Today, the Philippines is commemorating Araw ng Kagitingan or Day of Valor (also known as Bataan Day or Bataan and Corregidor Day).
Araw ng Kagitingan is extremely important to us Filipinos because it marks the annual commemoration of the Fall of Bataan during World War II on April 9, 1942 – the bravery of Filipino and American soldiers during the campaign against invading Japanese forces. It also commemorates the Bataan Death March.
History says that at the dawn on April 9, 1942, against the orders of Generals Douglas MacArthur and Jonathan Wainwright, the commander of the Luzon Force, Bataan, Major General Edward P. King, Jr., surrendered more than 76,000 starving and disease-ridden soldiers (67,000 Filipinos, 1,000 Chinese-Filipinos, and 11,796 Americans) to Japanese troops.
These prisoners of war were forced to endure the infamous 140-kilometer (87 mi) Bataan Death March to Camp O’Donnell in Capas, Tarlac where my 100-year-old still much alive World War II veteran grandfather, Cpt. Alberto Tuico Orillo took part of.
I detailed in my previous blog, A centenarian reveals secrets to his long life how my grandfather survived and endured the Death March.
During the march, the Japanese did not give the soldiers’ food or water, so they became weak. Many fell behind and were killed or beaten up by the Japanese. Upon reaching the camp, thousands of more soldiers died from starvation and disease.
“We slept together like sardines. Sometimes we get drenched by the urine of our dying comrade sleeping beside us. When they die, we let their bodies dry in the open. When the pile reaches 20, we would bury them all together in a deep well,” my grandfather shared in Filipino.
Luckily, my grandfather kept a canteen so he can sip just enough water to wet his dry lips or throat. He also refrained from eating just about any food. He said some soldiers survived the march but died from eating rotten food and drinking water anywhere.
But apart from water, food, and his overall discipline, my grandfather said that it was his prayers and faith in God that helped him survive the ordeal.
Of the 76,000 prisoners, only 54,000 reportedly reached their destinations. Some died before they could even reach Camp O’Donnell, some became captives, some escaped so it was difficult to assess the exact death toll.
Republic Act 3022 passed by Congress in 1961 made Bataan Day on April 9 a holiday. In 1987. Executive Order No. 203 renamed the holiday, “Araw ng Kagitingan”. While Proclamation 466 in 1989 declared April 5 to April 11 as “Veterans Week” in honor of all veterans of the Philippine military, not just the WWII veterans.
(Sources: Wikipedia and Rappler)