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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Reichley: Siege of Bataan was brutal for U.S. troops

  • A current TV commercial has a woman mentioning the “Battle of Bataan in 1942.”
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  • A current TV commercial has a woman mentioning the "Battle of Bataan in 1942." But the Army official history book does not mention such a battle in U.S. military history. It does mention the siege of the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippine Islands, which was in 1942.
    After Pearl Harbor's attack on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese wasted no time in carrying out their timetable of conquest in Asia. The Philippines were bombed the next day, and on Jan. 7, 1942, infantry troops began the siege of the Bataan Peninsula.
    All went according to plan for a few weeks. The invading Japanese forces were not as many as the joint Filipino and American troops on the peninsula, but the invaders had seemingly unlimited supplies and resources, and were better equipped and trained.
    The Bataan Peninsula and the island fortress of Corregidor blocked the entrance to Manila Bay, and the Japanese had to attack overland, down the peninsula toward Corregidor.
    The invasion timetable went as scheduled for a few weeks. But then resistance stiffened, and the "Battling Bastards of Bataan," as the defenders called themselves, began to blunt the onslaught.
    The Army's official military history book, American Military History, says that after the initial assault in January, the defenders of Bataan "handled the Japanese so roughly that the attack ceased altogether from mid-February until April."
    But by early April the defenders' supplies were gone, and they were down to about 15 ounces of food a day, with a diet that consisted mainly of rice supplemented when possible by caribou, mule, monkey, and lizard meat, which provided a scant 1,000 calories a day.
    With the outlook bleak, President Roosevelt ordered Gen. Douglas MacArthur to leave the Philippines for Australia. Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright was left in command on Corregidor, as belts were tightened and ammunition was running out.
    Three months after the siege of Bataan began, Army Maj. Edward P. King, Jr., had no choice but to surrender his depleted command, or face annihilation. The battered American and Filipino forces were surrendered to the not-so-forgiving Imperial Japanese army.
    The infamous Bataan Death March took place soon thereafter, as the prisoners were marched under brutal conditions to several prisoner of war camps in the Philippines.
    One area veteran of the death march was the late Ret. Master Sgt. Morris "Mo" Lewis, a young Army cook on Bataan. His son was a colonel at Fort Leavenworth, which might be one reason Lewis and his wife retired to the Leavenworth area.
    As far as I know he was the only U.S. military veteran of Bataan in the Leavenworth area. Several years ago the Leavenworth Times ran an article about a Filipino soldier who was on Bataan, but I never met him and don't know if he is still in the area.
    Page 2 of 2 - After Bataan fell, the Japanese could concentrate their attention to the troops, U.S. soldiers and Marines on Corregidor, which they did with a vengeance. Corregidor received one of the most concentrated and devastating artillery assaults in history, but that is another column for another day, as it did not happen in April.
    Today is about the fall of Bataan, which happened 71 years ago this month, although the surrender date was last week.
    The few survivors of Bataan and Corregidor are members of a veterans' organization that published a periodic newsletter called The Quan. I joined the association several years ago as an adjunct member, and enjoy reading the magazine. If there are any other Bataan or Corregidor veterans in the area not known to me, I'd appreciate them making themselves known.

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