The Naked Soldier
The Naked Soldier
Escape from Bataan Death March :
How $20 Saved My Life
December 7, 1941 changed the world forever. I remember President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it "a date which will live in infamy." The day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the United States declared war on Japan and entered World War II.
Few, however, know that hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese also attacked the Philippines. An island nation located farther north in Asia, the Philippines was an American Commonwealth at that time and I was in her army.
After four months of fighting, Allied forces surrendered on April 9, 1942. About 80,000 Filipino, American and other Allied soldiers captured by the Japanese began the Bataan Death March. They were forced to walk 65 miles over five days from Bataan to Pampanga. Bataan is located 82 miles west of Manila, the Philippine capital.
I am a Bataan Death March survivor. At that time, I was a Staff Sergeant in the 71st Division of the USAFFE, commanded by General Douglas MacArthur. I was 21 years old.
I remember April 9 was an ordinary day at the U.S. Army field hospital hidden in the jungles of Bataan. I was nursing my left leg after being hit by shrapnel during a Japanese air raid.
About a hundred American patients were resting like me on military cots. The seriously ill were sleeping. Some were whistling a tune, an antidote to boredom. Others were re-reading Life and Look magazines to pass the time.
Suddenly, at about 6 a.m., loud voices shattered what began as a calm day. American soldiers came barging in, waving white shirts tied on bamboo sticks. They were shouting as they blurted out the shocking news: "We have surrendered! We have surrendered! The Japanese are coming!"
I didn't know it at that time, but about 400 Filipino officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) had earlier been summarily executed.
I hobbled out in an attempt to blend with the regular Filipino townsfolk all seeking to elude the oncoming Japanese soldiers. To my dismay, I was trapped just the same, along with other fleeing ambulatory patients. I couldn't believe what was happening.
Our captors soon ordered us to split into two groups. Soldiers formed one line. Civilians lined up behind us. The temperature alone made the walk torture. We had no water along the way. We were all baking in the sun...men, women, as well as children. If by chance we passed a dirty stream and rushed to quench our thirst, we risked getting killed. We were seldom allowed to rest along the route.
Several times during that day we had passed muddy pools of rain water alongside the road. Men turned mad from the heat had run to drink even from pools littered with dead bodies. I saw them getting shot, beheaded or bayoneted to death on the spot by Japanese soldiers.
Those already suffering from malaria or dysentery, the latter caused by drinking polluted water, were dropping out of the line and falling by the roadside like flies. Those who failed to get up to rejoin the group suffered the same fate.
At sunset, after about 12 hours, exhausted, hungry and dehydrated, we flopped down in the nearest open field until being called to line up for a meal of rice and salmon flakes.
There were times during the march when the road led us up among the hills and we came upon small villages, their thatched huts tucked back up among the trees of the jungle, completely empty and abandoned. Every Filipino who was able had fled in the face of the oncoming Japanese army.
Sometimes the road descended back down nearer to Manila Bay and we could see the blue water off through the trees.
There were times when the road was long and straight and level in the hot sun. Then the Japanese tanks and the trucks would come speeding by. Those too weak to get out of the way were run over. They were