Some Survived: An Eyewitness Account of the Bataan Death March and the Men Who Lived through It

Some Survived: An Eyewitness Account of the Bataan Death March and the Men Who Lived through It


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Manny Lawton was a twenty-three-year-old Army captain on April 8, 1942, when orders came to surrender to the Japanese forces invading the Philippine Islands. The next day, he and his fellow American and Filipino prisoners set out on the infamous Bataan Death March—a forced six-day, sixty-mile trek under a broiling tropical sun during which approximately eleven thousand men died or were bayoneted, clubbed, or shot to death by the Japanese. Yet terrible as the Death March was, for Manny Lawton and his comrades it was only the beginning. When the war ended in August 1945, it is estimated that some 57 percent of the American troops who had surrendered on Bataan had perished.

But this is not a chronicle of despair. It is, instead, the story of how men can suffer even the most desperate conditions and, in their will to retain their humanity, triumph over appalling adversity. An epic of quiet heroism, Some Survived is a harrowing, poignant, and inspiring tale that lifts the heart.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781565124349
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: 01/03/2004
Pages: 330
Sales rank: 514,962
Product dimensions: 5.44(w) x 8.44(h) x 0.88(d)

About the Author

Manny Lawton graduated from Clemson College and joined the United States Army as an officer in 1940. He spent three and a half years as a prisoner of the Japanese in the Philippines, Japan, and Korea before liberation in 1945. He lived in his hometown of Estill, South Carolina, until his death in 1986.

Read an Excerpt


The Fall of Bataan

April 8, 1942

The rapid rings of my field telephone startled me as I sat talking to Lieutenant Sese. It was ten o'clock in the morning of April 8, 1942.

"This is Colonel Erwin," the serious but calm voice snapped. "The line has broken in the Mount Samat area to our left. Large numbers of enemy troops are pouring in. General Bluemel has given orders to withdraw. Move your battalion approximately two kilometers back and assemble on the Provincial Road. Wait there for further orders."

"Is this the end, sir? What do we do next?"

"Just wait and pray. General King is trying to negotiate a surrender. In the interest of saving lives there should be no further resistance."

"Yes, sir. Good luck, Colonel. God be with you."

Those solemn words ended my last official conversation with my commanding officer. The last gallant stand of American and Filipino defenders of Bataan had come to a bitter halt.

Lieutenant Sese, reading the troubled expression on my face, anxiously asked, "What is it, Captain?"

"The end has come. Inform Major Ibanez to withdraw."

Lieutenant Alfredo (Fred) Sese, forty, was among the brightest and most well- informed Filipino officers I had come to know. Of mixed Spanish, Chinese and Filipino blood, the father of six children, he was handsome and much larger than the average man of his country. Standing five feet eight inches and carrying 170 pounds made him appear half again the size of most men in our unit. An eager student of American literature and history, he made easy conversation on things American. He and I had become close personal friends and through him I had learned much about Filipino customs and mores.

Major Ibanez, a short, neat, crew-cut forty-five-year-old career Filipino officer, was battalion commander. With twenty years' service divided between the Philippine constabulary and army, he had a reputation for courage, leadership and devotion to duty. He knew combat, and had the experience and judgment to cope with emergencies. Now he would be confronted with something new and undescribed in military handbooks — surrender.

At twenty-three years of age, a graduate of Clemson University and its Reserve Officer Training program and a crash course at the Army Infantry School, I served as battalion military advisor. Though the only American with the 500-man unit (1st Battalion, 31st Infantry, Philippine Army), I had become a part of it and felt perfectly at ease with its officers and men, in spite of differences in language and customs.

As sergeants barked orders and men began pulling back from the line in preparation for an orderly withdrawal, my thoughts switched to Colonel John (Jack) Erwin. At this very moment he was seeing his last command, the 31st Infantry Regiment, Philippine Army, fold up in defeat. A professional officer of the United States Army, he had enjoyed an outstanding career of thirty years' service dating back before World War I. Now his career was falling apart in something far short of glory and pride. A large man, Erwin was six feet two and weighed 250 pounds. He walked with a quick step, always wore a cigar in his mouth, seldom lit, and always carried two or more of everything he thought he might need — wristwatches, fountain pens, knives, compasses and pistols. His appearance was tough, but his heart was kind and his words seldom gruff. He was easy to approach and talk to, but he demanded efficiency and results. Whether virtues or quirks of character, his traits were of little importance now as he and I and all the rest faced the most dreaded of all military experiences — bowing down to the enemy, defenseless, in humiliation and defeat.

It had been exactly four months since the Japanese struck their crippling blow on December 8, 1941. On that very first day our planes, caught on the ground at high noon, had been wiped out. Within the week the Navy Yard at Cavite on Manila Bay had been destroyed and most of its fighting ships had fled south to the Dutch East Indies. Enemy control of the skies and sea foreclosed any prospect of reinforcements coming in.

For two weeks following the first air attacks, we had deployed our forces and nervously awaited enemy landings. My battalion was assigned a beach defense position, including the town of Iba, on the China Sea coast in Zambales Province, and extending one mile south. Iba Air Base and all of its P-40 fighter planes had been destroyed on that first fateful day.

Rumors of enemy landings began shortly after the initial bombings. Rumors became reality with small landings at Aparri and Vigan on December 10th and at Davao on the island of Mindinao on December 20. The big blow fell on December 22 when Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma landed 43,000 troops from eighty-five transports at several points along Lingayen Gulf in the north of Luzon.

To oppose the invading force General Jonathan M. Wainwright had the unseasoned Eleventh and Twenty-first Divisions and the Ninety-first Infantry combat team. These troops, only recently inducted, were hardly more than recruits. However, in reserve was the well-trained and disciplined Twenty-sixth Cavalry of 699 men and 28 officers, the last unit of horse cavalry in the United States Army. Its officers were American and the enlisted men were proud Philippine Scouts with long years of service.

The untrained Philippine Army troops could not stop the enemy at the beaches. The Twenty-sixth Cavalry had to be committed on the very first day. Though they sustained heavy losses themselves, they inflicted greater casualties on the enemy. After the initial rout, the Eleventh, Twenty-first and Ninety-first regrouped and were able to help with the delaying action which cost the Japanese dearly at key river crossings as Wainwright fought a delaying action back toward Bataan.

The bulk of the Luzon forces completed the withdrawal into Bataan on New Year's Day, 1942. All that remained engaging the enemy were 5,000 men of the Forty-first and Fifty-first Infantry Regiments, Philippine Army, and the proud, disciplined Fifty-seventh Infantry Regiment, Philippine Scouts. They organized a defensive position known as the Abucay Line, stretching from Abucay on Manila Bay westward to Mt. Natib. There the Japanese suffered more than 2,000 casualties before breaking through. In addition to the loss of manpower, Japanese General Homma had to answer to his superiors for another three weeks' delay in getting his conquest rolling again. He had been under constant pressure from Tokyo to complete the Philippine campaign. The Japanese General Staff had predicted a short operation: thirty days at most. Now two months had passed and victory still eluded him.

Just before January ended, the Fil-American defenders were forced to abandon the Abucay Line. General James Weaver's Provisional Tank Group, with 75 mm self-propelled artillery, covered the withdrawal. Those guns, raining down shrapnel, thwarted several opportunities for the enemy to exploit his victory. Without the cover of those merciless explosives, most of the weary, battered fighters would have been surrounded and destroyed. On January 28 the last of the unwashed, unshaven, bleeding infantrymen wearily plodded down the East Coast Road to temporary rest and security behind the new Pilar-Bagac Line.

General Homma, having let the defenders elude his grasp at Abucay, meant to crush MacArthur's forces in short order. The new line stretched fourteen miles across the middle of the Bataan peninsula from Manila Bay on the east to the China Sea on the west.

A determined thrust on January 27, down Trail 2 just east of Mt. Samat, failed. Again and again Homma's troops tried for the next three nights. The stubborn defenders refused to yield. An amphibious flanking attack against the rugged cliffs of the west coast met with disaster. Of the 900-man landing party, a mere handful survived. Those spurts of intensive effort were followed by a stalemate throughout the balance of February and March. Homma, having been stopped, much to his embarrassment, had to petition for reinforcements.

General MacArthur, on March 11, acting on orders from President Roosevelt, turned his command over to General Jonathan Wainwright and departed for Australia. Day by day the plight of the defenders grew more desperate. Of the less than 80,000 troops in Bataan, only 27,000 were listed as combat forces. Of those, three-fourths were suffering from malaria; all were hungry and faced with starvation. Wainwright notified Washington that the meager food supplies would be completely exhausted by April 15.

On Good Friday, April 3, reinforced with fresh infantry, more artillery and bombers, General Homma unleashed the most savage artillery barrage of the entire campaign. It commenced at 10 A.M. and continued without hesitation for two hours. High explosive shells from more than one hundred 155 mm cannon seemed to explode one on top of the other. No square yard seemed to be missed. A two and one-half mile sector directly forward of Mt. Samat was pulverized. The shelling was followed by wave after wave of bombers dropping high explosives over the same area. The first wave dropped incendiaries, which ignited the matted jungle into a terrifying inferno.

In their foxholes, the defenders felt some degree of security from the shelling, but now a decision had to be made. Staying in the foxholes required withstanding the intense heat plus the possibility of being burned alive; getting out to move to the rear posed the threat of being cut to pieces by shrapnel. As the wild flames closed in, each man made an attempt to dash to safer ground, only to be greeted by artillery reaching beyond the burning zone. By 5 P.M., when the Japanese infantry attack was launched, two Philippine Army regiments were in a shambles. The door was open for Lieutenant General Akira Nara's Sixty-fifth Brigade to smash through.

April 4 brought another fierce artillery and air bombardment. By evening, enemy troops had swarmed up and over Mt. Samat and descended its south slope.

On April 5, Easter Sunday, the defenders made a brave attempt to mount a counterattack. It was to no avail. With two miles of the front line laid open and two divisions wiped out, there was no possibility of stopping the onslaught.

General Clifford Bluemel, Commander of the Thirty-first Division, Philippine Army, tried doggedly on April 6 and April 7 to regroup elements of any units he could find. He was powerless in his attempt to inspire beaten men. The weak, hungry, demoralized troops had no fight left in them. Major General Edward P. King, Commander Bataan forces, realized that further resistance could only mean slaughter for his men, and on April 8 made his anguished decision to surrender. Calling his staff together, he tersely announced that the end had come and that he was going forward under a flag of truce requesting surrender terms from General Homma.

As he was being driven forward in his jeep on the morning of April 9 to meet Homma, he recalled that General Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox on the same date. He even recalled what Lee had said: "Then there is nothing to do but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths."

Now it had ended. The high command had feared from the outset what the ultimate fate of Bataan would be. In the ranks, to the bitter end, there was hope. There had been rumors of actual sightings of huge convoys of reinforcements gunning their way in. No doubt such hope ignited, time after time, the will to resist against overpowering odds. We were forced back at Lingayen, Aparri and Abucay. Each time, our troops regrouped and fought back with a fury which took many Japanese lives and at times forced the enemy to yield ground which he had already claimed as his own.

For three months and twenty-two days, an army of 100,000 plus reinforcements had tried and failed to subdue less than 80,000 ill-supplied defenders on Luzon. In early April, the last and crucial week, a fresh enemy army and a battered, bleeding defense force met for the final death struggle. On the Fil- American side, there were no replacements for the dead and wounded. Neither was there medicine for the constantly increasing malaria, nor food for hungry bellies. General King's decision to surrender was correct. He had no options. Final defeat was neither a surprise nor a disgrace for those involved. The mystery is: how did they resist so long?

By noon of April 8 we were moving toward the road on a jungle trail. On either side of us were thick, matted vines, mango trees and huge mahogany trees. Some of the giant hardwoods were six feet in diameter and their tall branches overlapped the trail, forming an umbrella against the sun. In contrast to the front line which overlooked a large rice field, where there were no trees and the glare was hard on the eyes, this looked like semidarkness. I felt as if I were being swallowed up by the jungle.

Except for the thump, thump of marching feet, there was silence among us. A few birds fluttered from the trees ahead. Occasionally, a startled monkey squealed as he raced up the trunk of a large tree, dashed out to the end of a high limb and jumped to another. Very little wildlife was left in the Bataan jungle. Our hungry men had slaughtered and eaten every type of living creature, including lizards, monkeys and fowl.

Major Ibanez, Lieutenant Sese, Corporal Bautista and I marched together. Bautista, tall and wiry, with a prominent jaw and searching brown eyes, had joined the outfit six months earlier as part of a training cadre. An excellent soldier in every way, he had learned his military skills in six years of service with the Forty-fifth Infantry, Philippine Scouts. Naturally alert and well adapted to jungle warfare, he had saved my life one day in January. We were scouting an area to the west flank of the Abucay Line. Walking ahead of me in tall cogon grass, he suddenly stopped, spread out his left arm knocking me to the ground and covering me with his body. As quickly as a western gunman, he drew his 45 pistol and fired rapidly into a large tree thirty yards ahead. A man slid to the ground.

"Japanese," he remarked calmly.

We waited for a while. Seeing and hearing nothing more, we cautiously approached the spot. Splotches of blood marked a trail leading toward the river.

I was thinking of that incident and others in which Bautista had performed so exceedingly well. It was always he who was called on for special missions which required great skill and natural ability. Now, as we marched toward our uncertain fate, his penetrating eyes were searching every bush and tree, his keen ears picking up every sound.

"What do you think they will do to us, sir?"

"It may not be too bad, Bautista. There are rules of international law with regards to treatment of prisoners of war, you know."

"What do they care about rules?" Sese commented. "Those Japanese are uncivilized. What about the way they abused the people at Singapore and China?"

"Yes, we have heard of atrocities, but we don't know for sure. Maybe since we gave them a good fight they will have more respect for us."

Trying to seem confident and hopeful, I plodded along. Though my doubts and fears were just as strong as any of the men, I knew that panic would lead to greater disaster. To myself I reasoned that there was nothing else to do but go in the direction we were headed. With the enemy behind us along what had been the front line, and to the right where they had swarmed over Mt. Samat, as well as to our left with full possession of the main highway, there could be only one area of temporary security. It would be better to assemble there unarmed and let them come to us, than to run head-on in the jungle into ruthless enemy troops still filled with the excitement of battle and the smell of victory. Escape was impossible and further resistance would be suicide.

Silently, fearfully, we moved along, each minute bringing us nearer to that dreaded act of surrender. Humiliation and shame, added to our built-up burdens of hunger and disease, made each weary step hesitant and heavy. Heaped on top of these very real and certain afflictions was the gnawing dread of the unknown. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that the Japanese would be tough and unsympathetic. The unspoken question in my mind was just how brutal and merciless they might be. I had visions of individual enemy soldiers, or groups of them, bayoneting or clubbing to death any of our group whom they might come across, or of Japanese officers ordering their men to set up machine guns to slaughter us by the hundreds. There was nowhere to go, and no way to avoid whatever might lie ahead. In such a helpless situation, I am convinced that the dread of the unknown is much more unnerving than the terror of battle itself.


Excerpted from "Some Survived"
by .
Copyright © 1984 Marion R. Lawton.
Excerpted by permission of ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations,
List of Maps,
Introduction by John Toland,
1. The Fall of Bataan,
2. The Death March,
3. Camp O'Donnell,
4. Cabanatuan,
5. Move to Davao,
6. Davao Penal Colony (DAPECOL),
7. Red Cross Packages,
8. Ten Men Escape,
9. Another Escape,
10. Back to Cabanatuan,
11. Tragedy at Sea,
12. Ordeal by Water,
13. Hell Ship #1 — The Oryoku Maru,
14. Hell Ship #2 — The Enoura Maru,
15. Hell Ship #3 — The Brazil Maru,
16. Japan at Last,
17. The Last Move,
Epilogue — Coming Home,
Appendix I,
Appendix II,
Names Index,

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