Death March

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One of the tricks that the Japs used to play on us—thought it was funny, too—was when they would be riding on the back of a truck, they would have these long black snake whips, and they’d whip that thing out and get some poor bastard by the neck or torso and drag him behind their truck. ‘Course if one of our guys was quick enough he didn’t get dragged too far. But, if the Japs got a sick guy …

The thing that burned itself into my mind for days and days was the imprint of a body in the road that had been run over, I don’t know how many times. It was paper thin, but the shape was very clear. It was as if the guy was still pleading for somebody to reach down and pick him up.

Sergeant Charles Cook:

By the second day I’d thrown my tent half away, my pistol belt away, and everything else extra. I had cut a piece out of my mosquito netting, just enough to cover my face and hands when I laid down. These little squares and my canteen are the only things I carried. Everything else weighed a ton. All I was interested in after a while was trying to take one step at a time. …

I know one time I broke ranks to fill my canteen with water, I heard this Jap holler. He was running up to me. So I ran through the back of the barrio, jumping fences and scattering chickens. I came back to the column and just mixed in with the men. The guard never found me. I don’t know which day this was, it was just on the walk.

Captain Loyd Mills:

The nights were the worst times for me. We walked all day, from early morning until dusk. Then we were put into barbed-wire enclosures in which the conditions were nearly indescribable. Filth and defecation all over the place. The smell was terrible. These same enclosures had been used every night, and when my group got to them, they were covered by the filth of five or six nights.

I had dysentery pretty bad, but I didn’t worry about it because there wasn’t anything you could do about it. You didn’t stop on the March because you were dead if you did. They didn’t mess around with you. You didn’t have time to pull out and go over and squat. You would just release wherever you were. Generally right on yourself, or somebody else if they happened to be in your way. There was nothing else to do. Without food it was water more than anything. …

Private Leon Beck:

They’d halt us at these big artesian wells. There’d be a four-inch pipe coming up out of the ground which was connected to a well, and the water would be flowing full force out of it. There were hundreds of these wells all over Bataan. They’d halt us intentionally in front of these wells so we could see the water and they wouldn’t let us have any. Anyone who would make a break for the water would be shot or bayoneted. Then they were left there. Finally it got so bad further along the road that you never got away from the stench of death. There were bodies laying all along the road in various degrees of decomposition—swollen, burst open, maggots crawling by the thousands—black, featureless corpses. And they stank!

Sometimes they’d make us stand at attention two or three hours. They’d just stop us and make us stand still. If you got caught sloughing off, shifting your weight from one foot to another, you’d get beaten. I remember very distinctly being beaten once. They hit me with a stalk of sugar cane, which is a pretty heavy instrument. Sugar cane grows anywhere from a half an inch to three inches in diameter and has a very hard skin on it. It doesn’t wear out very easy. And they beat me all about the head and shoulders.

I can only remember being fed three times, and that consisted of walking past a gasoline drum that they were boiling rice in. You’d hold your hands out and a Filipino or a Japanese, depending on who was serving, would throw a spoonful of rice in your hands, and the next one would throw some salt on it, and you kept right on walking while eating out of your hands. …

And the weather was hot, hot, hot. The sun comes up hot, and it goes down hot, and it stays hot all night. It was just plain hell hot. …

Sergeant Forrest Knox:

We were waiting in the sun. In an open rice paddy. We stayed there without water till a half dozen men had passed out from the heat. Then we were ripe. The guards put us on the road and double-timed us. Every kilometer they changed the guards because they could not stand to double-time in the sun either. After a couple of miles you could hear the shooting start at the tail of the column, as the clean-up squad went to work. The old Indian gauntlet with an Oriental twist. …

Private Leon Beck:

When it came daylight the Japanese would wake you up, make you form columns of four and stand at attention. Maybe once or twice they would allow an individual to collect a bunch of canteens so that he could go and get water. Then again maybe they wouldn’t. It depended on the individual guards you were with.