Wednesday, January 19, 2011

death march

i’m almost finished reading one of the books i brought with me, tears in the darkness, the story of the bataan death march and its aftermath, by michael norman and elizabeth norman. the book is amazing. the authors follow the story of ben steele while detailing the historical and cultural factors of world war ii in philippines.

the story is personal for me because my dad’s two older brothers, art and ralph (my uncle who I was named for) served here during that time. here is a bit of the history that i've been reading about:

on april 9th 1942, general ned king surrendered all of the american and filipino troops on the bataan peninsula, on the island of luzon, to the japanese. bataan had been the staging ground for the fight between the american-filipino force and the japanese during the war, after the japanese bombed the philippines within hours after bombing pearl harbor.

the americans abandoned manila to the japanese, and they hunkered down in the jungles and mountains of bataan. initially, the us-led troops fought off the japanese soldiers for about a month, even completely wiping out some of their regiments due to the japanese belief that surrender was not an option, but with no possibility of having their supplies or troops replenished, the americans and filipinos quickly began to show the effects of privation. they were put on half-rations from the beginning, and with the sweltering heat, cold nights, malarial mosquitoes, and no potable water, the troops were not able to withstand the second attack by the japanese at the end of march 1942.

the peninsula is infamous for the death march where tens of thousands of american and filipino troops were forced to walk 66 miles from mariveles on the southern tip of the peninsula to the town of san fernando. during the march they were deprived of food and water, and thousands of troops were beaten, tortured, or killed by the japanese.

read the wikipedia article for the death march for a good summary.

after arriving at san fernando, the troops were loaded into tiny box cars, and they were sent 30 miles by railway to camp o’donnell. countless more died from suffocation during the 4-hour journey in the 110 degree heat of the box cars.
my uncle art, the older of my dad’s two brothers, walked the length of the death march, and he was brought to camp o’donnell where he became one of thousands who died there daily from dysentery, malaria, and starvation. my uncle ralph escaped into the jungle until he was finally captured by the japanese. he was brought to a prison camp where he escaped again, hiding in the jungles with the help of the filipinos until he was finally rescued by the americans.

we drove along the route of the march, and went to the monument created to honor the filipino and american soldiers that fought in the war. on the wall of the memorial they'd engraved the names of those who died there, and I found my uncle’s name, (but not till after i did some searching - i couldn’t find it at first. it was to the side of the memorial; he had been added later along with another 100 or so names.)
I was moved by the care they took to create the memorial and the beauty of the countryside surrounding it. although the fall of bataan was almost 70 years ago, it didn't feel that long ago when i was standing there.

kone helped me make a pencil engraving of my uncle’s name from the wall.


plainoldsarah said...

that's beautiful. and sad. thanks for sharing.

jrm said...

thanks sarah. i really do recommend the book. it has universal appeal (obviously, i have a personal interest, but the book is so well researched and written that anyone would find it hard to put down.)

Maly and Dan said...

wow thanks for sharing!

Somchai said...

Great Post