Image of the Air Force wings with the museum name underneath

Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
FREE Admission & Parking

Bataan Death March

The Bataan Death March began on April 10, 1942, when the Japanese assembled about 78,000 prisoners (12,000 U.S. and 66,000 Filipino). They began marching up the east coast of Bataan. Although they didn't know it, their destination was Camp O'Donnell, north of the peninsula.

The men, already desperately weakened by hunger and disease, suffered unspeakably during the March. Regardless of their condition, POWs who could not continue or keep up with the pace were summarily executed. Even stopping to relieve oneself could bring death, so many chose to continue walking while relieving themselves.

Some of the guards made a sport of hurting or killing the POWs. The Marchers were beaten with rifle butts, shot or bayoneted without reason. Most of the POWs got rid of their helmets because some by Japanese soldiers on passing trucks hit them with rifle butts. Some enemy soldiers savagely toyed with POWs by dragging them behind trucks with a rope around the neck. Japanese guards also gave the POWs the "sun treatment" by making them sit in the sweltering heat of the direct sun for hours at a time without shade.

The Death Marchers received almost no water or food, further weakening their fragile bodies. Most POWs only received a total of a few cups of rice, and little or no water. Sympathetic Filipinos alongside the road tried to give POWs food and water, but if a guard saw it, the POW and the Filipino helper could be beaten or killed. Some POWs had the water in their canteens poured out onto the road or taken by the Japanese just to be cruel. Although thirst began to drive some of the men mad, if a POW broke ranks to drink stagnant, muddy water at the side of the road, he would be bayoneted or shot. Groups of POWs were often deliberately stopped in front of the many artesian wells. These wells poured out clean water, but the POWs were not allowed to drink it. Some were killed just because they asked for water. The POWs marched roughly 65 miles over the course of about six days until they reached San Fernando. There, groups as large as 115 men were forced into boxcars designed to hold only 30-40 men. Boxcars were so full that the POWs could not sit down. This caused more to die of heat exhaustion and suffocation in the cars on the ride from San Fernando to Capas. The POWs then walked seven more miles to Camp O'Donnell. At the entrance to the camp, the POWs were told to lay out the few possessions they still had; any POW found with any Japanese-made items or money was executed on the spot.

Click here to return to the Bataan Death March Overview.