Following three months of brutal fighting on the Bataan Peninsula, Gen. Edward King surrendered to the Japanese, leading to the capture of 75,000 American and Filipino troops. The surrender on Bataan was the largest in American history. With the capture of the American and Filipino troops, Japan began the forced transfer of these POWs to the captured Camp O’Donnell, 60 miles north of Bataan.
The captured soldiers were already in rough shape to begin with at the start of the Bataan Death March. For three months the American and Filipino troops had defied the greater Japanese numbers bearing down on them, but in doing so were left with scarce supplies and inadequate food, water, and medical aid. Their capture only made matters worse. The Japanese provided very little food and water to the POWs. In some cases, the water supplied to the POWs was from filthy water buffalo wallows on the side of the road they were marching on. Abused and beaten by their captors, POWs who were unable to keep pace with the larger group would be killed.
By the time the POWs reached Camp O’Donnell, thousands of their comrades had died on the march north. It is estimated 2,500-10,000 Filipino troops died during the march with an additional 100-650 Americans perishing. The POWs were then put into an overcrowded prison on Camp O’Donnell where poor hygiene led to dysentery and other diseases which ravaged the survivors. The conditions at the camp led to even more deaths, with over 20,000 Filipino and 1,600 Americans perishing. Most of those that died were buried in mass graves, making it difficult after the war to identify the remains.
As the war progressed the POWs were transferred to different camps around the Philippines. One such camp was located outside of Cabanatuan City, where 500 POWs were located. On 30 January 1945, American Rangers and Filipino guerillas raided the camp to liberate the POWs. The raid was a stunning success; with nearly every POW being liberated (two would die in the attack). The Japanese suffered over 530 killed, and four tanks knocked out of action in the raid. The American and Filipino raiders suffered slight casualties, with two Rangers killed in action, and 25 Ranger and Filipino raiders wounded. The ex-POWs were transported back to the United States, and the raiders were awarded for their bravery on the battlefield. Two Rangers would receive the Distinguished Service Cross (both were downgraded from the Medal of Honor), all other officers were awarded the Silver Star, and every enlisted man earned the Bronze Star.
Look for more information regarding the Battle of Bataan in World at War issue #47 with the article “The Defense of Bataan: American/Philippine Heroic Stand in the Midst of Defeat” and join the conversation on Facebook!