A Battan Death March Survivor: The Firsthand Account of an American POW, 75 Years Later

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David L. Hardee, 1918

Seventy-five years ago the U.S. armed forces took aggressive action in both the European and Pacific Theaters of World War II. One of the men serving in the Pacific, Colonel David L. Hardee, endured the little rations, long Bataan Death March, and years of monotonous work. After liberation, while returning to the United States from April to May 1945, Hardee dictated an account of his war experiences and time as a prisoner of war. This candid narrative, written while events were fresh in his mind, details the grim realities facing the American and Filipino forces on Bataan, the depravity of Japanese treatment of prisoners, and the complex relationship between the American POWs and their Japanese captors. This memoir has now been edited by Frank A. Blazich, Jr. and published as Bataan Survivor: A POW’s Account of Japanese Captivity in World War II.

On September 24, 1941, Lieutenant Colonel David L. Hardee received orders assigning him to help mobilize and train one of ten reserve divisions of the Philippine Army.

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American troops huddled in a foxhole in Bataan

Hardee had barely settled in Manila before the Japanese launched simultaneous attacks on American military forces in Hawaii and the Philippines. At Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Pacific Fleet sustained heavy losses. On the island of Luzon, Japanese air attacks caught the bulk of the Far East Air Force (FEAF) on the ground. The attacks destroyed half of the American aircraft, effectively eliminating FEAF. On December 10, the first Japanese forces landed on northern Luzon, and two days later an additional force landed in the south. The destruction of the FEAF and the swift advance of the Japanese forced General MacArthur to withdraw his forces to the Bataan peninsula.

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Prisoners walking from Bataan to Camp O’Donnell

Hardee and the regiment remained on the front lines of Bataan for over two months, withstanding air and artillery attacks. Outmanned, outgunned and unsupplied, the Americans and Filipinos were overwhelmed by the Japanese. Despite General MacArthur’s orders to never surrender, General King surrendered at the Japanese 14th Army headquarters near Lamao on April 9, 1942. This surrender is now known as the Bataan Death March when American and Filipino forces moved north to Camp O’Donnell during a ten-day march and movement by rail. It was an 85-mile journey.

Hardee arrived at Camp O’Donnell on April 25. He remained there for forty days until “about June 5, 1942 when I, with many more of my group, was moved to Cabanatuan,” Hardee wrote. He was a POW at Cabanatuan until October 26. Then on November 8 he arrived at Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol) and spent 19 months there.

While picking coffee in March 1943, Colonel Hardee suffered a severe abdominal hernia. He became debilitated; as each day passed, his body grew weak. Hardee, said that his hernia kept him from getting transferred to Japan, which most likely also kept him alive. A majority of POWs transferred to Japan died en route.

On June 26, 1944 Hardee arrived at Bilibid Prison. Then on February 4, 1945, the American infantry from the 2nd Battalion, 148th Infantry moved towards Bilibid. Hardee and the other POWs were now freed.

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