May 6, 2011 New York Post Robin Wallace
69 years ago, the US troops were crushed by the Japanese in an early defeat during World War II.
AFTER four long years of fighting for the US, and nearly a decade of conflict for her European allies, the Allied victory inWorldWar II changed the course of world history and established the US as a global superpower.
However, despite the mightiness of the US military, that victory was never assured, especially in the South Pacific where American troops faced a formidable enemy in their battles against Japanese forces.
Following its surprise attack against the US at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 8, 1941, Japan invaded the Philippines, a string of islands in the South Pacific. American and Filipino forces quickly found themselves besieged on land and blocked off at sea from desperately needed reinforcements. During months of relentless, bloody fighting, the US and Filipino forces were able to hold back Japanese advances, but were never able to gain a strong upper hand.
On April 9, 1942, Major General Edward P. King Jr. surrendered at Bataan, Philippines, against General Douglas MacArthur orders. Some 78,000 troops (66,000 Filipinos and 12,000 Americans), the largest contingent of US soldiers ever to surrender, were taken captive by the Japanese.
Although the Japanese promised the men would be treated well as prisoners of war, they were in fact forced to walk up to 66 miles to a Japanese prison camp, where they were beaten, tortured, starved, left to die, or executed along the way. This infamous journey has become known as the Bataan Death March, and was ruled a war crime for which Japan was prosecuted following the war.
A few hundred US and Filipino forces, including Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright, commander of all Allied forces in the Philippines, had managed to flee Bataan for the island of Corregidor, the last Allied stronghold in the Philippines. The Japanese besieged Corregidor with non-stop air strikes and artillery shelling, an assault against which the decimated US and Filipino troops could not effectively defend themselves. Lt. Gen. Wainwright offered to surrender Corregidor The Bataan Death March in 1942: American and Filipino POWs carried casualties in improvised stretchers. to the Japanese, but the Japanese demanded the absolute surrender of all US troops throughout the entire Philippines.
Wainwright agreed to the unconditional surrender on May 6, 1942. All 11,500 surviving Allied troops were evacuated to a prison stockade in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. Wainwright spent the next 39 months as a prisoner of war, held in prison camps in northern Luzon, Formosa, and Manchuria. Liberated by Russian troops in August 1945, he had the pleasure of attending the Japanese surrender ceremony aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945.
The US and Allied troops who fought in the Philippines battled sickness, starvation, injury and isolation beyond what could be reasonably expected of human endurance. Historians believe this resilience inflicted crucial delays to the Japanese that prevented them from advancing through the Pacific more rapidly, and forced them into strategic decisions then that would lead to their ultimate downfall.