Remembering Bataan


James Dumlao is a freshman economics major.

World War II was filled with grievous atrocities committed by both sides of the conflict. The Holocaust, the Rape of Nanking and the dropping of atomic bombs on  Hiroshima and Nagasaki are examples of the gruesome nature of war. Filipinos were not spared from tragedy either. The Philippines’ involvement in the Pacific theatre is a lesser known part of the WW2 narrative. In alliance with America, the Philippines were a major factor in fighting against Imperial Japan.

April 8, 2017 marks the 75th anniversary of the Bataan Death March. The Bataan Peninsula lies west of Manila on the island of Luzon. The U.S. Army Forces of the Far East (USAFFE), made up of 75,000 Filipino and American soldiers, held the peninsula for 99 days. This delayed the Imperial Japanese Army’s plans to enter Australia. Without any outside support, the USAFFE was forced to surrender. Many of the soldiers were sick and starving from the lack of resources after an over three month siege. On top of this, the Japanese sent the army on a 60-mile march down to Camp O’Donnell, where they would be imprisoned.


The march down the peninsula is now known as the Bataan Death March. The journey down the peninsula led to about 10,000 Filipino and 650 American deaths. These soldiers were refused any food, drink, medicine or shelter in a tropical setting for the duration of the march. Anyone who stopped marching from exhaustion was beaten, shot and even beheaded.


Many of us don’t know about this tragic event because it was not taught in most American history classes until recently. The Bataan Death March was only officially added to the California U.S. History curriculum on July 14, 2016. Although this marks a step in the right direction, the history was not taught for over 70 years after it took place.  Even many Filipino-American millennials do not know the injustices that took place after the march. This is a dishonor to both the Filipino and American soldiers that suffered for such a strategic victory in the Pacific.


In addition, the media gives little recognition to the Bataan Death March. In video games and movies, we usually see the European side of the conflict. Countless missions and scenes focus on the storming of Normandy Beach on D-Day. Popular narratives in the Pacific are the battles of Midway and Iwo Jima. It is possible that the Bataan Death March isn’t covered because it is as a loss for the American/Filipino forces, but the sacrifice of the soldiers and their contribution to the war deserves to be more widely understood. I imagine there are countless other histories of marginalized peoples that we are failing to pass on. Knowing history allows us to explain current events and make decisions for the future.


Aside from having to experience the horrible march, Filipino soldiers were not given benefits from the G.I. Bill of Rights. Five months after the war, the Rescission Acts of 1946 found the Filipino’s service as inactive, meaning their privileges as veterans were retroactively pulled.  Without the free college tuition, low-cost mortgages and one year of unemployment compensation that was given to other veterans, Filipino veterans struggled to get back to the life they knew before the March.


Kasamahan at USF, the Filipino cultural organization on campus, stands with the veteranos every year during the Veteran’s Day parade that starts at Pier 39 and ends near Ghirardelli Square. The students meet, serve food to and march alongside the elderly veterans at the Veterans Equity Center in SoMa. They chant in the streets, “What is our mission? Full recognition!” Recognition was not given to the veteranos until December 14, 2016, when President Barack Obama signed the Congressional Gold Medal Act to honor WW2 Filipino veterans.


I am fortunate to live and go to school in the Bay Area where my Filipino culture is strongly represented. I imagine in other parts of the country, I would have a difficult time learning, living and fighting for my people. As students of USF, we have a unique opportunity to take action for what we believe in. Direct action in the present, such as that taken by Kasamahan, is quintessential in protecting marginalized peoples’ past.


  1. I love the fact that you cite video games and Hollywood and how little this part of WWII is covered. I thoroughly agree. For the record, I have a new doc film coming out on APT/PBS in May: The Last Ring Home that focuses on Corregidor and the POW experience in the Philippines. More here: for the tv schedule. Hope you enjoy!


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