corregidor.

The march lasted for six days and was conducted in sweltering heat. The prisoners were beaten and deprived of food and water. The men were already very weak before the march began from fighting four months in the jungle with little food. Many were suffering from malaria and other diseases. At least 11,000 Americans and Filipinos died of disease, heat stroke, brutally and lack of food and water on the march. Some who collapsed from exhaustion were bayoneted on the spot.

On the first day the prisoners walked all day and well into the night from Mariveeks to Balanga and were given some water and allowed to rest. In San Fernando the survivors were loaded onto old boxcars, manufactured in the 1910s, for the four-hour, 24-mile ride to the town of Capas. Dozens died from suffocation in crowed, oven-like box cars. One survivor told the Washington Post , “If you died there you couldn’t even fall to floor” because the cars were so packed. The Bataan Death March does not get a lot of coverage in the United States in part because it was a tragic defeat rather than a heroic victory and the men who endured the hardship for all intents and purposes had been abandoned to their fate.

Captain William Dyess, a fighter pilot stationed on Luzon when the Japanese invaded and captured when the American forces on Bataan surrendered, wrote:"Eventually the road became so crowded we were marched into a clearing. Here, for two hours, we had our first taste of the oriental sun treatment, which drains the stamina and weakens the spirit. The Japs seated us on the scorching ground, exposed to the full glare of the sun. Many of the Americans and Filipinos had no covering to protect their heads. I was beside a small bush but it cast no shade because the sun was almost directly above us. Many of the men around me were ill. [Source: “The Dyess Story “ by William E. Dyess, 1943; Eyewitness to History.com]

“When I thought I could stand the penetrating heat no longer. I was determined to have a sip of the tepid water in my canteen. I had no more than unscrewed the top when the aluminum flask was snatched from my hands. The Jap who had crept up behind me poured the water into a horse's nose-bag, then threw down the canteen. He walked on among the prisoners, taking away their water and pouring it into the bag. When he had enough he gave it to his horse." he joined the Death March and was interned by the Japanese.

Hardships, Death and Atrocities on the Bataan Death March

Bataan Death March

The prisoners on the Bataan Death march staggered, limped, walked and carried their comrades through steamy, disease-ridden jungles six days with virtually no food or water. Anyone who tried to scoop up water from a well risked being bayoneted or shot to death. Survivor Lester Tenney told Parade magazine, "If you stopped they killed." He had has his nose smashed in by a rifle butt and watched one Japanese officer systemically decapitate marchers with his samurai sword. Another survivor told Smithsonian magazine he saw a Japanese tanks swerve out of it way to crush a man who had collapsed from disease and exhaustion. “You stand there watching a human being get flattened and, well, that stick in your mind forever,” the survivor said.

Tenney said he observed one man who was so weak he couldn't get up get beaten senseless with rifle butts by Japanese soldiers while two other POWs were asked to dig a shallow trench and bury the unconscious man even though he was still alive. They refused. One man immediately had his blow off with a pistol shot. Two more POWs were enlisted to now dig two trenches: one of the POW with his head blown off and another for the original exhausted prisoner. The newly-enlisted gravediggers didn’t refuse. The original prisoner was still moaning as he was covered with dirt. [Source: Parade magazine]

Retired American army colonel Mel Rosen told the Washington Post he saw a Japanese soldier bayonet an American soldier as he tried to use a latrine. He said when the blade did not come out completely he used his foot to push the dying American into the latrine. “Another Japanese soldier nearby was leaning on his rifle laughing, like it was a joke,” Rosen said.

Many died from violence, starvation, dehydration and diseases such as malaria, dysentery, jaundice and dengue fever during the march itself and shortly afterwards. Thousands more died in the crude prison camp. Each day, prisoners who were too weak or sick to continue were slaughtered. Fingers were chopped off to get West Point rings as souvenirs and decapitated bodies lined the road. According to some survivors corpses lined the route at a rate of one every 10 to 20 yards. Rosen told the Washington Post, “If anybody dropped or couldn’t make it, we were not allowed to help them. The Japanese clubbed them to death, bayoneted them or beheaded them.”

One of the most widely published photographs of the Baatan Death March shows lines of men carrying their comrades in slings. Survivors of the march said the photo must have been of something else. “That picture is not of the Death March, John Lobe an 87-year-old survivor told AP. “The Japanese would not have tolerated a bunch of slow marching guys carrying their own dead.”

Eyewitness Account of a Bataan Death March Executions

Captain William Dyess, a fighter pilot stationed on Luzon when the Japanese invaded and captured when the American forces on Bataan surrendered, wrote:"The victim, an air force captain, was being searched by a three-star private. Standing by was a Jap commissioned officer, hand on sword hilt. These men were nothing like the toothy, bespectacled runts whose photographs are familiar to most newspaper readers. They were cruel of face, stalwart, and tall. [Source: “The Dyess Story “ by William E. Dyess, 1943; Eyewitness to History.com]

'The private a little squirt, was going through the captain's pockets. All at once he stopped and sucked in his breath with .a hissing sound. He had found some Jap yen.' 'He held these out, ducking his head and sucking in his breath to attract notice. The big Jap looked at the money. Without a word he grabbed the captain by the shoulder and shoved him down to his knees. He pulled the sword out of the scabbard and raised it high over his head, holding it with both hands. The private skipped to one side.'

'Before we could grasp what was happening, the black-faced giant had swung his sword. I remember how the sun flashed on it. There was a swish and a kind of chopping thud, like a cleaver going through beef'. 'The captain's head seemed to jump off his 'shoulders. It hit the ground in front of him and went rolling crazily from side to side between the lines of prisoners.'

'The body fell forward. I have seen wounds, but never such a gush of. blood as this. The heart continued to pump for a few seconds and at each beat there was another great spurt of blood. The white dust around our feet was turned into crimson mud. I saw the hands were opening and closing spasmodically. Then I looked away.' 'When I looked again the big Jap had put up his sword and was strolling off. The runt who had found the yen was putting them into his pocket. He helped himself to the captain's possessions.'...This was the first murder

"The hours dragged by and, as we knew they must. The drop-outs began. It seemed that a great many of the prisoners reached the end of their endurance at about the same time. They went down by twos and threes. Usually, they made an effort to rise. I never can forget their groans and strangled breathing as they tried to get up. Some succeeded. Others lay lifelessly where they had fallen.

“I observed that the Jap guards paid no attention to these. I wondered why. The explanation wasn't long in coming. There was a sharp crackle of pistol and rifle fire behind us. Skulking along, a hundred yards behind our contingent, came a 'clean-up squad' of murdering Jap buzzards. Their helpless victims, sprawled darkly against the white, of the road, were easy targets.

“As members of the murder squad stooped over each huddled form, there would be an orange 'flash in the darkness and a sharp report. The bodies were left where they lay, that other prisoners coming behind us might see them. Our Japanese guards enjoyed the spectacle in silence for a time. Eventually, one of them who spoke English felt he should add a little spice to the entertainment.'Sleepee?' he asked. 'You want sleep? Just lie down on road. You get good long sleep!' On through the night we were followed by orange flashes and thudding sounds." [Source: “The Dyess Story “ by William E. Dyess, 1943; Eyewitness to History.com]

End of the Bataan Death March

Finally, after five days without food and limited water, the dwindling column arrives at its destination: San Fernando. Dyess wrote: "The sun still was high in the sky when we straggled into San Fernando, a city of 36,000 population, and were put in a barbed wire compound similar to the one at Orani. We were seated in rows for a continuation of the sun treatment. Conditions here were the worst yet. [Source: “The Dyess Story “ by William E. Dyess, 1943; Eyewitness to History.com]

“The prison pen was jammed with sick, dying, and dead American and Filipino soldiers. They were sprawled amid the filth and maggots that covered the ground. Practically all had dysentery. Malaria and dengue fever appeared to be running unchecked. There were symptoms of other tropical diseases I didn't even recognize.

“Jap guards had shoved the worst cases beneath the rotted flooring of some dilapidated building. Many of these prisoners already had died. The others looked as though they couldn't survive until morning. There obviously had been no burials for many hours. After sunset Jap soldiers entered and inspected our rows.

“Then the gate was opened again and kitchen corpsmen entered with cans of rice. We held our mess kits and again passed lids to those who had none. Our spirits rose. We watched as the Japs ladled out generous helpings to the men nearest the gate. Then, without explanation, the cans were dragged away and the gate was closed. It was a repetition of the ghastly farce at Balanga. The fraud was much more cruel this time because our need. was vastly greater. In our bewildered state it took some time for the truth to sink in. When it did we were too discouraged even to swear." In April 1943, Captain Dyess was one of three prisoners able to escape from the camp. He eventually made his way back to America. [Source: “The Dyess Story “ by William E. Dyess, 1943; Eyewitness to History.com]

What Happened to the Survivors of the Bataan Death March

About 54,000 men who participated in the Bataan Death March made it to Camp O’Donnell and were imprisoned. Most were shipped out over the next few months to other Japanese prison camps. Some were taken to Japan or other occupied areas to work as slave laborers.

Conditions were not good at Camp O’Donnell. There was little shelter and only one spigot with fresh water for almost 60,000 prisoners. Sanitation was poor. During the first three months 1,500 Americans and 20,000 Filipinos died of dysentery, malaria and malnutrition. The living were largely put to work disposing of the dead, One prisoner told the historian Hampton Sides, “Hell is not a state of mind, O’Donnell is a place.” Another said he weighed 150 pounds when he entered the camp and dropped to 80 pounds after several months. “We never got anything other than rice to eat, and didn’t get much of that. I also had cases of dysentery, malaria and dengue fever.”

Most of those who survived Camp O’ Donnell were shipped to Japan or elsewhere in the holds of cargo ships known as “hell ships” to work as slave laborers. The men on these ships survived on buckets of rice and water that were lowered to them in the holds. Human waste and corpses of the dead were pulled out each morning and thrown overboard.

Rosen told the Washington Post that in November 1942 he was shipped to a penal colony on Mindinao, where he worked in rice fields but got little to eat. Two years later he and 1,600 other men were loaded in a hell ship bound for Japan. He and 680 other prisoners were put in a 9-x-15-meter hold that soon filled with human waste. After the ship was attacked he was put in the hold of another ship. “The Japanese kept us down there with our dead and dying for four days and on the fifth day they lowered a net and said, “Pile all your dead in here.” On a third ship, “We were throwing American bodies overboard at a rate of 30, then 40, then 50 a day all the way to Japan.” Of the original 1,600 prisoners loaded onto the first ship only 200 to 300 arrived in Japan.

Of the 12,000 Americans take prisoners by the Japanese only 4,000 were alive at the end of the war. Only 513 prisoners remained alive in Philippines when it was liberated in 1944.

Image Sources: National Archives of the United States; Wikimedia Commons; Gensuikan;

Text Sources: National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun, The New Yorker, Lonely Planet Guides, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wikipedia, BBC, “Eyewitness to History “, edited by John Carey ( Avon Books, 1987), Compton’s Encyclopedia, “History of Warfare “ by John Keegan, Vintage Books, Eyewitness to History.com, “The Good War An Oral History of World War II” by Studs Terkel, Hamish Hamilton, 1985, BBC’s People’s War website and various books and other publications.

Last updated November 2016

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