Chapter Two: The Crucible of War

January – May, 1942

Bataan and Corregidor

In April, 1942, 76,000 men—64,000 of them Filipinos— began the Bataan Death March.

On the Bataan Peninsula northwest of Manila, about 80,000 troops dug in for a long battle to hold off the invasion by Japanese forces. Most of them were Filipino soldiers newly recruited into the Philippine Army. With no reinforcements and difficult conditions, it was a hopeless fight. Food, water, and ammunition soon ran short.

Map of Bataan Peninsula with a trail marking the path of the Bataan Death March. U.S. Army
Japanese troops spray machine gun fire at U.S. emplacements. An Untold Triumph: America's Filipino Soldiers
Under fire, USAFFE forces take cover in the brush. An Untold Triumph: America's Filipino Soldiers
An artillery strike ravages USAFFE positions in this recreation of the Battle of Bataan. An Untold Triumph: America's Filipino Soldiers

In Manila Bay, the island fortress of Corregidor held out. From there, Philippine Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon delivered radio speeches to boost the morale of Filipino civilians uncertain about their country’s future. By late February, Quezon, together with USAFFE military commander Douglas MacArthur, withdrew to Australia. MacArthur famously promised “I shall return.”

Allied Command Tunnel at Corregidor. U.S. Army
“USAFFE troops will undergo one of the longest and fiercest sieges of the war.”
An Untold Triumph: America's Filipino Soldiers

Despite overwhelming odds, for a time, USAFFE forces held the line. But reinforcements from Tokyo strengthened the Japanese hand. On April 9, USAFFE forces at Bataan surrendered. Soldiers, nurses, and civilians at Corregidor held out until May 6, and thousands were taken as prisoners of war. Although American and Filipino soldiers had waged one of the toughest fighting retreats in history, and had held on longer than anyone expected, Bataan was one of the worst defeats for the U.S. military in its history.

General Wainwright and his staff surrender. U.S. Army

The grueling trek came to be known as the Bataan Death March.

Beginning on April 10, 1942, 76,000 men—64,000 of them Filipinos—began the long journey out of Bataan to military prison camps miles away. The grueling trek, more than 70 miles of it on foot, came to be known as the Bataan Death March.

USAFFE prisoners, American and Filipino, are filmed by their Japanese captors. Sandaan: One Hundred Years of Filipinos in America

Jesse Baltazar

October 8, 1920 – April 12, 2016

WWII veteran and advocate for Filipino veterans benefits

After surviving the Bataan Death March, Jesse Baltazar escaped and joined the guerrilla resistance in the Philippines. Born in Manila, Baltazar joined USAFFE in 1941 following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Despite being wounded during the Battle of Bataan in 1942, Baltazar, with the help of a Filipino fisherman, was able to escape on the third day of the Bataan Death March. Baltazar then joined the Philippine resistance, providing intelligence on Japanese military locations. After the war he immigrated to the U.S., intent on continuing his military career. In 1948, Baltazar became the first native-born Filipino to be commissioned in the U.S. Air Force. Baltazar would go on the serve for 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, retiring as a Major before joining the State Department in 1966. Despite his years of service, Baltazar continued to fight for recognition for Filipino Veterans into his 90s.

“Sometimes I would faint from hunger, but there was always a man next to me, some I knew, some I didn't, who would help carry me.”
Duty to Country

The men faced heat, dust, thirst, and disease. They endured mistreatment at the hands of their captors. But along with endurance, there were moments of bravery and kindness. Risking execution, some soldiers escaped the march, hopeful they could hide out or form new guerrilla units to await U.S. reinvasion.

Soldiers use makeshift litters to carry those who cannot walk anymore. U.S. Air Force

Filipino villagers who lived along the route risked their lives to offer food and water to men along the march. At Bataan, Filipinos and Americans who had served side by side under the same flag and under the same commander, now marched together, making the same sacrifices.

USAFFE soldiers march past the bombed out remains of a village. U.S. Air Force

Escape from Bataan

More Animations

Six grueling days later, Filipino and American troops reached their final destination at Camp O’Donnell. They were exhausted, ill, and defeated. Between 7,000 and 10,000 had died along the way, and some 16,000 more soldiers died in the first two months at the camp.

U.S. prisoners (bound due to being found with contraband) are disciplined by Japanese officer (far right). U.S. National Archives

Master Sgt. Aaron Kliatchko

1887 – December 31, 1944

WWII American POW and resistance fighter

Kliatchko smuggled supplies and provided religious services for the 121 Jewish prisoners housed at the Cabanatuan prison camp. Born in 1887 in Eastern Europe, in 1907 Kliatchko immigrated and joined the U.S. Army. He was sent to the Philippines and chose to stay in the islands after his discharge. 55 years old when the Japanese invaded in 1941, Kliatchko nonetheless volunteered to join the fight. After surviving the Bataan Death March, his job at the Cabanatuan prison camp allowed him to leave the prison grounds. Daringly, Kliatchko used the opportunity to gather supplies, including medicines, to smuggle back into the camp. In December 1944, Kliatchko was among 1600 prisoners aboard a Japanese “hell ship” struck by American bombers. Though he survived the incident, Kliatchko was moved to another ship where he died two weeks later from his wounds.

7,000 – 10,000 died on the march and ~ 16,000 more died the first two months in prison camp.

Next Section

  • 1941 – 1945


    Occupation transformed daily life, with Japanese forces keeping a close eye on civilians.

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