Bataan is a Pacific battleground notable in American and Philippine history for a pathetic, yet heroic, defeat. War had begun in the Philippines only a few hours after the American fleet was decimated at Pearl Harbor. It continued through five months of bitter combat and ended in one of the most shameful atrocities Americans and Filipinos have ever endured, the Death March of Bataan. For those who lived through it, the Death March was followed by three years of slave labor in enemy captivity.
The road from Manila to Bataan passes through San Fernando, where the Death March ended. It was here in 1942 that long, ragged columns of POWs stumbled and crawled from Mariveles, 50 miles to the south. In less than two weeks after the surrender, they had left thousands of dead and murdered along the way.
The old coastal road south from San Fernando to Mariveles is the Death March route in reverse. At every kilometer a signpost marks the way – 85 signs, each numbered, lest anyone forget, for even one kilometer, man’s inhumanity to man.
During the final battle for Bataan, American and Philippine forces formed a line for resistance across the peninsula. At the center was 1900-foot Mt. Samat, which the Japanese secured on April 5, 1942. They then surged down Samat’s southern slope, overwhelming Bataan’s last line of defense. Today, a 320 foot concrete cross stands on Samat’s highest point near a marble memorial called the Altar of Valor.
Mariveles is the town at the southern tip of Bataan from which there was no escape for most of the defeated POWs. On April 9, 1942, the day of surrender, it was a place of tragic confusion. Some 2,000 U.S. and Filipino survivors made it across 2 ½ miles of water to the fortress of Corregidor. Thousands did not. To keep from being bombed and strafed by Japanese planes, GIs made Rising Sun flags by painting sheets with Mercurochrome and spreading them on the ground.