HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Imperial Japanese Army initiates the Bataan Death March, forcing 60-80,000 American and Philippine prisoners of war to walk much of 60 miles to Camp O'Donnell.
The Battle of Bataan represented some of the fiercest fighting the Japanese participated in up to that point in World War II. General Douglas MacArthur was the overall commander at Bataan, and he ordered a fighting retreat. MacArthur left the Philippine Islands, famously announcing that "I shall return." He left Major General Edward King and Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright behind to surrender the U.S. and Philippine forces. It was the largest surrender in American history.
The IJN first forced the prisoners to march to Bataan's capitol. It is during this time the infamous Pantingan Massacre occurred, when nearly 400 Filipino officers and non commissioned officers were executed. From Balanga, the IJN marched the prisoners to a rail station at San Fernando. Most all the prisoners were denied food and water, resulting in the drinking of foul standing water; diseases like dysentery decimated the captured men. They were denied medical supplies and assistance. Men too weak to continue the march were executed. At San Fernando, the prisoners boarded unventilated rail cars with no toilets. The rails took them to within 9 miles of Camp O'Donnell, the last leg of the Bataan Death March.
The exact death toll of the March may never be known. Several of the officers deemed responsible for the March were found guilty of war crimes after World War II and executed by firing squad.