Horror of the Bataan Death March

American troops with their hand sound behind their backs during the notorious Bataan Death March.

With the final collapse of the resistance on Bataan the Japanese now forced the captured American and Filipino troops on what became known as the Bataan Death March. The march began on the 10th April 1942 – 76,000 men were to walk the eighty miles to their detention camp in the tropical heat. There was no food and often no water, many men were only allowed to drink from stagnant pools. Those who could not walk through illness or wounds, or fell behind with exhaustion were shot, bayonetted or worse. Random violence from the more sadistic guards was routine. Thousands died during the following week, most estimates are in the range of 5,000 – 10,000 men.

Philip Buencamino was to record in his diary that the American troops were often singled out for ill treatment, even worse than that accorded his fellow Filipinos. But he also records the treatment received by the civilian population. On the second day he and his companions were already in a very bad state, they had collapsed by the side of the road and fallen into a deep sleep when they were awoken:

At about midnight, Ernie woke me up. There were strange cries. There was the voice of a woman, crying, pleading. Then there were other cries – female voices, too – and all had the same “spare-me-please” tone. We couldn’t move. I was tense. Then there were hoarse cries… soldiers… then shots that pierced the night… and the dull thud of bodies.

We woke up very early in the morning – before sunrise. We decided to walk… while it was cool. We rolled our blankets… and we moved towards Little Baguio. “Wish we had ham and eggs!” said Ramon jokingly. Nobody answered. We kept on walking… walking… walking. Finally, we reached Little Baguio. There we had our breakfast: water. The brook in Little Baguio was nice as ever. We filled our canteens and we filled ourselves up. We had a short rest… and we walked again.

On the roadside, we saw a lot of dead bodies, unlucky fellows who died just a few days before the end. There was an awful smell. Some corpses showed signs of torture before death. The wrists and ankles were bound, and the mouth gagged. Others had ugly wounds in their bellies, which proved they had hand-to-hand fighting. Most of the bodies were rotting, and there was no one to even give them a decent grave.

The sun was scorchingly hot by now, and I was getting dizzy with the heat. Tony Nieva was trying hard to walk… despite his malaria. Godo Reyes was still going strong… but I noticed that Ernie was weakening.

Noontime came… but we had no lunch. We just sat under a tree… and stared at each other. I saw a 3-year old girl… sitting beside a bush… crying. Her face was dusty. Where was her mother? I looked around… and in a nearby bush… there was an awful smell. There lay a rigid body, and the torn clothes and the bayonet thrusts on the body told the story. I felt like bringing the child with me… she looked sick and so hungry… but I left the child… without help.

I can’t forgive myself. I tried to ease my conscience by saying that thousands of soldiers passed that child also… that many more would see it. I tried to tell myself that the Japanese Red Cross (surely, they probably had a Red Cross) would help the kid. As I walked and walked and walked… the child haunted me. But on the way… there were more such children… some asleep from sheer exhaustion… but still breathing. I carried one out of the curve… because a truck might just rumble over her. Again I felt like bringing the child. I already had her in my arms. But I laid her down alone… under a tree.

We walked on and on till it was dark, and we had no more strength. We found out that hunger does not matter very much… after a while… because your stomach becomes tense. My feet were beginning to hurt me. Ernie had big blisters. Ramon, too. Godo’s feet were bleeding. That night… we slept by a beach.

Read the whole story of how he just survived in the Diary of Philip Buencamino III at the Philippine Diary Project.

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: