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New exhibit honors Bataan Death March

DAYTON, Ohio -- Members of the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor reunion group look at the Bataan Death March exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Members of the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor reunion group look at the Bataan Death March exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- A new exhibit at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force was recently unveiled to honor Airmen who defended the Bataan Peninsula against the Japanese and who later suffered in the Bataan Death March during World War II.

Located in the museum's Air Power Gallery, the exhibit includes a P-35 aircraft, a mannequin depicting U.S. Army Air Forces personnel fighting on the ground in Bataan, and photos and artifacts from the Bataan Death March.

The story begins on Dec. 8, 1941, when Japanese aircraft crippled several USAAF airfields in the Philippines. Within three days, the USAAF lost two-thirds of its aircraft there. With only a handful of aircraft left, USAAF ground personnel, and sometimes even fighter pilots, became infantrymen when the Philippine defenders made their stand in the Bataan Peninsula.

When the Japanese tried to outflank the defenses with amphibious landings in southern Bataan, nearly 1,000 men from the 24th Pursuit Group and 19th Bombardment Group fought alongside U.S. Army soldiers, sailors, Marines, and Filipino soldiers and police to drive the Japanese out. After three weeks of bitter fighting, these Japanese positions were completely eliminated, helping Bataan hold out for two more months.

Meanwhile, the Provisional Air Corps Regiment was created from other USAAF units. Numbering between 1,000-1,400 men, the PACR took its place on Bataan's defensive line in January 1942. On the night of April 6, their defenses were broken when a Japanese armored attack pushed through the main line to the west of their position. USAAF personnel battled valiantly to defend Bataan until they were ordered by their commander to surrender to the Japanese on April 9, 1942.

The next day the Japanese assembled about 78,000 (12,000 U.S. and 66,000 Filipino) prisoners and began the horror of the Bataan Death March. The men, already desperately weakened by hunger and disease, suffered terribly. Regardless of their condition, POWs who could not continue or keep up with the pace were summarily executed.

The Death Marchers received almost no water or food, further weakening their fragile bodies. POWs who broke ranks to drink stagnant, muddy water at the side of the road would be bayoneted or shot to death. After six days of marching about 65 miles, the POWs were forced into boxcars so full they could not sit down, causing some to die of heat exhaustion or suffocation.

As many as 11,000 POWs died on the Death March as a result of their guards' cruelty. Even worse, more than 22,000 POWs died during their first two months of imprisonment. Thousands more later died of malnourishment, disease, exhaustion, physical abuse, or were executed in this and other Japanese POW camps. Even more POWs died on so-called "hell ships" while being transported to Japan and China to work for the Japanese war industry.

Only about one-third of Bataan's defenders survived the war.

For more information on this exhibit and other exhibits at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, please visit our website at http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum or call (937) 255-3286, ext. 302.

The National Museum of the United States Air Force is located on Springfield Pike, six miles northeast of downtown Dayton. It is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day). Admission and parking are free.


NOTE TO MEDIA: For more information, contact the National Museum of the United States Air Force Public Affairs Division at (937) 255-4704, ext. 330.

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