The Japanese Attack.
In 1937 Japan attacked China and
quickly captured the five provinces east of the Yangtze River,
including the capital city of Nanking where the Japanese Army
slaughtered hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. The
"Rape of Nanking" was widely publicized in the United States and
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt began pressuring the Japanese to
withdraw from China. However, over the next few years the
conflict in China deteriorated into a bloody war of attrition with little progress
on either side, giving rise to the idea that if the Japanese could not
defeate the poorly trained and equipped Chinese Army, they certainly
posed little threat to the United States.
Philippines and Alaska were
U.S. territories, protected by the United States Army and Navy.
For American military personnel, assignments in the tropical islands
were welcome tours of duty. Mid-level officers such as Major
Frank Loyd and Captain Arthur Noble
were able to staff their homes with servants, tend to sporting events,
and lead an enviable
social life in the inexpensive and properous Philippines. The war in
Europe was far away. Except for the war in China the
Pacific region was quiet and peaceful.
Nazi Germany, meanwhile,
had taken over most of Europe, threatening England by early 1941.
President Franklin Roosevelt, bowing to popular opinion, vowed
to keep the United States out of the European war.
But in July, 1941, the Japanese
moved into French Indo-China (primarily Vietnam) to establish bases
from which they intended to attack China from the rear. President
Roosevelt, acting in concert with the British and Dutch governments,
quickly embargoed all trade with Japan, an act that would cripple the
Japanese Army and Navy due to lack of oil and supplies. He began
building up General Douglas MacArthur's military forces in the
Philippines--a direct threat to Japanese interests in the area.
He sent an ultimatum to Japan: get out of China.
On December 7, 1941,
the Japanese delivered their answer--they attacked south, invading British
Hong Kong, British Malaya, and the American Philippines, and they destroyed the
American Navy at Pearl Harbor--all on the same day.
Bataan. General Douglas
MacArthur commanded the United
States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE). His
plan to defeat the invading Japanese at the beaches of Luzon Island
failed completely when his poorly trained and understrength Philippine
Army crumbled under the Japanese onslaught. Following the
prescripts of War Plan Orange, he had his army
retreat to Bataan Peninsula and nearby Corregidor Island where his
troops, spearheaded by the Philippine Scouts, were able to hold out
against the well trained
and well equipped Japanese. However, in the
retreat he abandonded
tons of supplies to the enemy and his soldiers were soon forced to
subsist on a meager "Bataan ration" while the Japanese Army and Navy
surrounded and blockaded them.
soldiers held out for four months, but
eventually disease, starvation and lack of medical supplies devastated
the men to the point that many of them could barely lift their weapons.
In March, General MacArthur and a few of
his staff escaped south to Australia. When the Japanese Army attacked
in strength in April 1942, General Edward P. King, the U.S.
Army commander on Bataan, was forced to surrender. On April 9,
American and Filipino soldiers became prisoners
of the Japanese.
The Death March. Soldiers of the
Imperial Japanese Army had long been taught that they were racially
superior to all other human beings, and that a patriot's lot was to die
for his emperor or country. Their contempt for the defeated
American and Filipino soldiers boiled over into one of the most
horrible atrocities of modern wartime. 11,800 hungry, sick and
emaciated Americans and 55,000 equally sick and emaciated Filipinos
to walk 65 miles up a highway to prison camp in the blistering tropical
sun with almost no food or water. More than half of these men,
the men who had fought America's first battle of World War II,
were sick or wounded. Ten thousand of them needed hospitalization. Any
falter on the part of a
prisoner resulted in immediate execution. At first the Japanese
guards shot any man who collapsed or fell out of line. Soon they
bayonets, to save bullets. To maintain discipline, individual
soldiers were singled out and tortured or bayonetted to death as
examples. It is estimated that 8,500 of them died or were killed on
the Bataan Death March, but no records were kept and Filipino civilians
who witnessed the atrocities were told that they must never reveal what
happened. For two years, the horrible treatment of the defeated
USAFFE solders on the Bataan Death March remained a
What the Bataan prisoners faced next was as
bad or even worse. They
were crammed into an overcrowded concentration camp, with little food
and almost no medicine. Men died of diseases and starvation at an
astonishing rate. Conditions in the camp were so horrible, and
the death rate so high, that in July the Japanese Army sacked the
camp commander, Captain Yoshio Tsuneyoshi, and shipped the American
prisoners off to another, slightly less atrocious, camp. 1,460 of
them had died in Camp
O'Donnell. Over the next six months the surviving Filipinos were
paroled to their home towns. But there were not so many of them
left to go home. After only eight months in Camp O'Donnell,
26,000 of the 50,000 Filipino prisoners had died of their wounds,
diseases and starvation.
Escapees and Evaders.
However, about 200 American soldiers had refused to
surrender, and it is estimated that another 200 escaped
from the Death March. These men, including Private Pierce Wade
and Lt. Col. Eddie Wright, slipped
into the jungle to hide and await the return
of General MacArthur and his army of reinforcements, believed to be en
route from the United States. Sympathtic Filipinos harbored them,
fed them, and kept them alive
The Japanese hunted these fugitive
Americans down, and half of them were captured, killed,
or died of tropical diseases in the first few months
after their escape. Some of the men, such as Lieutenant Edwin Ramsey,
helped organize Filipino guerrilla bands hoping to help the
war effort during the months they would wait. But the Japanese
launched major crackdowns to eliminate the guerrillas. They offered handsome rewards
to any Filipino who turned in an American, and they tortured and killed
Filipinos who they suspected of helping fugitive American soldiers.
Nonetheless, loyalty to the United
States was widespread and many Filipino guerrilla organizations adopted
fugitive American soldiers as their leaders.
The Philippine Underground. The island nations
of Southeast Asia accepted Japanese rule to a large degree, buying into
"Asia for the Asians" after centuries of European colonial rule, in
spite of Japanese cruelty. But in the
Philippines an underground
resistance movement developed and Filipino, American and European
patriots began smuggling badly needed food, money and medicine into the
Japanese prison camps. Two American women
and a cadre of Irish Catholic priests
organized the biggest relief effort. Guerrillas in the
southern islands made contact with General MacArthur through a few
clandestine radios, and
an intermittant flow of valuable military intelligence data found its
way from the Manila underground to MacArthur's headquarters. The
Japanese, however, soon
developed counter-intelligence methods of their own, and they cracked
down. By August of 1944, virtually every major underground
leader and guerrilla leader on Luzon, the main
island in the Philippines, had been captured and executed. But,
once again, a few slipped away, and others stepped in to take their places.
At home in the United
States, families of prisoners of war had been notified of their men's
status and once every six months they received a postcard, such as this
one from Colonel Ovid O. Wilson.
The postcards generally described the men's health as good and their
living conditions at least tolerable. Virtually all of the U.S.
Prisoners of War in the Pacific in World War II were the men who were
captured at the beginning of the war on Bataan and Corregidor, plus 893
sailors and marines from Guam and Wake
islands. Families of men who were
not prisoners, men who were classified as Missing In Action, just
waited, not knowing if their men were
dead or alive. But ten prisoners led by Captain William Dyess
escaped from a camp on
Mindanao, and three of them were smuggled out of the Philippines by
submarine and eventually brought back to the United States.
In January 1944 they told their stories to the newspapers--stories of
the Bataan Death March and of the
horrible conditions at Camp O'Donnell and the other prison camps.
Their families, the American government, and the world, were stunned.
But what could they do?
"Hell ships." As General MacArthur's forces approached the
Philippines late in 1944,
the Japanese loaded the Prisoners of War into cargo ships and sent them
to Japan and Manchuria to work in coal mines and factories. The
men of Bataan and Corregidor were packed into the holds of the ships so
tightly that there was
no room to sit or to lay down, and they had to take turns sleeping.
They were given little food or water and no medical attention.
The heat was so bad in the stifling, dark holds that men suffocated to
death standing up. There were virtually no sanitary facilities
and in some instances the Japanese would not even let the dead bodies
be removed from the holds.
The ships were
Allied aircraft and
submarines patroled the Pacific by 1944, and they attacked any
Japanese ship they found. In an interview, Sergeant David Topping
to me the day that he and his buddies first heard the "ping" of sonar
submarine. At first they did not know what it was, but a sailor
in the group told them. Topping described how it felt
standing there in the hot, dark hold of the ship waiting, waiting for
to hit. He prayed. As he waited he imagined what the
explosion would be like, and the cold ocean water rushing into the
hold. He prayed that the torpedo would hit their ship,
and thus end their suffering.
The Philippine guerrilla movement continued to grow, in spite of
campaigns against them. Throughout Luzon and the southern islands
Filipinos joined various groups and vowed to fight the Japanese.
The commanders of these groups made contact with one another, argued
about who was in charge of what territory, and began to formulate plans
to assist the return of American forces to the
islands. They gathered
information and smuggled it out to the American Army, a process that
sometimes took months. General MacArthur formed a clandestine
operation to support the guerrillas. He
had Lieutenant Commander Charles "Chick" Parsons smuggle guns, radios
and supplies to them by submarine. The
guerrilla forces, in turn, built up their stashes of arms and
explosives and made plans to assist MacArthur's invasion by sabotaging
Japanese communications lines
and attacking Japanese forces from the rear.
When General MacArthur returned to the Philippines with his army
late in 1944, he was well supplied with information. It has been
said that by
the time MacArthur returned, he knew what every Japanese lieutenant ate
for breakfast and where he had his hair cut. But the return was
not easy. The Japanese Imperial General Staff decided to make
the Philippines their final line of defense, and to stop the American
advance toward Japan. They sent every available soldier, airplane
and naval vessel into the defense of the Philippines. The
Kamikaze corps was created specifically to
defend the Philippines. The Battle of Leyte Gulf was the biggest
naval battle of World War II, and the campaign to re-take the
Philippines was the bloodiest campaign of the Pacific War. But
intelligence information gathered by the guerrillas averted a
bigger disaster--they revealed the plans of Japanese General Yamashita
to entrap MacArthur's army, and they led the liberating soldiers to the
One of the men who refused
to surrender on Bataan was Lt. Col. Frank R. Loyd. During his three year
ordeal in the Philippine jungles he was devastated by tropical
diseases, threatened by natives who could turn him in for reward money,
and hunted by the Japanese Army. Eventually he joined a guerrilla
band headed by Corporal John Boone. Col. Loyd kept a daily diary which
he hid in the jungle and
largely recovered after the war. His wife, Evelyn, kept her own
diary at home in San Antonio, Texas. Bataan Diary is
based on the diaries of Frank and Evelyn Loyd,
supplemented by five years of the author's research into the many
events that occurred in
the Philippines and central Pacific during World War II.