The forced march of 12,000 U.S. soldiers and 64,000 Filipino troops after the Japanese captured the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines came to be known as the Bataan Death March. On April 3, 1942, Japanese Gen. Homma Masaharu launched a new offensive against the Bataan defenders. The U.S. Far Eastern commander, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, had ordered the troops to continue to fight, but six days later, with his men worn down by the strain of constant combat, disease, and starvation, Maj. Gen. Edward P. King, commander of the forces on Bataan, ordered them to surrender. The troops had been on half rations since January.
Homma had decided that he would hold the prisoners at Camp O'Donnell, 100 miles away. The Japanese forced the prisoners to march 52 miles from Mariveles to San Fernando, Pampanga, in order to be transported by rail to Capas, Tarlac. They would then walk another 8 miles to Camp O'Donnell. King expressed concern about his men being able to make this trip and asked that trucks transport them to their final location. Homma rejected the request.
The trek began on April 10, 1942 and lasted for over a week. The march is remembered for its sheer brutality, but before it even began, each prisoner was searched, and anyone found to possess a Japanese souvenir was executed on the spot.
Allied soldiers were, for the most part, denied food and water by their guards until the completion of their journey. The only food that some received was a bit of rancid rice. The prisoners of war were given only a few hours of rest each night in crowded conditions. One of the worst forms of punishment inflicted on the captives was known as the sun treatment, in which the prisoner, denied any water, was forced to sit in the scalding Philippine sun without the protection of a helmet. Prisoners were beaten, kicked, and killed for falling behind or violating the smallest rule.
Between 7,000 and 10,000 of the prisoners died before reaching Camp O'Donnell. The Japanese had failed to take into consideration both the poor health of their captives and their numbers. Although a few of the prisoners escaped into the jungle, most were physically unable even to make the attempt. A number were murdered at random by their guards.
Many who survived the march died in the overcrowded, suffocating boxcars on the rail trip to Capas. In the two months after reaching the camp, 1,600 Americans and 16,000 Filipinos died of starvation, disease, and maltreatment. The cruelty of the march became well known, and U.S. commanders used the story of the Bataan Death March to motivate their troops in subsequent fighting against the Japanese.
See also: Austria, Death Marches through (1945).
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