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Bataan revisited

/ 05:09 AM April 09, 2018

On the morning of April 9, 1942, a Thursday, Maj. Gen. Edward King Jr., commander of Luzon Force defending the Bataan peninsula, surrendered to Japan’s 14th Army led by Lt. Gen. Masaharu Homma. The force consisted of 66,304 Filipinos and 11,706 Americans for a total of 78,010 troops. It was the culmination of a Good Friday offensive launched on April 3 aimed at ending allied resistance in the province.

King was a career artillery man with a law degree from the University of Georgia. A civil war history buff, it crossed his mind as he prepared to meet representatives of General Homma that on April 9, 1865, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his confederate armies to Union Gen. Ulysses Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia 77 years ago. Now he was about to surrender the largest US-led military force in American history.

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King would spend three and a half years in Japanese POW camps. After liberation from captivity, he declared that he was solely responsible for the surrender of Bataan in violation of
orders from Gen. Douglas MacArthur to continue the fight and even launch a counterattack.

Homma was a graduate of the Imperial Japanese Military Academy and the Army Staff College. A total of 10 years spent as a military attaché in the United Kingdom gave him a deeper understanding of Western culture and a liberal, internationalist outlook that would, in the end, complicate his military career. Shortly after the fall of Corregidor, he was relieved from command of the 14th Army and forced into early retirement the following year, spending the rest of the war years in semiseclusion in his home.

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When the war ended, he was flown to the Philippines to face trial for atrocities committed by his troops during the Bataan campaign. As expected, he was convicted and sentenced to death by musketry. Homma was executed by firing squad on April 3, 1946, four years to the day when he ordered the Good Friday offensive that led to the fall of Bataan.

The only picture I have seen of the surrender talks held at a farmhouse near the town of Lamao shows King and three other American officers, all in long-sleeved khaki uniforms, seated at a small table in front of Col. Motoo Nakayama and an interpreter, both in short sleeves. At approximately half past 12, King removed his .45 pistol and laid it on the table in a final act of surrender.

Today we shall most likely mark Araw ng Kagitingan with the traditional visit by the President accompanied by the ambassadors of Japan and the United States, to the Shrine of Valor on Mount Samat. We shall recall the heroism of men who fought in fierce battles in Bataan. We shall relive the Death March and remember the concentration camp at O’Donnell in Tarlac.

In our thoughts and prayers, let us not forget what happened to some 350 to 400 Filipino officers and men of the 91st Philippine Army Division.

On April 11, 1942, this group was separated from their American colleagues and moved to the Pantingan River that crosses the Pilar-Bagac Road. In his book, “Bataan: The March of Death,” American military historian Stanley Falk describes what took place after the separation: “The captives were formed into three groups and their wrists tied securely with double-strand telephone wire … At a given signal, the execution began. Japanese officers moved down the line from one end, mercilessly beheading the luckless Filipinos with their gleaming sabers. From the other end, Japanese enlisted men worked toward them, methodically plunging their bayonets into the backs of the prisoners. For two hours the grisly slaughter continued, the Japanese sweating at their work in the hot sun, pausing to wipe away the perspiration and then returning to their grim task…” When the slaughter was over, only a few prisoners remained alive, buried beneath their slain comrades.

The massacre of the Filipino officers and non-coms of the 91st Division was the only mass execution to take place in Bataan. Considering the circumstances of the massacre, it was apparently aimed only at Filipinos. And yet, in our commemoration of Araw ng Kagitingan, there is hardly any mention of the event. Much of the national attention centers on the Death March. Our selective memory appears to see the massacre as some ordinary action expected in any conflict. What took place was not the
usual loss of life in battle; it was case of mass murder.

In November 2015, two young lawmakers from the Magdalo Party filed House Bill No. 6242 designating Sept. 3 as the new “Araw ng Kagitingan,” replacing April 9. The Magdalo lawmakers, Rep. Gary Alejano, PMA Class of 1995, and Rep. Francisco Acedillo, Class of 1999, called for a change in our mindset to commemorate the nation’s darkest hour rather than remember its finest moments. They observed that “the country’s military victories carved by blood on the pages of history should be given due respect and recognition.”

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Why Sept. 3 instead of April 9? According to Alejano and Acedillo, Sept. 3, 1896, was the day of the Battle of Imus, “the first big battle of the Philippine Revolution which the Filipinos won and Sept. 3, 1945, was the day Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, commander of Japanese forces in the Philippines, surrendered at Camp John Hay in Baguio City.”

By the way, the United States does not care to remember Bataan and Corregidor. Understandably so, since for them it was a humiliating defeat. It is time for us to revisit history.

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TAGS: Araw ng Kagitingan, Douglas MacArthur, Edward King Jr., Fall of Bataan, Masaharu Homma, Ramon Farolan, Reveille, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses Grant, World War II
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