- Historic Sites
The Horrors of Bataan, Recalled by the Survivors
December 1981 | Volume 33, Issue 1
At one stop a Japanese sergeant, who spoke beautiful Oxford-type English, came up to me. He wasn’t one of our guards but happened to be around. He said something to me that I’ve always remembered: “You are going to find a lot of bad Japanese and you are going to find a lot of good ones. Please don’t think that all the Japanese are alike as far as the treatment you are going to receive.” Then he opened up a can of sardines, and with some rice, gave them to me and the men around me. It was the first real food I’d had in days.
With the surrender of Bataan, General Homma [the Japanese commanding officer] still faced the problem of subduing the American garrison on Corregidor, a short two miles away in Manila Bay. Only when Corregidor surrendered could Japan claim her most valuable prize—the Philippines. For the Japanese 14th Army the campaign was not yet over. Before this decisive battle could begin, however, it was necessary for the Japanese to remove the enormous number of prisoners which Major General Edward P. King had just surrendered. … Anticipating this problem in late March, an evacuation plan was developed by Homma’s staff. The plan was simple; the captives would walk out of Bataan as far as San Fernando. There, they would be shipped by rail to a prison camp [Camp O’Donnell] in central Luzon. From Mariveles on Bataan’s southern tip to San Fernando is almost sixty miles. Plans to feed and care for the prisoners along the road were proposed and agreed upon. Unfortunately for the men of the Luzon Force, the Japanese plan for their evacuation was based on three assumptions, all of which proved false. The first miscalculation assumed the surrendered force to be in good physical condition. The second error was in not allowing enough time to work out all the details of a proper evacuation. Lastly, the Japanese made a faulty estimate in the number of troops they would have to move. They assumed the figure would be between forty and fifty thousand men.
Because of the chaos that followed the disintegration of the Luzon Force, it is impossible even today to give a precise number to the men who took part in the march out of Bataan. … An educated guess, however, puts sixtytwo thousand Filipinos and ten thousand Americans on the march.
Mariveles. Now that was confusion! It reminded me of what it might have been like when the Jews exited Egypt into the desert—no one knowing where they were going or what they should take or how long it would take to get where they were going. Mariveles—tanks, trucks, cars, horses, artillery—like a Philippines Times Square. … And everything buried in dust, horrendous amounts of dust being churned up by the tanks and trucks. You realized that Homma’s shock troops were coming down Bataan on their way to taking Corregidor. The Japanese were just in a rush to get us out of their way. Our officers were milling around, trying to find out what was going on. The Japanese officers also seemed confused as to what they were supposed to do with this pack of hungry, sick, bedraggled men they had captured.
My group came up the road from Mariveles another half mile or so when a Jap soldier stepped out, came across, and took my canfeen out of its cover. He took a drink, filled his canteen out of mine, poured the rest of my water on the ground, and dropped the canteen at my feet. I thought he was going to walk back to the line of Jap troops standing across the road, so I bent over to pick up my canteen. But he turned around and hit me on the head with his rifle butt. Put a crease in the top of my head that I still have. I fell face down on the cobblestones. I crawled back up to my knees, debating whether to pick up the canteen again. I figured the best course of action was to stand up and leave the canteen alone. Soon as the Jap troops moved off, I squatted down and nicked it un. …
We moved down the ridge a ways when we saw this GI. He was sick. I figured he had come out of the hospital that was in tents out under the trees. He was wobbling along, uneasy on his feet. There were Japanese infantry and tanks coming down the road alongside us. One of these Jap soldiers, I don’t know whether he was on our side or if he deliberately came across the road, but he grabbed this sick guy by the arm and guided him to the middle of the road. Then he just flipped him out across the road. The guy hit the cobblestone about five feet in front of a tank and the tank pulled on across him. Well, it killed him quick. There must have been ten tanks in that column, and every one of them came up there right across the body. When the last tank left there was no way you could tell there’d ever been a man there. But his uniform was embedded in the cobblestones. The man disappeared, but his uniform had been pressed until it had become part of the ground.
Now we knew, if there had been any doubts before, we were in for a bad time.