University of Iowa's ROTC Commemorates World War Two's Bataan Death March

Jhemmylrut Teng

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The Bataan Death March was one of the most horrific parts of history for the American and Filipino troops during World War Two. But even though it has been over 70 years, the local cadets of the University of Iowa still commemorates the sacrifice of over a thousand fallen heroes by marching 65 miles from Terry True Blood Recreation Area and made their war through North Liberty Coralville, and Iowa City. Before noon, the cadets managed to finish the entire journey back at Terry True Blood.

The annual march was to replicate the hardships of the seventy-five thousand Americans and Filipino soldiers who were forced to march by the Imperial Japan troops toward the prisoner war camps after Bataan fell after three months of battle in the Philippines.

During the march, many Allied soldiers starved, executed, and died of heat exhaustion.

"It really gave us an understanding of what the march was, and what our brethren who came before us and they wore the same uniform even though it's changed of course over the years, it still means the same thing. So to carry on their legacy and what they went through, even just a small part because just this ruck is nothing compared to what the actual Bataan March was." - Cadet Zac Osgood, Army ROTC University of Iowa.

The Battle and Fall of Bataan

Ten hours after the Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, it attacked the only territory of the United States in Asia - the Philippines.

By 1942, the Japanese already occupied Manila, the capital of the Philippines, on the island of Luzon. Accordingly, General Douglas McArthur, the commander-in-chief of the Allied soldiers in the Philippines, gathered all his forces - to the Bataan Peninsula to fight the Japanese army and navy.

However, by that time, the entire Southeast Asia was already controlled by Imperial Japan. The Bataan Peninsula and the island of Corregidor were the only remaining Allied strongholds in the region.

For three months, the joint forces of Americans and Filipinos fought the Japanese in Bataan, albeit they lacked in supplies and ammunition.

On March 11, 1942, based on the directives of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, General MacArthur was exiled to Melbourne, Australia.

By April 9, 1942, MacArthur's 76,000 men in Bataan surrendered to the Japanese. It was the largest United States surrender since the American Civil War's Battle of Harper's Ferry. Soon afterward, Americans and Filipinos prisoners of war were forced into the Bataan Death March.

The Death March

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The Japanese initally estimated 30,000 prisoners of war, but 76,000 troops laid down their arms, and they became a problem for Imperial Japan's logistics to transport all the captives from Bataan to Camp O'Donnell in Capas, Tarlac, which takes 65 miles traveling.

U.S. General Edward King offered General Masaharu Homma the American forces' vehicles for transportation, but the suggestion was dismissed. Eventually, the Japanese decided that prisoners would march on foot. The prisoners were first gathered at the Municipality of Mariveles, Bataan, then took the route along the coast of Manila Bay to the town of Lubao and then to the San Ferndando, Pampanga train station.

From there, the plan was to transport the prisoners via railway to Capas, Tarlac, and continue another on foot travel of approximately 14 kilometers to Camp O'Donnell. However, the prisoners were already at a bad shape, most of them were already exhausted because of the three months ardious battle. So, marching 65 miles under the sun was too much to handle for the Allied soldiers.

During the march, the soldiers were under the tropical heat, and they were deprived of food. The priority for food ration was the Japanese, if there were remaining supplies, the soldiers get one meal a day. But still not enough to fed thousands of them.

What's worse, the Japanese intentionally deprived the soldiers of water. And those who complain about it get shot. Out of desperation for survival, the soldiers forced themselves to drink water from wallow pits and dithces full of animal waste. The polluted water caused dysentery, which led to fatal consequences.

Torture on Every Step

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The entire journey was a torture. The Japanese forced the soldiers to march on a steady pace, those who were lagging, they were forced to continue with bayonets. But those who cannot proceed anymore because of exhaustion and starvation got executed by the Japanese troops who also trailed the procession.

Then entire path was full of Allied forces dead bodies, because those who got killed were left on the road. The horrifying scene was got worsened as cadavers were mangled by the Japanese forces' trucks.

The Amerians and Filipinos soldiers were stripped off of their dignity. Sometimes they get beaten for not obeying orders as they cannot understand the language. Those who tried to escape were shot. Those who were too tired to wake up, got buried alive.

Bathroom breaks were also infrequent. Therefore, the soldierss were either to hold it or urinate and deficate into their trousers. And this caused infection to their wounds. Breaks were actually meant for the Japanese officers, and even during those moments, the captive soldiers were not allowed to sit down.

When the soldiers arrived at San Fernando railway station they placed into old metal box cars, packed, without ventilation, and no space for sitting. If someone passed out or passed away at that point, they were left on a
standing position.

Locals Helped the Prisoners

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The Japanese forced the soldiers to march 25 miles per day, which was an average speed for the Imperial soldiers. But because of several sufferings the soldiers went through, the caravan's movement was too slow. It took 10 days for most soldiers to arrived at the camp.

Despite the massive numbers of prisoners died during the march, many still survived. And that's because the Filipino locals secretly throw or leave along the trail sugar canes and canteens of water for the soldiers to pick up for their sustenance.

At the camp, the soldiers were finally given food, and able to lie down. But in the succeeding days, there were number of Americans and Filipinos soldiers died in the camp because of exhaustion and the infection they obtained during the march.

The Japanese occupation of the Philippines lasted for four-years. But the United States managed to recapture some areas of the country on October 1944, and ended World War II in 1945, when the Japanese fully surrendered.

Why Japan did such thing?

Imperial Japan's wrath against Americans and Filipinos ingrained when the United States supported China's national leader Chiang Kai-shek against the Japanese invasion in Manchuria.

Japan is a nation with less resources, so in order to get more, they planned to either invade Northern territories (i.e. USSR) via China or the Southern territories (i.e., the Philippines, Indonesia) which was owned then by Europe and the United States. For the Imperial, taking on the U.S. forces was too risky; therefore, they initially opted for the Northern option. But they were no match when they had encountered the USSR's army, so the Japense retreated.

The plan to strike South was excellerated in 1941, when the U.S. imposed a "moral embargo" suspending oil supplies to Japan, unless they latter abandons their attacks on China and Indo-China. Japan believes that in order to push through for their Southern invasion, they have to go to war against the Americans. But before doing so, they believed they had to criple first the U.S. military by bombing Pearl Harbor.

Japan had to get the Philippines then as it is the most strategic archipelago in Asia Pacific. Occupying over 7,000 islands of the Philippines would give Japan access to Borneo, Celebes, Java, New Guinea, Austrialia, and even to the U.S. west coast.

The Imperial Japan plan was seemed seamless in execution. What they didn't expect was having difficulties during their encounter against the Americans and Filipinos soldiers in Bataan - the battle that lasted for three months.

Annual Commemoration of Valor

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In some states the Bataan Death March may seem just a horrible chapter in history. But in Iowa, during the month of April, they allotted a special day(s) to commemorate the bravery of the fallen men during the march.

By doing so, it will boost the public's understanding of this event and should never be forgotten.

ROTC Public Affairs Officer Cadet Griffin Clark was a part of the crew that helped supply water and food to the cadets along the route. He shared that he wanted so badly to join the march because of how inspired he was by their efforts.

"I'm honestly still trying to figure out all those emotions that I'm dealing with it, but it's a combination of a little bit of sadness from the remembrance side, as well as pride in my brothers and sisters that are other making sure that we keep doing this and keep the community engaged." CDT Griffin Clark

Apart from the Bataan Death March commemoration, the ROTC has tons of upcoming events to watch out for that can be seen here.

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I am a PR officer and a professional journalist with a master's degree in international development. I write history, geopolitics, food, and culture. Since I am a member of the API community, I make sure to highlight our stories to promote diversity and create awareness for cultural understanding.

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