Today, “Araw ng Kagitingan,” is the “Day of Valor” in the Philippines, a national public holiday, which was declared in 1961 as Bataan Day, and in 1987 as Araw ng Kagitingan. It takes place every year on April 9, the date of the fall of Bataan in World War II.
The day is also commemorated in the United States, though by a different name, as National Former POW Recognition Day. In the United States, April 9th is a Presidentially proclaimed observance. See a post from last year to learn more on the origins of this U.S. observance:
This April 9th is the 73rd anniversary of the fall of Bataan, in which some 12,000 American and 68,000 Filipino military personnel, about 80,000 in all, were captured after the arduous campaign; it was the largest single surrender in American military history.
Other sources say it was the largest single American surrender since the Civil War battle of Harper’s Ferry (1862) in which 12, 419 Union soldiers were captured by Confederate forces. But this does not fully credit the nature of the US Army Forces in the Far East, and the Filipino troops who were officially inducted into American military service as the Philippine Commonwealth was then under United States jurisdiction.
Although official numbers of Fil-Am troops that surrendered vary, ranging between 60 to 80,000 depending on source referenced, a number of them escaped captivity (perhaps 10,000, mostly Filipino) while another 17,000 died in Japanese POW camps (mostly Filipino). (Kingsacademy.com).
For one group of soldiers specifically, the 1,800 men from the 200th Coast Artillery (Anti-Aircraft) Regiment of the New Mexico National Guard who deployed to the Philippines in September 1941 and fought through the Bataan Campaign, the war would prove a fateful experience. Of the 1,816 men identified in the unit, 829 men died in battle, as a prisoner of war or immediately after liberation from disease, malnutrition and maltreatment, leaving 987 survivors.
The writer of this web log recently read the stirring account of one of the Bataan prisoners who was a member of the 200th CA (AA), Myrll W. McBride, Sr., who wrote “Beyond the March of Death: Memoir of a Soldier’s Journey from Bataan to Nagasaki.”
It is a uniquely written account, in that the author composed it after the war in 1948, but 60 years passed before it was ever published. Because of that, his recollections were recorded closer to the time his excruciating experience and perhaps thus offer a more evocative description of it.
McBride spent three and a half years as a POW, on the Death March, at Camp O’Donnell, Bilibid Prison in Manila, Cabanatuan POW camp, aboard a POW Hellship, and in POW/slave labor camps in Japan at Osaka and in Kyushu. His tale is one of survival, reflecting the decision he made on April 9, 1942, as exhausted, malnourished Fil-Am soldiers were being beaten and killed on the Death March – “I made a simple – or great and terrible – decision. I resolved to survive. To live.” And so he did, and wrote a compelling account of his experience in order to help “…recall and preserve a sharp sense of the meaning of war.”
It is good that even now, accounts of the Bataan POW experience still emerge. Of recent note to the former POWs from Bataan, their families, friends and a grateful nation, in 2014 bills were introduced in both houses of US Congress, as HR 5391 and S. 2053, seeking to create authorization for the installation of a POW/MIA commemorative chair featuring the logo of the National League of POW/MIA Families on the Capitol grounds in a suitable permanent location. It would be procured and maintained by private funds. Unfortunately, it appears these bills were not well-supported, publicized or advocated. The Senate bill died in the previous session of Congress, and the House bill has languished in a sub-committee since August. People who care about this ought to tell their Representative to support HW 5391, and hopefully this initiative will yet see success.
However we may commemorate the brave soldiers who fought at Bataan, their determined stand and fateful fall into captivity, let us honor them on this Day of Valor / Former POW Recognition Day. If we don’t remember them, who will?
“Bataan Day,” Wikipedia entry, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bataan_Day
“National Former POW Recognition Day,” at: http://www.nps.gov/ande/planyourvisit/formerpowrecognitionday.htm
April 9th is National former POW recognition day,” at: http://www.veteranstoday.com/2006/04/07/april-9th-is-national-former-pow-recognition-day/
“Presidential Proclamation — National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day, 2015,” at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/04/08/presidential-proclamation-national-former-prisoner-war-recognition-day-2
“Statement of Charles Susino, Jr., Past National Commander/Legislative Officer of the American Ex-Prisoners of War Before the Committees on Veterans’ Affairs U.S. Senate/U.S. House of Representatives, March 18, 2015,” at http://www.axpow.org/
House Resolution 5391, at: https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/5391
Senate Bill S. 2053, at: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/s2053
“Battle of Harpers Ferry, Wikipedia entry, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Harpers_Ferry
“Battle of Bataan,” Wikipedia, entry, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Bataan
New Mexico National Guard’s involvement in the Bataan Death March, at: http://www.bataanmuseum.com/bataanhistory/
McBride, Myrrl W., Sr., “Beyond the March of Death: Memoir of a Soldier’s Journey from Bataan to Nagasaki,” McFarland, 2010