THE BASTARDS OF BATAAN
Bataan province is in central Luzon of the Philippines, and occupies a 530-square miles (1,370 sq. km) peninsula extending southward and sheltering Manila Bay (east)from the South China Sea. Corregidor Island lies just off its southern tip at the entrance of the bay. About 30 miles (48 km) long and averaging 15 miles in width, Bataan is largely covered by jungle and is traversed north to south by steep mountains culminating in Mt. Natib (4,224 ft.) [1,287 m]) in the north and Mt. Bataan (4, 701 ft.) in the south ... Harold Stephens
The most effective weapon the Japanese had was their air force. With our fighter planes knocked out and with the little ground fire we had their bombers and fighter planes were over us from morning until dark. The fighters usually flew in flights of three planes. Observation planes working in conjunction with big ‘guns directed artillery lire into our area. We had to keep out of sight at all times.
One morning when we were camped in a gulch, we started to fire our rifles, mostly in frustration, at the planes as they flew over at a low altitude. That afternoon, six planes dove and dropped their bombs on top our line. Casualties were light, but our commanding officer ordered us to stop firing at enemy planes since our fire exposed our position. Blackouts were taken seriously. A man lighting a cigarette after dark, we were told, would be shot.
The little air support we did have included three or four P-40 Warhawks which occasionally flew over our lines. They came from a dirt airstrip at Cabcaban. The strip was maintained for operations and was protected by anti- aircraft guns. There was no doubt, however, that Japanese planes had full control of the entire area.
At the end of each day I looked for a quiet place to write in my diary. Some days there was no such place. Often I wrote when we were under fire. At times like this I felt that if l didn’t survive perhaps my diary would, and then the world would know the hell we were going through. But, I had to be careful that I didn’t record information that might be harmful to us if the Japanese ever got hold of it. I also knew, military information or not, if I were caught and found with a diary it would mean my instant death.
The following is my account of some of the action that took place during the battle of Abucay. Manila had fallen a few days before on January 2nd, and all the defending American and Filipino forces had withdrawn to Bataan.
This was the Thirty-first Infantry Regiment’s first and most important battle. The name Abucay comes from a barrio, or village, located along the eastern coastal plain of the Bataan peninsula. A defensive line was drawn across the peninsula that became known as the Abucay line. American and Filipino troops held this line from January to April of 1942. I like to think it helped to slow down the overall invasion of the South Pacific.
‘January 6, 1942: There was much artillery activity during the night. At about 1:00, our 155s were firing very close to us … without any return fire from the Japanese until 10:45. I recognized the first enemy shell whistling towards us and after yelling a warning, we dove into our foxholes. We are directly in the middle of an artillery duel. Our shells as well as enemy shells are whizzing over our heads. Two shells fell closer.
“My foxhole was not deep enough for me so I dashed to another hole and piled in with Sergeant Sayer from my company. Dive-bombers have appeared and we are now getting it from the artillery and the bombs. It is a great relief to talk to someone while the shells are exploding. Sergeant Sayer remembered that he had some canned foods in a truck parked nearby. With shells popping around me, I reached the truck and dashed back with the food.
“It is now 7:00 and we haven’t had a rest from shell fire all day. We received a call from Major White, our commanding officer, asking for seven men to go to the Third Battalion to aid them with casualties.
‘We set off in the dark and, while crossing through our lines, our own men turned a machine gun on us. After much yelling they recognized us and let us pass. We hiked through mud flats and waded across a stream. We weren’t sure where the battalion was and also had news that the Japanese had broken through. They were in the vicinity somewhere. We finally found the battalion and discovered that they had not needed us. I was assigned guard duty for two hours and then we received orders to evacuate. We piled in a truck and headed for the mountains, arriving at our destination at 3:00 in the morning, and tried to sleep.”
Most of my time from January 7 to January 14 was spent on routine duty. Japanese planes were bombing around our area, but no close hits were registered. They kept us under cover and between bombings and artillery barrages, we kept busy digging first-aid dugouts and foxholes. It was during this time that the phrase “The Bastards of Bataan” originated as we joked about our predicament. No air support, no tanks, very little food, ammunition running low, no Uncle Sam; all this tended to fit the expression, “Bastards of Bataan.” The real question that haunted us was were we really bastards of Bataan? Had we been forsaken? The one thing we couldn’t give up was hope.
On the 16th, we broke camp and started back toward the front. We hiked about ten miles that night in the dark. All during the march artillery guns were firing around us and we could see a red glow as we approached the front lines. Finally about midnight we left the road and lay down in the brush to sleep. A battery of 155’s was nearby and every time the guns fired we were lifted off the ground. We had also been warned to watch for snipers in the area. I did not sleep much that night.
We set up an aid station and from that time until we withdrew on the 24th, we were in the midst of a continuous battle. We received little food and almost no sleep. What follows are my diary entries for the 23rd and 24th.
‘January 23, 1942: Our artillery opened up before daylight on an advance. Noise was terrific. Guns are within a few hundred yards of us. I was awakened and put on guard duty until breakfast time. After breakfast I went back to bed. At daybreak Jap bombers dropped bombs at our artillery. They were quite close. A battery of long distance Jap guns started to shell our area at 8:00 in the morning. Shells are whizzing overhead.
“At 11:30, our guns started firing back at them. The noise is deafening. Planes are bombing around our artillery positions. It is getting hotter every minute! Japanese artillery has scored a direct hit on something. We can hear flames crackling.
“12:55: we are lucky to be alive. Three Jap bombers have just dropped a load of bombs on us. The concussion shook us up and we were covered with dirt and branches from the trees that were over us. It felt like somebody slapped me in the mouth. We administered first-aid to several men and had to treat severely shell-shocked soldiers. The trees we were under were torn to shreds.
“Shells are still exploding around us and planes are overhead. We were called to help an artillery unit and found two men dead and several wounded. After taking care of casualties, we walked back to camp with planes overhead. We were under shell fire continuously. We had to hit the dirt many times.
‘January 24, 1942: 11:30:Japanese are opening up with artillery fire this morning. Shells are exploding right in the camp. They are bursting within ten to three hundred yards. Four of us are piled in a large foxhole. We were covered with dirt and shrapnel was buzzing all around us. Only three casualties.
“5:00: Sent out detail to recover two wounded men. As soon as we started up the road, shells commenced to drop around us. We found out that the wounded men had already been carried out. After coming back to camp, I decided to take a bath. I stripped and started to wash in in an irrigation ditch. No sooner was the soap applied than when the shells started to come over. I was trapped in the nude and had to drop into the shallow ditch until the shelling ceased.
‘We received word that Goukus, a medical man and a good friend, had been picked off by a sniper.
“At 8 o’clock the whole 31st started to withdraw. We fell into single file formation without anything to eat and marched towards the Mariveles Mountains. We marched until 1:30 am and then had our chow and laid on the ground to sleep. We were dog tired. One man passed out on the road.”