At dawn, 9 April 1942, Major General Edward P. King, Jr., commanding Luzon Force, Bataan, Philippine Islands, surrendered more than 75,000 starving and disease-ridden American soldiers, sailors, and Marines, and their Filipino allies, to overwhelming Japanese forces.
He inquired of the Japanese colonel to whom he tendered his pistol in lieu of his lost sword whether the Americans and Filipinos would be well treated. The Japanese aide-de-camp indignantly replied: “We are not barbarians.” The forthcoming seven to 14 days would prove just how barbaric and uncivilized this enemy could be!
The majority of the prisoners of war were immediately subjected to robbery of their most trivial keepsakes and belongings, to personal indignities to their bodies, and subsequently to a grueling 90-mile enforced march in deep dust, over vehicle-broken macadam roads, and crammed into sub-standard rail cars to captivity in the now infamous Camp O’Donnell.
Thousands died enroute from disease, starvation, thirst, heat prostration, untreated wounds, and wanton execution. Additional thousands died in this and in equally disreputable prison camps, the direct result of maltreatment on the Death March.
There were relatively few Marines on the march, when compared with other members of the American service. Marine Staff Sergeant Thomas R. Hicks, a field clerk in the 4th Marines, kept a “Record of Events” from 8 December 1941 to 2 May 1942 on Corregidor. It was apparently shipped off the island on the following day on the submarine Spearfish and arrived at Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington on 13 August 1942.
When Bataan fell to the enemy on 9 April 1942, Staff Sergeant Hicks enumerated six officers and 71 enlisted personnel (including Navy medical) as presumed prisoners of war. An additional Marine from an antiaircraft unit had contracted polio and was left at Bataan’s Hospital No. 2.
The majority of captured Marines belonged to two organizations, the USAFFE-USFIP (finally Luzon Force) guard detachment and the Marine Air Warning Unit (an SCR-270B mobile, long-range radar unit). The first was composed of 43 enlisted Marines and two officers. The latter also had two officers and 28 communications personnel. Nearly all made the Death March.
Former Lieutenant Michiel Dobervich considers himself among the more fortunate of the prisoners. For reasons unknown to him, he was selected to drive a GMC truck loaded with sugar to Camp O’Donnell.
En route, Dobervich was witness to the initial looting, face slapping, beating, and bayoneting of American and Filipino captives. Guarded by a Japanese captain and a soldier with a bayonet at his back, he was helpless in the rage that welled in him. At Balanga, he saw an Army brigadier general and other senior staff officers run through a guantlet of enemy privates, slapped and beaten as they were robbed of their possessions. At the same time, Dobervich lost 500 Philippines pesos, his wrist watch, two fountain pens, and $40 in U.S. currency. A friend from USAFFE’s motor pool and four others were beheaded when a Japanese found occupation money on their persons.