Ramon Regalado, a Filipino native living in San Francisco, who survived the infamous Bataan Death March in WWII passed away on December 16, 2017 at the age of 100.  The BDM was one of the most heinous and inhumane events of the Asian Theatre, and that says a lot, but more on that later.

Regalado was born in 1917 in the Philippines.  When the Japanese invaded the islands he was one of the thousands of Filipinos who fought bravely alongside American soldiers.  He served as a machine gun operator during the Battle of Bataan.

The situation was desperate.  The Filipino defenses had been ill prepared for the war. Furthermore, much of the American troops, under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, had evacuated.  (Many of you will recall MacArthur’s famous boast to the Filipinos –  “I shall return.”)  The combined forces were heavily outnumbered and outgunned.  Furthermore, the Japanese had already earned a well-deserved reputation for wanton cruelty and a blatant disregard for the stipulations of the Geneva Conventions.

The Japanese attacked the Philippines in January, 1942.  The combined American-Filipino forces fought valiantly but surrendered on April 9, 1942, and that was when the horror began. The Japanese took between 60,000 and 80,000 prisoners and moved them from Bataan to Camp O’Donnell in Capas, Tarlac, some 65 miles north.  Any prisoner who was discovered to be in possession of Japanese money or souvenirs was shot or bayoneted on the spot.

Most of the March was on foot; the rest was by train  The March was characterized by extreme and wanton brutality. The Japanese exhibited nothing but contempt for their prisoners. The sick and wounded were not treated.  There was little food and water.  The heat was extreme, and the prisoners were often forced to sit exposed to the unrelenting sun.   They unceremoniously murdered anyone who was unable to keep up.  Some were shot; others were bayoneted.  The dead bodies were merely discarded at the side of the road to be collected and disposed of later, or not.  There is no accurate count of those prisoners who died during the march, but estimates run as high as 650 Americans and 18,000 Filipinos.  For the train portion, as former prisoner, Sargent Alf Larson later recalled: “They packed us in like sardines, so tight you couldn’t sit down…  If someone had to go to the toilet, you went [right] there where you were.”  Only about 54,000 of the original 80,000 prisoners survived the March.

Camp O’Donnell was not much of a relief.  Starvation and disease were rampant.  Several hundred prisoners died every day.  For the most part, the dead were simply dumped into mass graves like so much refuse.  That explains why there isn’t an accurate count and why many have never been identified.

It is not clear when the US government discovered these atrocities, but the American public was unaware of them until January 1944 when Life Magazine published an expose based on the stories disseminated by various escapees.  The government and the military high command were quick to condemn the Japanese in the strongest terms.  For example, General George C. Marshall stated “these brutal reprisals upon helpless victims evidence the shallow advance from savagery, which the Japanese people have made….  {T}he future of the Japanese race, itself, depends entirely and irrevocably upon their capacity to progress beyond their aboriginal barbaric instincts.”  After the war, an Allied military commission concluded that this mistreatment of prisoners constituted war crimes.

Eventually, Regalado escaped with two other prisoners.  At the time, all three were sick with malaria.  Luckily, a friendly farmer gave them shelter.  However, of the three, only Regalado survived.  Eventually, he joined a guerilla unit and continued to fight.  After the war, he emigrated to the US.

CONCLUSION

Regalado was one of some 250,000 Filipinos who served alongside American troops during the war.  Approximately 57,000 of them died.  The US had promised them veterans benefits and US citizenship, but it was many years before those promises were honored.  In addition, this past October the government awarded many of them, including Regalado, the Congressional Gold Medal.

Today, there are dozens of memorials dedicated to the heroism of those who were in the March, including monuments, plaques and schools.  Moreover, the March has been depicted in a 2012 documentary entitled Never the Same: The Prisoner of War Experience.

Regalado was one of the few who lived to see the belated recognition.  Rest in peace, Ramon.  You were a true patriot and hero.