Although the last holdouts in Corrigidor didn’t surrender until May 1942, it is April 9th that is the anniversary of the surrender of Bataan.

At dawn, 9 April 1942, against the orders of Generals Douglas MacArthur… Major General Edward P. King, Jr., commanding Luzon Force, Bataan, Philippine Islands, surrendered more than 76,000 (67,000 Filipinos, 1,000 Chinese Filipinos, and 11,796 Americans) starving and disease-ridden men…

On the Bataan Death March, approximately 54,000 of the 72,000 prisoners reached their destination…All told, approximately 5,000-10,000 Filipino and 600-650 American prisoners of war died before they could reach Camp O’Donnell.

In the Philippines, the day is named Araw Ng Kagitingnan, the day of valour.

There is a cross on Mount Samat to commemorate the valor of those soldiers, although Americans might be startled to see that the base of the cross includes the images of several other Filipino heroes, including a picture of an angry LapuLapu, the tribal leader who did in the arrogant Magellan.

photo source LINK

An account of the March through Filipino eyes can be found HERE.

No, none of our relatives were there, although my husband’s brother and cousin were guerilla fighters and my then teenaged husband joined them at the end of the war.

Despite this, there is a dearth of literature about those days, especially stories of ordinary folks.  Perhaps the problem is that such memories are too bitter to repeat. My husband’s generation don’t want to talk about such things. For example, one day when we passed a stately but deserted house near our town, I asked why it was empty, the answer was that it was haunted…and only later did I find out it had been used as a Japanese military headquarters, and that his cousin and many others had been taken there, tortured, and killed.

There are TV shows about the fight, to remind the young about the heroism of their grandfathers, and some schools do attend day trips to the Bataan memorial, but too often there is an underlying resentment in articles about the war written by the elites of the Philippines; often they hint that the Philippines was caught like a mouse between two fighting  elephants, even though most historians figure that even an “independent” Philippines would have suffered a Japanese invasion on the way to get the oil and rubber of South East Asia.

To make things worse, the dirty little secret is that many of the “best” families helped the Japanese occupation.

But many more ordinary folks either had family members who fought the Japanese, who supplied food to the starving soldiers of the Death march, who helped some escape. There are stories of those who joined the insurgency, who helped the long fight against Japanese occupation, who supplied food or medicine for the POW’s, the insurgents, or for those hiding, and dozens of more stories that remain undocumented. For there are few oral histories such as this one that recount the story of the many  ordinary people along the way who gave food or hid those trying to escape the Death march, or of the soldiers who marched and fell:

Today, little white crosses dot those spots where our soldiers fell and died…all along the death march route. But there are still places unmarked by white crosses—where some soldiers are buried unknown. They may be lonely, lying there all alone, forgotten and unknown.

No, not completely forgotten.

Every year in New Mexico, they hold a memorial celebration to remember, because one of the US Army units called up to defend Manila was the multi ethnic NMNational Guard.

So our church in Mescalero had a memorial in the back to remember the local Apaches, as well as the local priest, Father Albert Braun, who were in the Death march.

But it is a sign of the times that part of the memorial celebration in New Mexico is…a marathon run.

and so, now in the Philippines, there will be held a 102 km “ultramarathon” to commemorate the Death March…

But whereas the “run” in New Mexico is mainly by those who have military ties, the one here is merely another “marathon” by local runners.

The suffering and death of the “greatest generation” is now nothing more than a way for affluent Pinoys to show off and say they too have done something meaningful…

sigh…I don’t know whether this type of news story should make one laugh or cry.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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