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Portrait of a Death March

Portrait of a Death March
  • Bataan the Judgment Seat (by )
  • The Geneva Convention of 1906 for the Am... (by )
  • The Dyess Story (by )
  • General Macarthur Fighter for Freedom (by )
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Picture this: You and your comrades are forced on a 65-mile march over the course of six days. You are under the blistering hot sun with no coverage, subjected to what is called sun treatment. The first few days you are not fed a crumb. Your canteens of water are confiscated and either thrown to the ground or given to the horses. If you fall behind the main group you are stabbed, shot, or run over by trucks. Then you are stuffed into train cars so tightly everyone has to stand. If you make it to the end of the march, you face further deterioration by dysentery, disease, malnutrition, and other physical mistreatment.

The question is, how long do you think you could survive?

These were the conditions of the the Bataan Death March, April 9, 1942. The Japanese just launched an extensive campaign to overtake the Philippines, driving out the Americans and sending General Douglas MacArthur into retreat. Here General MacArthur famously said upon leaving, "I will return" (and he would return in 1945).

On the Bataan peninsula, Among those left behind or captured by the Japanese forces were some 10,000 Americans and 66,000 Filipinos. It's estimated that there were between 500 to 650 American deaths and 5,000 to 18,000 Filipino deaths along that arduous route.

Survivor of the Bataan Death March Lieutenant William E. Dyess wrote about the thirst the soldiers had to repress after seeing a colonel get beaten for asking for water:

The thirst of all had become almost unbearable, but remembering what had happened to the colonel earlier in the day we asked for nothing. A Jap officer walked along just after the thirsty soldier had been beaten. He appeared surprised that we wanted water. However, He permitted several Americans to collect canteens from their comrades and fill them at a stagnant carabao wallow which had been additionally befouled by seeping sea water. We held our noses to shut out the nauseating reek, but we drank all the water we could get. (The Dyess Story, p. 79)

The Empire of Japan failed to comply with the treatment of prisoners of war previously outlined in the Hague and Geneva Conventions, and General Masaharu Homma was held responsible after the war and executed in 1946.

For an episodic account from Air Intelligence Officer Lieutenant Colonel Allison Ind, read Bataan: the Judgment Seat.

By Thad Higa

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