In 1988, President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation declaring April 9th as National Former POW Recognition Day. The day commemorates the capture of nearly 25,000 U.S. troops that were surrendered by their commander on Bataan in the Philippines on April 9, 1942. Though this day has special significance for the “Battling Bastards of Bataan,” as they came to be known, it honors all former POWs.
We have two collections of POW records on Fold3. The UK, Allied Prisoners of War, 1939-1945 collection contains information on captured prisoners and may show which POW camp they resided at and what happened to them. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, Unaccounted-for Remains collection, has records for some of the 82,000 American military and civilian personnel missing in action from WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War.
On April 9, 1942, Maj. Gen. Edward King, commander of the U.S. and Filipino forces on Bataan, surrendered to the Japanese. The surrender came after months of fighting Japanese forces despite shortages of rations and supplies for American and Filipino soldiers. One soldier recalled eating rats, worms, or birds – anything to stave off the constant hunger. Already weak from hunger, about 70,000 troops began a forced march after the surrender. It was a nearly 70-mile journey that came to be known as the Bataan Death March. Japanese captors denied prisoners food and water. Many collapsed or were beaten and killed. Although estimates vary, about 16,000 died during the march. Conditions at the camps were hardly better, and many more died from starvation and disease.
Harry Corre enlisted in the United States Army in May 1941. He was serving in the Philippines when the U.S. surrendered. Corre participated in the Bataan Death March and survived a Japanese POW camp. He endured torture, starvation, disease, and exposure. He recalled other starving POWs trading their meager rations for his cigarettes. The extra food kept him alive but left him consumed with guilt. “When you are a POW, the only thing you think about is how to live,” said Corre. In 2011, Corre returned to Japan as a guest of the Japanese government for a weeklong reconciliation tour. When asked about his time as a POW, he replied, “It doesn’t go away…there’s no way you forget it.”
Many Allied forces captured in Europe ended up in German POW camps. Harry Melville Arbuthnot Day was a decorated Royal Marine in WWI. During WWII, he became a decorated Royal Air Force ace pilot. In 1939 his plane was shot down over Germany. Day bailed out and was captured. He escaped his first POW camp but was quickly recaptured. Over the next several years, he became known as the “Escape King” for his nine escape attempts. He capped his exploits by participating in the famous Great Escape from Stalag Luft III, where 76 POWs tunneled their way to freedom. Fifty of the escapees were recaptured and killed by the German forces.
Do you have former POWs in your family? Search our POW records and preserve their story by creating a Fold3 Memorial. Search our Fold3® Honor Wall to read more amazing stories of courage and survival.