“I have a difficult choice to make, and I’m not sure what I should do.”
"I have a difficult choice to make, and I'm not sure what I should do." General Edward King surveyed the jungle where he stood with his aide, Major Cal Simpson. "It's unconditional surrender...or death. Those are the only choices they've offered."
"What about resupply?" asked the aide. "Shouldn't we hold out until we can be resupplied?"
"It's not coming—nothing is coming." The general stood and took a few steps away, he needed time to think. His orders were to hold out, fight with whatever means he had at his disposal, but the decision would affect seventy-six-thousand men, he had to make the right decision. He turned back to his aide. "What's the condition of the men now?"
"It's not good." The aide replied. "They've been on half rations for over a week now. But a lack of food is not the worst of it." He placed his palms on the wobbly table and looked down at the reports that had come in that morning. "Dysentery, Malaria, and Malnourishment is rampant, the doctor reports that they have had no way to combat these diseases for over a week." He stood and faced his general. "There isn't enough ammunition to withstand an attack it one comes...and it most certainly will come."
"Add to those problems the lack of food," the general said with a frown, "to try to hold out would be suicide."
"I wouldn't want to be in your shoes right now, sir." The aide picked up the reports and placed them in a folder, he was, after all, an administrative soldier, even if he had been given a rifle and had fought the enemy hand to hand only yesterday.
"It's the president's shoes that I wouldn't want to be in, Cal." The general put his hands in his pockets and let out a long sigh. "He'll be called to task one day for what he's done here." He paused. "It was his decision to leave us here on our own. He alone has the responsibility for deciding not to resupply us, to leave us to whatever fate will befall us. It is the president of the United States, and him alone, who has made us the forgotten."
"What will you do, general?" The aide knew the answer, but it had to be his commander's decision. The men were starving, suffering from disease, and they could no longer protect themselves.
"Send word to General Homma," King said, "tell him we'll accept his terms of surrender."
"General, those terms are unconditional surrender, you do understand that?"
"Of course I understand that!" The general snapped, then dropped his gaze to the littered jungle floor. "I'm sorry, Cal. But this isn't easy for me."
"I understand, general."
"You know, Cal," the general's eyes looked into the distance as he spoke. "Three months ago when the Japanese army landed here on the Philippines, I thought we could push them back. We had the manpower, and the willpower. But then came the president's decision not to resupply, that's when I knew the peninsula, and every man on it, was doomed."
"How does a man make that decision, sir?"
"He had a choice. Fight two wars at the same time...here, in Asia, and another in Europe, and have them both drag on for years. Or fight one at a time with everything he's got. He choose the later."
"I hope it's not a decision that he—that we—will regret."
"Either way, for the seventy-six-thousand men here in this jungle, the decision is one that will live in infamy as much as Pearl Harbor will."
. . .
A small, bamboo hut had been constructed in a jungle clearing, and a small tent erected over a table and four chairs. On one side of the table sat General King, commander of all armed forces on Bataan. On the other side sat General Homma, commander of all Japanese forces. The surrender of Bataan was being discussed.
"General Homma," King began, "many of my men are sick and most are hungry. I must insist they the sick be treated and the hungry fed."
"We are not animals, general." Homma began. His interpreter repeated his words in English. "Your surrender is unconditional, so you are not in a position to request anything. But your men will be cared for appropriately."
"That's all I ask."
"They will be marched from here to Balanga, twenty-five miles north, where they will be allowed to rest for one night." General Homma waited for his interpreter to catch up. "Then they will march thirty-one miles the next day to San Fernando where they will go by rail to Capas and the prison facility there."
"They can't march that distance," General King protested. "We have hundreds of trucks here on Bataan that could be used to transport the men, especially the sick and wounded. Many of these men will die if they are forced to march that far."
"Enough!" General Homma raised his voice, and King stopped abruptly. "The plans are already in motion. You are to prepare your men to leave in the morning. Their weapons will be confiscated today."
. . .
On April 3, 1942, three months after the invasion of the Philippines by the Fourteenth Army of Imperial Japan began, Bataan had fallen. The next day, the march that became known as the Bataan Death March began. The men were not given food until they reached Capas, three days later. They were allowed to drink the muddy and dirty water from buffalo wallows along the way.
Before the march began, between two-hundred-fifty and three-hundred Pilipino soldiers and officers were slaughtered when they surrendered to the Japanese. In total, some 18,000 - 20,000 of the POWs died on the Bataan Death March, which ended up taking one week. Some simply collapsed and died of illness or starvation, but most were murdered. A large but unknown number of the POWs died shortly thereafter in the internment camps as well, from the after-effects of their forced march.
. . .
In 1945, the Japanese commander in charge of Bataan, General Homma, was put on trial for atrocities including the Bataan Death March. He stated that he had been unaware of the high death toll from the march until some time later. Nonetheless, he was convicted. General Homma was executed in the Philippines on April 3, 1946.
While the march began on April 3, 1942, the American people were not told of these atrocities until January 27, 1944, and only after word got out by soldiers who knew of the March.
For those two years, the men who took that long, bloody march were the forgotten.
. . . . .
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