The Bataan Death March became known as one of the most brutal war crimes perpetrated by the Japanese during World War II. The horrific cruelty started April 9, 1942, at the conclusion of the Battle of Bataan, a three-month engagement in the Philippines between Japanese forces and American and Filipino forces that ultimately led to Japanese victory. Nearly 75,000 soldiers instantly became prisoners of war and were forced to march 60 miles over the course of a week until reaching their final destination: prisons at Camp O’Donnell, a former U.S. Army installation, and Cabanatuan on the island of Luzon.Share
Robert P. Taylor, an Army Air Forces chaplain who had recently been promoted to captain, saw horrendous violence during combat, but survived both the battle and the Death March, ultimately making it to Cabanatuan. The same couldn’t be said for over 21,000 dead Americans and Filipinos.
Apart from the dirty, bloody fighting, Taylor saw American soldiers die and suffer hideous wounds, but nothing compared to the callous inhumanity he witnessed while marching. If the withholding of food and water wasn’t bad enough, men drank from dirty puddles and water buffalo bogs, which caused dysentery. The resultant diarrhea drove many to try and relieve themselves on the sides of the road, and when they stopped, they were shot, bayoneted, or beheaded by their captors. Compassionate Filipino civilians who tried to quench the hunger or thirst of the marchers were also killed. Still other men were forced to dig their own graves in the surrounding fields for minor transgressions, then shot or beheaded and pushed into the holes. Weakened, many just couldn’t keep up the pace. Those that fell behind were stabbed, shot, beheaded, or horrifically crushed under the wheels of trucks or tank treads.
As a chaplain, Taylor’s charge was to provide spiritual guidance and hope for his fellow soldiers. This was a tall order, but he knew that morale could mean the difference between life and death. With this in mind, he soon became the best-known officer in the camp by prisoners and the Japanese alike. He ministered to his increasingly emaciated and horribly abused flock, providing encouragement in the face of extreme adversity. Soldiers had been routinely denied food and water, sick, and were suffering severe mistreatment. Not knowing when they’d make it home or if their families even knew they were alive, despair consumed many, but Taylor was a beacon of hope. (Read more.)