On this day, the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines is occupied by American troops, almost three years after the devastating and infamous Bataan Death March.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese infantry staged a major offensive against Allied troops in Bataan, the peninsula guarding Manila Bay of the Philippine Islands. The invasion of the Japanese 14th Army, led by Gen. Masaharu Homma, had already forced Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s troops from Manila, the Philippine capital, into Bataan. By March, after MacArthur had left for Australia on President Roosevelt’s orders and was replaced by Maj. Gen. Edward P. King Jr., the American Luzon Force and its Filipino allies were half-starved and suffering from malnutrition, malaria, beriberi, dysentery, and hookworm.
Homma, helped by reinforcements and an increase in artillery and aircraft activity, took advantage of the U.S. and Filipinos’ weakened condition to launch another major offensive, which resulted in Admiral King’s surrender on April 9. The largest contingent of U.S. soldiers ever to surrender was taken captive by the Japanese. The prisoners, both Filipino and American, were at once led 55 miles from Mariveles, on the southern end of the Bataan Peninsula, to San Fernando. The torturous journey became known as the “Bataan Death March.” At least 600 Americans and 5,000 Filipinos died because of the extreme brutality of their captors, who starved, beat, kicked, and bayoneted those too weak to walk. Survivors were taken by rail from San Fernando to prisoner of war camps, where another 16,000 Filipinos and at least 1,000 Americans died from disease, mistreatment, and starvation.
America avenged its defeat in the Philippines generally, and Bataan specifically, with the invasion of Leyte Island in October 1944. General MacArthur, who in 1942 had famously promised to return to the Philippines, made good on his word. With the help of the U.S. Navy, which succeeded in destroying the Japanese fleet and left Japanese garrisons on the Philippine Islands without reinforcements, the Army defeated adamantine Japanese resistance. In January 1945, MacArthur was given control of all American land forces in the Pacific. On January 9, 1945, U.S. forces sealed off the Bataan Peninsula in the north; on February 16, the 8th Army occupied the southern tip of Bataan, as MacArthur drew closer to Manila and the complete recapture of the Philippines.