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Bataan Surrendered!

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Today marks the 70th anniversary of the surrender of Bataan to Japanese forces. The Japanese had expected a quick victory in the Philippines, which they attacked throughout December 1941, but instead fought American and Filipino forces for months. MacArthur evacuated the Philippines in March, leaving General Jonathan Wainwright in command in Corregidor, and General Edward King leading forces defending Bataan.

Much of MacArthur’s strategy for the Philippine defense depended on the assumption that reinforcements of soldiers and supplies were being sent to their aid. Under this belief, much of the supplies on Bataan were transferred to the island bastion of Corregidor, where the surviving forces were to evacuate if Bataan were to fall. However, the desperately needed reinforcements never arrived. On 9 April 1942 the Japanese had cornered the remaining forces on Bataan, and General King disobeyed a no surrender order by ceding Bataan to the Japanese rather than have the hungry and exhausted men under his command razed by the enemy.

Those 75,000 Allied soldiers—the majority of whom were Filipino—were taken prisoner and forced on what became known as the Bataan Death March. King’s surrender was the costliest American surrender since the Civil War; the Japanese were ill equipped to transport and provide sustenance for so many prisoners.  They were themselves short on water, food, and medicine, meaning that whatever was available was for the use of the Japanese, while their prisoners were left to die of dehydration, disease and heat exhaustion. Those who fell during the more than 60-mile march to Camp O’Donnell were left to die, or were murdered by their captors.  Thousands of Americans and Filipinos died before reaching the camp. Those who survived the horror of the march were left to face years of the harsh cruelty ubiquitous within the walls of Japanese prisoner of war camps.

Although at the time General King was seen as having disobeyed orders by surrendering, and Wainwright would shortly do the same, both men are remembered by history as heroes who fought until they couldn’t fight any longer.

Learn more from one soldier’s oral history about his experiences in the Philippines.


This post by curator Meg Roussel
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