War and Conflict

The War in the Pacific

What was the Bataan Death March?

It was one of the most brutal chapters of World War II (1939–45). On April 9, 1942, American forces on the Bataan Peninsula, Philippines, surrendered to the Japanese. More than 75,000 American and Filipino troops became prisoners of war (POWs). On April 10, they were forced to begin a 65-mile march to a POW camp. Conditions were torturous—high temperatures, meager provisions, and gross maltreatment. The troops were denied food and water for days at a time; they were not allowed to rest in the shade; they were indiscriminately beaten; and those who fell behind were killed. On stretches where some troops were transported by train, the boxcars were packed so tightly that many POWs died of suffocation. The forced march lasted more than a week. Twenty thousand men died along the way.

But the end of the march was not the end of the horrors for the surviving POWs. About 56,000 men were held until the end of the war. They endured starvation, torture, and horrific cruelties; some were forced to work as slave laborers in Japanese industrial plants and some became subjects of medical experiments. In August 1945 their POW camp was liberated by the Allied forces, and the surviving troops were put on U.S. Navy vessels for the trip home. As part of the United States’ 1951 peace treaty with Japan, surviving POWs were barred from seeking reparations from Japanese firms that had benefited from their slave labor. This injustice continued to be the subject of proposed Congressional legislation into the early 2000s, with no positive outcome for the veterans as of 2005.


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