By Mass Communication Specialist First Class Kegan Kay, USS Bataan Public Affairs
There are certain dates that are memorialized in history, dates that have shaped who we are as a nation, a country and the world.
December 7, 1941 in the peaceful quiet hours on a Sunday morning, Pearl Harbor would soon awaken to a devastating attack, but marked the beginning of a Japanese campaign, within 10 hours, the Japanese would launch an attack on the Philippines.
By December 23, 1941, General Douglas MacArthur ordered the withdrawal from the fortified north of Luzon to the narrow jungle of the Bataan peninsula where U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps combined with American-trained Filipino forces to continue the fight against the Japanese.
This unified defense was known as the “Battling Bastards of Bataan” and for the next few months would face harrowing conditions, rampant disease, malnutrition and a sever lack of supplies and ammunition.
Our history books make very little mention of the date April 9, 1942, but it was this day that Maj. Gen. Edward King, Jr., surrendered against orders from Gen. MacArthur and Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, with Corregidor surrendering less than a month later.
History will dub what happen next as the “Bataan Death March,” as approximately 75,000 American and Filipino service members marched 65 grueling miles, signifying one of history’s earliest recorded accounts of the savage treatment of prisoners with more than 21,000 lives being claimed within the first week due to starvation, exhaustion and abuse from their captors.
Death would continue to follow due to poor conditions aboard Japanese “hell ships” transporting them to prisoner of war camps in Japan and it said that two of every three Americans who defended Bataan and Corregidor never returned home.
This year, USS Bataan (LHD 5), will commemorate the 75th memorial anniversary of the Battle of Bataan and pay homage to the to the brave and determined American-Filipino forces from whom the ship receives her namesake.
“It is very important for those who come after us to understand what happened to us and understand the past and the strong heritage of the U.S. Navy,” remarked Jim Brockman, curator of the National American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor Museum Education and Research Center (NADBC Museum).
To assist with the celebration Brockman and representatives from the NADBC Museum, Naval History and Heritage Command, and General Douglas MacArthur Museum, visited the ship and provided invaluable historical pieces to the ship’s museum.
“It is very important that USS Bataan is tangible and folks can see it as a reminder of the battle and the history of both the ship and World War II,” continued Brockman. “It is one of the few battles not to be memorialized and the USS Bataan keeps the memory of what those men and women went through in World War II alive and part of our history.”
“It helps the American people remember and commemorate the valor and sacrifices of past generation, while educating and inspiring a new generation of heroes in today’s Navy,” added Jeffrey Barta, Deputy Director for Museum Operation Division, Naval History and Heritage Command.
In a presentation ceremony in front of the ship’s crew, Brockman presented historic photos, books written by survivors of the Bataan Death March and documentary movies regarding the Battle of Bataan and spoke to gathered crew members and urged them “to continue to keep the history of Bataan alive.”
“Unlike other ships which are named after an individual, this ship embodies a very significant historical event in military history,” said Brockman. “You are truly a world class fighting ship and the crew has a dedication I have not seen on the ships I have been stationed on.”
To further mark the 75th memorial anniversary, the ship is remodeling the ship’s museum, the Jose Calugas Museum, and the ship’s distinguished visitors suit, General Jonathan Wainwright Suite, which will include the new contributions from the NHHC and NADBC museum.
“We name our ships for specific reasons and lessons learned,” stated Barta. “The valor of the men and women of Bataan, both past and present, cannot be forgotten. The Chief of Naval Operations has charged us with “accelerated learning” and one way to achieve that is by remembering who we are and where we came from, and why we do the things we do.”
Dates and events are highlighted in the history books, but it is the individuals whose stories and experience truly define the magnitude and the weight they carry and the effect they bring about to our future.
When it comes to learning from our history, Barta urged everyone to “Learn it. Remember it. Live it. Make your own history.”
“Every ship, squadron and unit should follow Bataan’s example when it comes to learning and commemorating our rich history and heritage,” concluded Barta.