There is something to be said for age – it often gives us a perspective on history that younger people don’t have. Unfortunately, it’s a perspective they will never get because our educational system has thinned out what is taught to our children.
Our media are filled with news about the war in Ukraine and the role of Russia. Whether we are getting the whole truth remains to be seen, and of course, we have no idea on how it will all play out. Will Russia “win”? Will Ukraine save itself? Will other countries be drawn into the fighting? What does it all mean for the United States? Will it turn into World War III?
Lots of guessing going on but not a lot of firm conclusions as to what will transpire. It does not bode well for any of us, especially with the subtle threats of the Russians about using nuclear weapons against those on the side of Ukraine, and that includes the United States.
I would hope that historians are taking note of all of this and that the details will find their way into our history textbooks so that future generations will understand what happened and why and how.
I admit, I have my doubts.
We just passed an important anniversary date from World War II – April 9, 1942, the 80th anniversary of the day the Philippines surrendered to the Japanese. Up until that point, the Philippines were a sovereign territory of the United States. Their military was getting up to speed, and it’s believed that their resistance to the better prepared Japanese actually managed to derail the Japanese plan to take over the country in 50 days. The Filipino military held them back for double that time while the United States was recovering from the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The surrender followed the Battle of Bataan, a 99-day stand that pitted Filipino soldiers against the better-trained and equipped Japanese military. That was followed by a history-making though long neglected event in our history books – the Bataan Death March. It was a 60-mile march forced on Filipino and American prisoners of war by the Japanese. The men suffered from untreated injuries disease, and massive starvation. Thousands died.
It’s estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 Filipinos and 250-650 Americans died on the March itself – while another 20,000 Filipino and 1,600 Americans died in the death camps that followed. In addition, thousands of Allied troops were killed in the sinking of two Japanese “Hell Ships.” American military bombed the deliberately unmarked Japanese ships, not knowing they were filled with Allied prisoners of war.
Overall, no definite casualty figures from Bataan are available.
Cecilia Gaerlan, is the executive director of the Bataan Legacy Historical Society. She started the Society to honor her father, Luis Gaerlan Jr., who was one of the POWs forced by the Japanese to take part in the March.
In speaking of the Bataan Death March, she said that in addition to the physical hardships of the March itself, “Those who couldn’t go on were bayoneted, shot and even beheaded.”
The organization held a commemorative celebration of the Bataan Death March onboard the USS Hornet (CV-12), which is berthed in Oakland, California. It is the eighth vessel to carry the name Hornet and was a significant participant in the Pacific theatre during the War. It was part of the Battle of Leyte Gulf in Philippine waters, considered to be the largest naval battle of all time. It was a major turning point in the Pacific War as some 800 Allied ships overpowered a smaller Japanese fleet in late 1944.
People can visit the ship, and it is a marvel to see, both for the complexity of the vessel itself but also for its role in our history. Our military manned the ship, were on the ship in a time of war, and many of our personnel died there.
History is often cruel, but knowing about it is vital for our survival and for our freedom. I hope our history books will reflect this information.
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