April 9 marks the 67th anniversary of the fall of Bataan, the largest surrender ever by American forces. The Japanese military leaders, under heavy pressure from Tokyo to conquer Corregidor Island, only three miles away at the closest point, ordered an evacuation of the Americans and Filipinos from Bataan. This subsequently became known as “The Bataan Death March.” To this day it is considered one of the worst atrocities committed during wartime. We do not use the word “atrocities” lightly.
The majority of the 76,000 participants, 10,000 of whom were Americans, began walking from Mariveles, which is on the southern-most tip of the Bataan peninsula. Before it was over, 1,000 Americans and 10,000 Filipinos would be lying dead along the route, about one for every 10 meters, for the 114 meter route to Camp O’Donnell where they were imprisoned. By the end of the war only about 4,000 of these American survived, the rest having died in the subsequent prison camps and “Hell Ships.” Another 19,000 Filipinos would die in Camp O’Donnell before the Japanese released the remainder in a good-will gesture, hoping they would then be sympathetic to the Japanese cause. It didn’t work. Most of those went on to fight against the Japanese in the guerilla movement.
We decided to walk the first several kilometers during the same time of year (this is the hottest and driest time) to try to get a little understanding of what the soldiers went through. Understand, as we do, that this is comparing apples to oranges. At the time of surrender the soldiers were sick with malaria, dysentery (severe diarrhea), dengue fever and the like. Their rations had been cut so severely that they were starving. Along the way many were denied water, even from dreadful carabao wallows. We on the other hand were healthy, well fed, and carried ample water. So there’s no comparison, really.
Enough for the history lesson. If you are interested in learning more, we recommend reading “Death March: The Survivors of Bataan” by Donald Knox, “No Uncle Sam” by Tony Bilek (who receives this newsletter), or “Ghost Soldiers” by Hampton Sides. And if you’re really interested, you can join us on a tour, one of which begins in about 10 days.
We and our helper Baroy took a banca to Cabcaben early Monday morning. From there we caught a bus to the Mariveles Jollibee, their equivalent to MacDonald’s. We each ate a hearty breakfast, used the CRs (“comfort rooms” – Filipino for toilets) and topped off our water bottles. There is a Death March marker at nearly every kilometer along the route, so we started beside Jollibee, at kilometer 0, in a small memorial park at the site of the traditional start of the march.
We began walking at 8 A.M. It was mostly cloudy at first, but full sun was not far off. Nevertheless we got the feeling that it was not as hot as a typical March day, and certainly not as hot as April. The first two kilometers are flat. Off to the right you could catch glimpses of Corregidor six miles away across the harbor. Mariveles is an export zone, and along the left there were many buildings associated with shipping. Dunlop has a big presence there, and Steve remembers hearing that Mariveles was the world’s largest producer of tennis balls.
At km2 the grade began to rise, and by km3 it was a fairly steep climb, like all but the steepest roads on Corregidor. The road wound around the hills, sometimes providing ample shade, while at other times exposing us to the sun. At this point the road is barely wider than two lanes, so we switched from side to side in order to keep from being run over by the generally light traffic, which consisted of motorcycles, cars, trucks, and many buses. Fortunately we did not have two buses meet each other on the same curve where we were, or we might have been in trouble. Drivers were friendly, although on occasion they would wait until they were even with you and then toot their horns, which can be startling.
At km6 it started to level out, and by km8 we were even walking downhill at times. However, now shade was pretty much non-existent. This area is known as Little Baguio, and it was in this area that Steve’s father Walter was located when the first bombs started dropping on December 8, 1941. His battery had been assigned here to set up huge tents, presumably for the field hospital. Dick Francies, a former POW, once told Steve that he was at Little Baguio at the time of the surrender. The commanding officer ordered his men to walk to Mariveles, only to be told by the Japanese to march right back up the hill!
Here the road is straight with wide shoulders which made for much easier walking. However, in the Philippines the shoulder is not just reserved for walkers, bikers, and broken down cars, so you have to be on the lookout for anyone who decides it’s easier to use the shoulder than the road. Also, jeepneys and buses pull over quite regularly to service their passengers.
As we went along we passed through several barangays, which are the smallest municipal units. Then we would walk for a stretch with nothing but open road. New subdivisions are going in. Some of the existing housing is quite nice, while other living quarters are very, very humble. There are many sari-sari (various stuff) stores, and the occasional barber shop or building supply store. Twice we passed by rice that was spread to dry on the shoulder.
As we approached Cabcaben the sides of the road became more crowded. We had been walking at a pace of one kilometer per 15-minutes, so it took us three and one half hours to reach Cabcaben. We were hot and sweaty, and certainly would not have looked forward to repeating the process for the next several days, despite our adequate supply of water, good shoes, and the fact that we weren’t being threatened with death if we were to stop to rest.
To see our photos of the first 14 kilometers of the Death March route from Mariveles to Cabcanen, go to:
On Wednesday Steve went to Cabcaben on Randy’s banca to pick up three Japanese visitors, our friend Yuka, her husband Juji, and their friend Yuji. They are all interested in furthering Japanese-American POW research and relations. They treated us to dinner that night, then we gave them a full morning’s tour of the island on Thursday, after which they took us to lunch at MacArthur Cafe. Yuka and Juji gave us a book on Japanese culture and another on how the Japanese dealt with defeat after WW II.
Yuji gave us a copy of his book, our first one written entirely in Japanese. Steve proceeded to turn the book upside down, not remembering that Japanese is read from right to left. At least this way the pictures, which appear to be WWII ships and boats, were now right-side up! He has done extensive research on the merchant ships commandeered by the Japanese military and used for troop and POW transport from Manchuria. Most were sunk by American naval and air force without reaching Japan.