Bataan Death March

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Bataan Death March

During World War II (1939–45), the United States had to fight battles in two parts of the world. German troops were aggressively taking over Europe while Japanese troops were seizing control of the Pacific Islands and China. As a result, American troops and resources were spread between the two places. Most American attention, however, was focused first in Europe. U.S. troops in the Pacific faced battles with fewer resources and little backup.

U.S. troops trapped

Soon after the attack on the Pearl Harbor naval station in Hawaii in December 1941, American troops were fighting to defend an airfield in the Philippines. By the end of December, the American and Filipino forces were forced to retreat to the Bataan peninsula. By February, the Japanese attack had been defeated. The Japanese, however, had cornered the American troops with their backs to the sea. A large blockade isolated the Philippine Islands, preventing the Americans from escaping and receiving supplies. As a result, food, medicine, and ammunition ran dangerously low. Soldiers were starving and suffering from malaria and dysentery.

After four months of holding the Japanese back without additional resources, the American troops were seriously weakened. On April 3, 1942, the Japanese attacked again. This time they easily cut through American defenses. On April 9, more than seventy thousand American and Filipino soldiers surrendered. It was the largest American army ever to surrender.

Prosecuted for war crimes

The Japanese brutality that followed was eventually judged a war crime. The starving and sick troops were forced to walk over sixty miles to the prisoner of war camp. It is now known as the Bataan Death March, because it is estimated that between five thousand and ten thousand men did not survive the march. Intense heat, little food or water, and random acts of violence caused their deaths. Some managed to escape, but for the fifty-four thousand who made it to Camp O’Donnell, the brutality of the march was only the beginning.