April 9, 2022 marks the 80th anniversary since the forced transfer of more than 80,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war during WWII, infamously known as the Bataan Death March. For most, it is a distant memory kept alive by textbooks. For DPAA personnel it’s more than just a memory. It’s a daily commitment to our fallen comrades as we work with the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial to find and recover the more than 3,200 unidentified service members lost during the war in the Pacific and the Bataan Death March. (U.S. Department of Defense video by Tech. Sgt. Rusty Frank, Staff Sgt. James Thompson and Cpl. Zachary Beatty)
Yesterday, December 7th 1941. A date which will live in information. Mm hmm, mm hmm. There were over 70,000 American and Filipino servicemen who surrendered at that time. So from that point, the Japanese were sort of overwhelmed. They weren’t prepared to deal with 70,000 prisoners and they wanted to move them out as quickly as possible to a camp camp O’Donnell which was about 65 miles north of of the Bataan peninsula. Within just a few months, over 1500 American prisoners and over 10,000 Filipino prisoners died in Camp O’Donnell with the result that by early summer the Japanese decided to close Camp O’Donnell. Most of the American prisoners were moved to a new camp at Camp Cabanatuan which for the first few months also had a very high death rate. As tragic as the events on Bataan were both in the combat and then the surrender and the death march that followed. They did create sort of a common experience for Filipino and American servicemen. There’s always been a joint effort to memorialize the events on Bataan ever since. In the case of the Philippine government, there is a national shrine on one of the peaks Mount Samrat on on Bataan and there’s a gigantic cross there as a memorial and on the American side you have the manila American cemetery and memorial which is the largest overseas US cemetery And there are over 17,000 soldiers buried there who died from throughout the Pacific the horrors. The sufferings and sacrifices were equally shared by both American and Filipino service members, particularly during the Bataan march as well as in the Cabanatuan POW camps and it was in this crucible that bonds were forged, alliances were strengthened. But it even speaks beyond just that how even after war, alliances with former enemies in the case this case Japan or strong partnerships with former enemies like Vietnam can be forged and can continue to be strengthened for us in D. P. A part of this humanitarian effort is contributing to the strengthening of those partnerships throughout the indo pacific in fact throughout the world are humanitarian work is essential to providing answers in this case to families, but also answers that are owed to the service member who made the supreme sacrifice. These are individuals who, who died either in a prisoner of war camp or on the Bataan death march at Bataan death march was a 5 to 10 day forced march that’s aimed was to kill Filipino and U. S. Service members. Nothing I’ve done compared to what they had to go through. Um you know, when you, when you say things like, you know, you you stand on the shoulder of giants, right? Like you’re you weren’t digging up these giants right? Um dr you know emotionally. Mhm mhm mm hmm. I can’t imagine the burdens they had the bear, right? It’s not just the personal burdens because they they have the same promise to each other that we have now with them red suit, they don’t think about their personal burdens that they had to bear. The personal hardships that they had to endure. Um, they had to think about the men, the men to their left and to the right. American or Filipino, right. I believe the memorial for the Bataan Death March is literally an American carrying an American and then on the other side is a Filipino who’s got his other shoulder right? And and that captures it perfectly. The fact is that there are 3200 service members unknown interred in Manila. Just to put in perspective, if we did 100 a year, it would take us 32 more years just to recover them not to I. d. I. d. them. So we have, we have an astronomical lifelong goal mission that’s in front of us. So we know we’re not, we know we’re not done. We’ll always keep going. I think that’s the real honorable, the real noble task that we have before us. Yeah. Mm hmm. Wonderful. Mm hmm.