Celebrations Mark 50th Anniversary Of Bataan Fall
MOUNT SAMAT, Philippines (AP) _ Aging veterans today gathered on this mountain with dignitaries from the United States, Japan and the Philippines to commemorate the World War II fall of Bataan a half century ago.
On April 9, 1942, more than 70,000 sick, wounded and half-starved American and Filipino troops surrendered to the Japanese, 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 after the worst defeat ever suffered by American forces.
″We had no food, no hope, no nothing,″ said Dr. Paul Ashton, 80, of Santa Barbara, Calif., adjutant of the 12th Medical Regiment on Bataan. ″But those messy things I’ve tried to put out of my head.″
During the hourlong ceremony, President Corazon Aquino and ambassadors from the United States and Japan laid wreaths at a white marble monument to those who died. Later, they praised the valor of the defenders and pledged to work for peace in the Far East.
″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,″ Japanese Ambassador Hirokuzo Arai said.
″Let me conclude my speech by praying that this day, April 9, 1992, be for the Japanese the day of self-reflection and for everybody the day for determination to create a better and deserving life for all the poeple of the world.″
For the American and Filipino veterans, now in their 70s and 80s, the celebration brought back painful memories of the struggle.
″We were suffering from malaria and dysentery,″ said Dionisio Ojeda, a major in the 41st Philippine division and a ″Death March″ survivor. ″We were burying up to 500 a day. 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.″
Despite speeches about shared suffering and common sacrifice, the ceremony highlighted the differences in perspective with which Filipinos and Americans view the legacy of World War II.
″The sacrifice we made was in the cause of freedom and the defense of sovereignty and national honor,″ U.S. Ambassador Frank Wisner said. ″America recalls the heroism of all her sons ... Filipinos and Americans, we fought and died as one.″
But Mrs. Aquino reminded the audience that Filipino veterans were never accorded equal benefits as the Americans who fought beside them.
It was only last year that the United States finally agreed to grant U.S. citizenship to Filipino veterans, although many who survived the war have since died.
Mrs. Aquino drew the loudest applause from the mostly Filipino audience when she promised that her administration would ask Washington to reopen discussions on benefits to Philippine veterans.
″When the smoke of war had cleared and victory was won, the services of the Filipino World War II veterans appeared only to remembered only in words and not in deeds,″ she said.