Celebrations Mark 50th Anniversary Of Bataan Fall
MOUNT SAMAT, Philippines (AP) _ President Corazon Aquino and envoys from the United States and Japan laid wreaths Thursday to honor war dead as they joined aging veterans in commemorating the fall of Bataan 50 years ago.
More than 70,000 sick, wounded and half-starved American and Filipino soldiers surrendered on April 9, 1942 to Japanese troops who broke through defenses on this mountain stronghold 35 miles west of Manila.
Thousands died during the brutal ″Death March″ to prison camps 60 miles to the north.
″We had no food, no hope, no nothing,″ said Dr. Paul Ashton, of Santa Barbara, Calif., one of about 50 U.S. veterans of Bataan. ″But those messy things I’ve tried to put out of my head.″
Dionisio Ojeda, a major in the 41st Philippine division and a ″Death March″ survivor, said disease and lack of food proved as formidable an enemy as the Japanese.
″We were burying up to 500 a day,″ he said. ″Those who carried the dead one day were dead themselves the next.″
Former Sgt. Ed Konik of Colorado Springs, Colo., who was attached to the 91st Philippine infantry, said his troops fought valiantly although most could barely walk because of disease.
″There were between 90 and 110 men per company,″ he said. ″By the end of the war, we had 15 left.″
U.S. Ambassador Frank Wisner spoke of the bonds between Filipinos and Americans which were forged in the crucible of war.
″The sacrifice we made was in the cause of freedom and the defense of sovereignty and national honor,″ Wisner said. ″America recalls the heroism of all her sons ... Filipinos and Americans, we fought and died as one.″
And Japanese Ambassador Hirokuzo Arai said ″I would like to take this opportunity to express of a deep remorse over the unbearable sufferings and sorrows Japan inflicted upon a great many people of the Philippines and the Asian-Pacific countries.″
In her speech, however, Mrs. Aquino criticized Washington’s failure to provide the same benefits for Filipinos as the American soldiers received. She repeatedly praised ″Filipino heroism″ but mentioned the Americans’ sacrifices only once.
″When the smoke of war had cleared and victory was won, the services of the Filipino World War II veterans appeared only to be remembered in words and not in deeds,″ she said.
She promised that her administration, which leaves office June 30, would ask Washington to reopen discussions on benefits to Philippine veterans.