TARLAC, Luzon, Philippines -- Blood, sweat, tears, agony and pain,The Bataan Death March is defined by these words. An 80-mile march destroyed thousands of lives and ruined families. To honor those, who are no longer here is never to forget.
Marines with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit visited the Bataan Death March Memorial at Capas National Shrine, Capas, the Philippines, to learn lessons about Philippine and U.S. shared history and to pay homage to the fallen during Amphibious Landing Exercise 15, Oct. 8.
The Battle of Bataan
The Battle of Bataan began when the Japanese launched a surprise air attack on the Philippine Islands only five months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The attack was preceded by a ground invasion, which turned into a brutal three-month long battle beginning on April 9, 1942. At its conclusion, over 60,000 Filipino and 15,000 American forces became prisoners of war. The prisoners were forced to march north to prisoner camps, were beaten, exposed to the elements, starved and humiliated during the entire trek. This ordeal became known as the Bataan Death March.
Honoring the fallen
U.S. Navy Lt. Yontan Warren orchestrated the visit, led the tour of the memorial, and shared the history of the march with the Marines.
“It’s a wonderful experience," said Warren, chaplain of Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st MEU. “[We are] able to connect the souls of those who are living today to the souls of those aren’t with us anymore.”
In 2003, the Capas National Shrine became open to the public. Now, people from all over the world can honor the memory of those who were part of the march.
“It felt good to be able to learn about this part of our country’s history, how we interacted with other cultures and why we keep coming back,” said Lance Cpl. Joseph Hawkins, a Towed Artillery Systems Technician with CLB-31, 31st MEU. “I always heard things on the History Channel about the Bataan Death March, but I didn’t know much about it until now.”
Engraved names and memories of the fallen adorn the walls of the memorial. There are thousands of names of those endured the march. There are still names being etched into the stone.
“We have a lot of forgotten history in the Philippines that is an important part of our heritage,” said Chief Warrant Officer Luis Carrillo, a Marine Gunner with Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st MEU.
Trees are also a part of the memorial to help understand the magnitude of the fallen, according to Warren.
“There are 21,000 trees right now and they’re trying to get up to 31,000. Each tree represents a person. It’s a visual, living reminder of someone who is no longer alive,” said Warren. “The mahogany trees represent the Americans who died and the “Narra” tree, the Philippine national tree, represents the Filipinos. They’re planting a mini forest in formation as an actual living testimony to those who died.”
In total, more than one hundred Marines visited the site in two days.
PHIBLEX is an annual, bilateral training exercise conducted by members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines alongside U.S. Marine and Navy Forces focused on strengthening the partnership and relationships between the two nations across a range of military operations including disaster relief and complex expeditionary operations.