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Bataan Death March--a historical backdrop.

Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Eight hours later, Japan launched an aerial attack on the Philippines. Most of the U.S. Air Force in the Philippines was destroyed. A few days later, the Japanese forces landed in the Philippines.

General Douglas MacAuthur, the Filipino-American forces commander, decided to meet the Japanese at their landing points. This course of action deviated from the original war plan that called for American forces to withdraw into the Bataan peninsula in case of attack. His inexperienced troops failed to stop the Japanese at these landing points, therefore, forcing MacArthur to revert to the original plan of withdrawing into the peninsula.

By January 2, 1942, the northern Luzon Island defense forces were in place. Their mission was to stall the Japanese advancement by forcing them to use much of their troops and resources during the capture. This would buy the necessary time needed to rebuild the U.S. Pacific fleet that was crippled by the Pearl Harbor attack.

The Filipino-American defense was critically hampered by the shortage of food, ammunition, and medicine. Most of the ammunition was old and corroded--vehicles and needed gasoline were in short supply. Poorly trained Filipino troops were thrown into frontline combat against the highly trained Japanese. The defenders of Bataan continued to hold their ground; however, disease, malnutrition, fatigue, and reduced supplies eventually took a heavy toll.

The Filipino-American defense of Bataan was surrendered on April 9, 1942. The Japanese assembled their captives in various locations. Although American trucks were available to transport their prisoners, the Japanese decided to march them to their destinations. This series of marches, which lasted from five to nine days, came to be known as the "Bataan Death March." Malnutrition and disease claimed the lives of several thousand men. The Japanese tortured and murdered thousands of soldiers during the march. Many of the surviving POWs were sent to slave labor camps in Japan, Korea, and China. POWs were transported to these countries on aptly named "hell ships." These unmarked ships were targets for American planes and submarines. POW ships were attacked--thousands drowned.

After the end of World War II, little was made of the plight of these men and, until recently, few books have been written about their ordeal. By the time the defenders came home, the U.S. had heard stories about the great Pacific and European battles. The defenders of Bataan had surrendered--their glory was diminished. Most Americans failed to recognize that the defenders of Bataan had been surrendered as a force--they had no choice.

"They were the first to fire and the last to lay down their arms, and only reluctantly doing so after being given a direct order."
Lieutenant General
Jonathan M. Wainright,
December 1945


Master Sergeant Kevin A. Paul serves as a guard commander assigned to the 705th MP Battalion at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Prior assignments include platoon sergeant, operations NCO, chief of correctional supervision, chief of prisoner services, and senior corrections NCO. He holds a master's in criminal justice administration from Oklahoma City University.
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Title Annotation:World War II
Author:Paul, Kevin A.
Publication:Military Police
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2002
Words:513
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