Tragedy in the Pacific: A Personal Reflection on the Bataan Death March
By Joel DiGrado
Col. Melvin Rosen received word that Bataan had fallen at 6:00 AM on April 9, 1942. In his heart, he knew that dreadful days were approaching. Yet, no man could have envisioned what the Japanese had in store. Their treatment of American and Filipino soldiers was cruel and merciless. The tragedy bestowed upon those who fought in the Philippine cities on Bataan, Corregidor, and so on was a burden that could only be carried by great heroes. Many men died, and those that lived were tortured by the images of their suffering comrades.
The conditions of Bataan were not pleasant. There was a high concentration of Malaria in the Philippines and the climate was stifling. The situation was only worsened by the fact that the American forces were not properly stocked to handle an invasion. Col. Rosen recollects taking two quinine tablets every day to ward off malaria. â€œWhen the supply became even sparser, we took a teaspoon of liquid quinine. After that ran out â€“ we got malaria,â€ reflects Rosen.
Throughout the time in Bataan nearly 6,000 men were stricken with malaria or other diseases. These elements alone were enough of a struggle for most of the men. The coming invasion of the Japanese and the terrible prisoner treatment to follow only added to the harsh conditions.
Gen. Jonathan Wainwright assumed Gen. Douglas MacArthurâ€™s position in the Philippines once MacArthur was ordered to Australia. On April 9th, Wainwright felt a sickly calm and silence settle over the Philippines. Unbeknownst to him, Gen. Edward King, the Luzon Force commander, had just surrendered to the Japanese. This surrender was the largest in American history â€“ over 70,000 Americans and Filipinos.
Upon receiving word that Bataan had been surrendered, Rosen â€“ a field artillery commander in the US Army â€“ was ordered to direct his men to destroy all their weapons and artillery so they did not fall into the hand of the Japanese military. Word had gone out that the Japanese invaders were taking any piece of US weaponry and artillery and using it against American forces. Rosen vividly remembers the strange feeling of taking a sledgehammer to all his cannons and artillery. After dismantling and destroying everything but their two trucks, Rosen and his men dumped the smashed artillery in the Manila Bay.
Also in preparation for the invasion, Rosen was ordered to take his two trucks to Fort Statsenburg and secure supplies from the warehouse. Because the warehouse was not ideally stocked for such a situation, Rosen decided on having his men load the trucks with sacks of sugar. Other soldiers filled their trucks with sacks of flour, and thus, between the two â€“ the sugar and the flour â€“ these men subsisted for many days.
Returning from Statsenburg, Rosen and his men heard fire coming from a nearby trail. In scouting the trail, Rosen noticed Japanese tanks stopping American trucks waving white flags. The Japanese approached these American trucks kicking the surrendering soldiers out of their vehicles and confiscating them while taking the American prisoners. Rosen, knowing that he would eventually be stopped and taken in as a prisoner, decided to pour sugar in the gas tanks of his two trucks in an attempt to thwart the Japanese from getting much use out of them. â€œThey wouldnâ€™t be getting very far in those trucks,â€ remembers Rosen. Shortly after, Rosen and his men were forced to surrender.