A quick-cut, continuously-running oral history of the war in the Philippines--from the first surprise Japanese attacks...


DEATH MARCH: The Survivors of Bataan

A quick-cut, continuously-running oral history of the war in the Philippines--from the first surprise Japanese attacks through the retreat to Bataan peninsula and the four-month holding action to unconditional surrender and the long, ghastly death march to the San Fernando railhead. . . when the I-was-there accounts really take hold. Spent, frightened columns of starving, parched, often wounded men marched 60 miles with malaria and diarrhea. Guards on trucks took to dragging prisoners by long black snake whips; fallen men were bayoneted at once. At night, fire from US field guns on nearby Corregidor ""sounded like freight trains going through the air over our heads""; for lack of latrines, filth and excrement lay everywhere. Waiting for shipment at San Fernando, many of the crammed prisoners stood about screaming. And at O'Donnell POW camp, the death march seemed only to go on: whenever a prisoner escaped, ten men were taken and shot to death. From O'Donnell, most were moved to Cabana-tuan's three camps (""Death was easier than life. . . . A lot of people quit hanging on"") and to Davao Penal Colony--from which some escaped, eventually to freedom. Later, many were sent by ""Hell Ships"" to work in Japan; but over 5,000 died when several ships were torpedoed. With the atom bombs, ""our guards got very bitter""; then the Emperor surrendered, and (in one of the stellar vignettes) Captain Jerome McDavitt was called into the Japanese commander's office at his camp, told that he was in charge, asked for his orders--and presented with the commander's samurai sword, which he declined to take (""Right then, for the first time. . . I saw tears in a Jap's eyes""). For most, the euphoria of release gave way to the confusion and discomfort of homecoming; and many attest to having nightmares three decades later. (Hardest to face was the widespread indifference.) As a memorial volume, this is somewhat long at 500-plus pages; but the experiences are effectively pieced together and the very intensity of the recall is impressive at this date.

Pub Date: Nov. 25, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1981