The day after Japan bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese invasion of the Philippines began. Within a month, the Japanese had captured Manila, the capital of the Philippines, and the American and Filipino defenders of Luzon (the island on which Manila is located) were forced to retreat to the Bataan Peninsula. For the next three months, the combined U.S.-Filipino army held out despite a lack of naval and air support. Finally, on April 9, 1942, with his forces crippled by starvation and disease, U.S. General Edward King Jr. surrendered with his approximately 75,000 troops at Bataan.
After the surrender the prisoners of war were forced to make a grueling 65 mile march from Mariveles, on the southern end of the Bataan Peninsula, to San Fernando. The men were divided into groups of about 100, each group taking about 5 days to reach their destination. The marchers made the trek in intense heat and were subjected to brutal treatment by Japanese guards. Along the way, prisoners were starved, beaten and bayoneted if they became too weak to continue walking. Thousands perished in what became known as the Bataan Death March. Approximately 10,000 Filipino and 1000 American soldiers died due to physical abuse and other atrocities committed by their captors during the torturous journey.
Those who survived were taken by rail from San Fernando to POW camps, where thousands more died from disease, mistreatment and starvation. America avenged its defeat in the Philippines with the invasion of the island of Leyte in October 1944. General Douglas MacArthur, who in 1942 had famously promised to return to the Philippines, made good on his word. In February 1945, U.S. and Filipino forces recaptured the Bataan Peninsula, and Manila was liberated in early March.
In the accompanying video, Flower Mound resident Pedro, “Pete” Gonzalez, a 96 year-old survivor of that horrific episode, talks about the ordeal. Pedro lives with his son Pete Jr., who participated in the video with his dad.
Bob Weir is a former NYPD officer, long-time Flower Mound resident and former local newspaper editor.