4-16 Bataan Marchers Arrive at Camp
SANTA FE – On this 70th anniversary of the Bataan Death March, I am reprinting a column from a series I created seven years
ago commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. On April 16, the bulk of prisoners were reaching their
Those in the first ranks of the Bataan Death March began arriving at Camp O'Donnell on April 13, 1942. These were units that
had been marched steadily for three days over a route that ranged from 60 to 90 miles.
The pace had been brutal. The shorter Japanese guards had to dog trot to keep up. Later they began using bicycles and the
pace quickened even more. Some had ridden part way when buses and trucks transporting Japanese soldiers to the front returned to pick
up another load.
The enemy was scurrying to get its troops to the south end of Bataan as quickly as possible and its captives to the north and
out of the way. When transportation was not available, the enemy was marching its own troops at the same brutal pace it was marching
The Japanese had lost much time at Bataan in their sweep south to take the Pacific all the way to Australia. Far too many men
and weapons had been diverted to the area. Tokyo was applying pressure to finish the job at Corregidor and move south before the
United States could mobilize to defend Australia.
O'Donnell was an abandoned camp the Americans and Filipinos had been preparing. Much still needed to be done to house the
prisoners and the Japanese didn't have time to do it. So captives were chosen to send ahead to prepare the camp.
Those were the lucky ones. As the early formations of ragged, bloody and starved men arrived, those who had gone ahead first
learned of the Death March.
As New Mexicans staggered into camp, they were grabbed by their buddies and taken to an area they had staked out for themselves.
It took many days to nurse them back to any degree of health. Some didn't make it. They had spent their last ounce of energy getting
to the camp and had no more left.
On May 10, The Japanese moved most of the senior officers to a separate camp, leaving only a staff of several colonels and Gen.
Sage. At Gen. King's suggestion, Sage was named commander of the American portion of the camp, which numbered some 9,300 men. The New
Mexicans rejoiced at the recognition accorded their commanding officer.
But Sage didn't have much say as to what happened. The camp was run by an overage Japanese reserve officer, who loved to climb on
a box in his baggy shorts and screech at them about how he would like all of them to die. Only the benevolence of the Emperor
permits you to live, he said. "You are guests of the Emperor."
The Emperor was not a good host. Conditions were hideous. Men began to die from the filth, starvation, disease and hopelessness.
Many chose to die.
Three months later, the prisoners were moved to Cabanatuan and conditions only got worse. Red Cross attempts to inspect the camp
were denied. Red Cross shipments of food and medical supplies were diverted for Japanese use.
In late November 1942, a shipment did get through. While they lasted, the death rate slowed, but it was to be a year before
another shipment got through. The Japanese camp commander said he wished to keep the prisoners too weak to resist.
The Japanese organized work details. Anyone healthy enough jumped at them because it was an opportunity to get outside the camp.
It was also an opportunity to interact with natives on the sly and to steal anything that might be helpful back in camp. They even
devised a way to counterfeit the near-worthless invasion money.
Japanese guards with venereal disease dared not report it to their own doctors for help, so they went to the Americans and paid
dearly for counterfeit medicine.
Masonic Lodge contacts and other good souls the men had met in Manila also helped with money and medicine through highly
organized pipelines. And thus they maintained their morale.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org