The Bataan Death March was a forced march of more than 70, 000 American and Filipino prisoners of war captured by the Japanese in the Philippines in the early stages of World War II. Starting out on April 9, 194 2, from Mariveles on the southern end of the Bataan Peninsula, they were force-marched 55 miles to San Fernando, where some were taken by rail to Capas, and from here they all walked the final eight miles to Camp O’Donnell. They were starved and mistreated, often kicked or beaten on the way, and many who fell and couldn’t continue were bayonetted where they lay. Their bodies were left to rot in the sun. Only 54, 000 reached the camp; some 7,000-10,000 died on the way and the rest escaped to the jungle … HS
As we drove along, bodies of the dead littered both sides of the road. The smell of decaying flesh, swarming with flies, was nauseating. I came around one rather sharp curve and saw, to my horror, two dead American soldiers in the path of the truck. There was nothing I could do, surrounded as I was by Japanese soldiers. I had to drive over their bodies. It wasn’t long after that incident that the one thing I feared most did happen. The truck’s engine faltered and we stopped dead in our tracks.
I quickly forgot the two dead soldiers I had crushed beneath my wheels and leaped out of the cab. Before my feet touched the ground I was surrounded a group of enemy soldiers. One grinning soldier, in a display of superiority among his peers, began beating me about the head and shoulder with a large heavy flashlight. Blood ran down my forehead and neck. I was sure my end was near, but just then another soldier ran up and began jabbering in Japanese. The soldier with the flashlight stopped beating me. The second soldier was pointing to the medical corps red cross on my shirt.
“Doctor, doctor,” he said in heavily accented English, and soon several other men repeated the word. They backed away and let me get back in the truck. My life was spared again.
Meanwhile, my guard who couldn’t have cared less about my safety, continued to tinker with the truck. He opened the hood, pulled at some wires, and crawled under the truck several times. I was worried that he would do more damage than good so I got back out of the cab to check the electrical system. I found that the battery ground cable was nearly rotted out. I was relieved to find an old school bus nearby with a useable cable still in place.
I removed the cable from the bus and transferred it to the truck. I climbed into the cab, stepped on the starter and the engine started to purr. The guard flashed his gold teeth.
After travelling a few hours, we pulled off the road for some much needed sleep. I chose a spot in the back of the truck where I couldn’t easily be spotted. Lying there, I thought seriously about trying to escape to the hills and maybe meet up with the resistance force, if there were one. Soldiers in the first few days did escape but we never knew if they made it or not. I finally decided against it, as the area was teeming with Japanese soldiers, some of them leading dogs on leashes. Another deciding factor was that I lacked medicine of any kind to protect me from dysentery or malaria. I decided I would stay with the truck for the time being.
We continued with our motor trip the next morning.
We had traveled only a short distance when the guard motioned for me to stop. There was nothing in the road, and no one was around. What did he want now? He shoved me aside with the point of his rifle and then got behind the wheel. He motioned for me to be seated next to him on the front seat. The poor fellow, his legs were so short he had difficulty reaching the clutch and brake pedal. But he was determined he was going to drive the vehicle. This nearly proved fatal.
It happened when we rounded a sharp curve and he suddenly panicked and froze at the wheel. The vehicle ran off the road and came to rest at a very sharp angle, almost tipping over. He motioned for me to wait while he went to get help, and as I watched him disappear down the road I feared he might not come back. As much as I detested him, he was my security. A half hour later he did return, sitting next to the driver in an U.S. military truck, with a second truck following close behind. Both trucks had Japanese drivers.
With the help of winches, we were able to pull our truck back onto the road. I surmised that we must be near our destination, since my guard continued to drive. It was obvious he didn’t want to lose face with the other drivers. He most likely told them it was I who drove off the road.
By late afternoon we arrived at an artillery camp. When they saw us, Japanese soldiers came running to greet us and soon flooded around, cheering and throwing up their arms in jubilation. My guard was a hero. I’m sure he made them believe he had driven all the way from the main road to camp. A soldier offered me his canteen but I hesitated. He saw my reluctance and insisted I take a swallow. I did, slowly, and was surprised at the sweetness of the drink. It was sugared tea. It greatly refreshed me. I r ever knew a drink could be so enjoyable.
I was allowed to walk around the camp, but to my disgust, I found I was unable to avoid stepping on human excreta. It was obvious the Japanese were also suffering from dysentery. But there was a difference between American and Japanese soldiers. In American camps our first chore, no matter where we were, was to dig a hole for human waste. Apparently the Japanese didn’t take time or didn’t care about sanitation. It didn’t seem to matter where they relieved themselves. I didn’t do much walking about the area that day.
The next morning I discovered the reason why the truck I had been driving was so badly needed. A dozen or more grunting soldiers, sweating profusely, dragged a heavy Japanese artillery piece mounted on wagon wheels from under cover which they hastily attached it to the rear of the truck. It was First World War vintage. No sooner was it in place when a non-commissioned officer motioned for me to get behind the wheel. My guard once again climbed in beside me, somewhat chagrined that he wasn’t driving.
A short distance up the road two Japanese trucks were attempting to climb a small hill but were having difficulty in spite of a platoon of soldiers pushing for all their worth. This was my chance to show them American ingenuity. I put my GMC six-wheeler in low gear, and still towing the artillery piece, roared up the hill easily. Once we reached the top I feared that I might have made a grave mistake but the soldiers voiced their approval with shouts and waving arms. We made the rest of the trip to the main road without a problem.
At the intersection, my guard, who was now quite annoyed, motioned for me to get in the back. He climbed into the cab and after grinding gears and a couple rough bumps he somehow managed to get us rolling. The road was heavy with traffic. The Japanese were moving their big guns and ammunition in what seemed like a race to reach the Bataan shore to strengthen their positions opposite Corregidor. Traffic became snarled every few hundred yards. Each time we halted on an incline it would take a few seconds for my guard to apply his short legs to the brakes. During the interval, the truck would roll backwards, causing the gun we were towing to turn in the opposite direction. After several close calls, the truck finally rolled back too far, tipping the artillery piece over in the middle of the road. There was a much yelling and screaming around the accident. I ducked lower in the back of the truck. I didn’t dare watch the proceedings for fear they might decide it was my fault. After a half hour of grueling pushing and pulling, the gun was righted and we continued on toward our destination. The officer in charge gave me some rice and a small can of pineapple.
The next morning my guard got behind the wheel before anyone could say anything and then motioned for me to sit on the passenger side. Six officers climbed in back of the truck and we started southward down the main road. Along the way, slowly and painfully marching northward in columns of four, we saw groups of American soldiers being prodded by Japanese guards. They were a pitiful sight, gaunt and hollowed-eyed, hardly able to place one foot in front of the other.
We delivered the officers to a camp a few miles down the road and just as we started back, several artillery shells burst quite dose to us. Our forces on Corregidor were returning fire. During the night I had heard several shells coming in from the island. We were still holding out on Corregidor!
Another shell exploded extremely close, forcing us to come to a halt. Through our shattered windshield I saw an American soldier, still alive, lying upon the ground. He had been apparently wounded from the last shell fire. A second shell came our way, exploded a few yards away and covered us with dust and flying debris.
This was my chance to do something. I was becoming more and more disturbed about the antics of my guard and worried about what he might do given the right chance. I now saw my opportunity to escape. I pointed to the wounded soldier and jumped down from the truck. The guard screamed and gesticulated for me to get back in the truck. He apparently figured he might still need me and I’m sure for that reason he didn’t shoot me on the spot. Or maybe he was just too preoccupied with the gears to think of anything else. Whatever, I ignored him.
At that moment another shell exploded nearby, again scattering debris all around us. The guard completely forgot me. He decided to get out of the area as fast as he could. He gunned the motor and with gears grinding and wheels spinning he left me standing in the road.
I discovered another wounded soldier a short distance away. This man, as well as the one I had seen from the window of the truck, had been hit in the leg, but neither seemed to be in very bad shape. Both were officers, a lieutenant and a colonel.
Fearful of more artillery shells, I decided to get these two wounded men out of the area in any way I could. Truckloads of Japanese soldiers streamed by in both directions.
I attempted to flag them down but they would not stop. However, they kept pointing to the rear. I sat at the side of the road holding the two wounded officers, and in a few minutes an American truck with a G.I. driver came down the road. He stopped and we loaded the wounded men in the back. After driving several more miles, in a direction I hoped was away from the front, a group of Japanese halted us, and with threats of shooting us, ordered the truck off the road. They then confiscated the truck and had us remove the wounded men. We placed them in the shade. An American medical officer, hobbling slowly with the other soldiers, stopped and took over. Fortunately there were no guards about.
I was now on foot, and again part of the Death March.