Survivers of Bataan Death March retrace the route : LUSENET : Unk's Troll-free Private Saloon : One Thread

Stars and Stripes, April 8, 2002


60 years later, survivors tread route of Bataan Death March

By Joseph Giordono

CAPAS, Philippines — Sixty years later, everything has changed for Karl Houghton.

There are no guards prodding him with bayonets. His comrades are not falling dead by the dozens. And he has all the water he wants.

But for Houghton and 13 other survivors of the infamous Bataan Death March, the memories are as painful as ever.

The group, collectively known as the Battling Bastards of Bataan, is back in the Philippines to mark the 60th anniversary of the march, in which thousands of American and Philippine prisoners perished from disease, exhaustion or at the hands of their Japanese captors.

Early on Saturday morning, they re-enacted a steamy five-mile portion of the march with friends and family.

"A lot of good men died here," said Houghton, a spry man of 90 who puffed on a cigar most of the way through the re-enactment. "It had changed so much, it’s hard to imagine that this is the same route we took. But you get little flashes of the memory. It’s hard."

For many of the survivors on this trip, it is their first — and last — return to the spot that changed their lives. Of the 60,000 American and Philippine prisoners held at Camp O’Donnell in the days after the 1942 surrender of the central Philippines, 31,000 died.

But Saturday’s march was more a commemoration of the living that a eulogy for the dead.

Winding along the same route they took 60 years ago, the men and their families shared their stories of survival.

From the time of their surrender, they were at various times packed into cattle cars, herded into holding pens, beaten, disparaged and used as forced labor.

The original march began in Mariveles, Bataan province, and went 55 miles to San Fernando. There, the prisoners were packed into boxcars and shipped 25 miles to Capas. From there, it was another five miles to Camp O’Donnell.

Anyone who fell behind on the march was shot or bayoneted. They would not be freed for three years until 1945, when the Japanese formally surrendered.

"When we finally ended the march at Camp O’Donnell, the Japanese commandant addressed us. I remember exactly what he said: ‘When you surrendered, you forfeited your right to live.’ That has stuck with me until this day," said James Copeland, who was a 20-year-old sergeant in the Army Air Corps. "It was at that point that a lot of the guys realized what a situation this was going to be."

Copeland, who lives in Jensen Beach, Fla., said some of the most vivid memories were in the days immediately after his capture. As the rail cars full of American prisoners rolled slowly through the Philippine countryside, sympathetic locals tried to sneak them food.

"I was right by the open door, and I remember those people handing us little things to eat. I’d stuff them in my coveralls and try to pass them out later," he said. "Sometimes the guards would see you and punish you for it. Sometimes they wouldn’t care."

On Saturday, as the long, straggling line of about 60 survivors and family members made its way through small villages, children and curious locals lined the streets to wave and stare.

Despite starting the re-enactment at 5 a.m., the sun quickly burned through the morning clouds. By the time the group reached the Camp O’Donnell memorial around 8 a.m., the temperature topped 90 degrees.

"We always come in April. April is when this happened, and April is the hottest month down here. We just wanted to give our families a taste of what it was like," joked Richard Gordon, a retired Army major and leader of the Battling Bastards who has returned to the Philippines a few times.

Coming back to Bataan was just as important for the family members of the veterans, they said. Seeing what their fathers, brothers and grandfathers endured gives them a better appreciation of their stories.

"It’s almost overwhelming to be here and see it firsthand," said Melissa D’antoni, whose grandfather survived the march and died last year.

Melissa and five other members of her family made the trek, all bearing signs around their necks honoring the memory of Capt. Whitney Langlois.

Throughout the day, they shared their favorite memories of Whitney. One of the most popular stories was how disobeying his mother ended up saving his life.

Raised on the banks of the Mississippi River in New Rose, La., Langlois’ mother always warned him to stay out of the water. But he couldn’t resist and taught himself to swim in the river.

After his capture, Langlois was put on a "Hell Ship" with hundreds of other prisoners and transported to work camps in Japan. Three times, the ships that he was on sunk. Three times, he swam back and forth from the ships, saving comrades and supplies.

When Melissa and her family reached the Capas National Shrine, the memorial marking the spot where Camp O’Donnell stood, they gathered in a circle and said a tearful prayer for Langlois.

Once they reached the memorial, the survivors searched for the names of fallen comrades on the wall. But because of financial and space constraints, not all the names of those killed are inscribed on the memorial.

Though the scene has changed immeasurably since 1942, it was close enough for some.

"This camp was 10 times worse than anything I could imagine," said John M. Deal, who was making his first trip to the Philippines since the war. "There were bodies lying everywhere. There were flies all over those bodies. It was something that you just cannot imagine how bad it really was."

As he looked over the memorial, taking it all in, Deal pointed to the words inscribed at its base. They are the words several of the survivors said sums up what they want remembered about the ordeal: "Freedom is not free."

-- (, April 08, 2002


My Dad was a member of the battleing Bastards of Bataan

-- Cherri (, April 08, 2002.

How moving! Thank you for sharing, Lars.

-- (, April 08, 2002.

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