On Memorial Day, 2014: The Bataan Death March; a Microcosm of American Exceptionalism

by Larry Peterson

Soldier’s Bodies left along the road at Bataan

The Memorial Day weekend of 2014 is upon us. It is the day when we honor all those who, throughout the course of our  history, have given the ultimate sacrifice for their nation, for the freedom(s) it represents and, foremost,  for all Americans, past, present and future.  I write now about a brief time period encapsulated in that history.  I doubt that most  of today’s high-school and college students have ever heard about this.  It is known as the  Bataan Death March and it is one of the most brutal and inhuman periods that occupy the pages of our own history. The Bataan Death March began on April 9, 1942 and ended sometime in May of 1942.

 On Sunday, December 7, 1941, the Japanese Empire launched a sneak attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  America was now officially part of World War II.  As the New Year of 1942 dawned, the Japanese were running almost undeterred through the South Pacific and the battle of the Philippine Islands was underway.  On January 7, 1942, the Battle of Bataan began.  (Bataan was a peninsula on the southern end of the Philippines and was the gateway for the Japanese army via the South China Sea.)  Three months later, on April 9, the remaining American and Filipino soldiers finally surrendered to overwhelming Japanese forces. The infamous Bataan Death March was about to begin.

The surrender by the American and Filipino forces at Bataan was viewed by the Japanese soldiers as “cowardice”.  They believed that the defeated soldiers had been disgraced and should have committed suicide. Consequently, when they had rounded up the approximately 60,000 Filipino and 15,000 American soldiers, they held them with utter contempt. They were ordered to march the prisoners to “Camp O’Donnell”, an 80-mile journey through the bug infested and sweltering jungle heat of the Philippines. Before the journey had even begun the captors were treating their prisoners as if they were nothing more than dogs.

The thousands of prisoners were divided into groups of about 100 men and the Bataan death march  began. The exact figures are unknown but it is believed that thousands of troops died because of the sheer brutality of their captors.  The men were starved and  deprived of water.  If they fell they were beaten and, depending on the Japanese soldier guarding them, sometimes bayoneted.  Decapitation by sword  was not uncommon. Thousands died later from from disease.  General Masaharu Homma, was the  commander of the Japanese forces in the Philippines.   In September of 1945, he was arrested by Allied troops and indicted for war crimes. The court found that Homma had permitted his troops to commit “brutal atrocities and other high crimes”. He was sentenced to death by firing squad and was executed on April 3, 1946.

This is only a tiny portion of the people that we Americans honor on Memorial Day. They were folks like us: husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, and grandfathers. Many were still teenagers. They  believed in God,  had honor and loved their country. They liked baseball and football and music. They fought for us, they suffered for us and many died for us. And please do not think for a minute that women were not a part of this. Click on the link and read about the “Angels of Bataan”.

The legacies left behind, the courage displayed by so many, the sacrifices of lives given in defense of the United States of America and her ideals represents the finest in God’s human creations.  I hope and pray our young people are being taught our exceptional history from the Revolutionary War down through the war taking place at this moment in that God-forsaken place called Afghanistan.  On Memorial Day all Americans owe our fellow and sister Americans who have served in these places a moment of prayer and a THANK YOU.  And, as always, may GOD BLESS AMERICA.                                                                                                                                        


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