April 9, 1942, marks the beginning of the Bataan Death March, in which tens of thousands of American and Filipino soldiers were forced on a grueling 65-mile trek across the Philippine island of Luzon, following their surrender to the Japanese. Thousands of men died on the march, and thousands more would die later in POW camps.
Directly after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese bombed Clark Field in the Philippines as part of their campaign to take control of Southeast Asia. This and other raids left the Philippines without air power when the Japanese landed 43,000 troops on the main island of Luzon on December 22, 1941. The American and Filipino troops, under General Douglas MacArthur, retreated to the Bataan peninsula, where they resisted the Japanese for months, enduring starvation, disease, and exhaustion in addition to the fighting.
Finally, on April 9, 1942, Major General Edward King surrendered all 76,000 American and Filipino troops under his command to the Japanese. (General MacArthur had by this time evacuated first to Corregidor, then Australia.) The prisoners of war were divided by the Japanese into groups of 100 to begin the journey to the POW camps at Camp O’Donnell.
The arduous 65-mile trek in blazing hot temperatures lasted about 5 to 10 days, and the already enervated men were allowed little food or water. They also faced numerous instances of brutality by their Japanese captors, from beatings to killings
The men were marched dozens of miles to a rail station at San Fernando, where they were crammed a hundred at a time into boxcars meant for 40. Additional men died on this train journey from suffocation, exhaustion, and dehydration. Estimates vary widely, but at least 500 Americans and 2,500 Filipinos (though likely far many more) died on the march and in the boxcars.
Things did not improve for the tens of thousands of men who survived to reach the POW camps. There were far more prisoners of war than the Japanese had anticipated, and conditions in the camps were horrific. Several hundred men died a day, with total deaths in the camps estimated at around 1,500 Americans and 26,000 Filipinos.
After the war, the Bataan Death March was designated a war crime, and various Japanese military leaders were executed or imprisoned for their role in it.
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