Filipino Bataan Death March survivors mark 75th anniversary

Filipino Bataan Death March survivors mark 75th anniversary

SAN FRANCISCO — Ramon Regalado was starving and sick with malaria when he slipped away from his Japanese captors during the infamous 1942 Bataan Death March in the Philippines, escaping a brutal trudge through steamy jungle that killed hundreds of Americans and thousands of Filipinos who fought for the U.S. during World War II.

On Saturday, the former wartime machine-gun operator joined a dwindling band of veterans of the war in San Francisco’s Presidio to honour the soldiers who died on the march and those who made it to a prisoner of war camp only to die there.

They commemorated the mostly Filipino soldiers who held off Japanese forces in the Philippines for three months without supplies of food or ammunition before a U.S. Army major general surrendered 75,000 troops to Japan on April 9, 1942.

Few Americans are aware of the Filipinos who were starving as they relentlessly fended off the more powerful and well-supplied Japanese forces, said Cecilia Gaerlan, executive director of the Berkeley, California-based Bataan Legacy Historical Society organizing the event at the former military fort.

“Despite fighting without any air support and without any reinforcement, they disrupted the timetable of the Imperial Japanese army,” she said. “That was their major role, to perform a delaying action. And they did that beyond expectations.”

More than 250,000 Filipino soldiers served in World War II, when the Philippines were a U.S. territory. But after the war ended, President Harry Truman signed laws that stripped away promises of benefits and citizenship for Filipino veterans.

Only recently have they won back some concessions and acknowledgment, including the nation’s highest civilian honour, the Congressional Gold Medal. The veterans also received lump-sum payments as part of the 2009 stimulus law.

An estimated 18,000 Filipino veterans of World War II are still alive and living in the U.S.

Tens of thousands of Filipino and U.S. troops were forced on the 65-mile (105-kilometre) march and Gaerlan said as many as 650 Americans and 10,000 Filipinos died in stifling heat and at the hands of Japanese soldiers who shot, bayoneted or beat soldiers who fell or stopped for water.

More than 80 per cent of those forced on the march were Filipino.

After they arrived at a prison camp set up at Camp O’Donnell, she said, an additional 1,600 Americans and 20,000 Filipinos died from dysentery, starvation and disease.

Gaerlan grew up knowing that her father, Luis Gaerlan, Jr., had been in a wartime march in which a lot of people had died. But he rarely spoke about it or he would re-enact it with rat-a-tat-tat sound effects for the guns that made her laugh.

She started researching the march in 2011 and tried to elicit more details from her father. He broke down crying telling her that some men were so desperate that they killed themselves. Others wrote goodbye letters to their relatives during the march.

“And he said he was starting to write his farewell letter, because a lot of men did that, and I asked him, ‘Well, were you going to take your own life?” she said. “And he didn’t answer.”

Gaerlan’s father died in 2014 at age 94.

She successfully lobbied California last year to mandate teaching details of the battle and march in high schools.

She also collects march veterans’ stories before they die, including the memories of 99-year-old Regalado, who lives in the San Francisco suburb of El Cerrito.

When the war broke out, Regalado was a member of the Philippine Scouts, a military branch of the U.S. Army for Filipino soldiers.

He and two other soldiers were assigned to feed horses during the march and slipped away when guards were not watching them, Regalado said.

A farmer took in the three, even though the penalty for doing so was death. All were sick with malaria. Only Regalado survived.

He went on to join a guerrilla resistance movement against the Japanese and moved in 1950 to the San Francisco Bay Area to work for the U.S. military.

Regalado credits his survival and long life to his high morale.

While being cared for by the farmer, he recalls telling himself: “I’m not going to die.”

___

This story has been corrected to say that a U.S. Army major general — not a major — surrendered 75,000 troops to Japan on April 9, 1942.

Janie Har, The Associated Press

Just Posted

WATCH: Moms Stop The Harm respond to opioid crisis

Someone asked her if she does the work for her son. McBain said: “No, actually. I do it for your son.”

Man arrested at gunpoint outside Vic High

Police were called after he allegedly threatened a teacher with a knife

Skydiver lands safely after cutting away main chute

Central Saanich emergency services called after witnesses saw spiralling chute

Man struck and killed on the Pat Bay Highway

Pedestrian struck while crossing near Mount Newton X Rd in Central Saanich

VicPD cuts school liaison program over budget impasse with Esquimalt

Six officers, including three school liaisons, to be reassigned to frontline duties

VIDEO: B.C. ‘escapologist’ stuns judges on Britain’s Got Talent

Matt Johnson says televised water stunt was closest he’s come to death

Charges follow collisions between pickup and police vehicles in Nanaimo

Majore Jackson, 32, and Andrew John Bellwood, 47, from Nanaimo, face numerous charges

Been a long day? Here’s cute puppies in training

Group is training next batch of assistance dogs at Vancouver International Airport

78 Mexican farmworkers displaced after fire tears through building on B.C. farm

Flames broke out Thursday morning in building that housed up to 80 workers at Abbotsford farm

Cartoonist captures public mood following Toronto, Humboldt tragedies

Cartoonist said he was trying to find a bit of positivity with an image that has garnered attention

Whitecaps host against Real Salt Lake looking to snap 3-game losing streak

Ending their losing streak is all the Whitecaps care about when they host Salt Lake in Vancouver

Montreal Habs goalie Carey Price stops by B.C. hometown for rodeo

Famous goaltender tries to blend in with the crowd at first BCRA-santioned event of the season

B.C. hires 20 more conservation officers

The province announces 12 new locations for conservation officer services this year

Most Read