The 200th Coast Artillery Regiment and the Bataan Death March

Surrender and the Bataan Death March

Major General Edward King Jr., Commander of Allied Forces on Bataan. Photo from the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

On 01 April, General Homma, now having the reinforcements he had requested, launched a new attack on Bataan. The men, weakened by hunger and disease and out of supplies and ammunition, tried desperately to hold out. The main assault began on 3 April. Captain Marvin Lucas recalled; “It sounded like a tremendous thunderstorm. The skies to the north were lit like day with artillery fire. Then the Philippine line began to break, and soldiers were streaming south. They said they were going to Corregidor.” What men were available moved toward the front lines to fill in as artillery and infantry. Sergeant Earl Harris’s men now how to provide instruction to the airmen on basic rifle skills, “We showed them, ‘this is the trigger and this is where you put the bullets,’ and that’s how we went to the front.” Sergeant Neal Harrington, on having to train the “new’ infantrymen who were “the same regulars who had lorded it over us at Clark because we were only National Guard.” The lines were quickly overrun and the men forced to retreat.

Historian Dorothy Cave writes:

That day [7 April] Colonel Sage was notified that Groupmen “A” was now officially born and christened the Philippine Provisional Coast Artillery Brigade (AA). He was named Brigade Commander with the rank of Brigadier General. Its life would be short, but in the forty-eight hours before its untimely death, the Brigade would serve as both artillery and infantry, and it would earn the proud distinction of being the last organized unit on Bataan to surrender.

By 9 April, Major General Edward King felt it was not worth the addition loss of lives should the US keep fighting and – unknown to Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright, commander of all US forces in the Philippines – surrendered the men on Bataan. Jack Boyer recalled, “Nothing in our training prepared us to be prisoners. But still, men did not lose their morale or spirit. We began to look for friends – to help each other, and to buddy up again. Though we were in shock, we still had that old feeling for each other.” Andrew Carson, a fire control man for one of the gun emplacements on Corregidor, wrote, “We had been trained to act instinctively, immediately, to commands like ‘Attention,’ ‘At ease,’ ‘About face…’ but the word ‘Surrender’ was foreign. It had not been programmed into our minds and therefore brought no response.”

The Bataan Death March Route from Bagac and Mariveles to Camp O’Donnell. Image created using Google Earth.
The Bataan Death March” by Ben Steele

Private Evans Garcia, “When we were captured, I remembered seeing the newsreels at the movies at El Cortez Theater in Hot Springs (now Truth or Consequences) when I was growing up, showing what the Japanese did to the Chinese, and I knew they would do the same to us.”

Men slowly made their way from their fighting positions into Cabcaban and Mariveles, where eventually the Japanese began to collect them. However, before the Japanese arrived, some men made it to Corregidor. Private Frederico Almeraz recalled, “One guy swam to a Navy inter-island boat and they hauled us to a ship. We got bombed and strafed. That’s a hell of a feeling – no solid ground, no foxhole. I just lay flat on the deck. Late that night they got us to Corregidor, and the next morning I got assigned to B Battery, 60th Coast Artillery.” Private First Class Wallace “Dub” Phillips arrived in Mariveles early in the morning, “By this time Bataan had collapsed. We were discussing what to do, when a guy walked up and asked what kind of outfit we’d been with. We said, ‘Artillery,’ and he said, ‘Good. Walk out that door and keep walking.’ A couple of minesweepers were waiting, and we started for Corregidor.”

Sergeant Stephen Alex recalled his thoughts at the time:

I thought of the home I would probably never see again, and knew the other fellow’s thoughts were like mine. A few were bitter, but most were uncommonly calm, like men I later saw facing Jap firing squads. Despite a feeling that crept into my mind sometimes that we had been betrayed, I felt proud to be an American. At a time like that, if you felt patriotic, it wasn’t flag waving. It was the McCoy. I knew then that, even if we didn’t live to see it, the Yanks would be back. Somehow we knew, too, that it would take years.

Immediately, they were put to work repairing roads and other infrastructure as needed. In addition, Japanese commanders surrounded their own 105mm guns – now firing at Corregidor – with prisoners, thinking that the guns on “The Rock” would not return fire for fear of hitting their own. They were wrong. And then, from all over the peninsula, the infamous Bataan Death March began.

Prisoners gathered to begin movement up the Bataan peninsula. Photo from the Australian War Memorial.

Major General Yoshikata Kawane was in charge of clearing out all US and Filipino troops from Bataan. His plans of providing food, water, and some transportation for the prisoners failed to materialize.  A number of reasons caused this – a much larger number of prisoners than expected, a loss of men and material because of the delay in taking Bataan, and racial hatreds and the inferiority the Japanese placed on the prisoners for surrendering.

Second Lieutenant Thomas Foy, “When I surrendered Battery F, they asked where our guns were. I said ‘We lost ‘em,’ and they began to wallop us over the head and knock us down. One of General King’s aides told them to stop. It didn’t do any good. From the start they disregarded the surrender agreement.” Immediately, the men began to understand exactly what was in store for them. Lieutenant Colonel Memory Cain recalls watching as a Filipino soldier, wearing a brace and cast on his upper body, tried to climb into the back of a truck. His first attempt was ended by a Japanese soldier beating him back, so he tried again:

The same Jap guard jerked him off [the truck], jerked his brace off, and the blood just spurted. The poor devil stood there crying. [On a third attempt] the Jap put his rifle against him, fired, and killed him. I saw seven heavy trucks, driven by Japanese, drive over his body. I turned my back and sat there fifteen or twenty minutes and heard an almost constant stream of trucks run over his body. When this convoy had gone through, the Japanese herded us down the road. All that was left was a pile of plaster, bones, and hair in a pool of blood.

Individual Japanese soldiers did sometimes show compassion, such as providing a fan to an overheated American in one instance, and on several occasions quietly passing water to a prisoner. Though this was more common once the men had been imprisoned, these acts of kindness on the march into captivity provided just enough for the recipient to survive, and tend to be some of the most clearly recalled parts of the men’s experiences.

Soldiers march with their hands up, flanked by Japanese guards. Photo from the Library of Congress.

The Bataan Death March was not a single long march up the peninsula to Camp O’Donnell, but rather a series of marches made by numerous groups. Regardless, the trip was harrowing, with thousands dying along the way. By this point, the men were sick, carrying numerous tropical and hygiene-caused diseases and malnourished. Corporal Jack Aldrich, “We were denied food and water, and made to march at a gait that kept the Japs with us at a dogtrot. When they were replaced by guards on bicycles, we were pushed faster. And that was when the hot sun and the lack of water and food began to take its toll, and guys, already weakened by disease and hunger, began to fall by the side of the road.” Private First Class Jose “Pepe” Baldonado carried his sick brother on the march, stating he “walked barefoot with blisters on that hot pavement, till finally the blisters broke and I was walking on blood.”

Soldiers on the Bataan Death March. Photo from the Australian War Memorial.

In addition to disease and starvation, Japanese brutality caused a large number of deaths. Often, the Japanese troops moving the men along would stop a group and search them. If they were carrying anything that could be identified as coming from a Japanese solder – coins, money, papers, even a paper fan – they were immediately executed. Men who desperately dashed to open ditches or streams had a bayonet shoved through them and were left to die – others were beheaded. These same troop trucks would move slowly down the lines of prisoners, with Japanese soldiers beating them with their rifles. Corporal Woodrow “Woody” Hutchinson, “Every time we met a southbound unit, we’d pull over to let them pass, and we’d get some licks. One stopped his tank and started beating us over the heads with his long-handled crank. Another group gouged us with bayonets.” Hutchinson and his comrades were riding in the back of an open truck, part of an advance party being moved to help set up Camp O’Donnell, when this occurred.

Their first stop was to be the rail center at San Fernando, where the men were then packed into boxcars for the trip to Camp O’Donnell – the first prisoner of war camp the New Mexicans would experience. While groups were marching into captivity, Corregidor had finally fallen to the Japanese, and those 200th/515th men from ‘The Rock” would be transported north, to Manila and Bilibad Prison, before moving to a new camp at Cabanatuan. Captain Jack Boyer later recalled the night spent at San Fernando, “Exhausted and hungry – we hadn’t eaten for several days – we lay down in the mud and manure. In the morning we were packed into small steel boxcars, so tightly that everybody had to stand, and the doors were closed and locked. The heat and stench was overwhelming. We all had dysentery, and had no control. As we had had no water for several days, we quickly became dehydrated. Those who died, died standing up. Detraining at Capas, we walked the remaining miles to Camp O’Donnell.”

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