Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
Arrival in the Philippines
The 1st Separate Marine Battalion
Preparing for War
Bombing of Cavite
Concentration at Mariveles
Christmas Day
Defenses of Manila Bay
First Bombing
Battle of the Points
The Bombardment Continues
The Formation of the 4th Battalion
1st Battalion Defenses
Japanese Preparations
The Landing
Movement of the Regimental Reserve
Attack of the 4th Battalion
Morning Battle
Special Subjects
The Marine Rearguard on Bataan
Marine Detachment, Air Warning Service
The Bataan Death March

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 enemy armor.

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 confusion.

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 Malinta Hill.

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 arrived.

Japanese tanks and infantry
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 come.

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 captivity.

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, saying:

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
Beach defenses after the surrender of Corregidor. Note the captured defenders standing in the trenchline. National Archives photograph

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 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.

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 separately.

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 prisoners.

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 marchers.

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 canteen!

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 courage.

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

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division