April 9, 2008 marks the 66th anniversary of the fall of Bataan which resulted in the largest surrender by the United States Army in its history. Over 77,000 American and Filipino troops were to become victims of one of the most brutal episodes in the Pacific War—the Bataan Death March.
The March: Beginning of the Ordeal
In 1941, the Filipino people were already promised independence from the United States, which had seized the islands nation from Spain during the Spanish-American War. But with the Japanese expansion to Southeast Asia beginning to pose a threat, Gen. Douglas MacArthur was recalled to active duty to prepare for a possible Japanese attack. When the attack did come, MacArthur's initial plan to halt the Japanese invasion at the beaches failed. As a result, tens of thousands of US troops who retreated to Bataan, the peninsula in central Luzon, did not have enough food or medicine to sustain their fight. MacArthur, who moved his headquarters from Manila to the island of Corregidor across Bataan, continued to send orders: never surrender.
Then on March 12, 1942, he escaped to Australia. This left the men in Bataan to keep fighting until their ammunition, food, and medicine ran out, upsetting the Japanese timetable for victory and giving the United States precious time to recover from the Pearl Harbor attack. By the time more than 11,000 American and 66,000 Filipino soldiers surrendered on April 9, 1942, they were starving and most were stricken with malaria, beriberi or dysentery. “Thousands of troops and hundreds of planes” that MacArthur had assured them were on the way to rescue them never arrived.