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Apr 15

Battan Death March, World War II week by week

A tank battle on December 26, 1941 is on display, at Camp San Luis Obispo. It is a recreation of a painting by Darrel Millsap. ©David Middlecamp/The Tribune

The desperate struggle on Bataan is memorialized at Camp San Luis Obispo.
A tank battle on December 26, 1941 is on display, a recreation of a painting by Darrel Millsap. The 40th Tank Company (later Company C, 194th Tank Battalion) was based in Salinas and had trained at Camp San Luis Obispo before deployment to the Philippines.
The troops had retreated to the Bataan Peninsula as part of a holding action that was hoped would stand until reinforcements could be brought. The terrible truth was that the United States would be in no position to conduct substantial offensive operations until August 1942 and then it would be the Marine invasion of the island of Guadalcanal over 3000 miles away. Distances in the Pacific Theater were vast, required coordination with the navy and many army resources would be earmarked for the European Theater.
The army in the Philippines was on there own.
Reduced by three months of siege and suffering from malnutrition and disease, five days of relentless attacks broke defensive lines April 3, 1942. Major General Edward P. King surrendered his U.S. – Filipino force. The Japanese now needed to remove 78,000 prisoners of war to continue the siege and planned invasion of island fortress Corregidor.

News of the fall of Bataan reaches the then Telegram-Tribune on April 9, 1942.

The emaciated POWs would be force marched 25 miles to the central collection point of Balanga and later an additional 31 miles to San Fernando. Rail transport and an additional march would complete the journey.
The Japanese were unprepared for the volume or condition of prisoners. In addition the culture of the Japanese military equated surrender with shame.
A 25 mile march was considered standard for the Japanese Army while the American standard was 20 under the best conditions.
This march would be through the heat of malaria infested jungle.
On the road, as men fell behind they were beaten and bayoneted. Dysentery and other tropical diseases began taking a toll and with no clean water or food 5,000-10,000 Filipino POWs and 600-650 Americans died before reaching Camp O’Donnell. More would die in the prison camp.  A few men escaped and fought a guerrilla war against the Japanese army but for most Allied Philippine defenders the Battan Death March would mark the the end of their war.
Thanks to Saundra Peralta museum curator at Camp San Luis Obispo for her assistance with this post.

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