Bataan Death March, As Remembered By Two Survivors

Early on in WWII, indeed, not long after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the then American Territory of the Philippines was invaded by the Japanese. They swept over the Philippine archipelago rapidly. American forces, along with their Filipino allies, held out and fought valiantly for months, but at that time in the war, they were isolated and pretty much on their own. No reinforcements were going to be coming.

On April 9, 1942, just four months after Pearl Harbor, the commander of the American forces, Maj. Gen. Edward P. King, Jr. reluctantly surrendered to the Japanese on Corregidor Island, located at the entrance of Manila Bay, just south of Bataan Province. It would be the largest surrender of American forces in our history.

Photo: YouTube/Iowa PBS

The Japanese proved to be remorselessly cruel and inhumane in their treatment of the tens of thousands of American and Filipino soldiers. Over a period of six days, they would force-march the American and Filipino POWs over a 60-mile march through and over unforgiving terrain, without food or water. Anyone who fainted from exhaustion or starvation or who fell behind or became too sick to carry on was summarily executed on the spot and left there.

At the beginning of this forced march, which would come to be known as the Bataan Death March, there were among the long lines of POWs some 12,000 American military personnel. By the end of the sixth day of the grueling march, during which they were beaten, starved, and brutalized in countless ways, 10,000 people had died. Of that 10,000, 5,000 were Americans.

Photo: YouTube/Iowa PBS

Though this video is far too brief to get the full reality of the death march, you will encounter two of the survivors of the march and subsequent POW camps under the Japanese for the next almost four years. They are Glen McDole and Army medic Malcolm Amos. Their words are measured and starkly descriptive of some of the things they saw and endured.

McDole would be put to work outside the Cabanatuan POW camp and end up at the Palawan POW camp on Palawan Island, where he was forced, along with other American POWs, to help build an airfield. Listen to what he says about that experience and the brotherhood that was shaped by that shared experience in hell.

Photo: YouTube/Iowa PBS

This April will be the 80th anniversary of the Bataan Death March. The old cliche that war is hell is never quite so accurate as when it is applied to the experience of being a prisoner of war (POW), especially under the Japanese during WWII. These men knew and lived the reality of hell on earth for not just hours or days but years. Their suffering and their endurance, their strength and their courage, which was daily tested and hardened over those long periods of time, must not be forgotten.

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