Bataan Death March

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Bataan Death March
Part of the Battle of Bataan, World War II
Ww2 131.jpg
A burial detail of Filipino and prisoners of war uses improvised litters to carry fallen comrades at Camp O'Donnell, Capas, Tarlac, 1942, following the Bataan Death March.
Date April 9, 1942
Location Mariveles, Bataan to San Fernando, Pampanga, & Capas, Tarlac, Luzon Island, Philippines
Casualties and losses
Exact figures are unknown. Modern estimates range from ~2,500 to 10,000 POW deaths

The Bataan Death March (Filipino: Martsa ng Kamatayan sa Bataan; Japanese: バターン死の行進, Hepburn: Batān Shi no Kōshin) was the forcible transfer by the Imperial Japanese Army of 60,000–80,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war from Saisaih Point and Mariveles to Camp O'Donnell, Capas, Tarlac, via San Fernando, Pampanga, where the prisoners were loaded onto trains. The transfer began on April 9, 1942, after the three-month Battle of Bataan in the Philippines during World War II.[1][2] About 2,500–10,000 Filipino and 100–650 American prisoners of war died on the march before they reached their destination.[3][4][5] The reported death tolls vary, especially among Filipino POWs, because historians cannot determine how many prisoners blended in with the civilian population and escaped.

The 60 mi (97 km) march was characterized by severe physical abuse. It was later judged by an Allied military commission to be a Japanese war crime.[2]

The march[edit]

Route of the death march; the section from San Fernando to Capas was by rail cars[6][7]
Death March (95th km) marker, Bacolor, Pampanga (where the Filipinos passed)
Dead soldiers on the Bataan Death March

Following the surrender of Bataan on April 9, 1942 to the Japanese Imperial Army, prisoners were massed in in Mariveles and Bagac town and ordered to march to Balanga City, the capital of Bataan. Some were beaten, bayoneted, and otherwise mistreated. The first atrocity occurred when approximately 350 to 400 Filipino officers and NCOs were summarily executed near the Pantingan river after they had surrendered.[4][8] A recent historian[9] has dismissed the Pantingan massacre, (in acceptance of General Homma's defense counsel's argument that no bodies were ever found); however, the bodies were disinterred in mid-1946, after the conclusion of Homma's trial. This massacre has been attributed to Japanese army officer, Masanobu Tsuji, who acted against General Homma's wish that the prisoners be transferred peacefully. Tsuji intended to kill many of the prisoners, and he gave orders to this end.[10]

POWs received little food or water, and many died along the march.[3][11] Some POWs drank water from water buffalo wallows on the side of the road. Other POWs, however, were allowed water and several hundred rode to Camp O'Donnell in trucks.[12][13] Once the surviving prisoners arrived in Balanga, the overcrowded conditions and poor hygiene caused dysentery and other diseases to spread rapidly. The Japanese did not provide the prisoners with medical care, so U.S. medical personnel tended to the sick and wounded (with few or no supplies).[3] Of the estimated 80,000 POWs at the march, only 54,000 made it to Camp O'Donnell.

In a 2001 commemorative speech to the United States House of Representatives, Representative Dana Rohrabacher stated:

They were beaten, and they were starved as they marched. Those who fell were bayoneted. Some of those who fell were beheaded by Japanese officers who were practicing with their samurai swords from horseback. The Japanese culture at that time reflected the view that any warrior who surrendered had no honor; thus was not to be treated like a human being. Thus they were not committing crimes against human beings.[...] The Japanese soldiers at that time [...] felt they were dealing with subhumans and animals.[14]

Trucks drove over some of those who fell or succumbed to fatigue,[15][16][17] and "cleanup crews" put to death those too weak to continue, though some trucks picked up some of those too fatigued to continue. Some marchers were randomly stabbed by bayonets or beaten.[18][19]

From San Fernando, the prisoners were transported by rail to Capas. At least 100 prisoners were pushed into each of the trains' unventilated boxcars, which were sweltering in the tropical heat. The trains had no sanitation facilities, and disease continued to take a heavy toll on the prisoners. After they reached Capas, they were forced to walk the final 9 miles to Camp O'Donnell.[3] Even after arriving at Camp O'Donnell, the survivors of the march continued to die at rates of up to several hundred per day, which amounted to a death toll of as many as 12,330 Filipino and American deaths.[13][20] Most of the dead were buried in mass graves that the Japanese had dug behind the barbed wire surrounding the compound.[21]

Wartime public responses[edit]

News of the Bataan Death March sparked outrage in the US, as reflected in this poster

United States[edit]

It was not until January 27, 1944, that the U.S. government informed the American public about the march, when it released sworn statements of military officers who had escaped.[22] Shortly thereafter the stories of these officers were featured in a LIFE magazine article.[23][24] The Bataan Death March and other Japanese actions were used to arouse fury in the United States.[25]

General George Marshall made the following statement:

These brutal reprisals upon helpless victims evidence the shallow advance from savagery which the Japanese people have made. [...] We serve notice upon the Japanese military and political leaders as well as the Japanese people that the future of the Japanese race itself, depends entirely and irrevocably upon their capacity to progress beyond their aboriginal barbaric instincts.[26]


In an attempt to counter the American propaganda value of the march, the Japanese had The Manila Times report that the prisoners were treated humanely and their death rate had to be attributed to the intransigence of the American commanders who did not surrender until the men were on the verge of death.[27]

War crimes trial[edit]

Portion of Bataan disinterment map highlighting the site of the 1942 Pantingan Massacre.

In December 1943, (General) Masaharu Homma was selected as the minister of information for the incoming prime minister, Kuniaki Koiso. In September 1945, he was arrested by Allied troops and indicted for war crimes.[28] Homma was charged with 43 different counts of crimes against humanity.[29] The court found that Homma had permitted his troops to commit "brutal atrocities and other high crimes".[30] The general, who had been absorbed in his efforts to capture Corregidor after the fall of Bataan, claimed in his defense that he remained ignorant of the high death toll of the death march until two months after the event.[31] On February 26, 1946, he was sentenced to death by firing squad. He was executed on April 3, 1946, outside Manila.[28]

Also in Japan, Generals Hideki Tōjō (later Prime Minister), Kenji Doihara, Seishirō Itagaki, Heitarō Kimura, Iwane Matsui, and Akira Mutō, along with Baron Kōki Hirota, were found guilty and responsible for the maltreatment of American and Filipino POWs. They were executed by hanging at Sugamo Prison in Ikebukuro on December 23, 1948. Several others were sentenced to imprisonment between 7 and 22 years.[citation needed]

Post-war commemorations, apologies, and memorials[edit]

U.S. Army personnel toiled to identify the charred remains of Americans captured at Bataan and Corregidor and burned alive on Palawan. Picture shows charred remains being interred in grave. March 20, 1945

In 2012, film producer Jan Thompson created a film documentary about the Death March, POW camps, and Japanese hell ships titled Never the Same: The Prisoner-of-War Experience. The film reproduced scenes of the camps and ships showed drawings and writings of the prisoners, and featured Loretta Swit as the narrator.[32][33]

On September 13, 2010, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada apologized to a group of six former American soldiers who, during World War II were held as prisoners of war by the Japanese, including 90-year-old Lester Tenney and Robert Rosendahl, both survivors of the Bataan Death March. The six, their families, and the families of two deceased soldiers were invited to visit Japan at the expense of the Japanese government.[34]

Dozens of memorials (including monuments, plaques, and schools) dedicated to the prisoners who died during the Bataan Death March exist across the United States and in the Philippines. A wide variety of commemorative events are held to honor the victims, including holidays, athletic events such as ultramarathons, and memorial ceremonies held at military cemeteries.

The Bataan Death March had a large impact on the U.S. state of New Mexico,[35] given that many of the U.S. soldiers in Bataan were from New Mexico, specifically from the 200th/515th Coast Artillery of the National Guard.[36] The New Mexico National Guard Bataan Memorial Museum is located in the Armory where the soldiers of the 200th and 515th were processed before their deployment to the Philippines in 1941.[37] Every year, in early spring, the Bataan Memorial Death March, a 26.2-mile march/run is conducted at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.[38][39] As of 2012, there were fewer than 1,000 survivors of the March still living.[40] The old state capitol building of New Mexico was renamed the Bataan Memorial Building and now houses several state government agency offices.[41]

Notable survivors and captives[edit]

Prisoners on the march from Bataan to the prison camp, April 1942. (National Archives) Left to Right: Pfc Samuel Stenzler, Pfc Frank Spear, Capt. James M Gallagher. All three men perished during the war. Gallagher died shortly after the photo was taken on or about 9 April. Stenzler died at Camp O'Donnell on 26 May 1942, and Spear was executed at a camp in Japan in July 1945.[42]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Bataan Death March. Britannica Encyclopedia Online". 1942-04-09. Retrieved 2012-12-17. 
  2. ^ a b Falk, Stanley L. (1962). Bataan: The March of Death. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. OCLC 1084550. 
  3. ^ a b c d Lansford, Tom (2001). "Bataan Death March". In Sandler, Stanley. World War II in the Pacific: an encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. pp. 159–60. ISBN 978-0-8153-1883-5. 
  4. ^ a b Norman, Michael & Norman, Elizabeth. Tears in the Darkness (revised ed.). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0374272609. 
  5. ^ Seven Czech prisoners were among the captives. Philippine Star, "Czech Heroes in Bataan"
  6. ^ Hubbard, Preston John (1990). Apocalypse Undone: My Survival of Japanese Imprisonment During World War II. Vanderbilt University Press. p. 87. ISBN 978-0-8265-1401-1. 
  7. ^ Bilek, Anton (Tony) (2003). No Uncle Sam: The Forgotten of Bataan. Kent State University Press. p. 51. ISBN 0-87338-768-6. 
  8. ^ Lansford, Tom (2001). "Bataan Death March". In Sandler, Stanley. World War II in the Pacific: an encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. pp. 157–158. ISBN 978-0-8153-1883-5. 
  9. ^ Murphy, Kevin C. Inside the Bataan Death March Defeat, Travail (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014), 226-27 9780786496815. 
  10. ^ "The Causes of the Bataan Death March Revisited". 
  11. ^ Murphy, Kevin C. Inside the Bataan Death March: Defeat, Travail (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014), 156–58. 
  12. ^ Murphy, Kevin C. Inside the Bataan Death March: Defeat, Travail (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014), 240-67. 
  13. ^ a b Olson, John E. (1985). O'Donell: Andersonville of the Pacific. John E. Olson. ISBN 978-9996986208. 
  14. ^ U.S. Congressional Representative Rohrabacher, "Paying Homage to a Special Group of Veterans, Survivors of Bataan and Corregidor", Congressional Record – House, V. 147, Pt. 9, June 26, 2001, p. 11981
  15. ^ Greenberger, Robert (2009). The Bataan Death March: World War II Prisoners in the Pacific. p. 40. 
  16. ^ Doyle, Robert C. (2010). The enemy in our hands: America's treatment of enemy prisoners of war from the Revolution to the War on Terror. University Press of Kentucky. p. xii. ISBN 978-0-8131-2589-3. 
  17. ^ Hoyt, Eugene P. (2004). Bataan: a survivor's story. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 125. ISBN 978-0-8061-3582-3. 
  18. ^ * Stewart, Sidney. Give Us This Day (revised ed.). W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-31921-0. 
  19. ^ Murphy, Kevin C. Inside the Bataan Death March: Defeat, Travail (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014). pp. 240–66. 
  20. ^ O'Donnell Provost Marshal Report
  21. ^ Downs, William David (2004). The Fighting Tigers: the untold stories behind the names on the Ouachita Baptist University WWII memorial. University of Arkansas Press. pp. 106–7. ISBN 978-0-9713470-5-2. 
  22. ^ Friedland, Roger & Mohr, John (2004). Matters of culture: cultural sociology in practice. Cambridge University Press. p. 197. ISBN 978-0-521-79545-6. 
  23. ^ McCoy, Melvin; Mellnik, S.M.; Kelley, Welbourn (February 7, 1944). "Prisoners of Japan: Ten Americans Who Escaped Recently from the Philippines Report on the Atrocities Committed by the Japanese in Their Prisoner-War-Camps". LIFE. Chicago: Time, Inc. 16 (6): 26–31, 96–98, 105–106, 108, 111. 
  24. ^ Life Magazine February 7, 1944
  25. ^ Jansen, Marius B. (2000). The Making of Modern Japan. p. 655. 
  26. ^ Chappell, John David (1997). Before the bomb: how America approached the end of the Pacific War. University of Kentucky Press. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-8131-1987-8. 
  27. ^ Toland, John (1970). The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936–1945. New York: Random House. p. 300. 
  28. ^ a b Sandler, Stanley, ed. (2001). "Homma Masaharu (1887–1946)". World War II in the Pacific: an encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. p. 420. ISBN 978-0-8153-1883-5. 
  29. ^ Maga, Timothy P. (2001). Judgment at Tokyo: the Japanese war crimes trials. University Press of Kentucky. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-8131-2177-2. 
  30. ^ Solis, Gary D. (2010). The law of armed conflict: international humanitarian law in war. Cambridge University Press. p. 384. ISBN 978-0-521-87088-7. 
  31. ^ "The Trial Of General Homma". 
  32. ^ Brotman, Barbara (April 1, 2013). "From Death March to Hell Ships". Chicago Tribune. pp. Lifestyles. 
  33. ^ Among others, additional narration was provided by Ed Asner, Alec Baldwin, Kathleen Turner, and Robert Wagner. "Never the Same: The Prisoner of War Experience". Gene Siskal Film Center. School of the Art Institute of Chicago. 
  34. ^ "Japanese/American POW Friendship Program". 2010. 
  35. ^ Lauren E. Toney (24 March 2012). "Bataan survivors attend rededication of monument Saturday". Las Cruces Sun-News. Archived from the original on 14 March 2013. Retrieved 22 February 2013. 
  36. ^ "Timeline". Battle for Bataan!. New Mexico State University. Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  37. ^ Phillips, R. Cody (2005). The Guide to U.S. Army Museums. Government Printing Office. p. 82. ISBN 9780160872822. Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  38. ^ "USA Marathons & Marathoners 2007". Retrieved May 8, 2008. 
  39. ^ Schurtz, Christopher (March 22, 2010). "Record Number Gather To Honor Bataan Death March". Las Cruces Sun-News. p. 1. 
  40. ^ Bataan Museum
  41. ^ [1]
  42. ^ From work of Jason MacDonald
  43. ^ Shofner was an American officer, captured on Corregidor, who escaped DaPeCol in 1943.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]