FROM SHANGHAI TO CORREGIDOR: Marines in the Defense of the Philippines
by J. Michael Miller
The Japanese landed three tanks, two Type 97 tanks
and a captured M-3. Two other tanks were lost 50 yards offshore while
landing with the 2d Battalion, 61st Infantry. The surviving tanks
were stranded on the beach due to the steep cliffs and beach debris and
were left behind by the advancing infantry. In one hour, the tank crews
and engineers worked a path off the beach. When the tanks reached the
cliffs, they found the inclines too steep and were unable to move
further. The Marines were alerted to the presence of the tanks and
Gunner Ferrell went to Cavalry Point to investigate the rumors of tanks,
and found the vehicles apparently hopelessly stalled.
At daylight the Japanese were able to cut a road to
Cavalry Beach but were still prevented from moving inland by the slope
behind the beach. Finally the captured M-3 negotiated the cliff and
succeeded in towing the remaining tanks up the cliff. By 0830, all three
tanks were on the coastal road and moved cautiously inland. At 0900,
Gunnery Sergeant Mercurio reported to Malinta Tunnel the presence of
At 1000 Marines on the north beaches watched as the
Japanese began an attack with their tanks, which moved in concert with
light artillery support. Private First Class Silas K. Barnes fired on
the tanks with his machine gun to no effect. He watched helplessly as
they began to take out the American positions. He remembered the
Japanese tanks' guns "looked like mirrors flashing where they were going
out and wiping out pockets of resistance where the Marines were." The
Marines still had nothing in operation heavier than automatic rifles to
deal with the enemy tanks. Word of the enemy armor caused initial panic,
but the remaining Marine, Navy and Army officers soon halted the
One of the Marines' main problems was the steady
accumulation of wounded men who could not be evacuated. Only four corps
men were available to help them. No one in the battalion had first aid
packets, or even a tourniquet. The walking wounded tried to get to the
rear, but Japanese artillery prevented any move to Malinta Tunnel. No
one could be spared from the line to take the wounded to the rear. At
1030 the pressure from the Japanese lines was too great and men began to
filter back from the firing line. Major Williams personally tried to
halt the men but to little avail. The tanks moved along the North Road
with Colonel Sato personally pointing out the Marine positions. The
tanks fired on Marine positions knocking them out one by one. At last
Williams ordered his men to withdraw to prepared positions just short of
With the withdrawal of the 4th and 1st Battalions,
the Japanese sent up a green flare as a signal to the Bataan artillery
which redoubled its fire, and all organization of the two battalions
ceased. Men made their way to the rear in small groups and began to fill
the concrete trenches at Malinta Hill. The Japanese guns swept the area
from the hill to Battery Denver and then back again several times. In 30
minutes only 150 men were left to hold the line.
The Japanese had followed the retreat aggressively
and were within 300 yards of the line with tanks moving around the
American right flank. Lieutenant Colonel Beecher moved outside the
tunnel, shepherding his men back to Malinta hill. He knew his men would
be thirsty and hungry and ordered Sergeant Louis Duncan to "See what you
can do about it." Duncan broke open the large Army refrigerators near
the entrance to Malinta Tunnel, and soon was issuing ice-cold cans of
peaches and buttermilk to the exhausted Marines.
At 1130 Major Williams returned to the tunnel and
reported directly to Colonel Howard that his men could hold no longer.
He asked for reinforcements and antitank weapons. Colonel Howard replied
that General Wainwright had decided to surrender at 1200. Wainwright
agonized over his decision and later wrote, "It was the terror vested in
a tank that was the deciding factor. I thought of the havoc that even
one of these beasts could wreak if it nosed into the tunnel." Williams
was ordered to hold the Japanese until noon when a surrender party
Japanese tanks and infantry on Corregidor after the
surrender. Note the captured U.S. M-3 tank on the left of the
photograph. Photograph courtesy of Dr. Diosdado M. Yap
At 1200 the white flag came out of the tunnel and
Williams ordered his men to withdraw to the tunnel and turn in their
weapons. The end had come for the 4th Marines. Colonel Curtis ordered
Captain Robert B. Moore to burn the 4th Marines Regimental colors.
Captain Moore took the colors in hand and left the headquarters. On
return, with tears in his eyes, he reported that the burning had been
carried out. Colonel Howard placed his face into his hands and wept,
saying, "My God, and I had to be the first Marine officer ever to
surrender a regiment."
The news of the surrender was particularly difficult
for the men of the 2d and 3d Battalions who were ready to repel any
renewed Japanese landing. Private First Class Ernest J. Bales first
learned of the surrender when a runner arrived at his gun position at
James Ravine, who announced, "We're throwing in the towel, destroy all
guns." Bales and his comrades found the news incredible, "hard to take
... couldn't believe it." One Marine tried to shoot the messenger but
was wrestled to the ground.
Private First Class Ben L. Lohman of 2d Battalion
destroyed his automatic rifle, but "we didn't know what the hell was
going on, as Japanese artillery continued to pound Corregidor long after
the surrender. "The word was passed," recalled Lohman, "go into Malinta
Tunnel." The men packed up their few belongings and marched toward the
Japanese. Three Marines of 3d Battalion refused to surrender and boarded
a small boat and made their escape out into the bay.
Sergeant Milton A. Englin commanded a platoon in the
final defensive line outside Malinta Tunnel, and was prepared to deal
with the Japanese tanks with armor-piercing rounds from his two 37mm
guns. As he waited for the Japanese, an Army runner came out of the
tunnel, shouting, "You have to surrender, and leave your guns intact."
Englin yelled back, "No! No! Marines don't surrender." The runner
disappeared, but returned 15 minutes later, saying, "You have to
surrender, or you will be courtmartialled after all this is over when we
get back to the States." Englin obeyed the order, but destroyed his
weapons, instructing his men, "We aren't going to leave any guns behind
for Americans to be shot with." The 4th Marines, 1,487 survivors, many
in tears, destroyed their weapons and waited for the Japanese to
The defenders of Hooker Point were cut off from the
rest of the island and were the last to surrender. They had finished the
Japanese survivors of the 2d Battalion, 61st Infantry, in the
daylight hours and for the rest of the day faced little opposition. As
evening approached, they heard the firing on Corregidor diminish, and
Forts Hughes and Drum fell silent. First Lieutenant Ray G. Lawrence,
USA, and his second in command Sergeant Wesley C. Little of Company D,
formed his men together at 1700, and marched to Kindley Field under a
bedsheet symbolizing a flag of truce. The Marines soon found Japanese
soldiers, who took their surrender.
Marine casualties in the defense of the Philippines
totaled 72 killed in action, 17 dead of wounds, and 167 wounded in
action. Worse than the casualty levels caused by combat in the
Philippines was the brutal treatment of Marines in Japanese hands. Of
the 1,487 members of the 4th Marines captured on Corregidor, 474 died in
The Japanese recognized that the five-month battle
for the Philippines was seen by the world as a defining contest of wills
between the United States and Japan. Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma,
Japanese commander in the Philippines, recognized the critical nature of
this conflict when he addressed his combat leaders in April 1942,
The operations in the Bataan Islands and the
Corregidor Fortress are not merely a local operation of the Great East
Asia War . . . the rest of the world has concentrated upon the progress
of the battle tactics on this small peninsula. Hence, the victories of
these operations also will have a bearing upon the English and the
Americans and their attitude toward continuing the war.
And so they did.
Beach defenses after the surrender of Corregidor. Note
the captured defenders standing in the trenchline. National Archives
The Bataan Death March
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
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
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
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.
Although pain and time have dimmed his memory,
Dobervich believes that he reached Camp O'Donnell in two days. He and
his companions stood at attention in front of the Japanese commander's
quarters for 16 hours, in terrific heat, without food or water, and he
was at last denegrated by that officer in a haranguing speech on his
character and his likelihood of surviving. They occupied barracks built
for Filipino trainees. Passing out from a recurrence of malaria, he
awakened days later to find that a Czechoslovakian had saved him from
the dying, or "Zero," Ward by administering quinine to him.
Marine enlisted men of the two detachments fared much
worse. The experiences of two in particular stand out. Corporal Ted R.
Williams and Private First Class Irwin C. Scott, Jr., were key members
of the Air Warning Unit. Both were in reasonably good health, although
Williams had suffered a minor wound.
Although they and several other Marines of the two
units apparently tried to remain together and to look after one another,
they recalled similar occurrences but also remembered other things
All recall being forced together either on the
Mariveles airfield or at the Little Baguio motor pool, and being frisked
for their valuables. Some lost food and canteens; others retained them.
Beatings for no apparent reason were commonplace, and all witnessed
varying degrees of wanton cruelty. Counted off in ranks of four and
marching companies of one hundred, their ordeal began on 10 April 1942.
The road from Mariveles on the tip of Bataan to Orani was unimproved,
deep in dust and excrement. On nearing Hospital No. 2 west of Cabcaben
barrio, whose wards and beds were in the open beneath tall tree cover,
they saw both American and Filipino patients turned out into the line of
march, despite the nature of their wounds. Pitifully few of these
survived, falling by the wayside, bayoneted or beheaded, or ground into
pulp beneath enemy tanks and trucks.
Some recalled seeing Japanese large-caliber guns
hurried from the north and emplaced in proximity of the two hospitals.
Groups of prisoners were halted even marched back and
placed in front of the artillery in plain sight of Americans on
Corregidor. Private First Class Earl C. Dodson, guard detachment, was
one of these. Shell fragments in his ankle from a short round was
removed by a Navy corpsman. At this point, the line of march began to
disintegrate, and the Japs took their frustration out on the
By this time, Williams began to regret having pleaded
ignorance of his ability to drive a truck. After having gotten an
artillery prime mover started for a group of Japanese, he and his
companions watched with satisfaction as the victors, unable to ply its
air brakes, spun it down the East Road "zig-zag" and over a cliff.
As the Americans topped a rise near Bataan Field,
they were turned off into a small peninsula and stopped for the first
night in a holding pen. Here they were joined by more Marines, among
them a sergeant from the guard detachment. He instructed the others on
the dangers of drinking stagnant water from roadside pools and carabao
wallows, supplying them with iodine to sterilize their water. Corporal
Willard F. Van Alst shared his iodine with Scott, but they only rinsed
out their mouths with the insipid liquid. Most of the Marines escaped
the shock of dysentery which was already wreaking havoc among other
The sergeant observed that the front of the column
was seldom selected to rest and thus escaped some of the atrocities that
befell stragglers. Gradually, they worked their way forward into that
position. Nevertheless, these Marines were among one group herded into a
field just south of Pilar and forced to strip and to sit under a blazing
sun within sight of a freely flowing artesian well for several hours,
apparently a favored Japanese torture.
Williams observed that "unlikely as it seems,
especially amidst the reigning chaos, we did not feel defeated, only
betrayed. This led to a dogged determination and fueled the desire to
survive. Adrenalin pumped and bolstered courage. Acts of heroism were as
common as the multitude of flies, mosquitoes, and the dying."
Scott recalled that after several days the prisoners
appeared to be in total shock. Enroute he saw macabre examples of man's
cruelty to fellow man. Short communications poles lined Filipino roads.
On these, he had seen at least three prisoners crucified, discarded
American bayonets impaling their hands or throats, feet and stomachs.
Near the end of the march, he had a recurring dream, while both awake
and in fitful slumber, of lying in a white bathtub with a clear blue
waterfall cascading into his open mouth.
When at last halted, the Marines were driven into an
area replete with feces of those preceding them, among dead bodies
already crawling with maggots. In a trance later that night, they were
jerked into reality by a driving rain. They prostrated themselves on
their backs out of sight of their captors to catch raindrops on their
faces and in their mouths.
On reaching Lubao, an advanced Japanese supply depot,
they marched through towering mounds of collected American canned goods
and rations, a sight that elicited only their wrath, for they had been
starving before the surrender.
Williams had recently lost his canteen to a Japanese
guard. While passing another American stockpile south of San Fernando,
an incident occurred that he still considers a miracle. A Japanese
non-commissioned officer beside the road saw among them a Marine with
whom he had been acquainted in Shanghai. Tugged from the line, the
Marine took with him Williams and the other enlisted Marines alongside
him. A short distance away the Japanese instructed a cook to serve these
selected prisoners rice and vegetables simmering together in a cauldron.
All their canteens were filled, and one was given to Williams. This had
been their first food and fresh water for four days. Williams still
agonizes over the fate of the American who may have forfeited the
San Fernando was the end of only the first phase of
the Death March. Here they were again penned in filthy enclosures. Scott
told of a rifle shot in the night that stampeded him and his fellow
prisoners within a steel wire enclosure. The following morning they were
horrified to discover several men who had been trampled to death.
Here, the 11 Marines who had clung together were
separated. Williams, Willard Van Alst, and Corporal Paul W. Koziol were
crammed into a diminuitive boxcar with 97 others, standing room only.
The morning sun beat mercilessly on the steel sides, as a "blowtorch on
a tin can." Men fainted standing up; others died in the same position,
the air fouled with the smell of urine and feces. The interminable ride
ended at a small rail yard at Capas.
Again, they straggled into a semblance of military
order, to march the remaining six kilometers to Camp O'Donnell. Williams
was full of unadulterated praise for a Filipina matron and a group of
young women who entered the school grounds laden with baskets of bread,
rice cakes, fresh fruit and other foods and began distributing them to
the starving men. The Japanese captain in charge brutalized the older
woman in their presence, knocking her down and kicking her. Maintaining
her composure, she rose and continued to dispense her food stuff. The
process was twice repeated, until the officer gave in to her
In admiration, Williams wrote: "I shall never live
down the shame of having less valor than that wonderful lady who risked
beatings, humiliation, perhaps even death, to do what she could for
those who had lost the battle. Her place in heaven is assured by the
virtue of our respective prayers.
That there were no known Marine deaths on the Bataan
Death March can be attributed, survivors claim, to their basic training
as Marines. Their motto today is "Surrendered, Yes! Defeated, No!"
Richard A. Long