Today is Memorial Day in the United States, the annual remembrance of grateful citizens for those who died in the line of duty in service to the nation defending our freedom. In the case of remembering the defenders of Bataan, this commemoration takes place on both sides of the Pacific, in the Philippines and in the United States.
The people who take a moment to remember can do so in any variety of ways. They can participate in a commemoration or memorial service at the Manila American Cemetery and/or the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery) in Manila, or at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, and countless other places across the world, in the Philippines, in the U.S., and at the other American Battle Monuments Commission overseas cemeteries and memorials.
For those in the Philippines, they can visit the battlefields of Bataan, or the Mt. Samat National Shrine, the Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valor).
Citizens can remember in many other ways too. They can do so at home, proudly displaying the national flag. Or one can read something about the Bataan campaign to learn more about a specific person lost in the battle or a particular unit’s losses. One can even take the time for a moment of silence or to utter a humble prayer of thanks. Everyone can do something to honor someone of the fallen, most of who will remain forever young.
And there are so many names to remember from the Bataan campaign and its aftermath. Of the 120,000 members of the Fil-Am forces on Bataan, about 10,000 men were killed in battle before the campaign ended. Of the approximate 75,000 troops taken prisoner, somewhere between five and ten thousand more, mostly Filipino, perished soon afterwards on the infamous Bataan Death March.
Survivors of the Death March were held at Camp O’Donnell, and so many more never left that terrible camp alive in the weeks and months after Bataan. About 20,000 Filipino and 1,600 American servicemen died at miserable Camp O’Donnell. They are remembered today at the Paggunita Sa Capas (Capas National Shrine) in Tarlac Province.
And beyond that are those Bataan veterans who were later lost on the Japanese “Hell Ships” the troops transports that took prisoners from the Philippines to places in the Japanese Empire to use them as slave labor. These ships were not marked in any way, and were subsequently attacked by Allied forces taking them for regular Japanese vessels. On 7 September 1944, the Shinyo Maru was sunk, with an estimated 687 prisoners killed. The torturous voyage of the Oryoku Maru began in mid-December, 1944, with 1,620 prisoners – the ship was sunk and many were killed. The second ship the survivors were placed on was also attacked and many more prisoners died. By the end of the war, only 403 men survived.
The total number of men killed as a direct or indirect result of their participation in the Bataan Campaign is a hard number to find. But as an example of the extent of loss, consider the 1,816 men of the New Mexico National Guard’s 200th and 515th Coastal Artillery (Anti-Aircraft) regiments: 829 died in battle, as prisoners, or soon after liberation, which left 987 survivors.
Harder still to comprehend is the fact that all these many thousands of men who were lost were sons, brothers, husbands, and/or fathers. The ripple effect of such painful losses touched so many more lives in significant ways. How does a grateful nation express its thanks to all of those connected to those who were lost?
But the valiant sacrifice of the defenders of Bataan bought valuable time for other forces in the Pacific to assemble, and contest the aggression unleashed by Imperial Japan. The forces for freedom eventually prevailed, and today we have the liberty we enjoy thanks in part to the service and sacrifice of those who fought on Bataan. As citizens in free countries, we owe them our sincere thanks. Let us remember them on this Memorial Day.
Bataan Campaign, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Bataan
Libingan ng mga Bayani/Heroes’ Cemetery at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heroes%27_Cemetery
Capas National Shrine, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capas_National_Shrine
Bataan Death March, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bataan_Death_March
Camp O’Donnell, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_O%27Donnell
Hell Ships, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hell_ship#Oryoku_Maru
New Mexico National Guard Museum, at: http://www.bataanmuseum.com/bataanhistory/
Clark Veterans Cemetery Restoration Association, at: http://www.cvcra.org/photo_gallery_02-cemetery-view.php