Filipino and American prisoners of war (POWs) used improvised litters to carry the bodies of their comrades on the infamous Bataan Death March across the Philippines' Bataan Peninsula. This image was captured by the POWs' Japanese captors.

Photograph courtesy Office of War Information, courtesy National Archives

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  • On April 9, 1942, American and Filipino forces in Luzon, Philippines, surrendered to the Imperial Japanese Army, which had invaded the island nation months earlier. With more than 70,000 troops, this remains the largest American militia in history to surrender. The Japanese, overwhelmed by the number of prisoners of war, forced the POWs to walk from the tip of the Bataan Peninsula to POW camps further inland. Thousands died on what quickly became known as the “Bataan Death March.”
    The Bataan Death March was about 105 kilometers (65 miles), from the urban area of Mariveles through a tropical jungle to Camp O’Donnell (a former Filipino facility taken over by the Japanese). POWs, already malnourished, weak, and suffering from tropical diseases such as malaria and beriberi, marched in groups of about 100 men. Marchers were beaten and executed for walking slowly. Others were tortured. It took each group about five days to reach the camp. As many as 11,000 troops never made it. 
    American Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who famously vowed to return to the Philippines after leaving prior to the surrender, eventually helped liberate the islands. Japanese Lt. Gen. Homma Masaharu was convicted of war crimes surrounding the Bataan Death March, and was executed in 1946.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    beriberi Noun

    disease linked to malnutrition caused by lack of vitamin B (thiamine) which affects both the nervous system and cardiovascular system.

    convict Verb

    to find someone guilty of an illegal act.

    execute Verb

    to put to death by order of the law or in a well-planned manner.

    facility Noun

    a building or room that serves a specific function.

    invade Verb

    to enter and attack.

    jungle Noun

    tropical ecosystem filled with trees and underbrush.

    liberate Verb

    to set free.

    malaria Noun

    infectious disease caused by a parasite carried by mosquitoes.

    malnourished Adjective

    not having sufficient nutrition or diet.

    overwhelm Verb

    to completely overpower.

    peninsula Noun

    piece of land jutting into a body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: peninsula
    prior Adjective

    before or ahead of.

    prisoner of war Noun

    person captured and held by an enemy during a conflict.

    surrender Verb

    to give up.

    torture Noun

    inflicting pain to force a victim to provide information.

    troop Noun

    a soldier.

    tropical Adjective

    existing in the tropics, the latitudes between the Tropic of Cancer in the north and the Tropic of Capricorn in the south.

    urban area Noun

    developed, densely populated area where most inhabitants have nonagricultural jobs.

    Encyclopedic Entry: urban area
    vow Verb

    to promise.

    war crime Noun

    severe acts of violence, violating international law, committed against civilians, enemies, prisoners of war, or others during an armed conflict.