We’re the battling bastards of Bataan; No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam; No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces; No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces….And nobody gives a damn. The lot of the individual soldier on Bataan was hardly affected by changes in command. The search for food was his constant pursuit; hunger and disease his deadliest enemies. Literally, he faced starvation. When measured against this terrible and inescapable fact all else was of secondary importance.
Food and Clothing
Since 6 January, when the ration had been cut in half, the 80,000 soldiers and 6,000 civilians on Bataan had received a steadily diminishing and unbalanced allowance of food. Theoretically, the half ration supplied the American soldier with 6 ounces each of flour and canned or fresh meat daily; the Filipino with 10 ounces of rice and 4 of meat or fish. In actual fact the ration varied with time and circumstances and never on Bataan did it equal a full half ration. From January through February, the daily issue averaged less than 30 ounces, as compared to the peacetime garrison ration of 71 ounces for Americans and 64 for Filipinos.
From the start it proved impossible to establish any theoretical basis for the issue of rations. The issue varied from day to day and was based not on the number of calories required or the vitamins necessary to maintain the health and efficiency of the command, but solely on the amount of food on hand. Since rice was most plentiful it became the basic element in the diet and all other foods were rationed to last as long as it did.
As the supply of food dwindled the amount issued was steadily reduced. The inventory of 5 January had disclosed that there was only enough canned meat and fish to last 50 days, canned milk for 20, flour and canned vegetables for 30, and small amounts of sugar, lard substitutes, coffee, and fruits. By the end of the month this supply had diminished to an II-day supply of meat and fish, 6 days of flour, 5 of fruit, and 4 of vegetables. On 23 February the Philippine Department quartermaster, Colonel Frank Brezina, reported that he had on hand only a 22-day supply of meat and fish, enough flour to last 22 days, and only 228 cans of tomatoes, 48 cans of fruit, 30 pounds of coffee, 1,100 pounds of raisins, 27,736 cans of milk, and 21,700 pounds of sugar. A few days later he told Brigadier General Charles C. Drake, the USAFFE quartermaster, that there was no corned beef, corned beef hash, or bacon left on Bataan. “We are entirely dependent upon the shipments of salmon from Fort Mills,” he declared, “as it is impossible to slaughter sufficient carabao to make an issue to all units.” Before the end of the campaign the amount of canned meat, usually corned beef, issued to the troops had been reduced from 6 ounces to 1.2 ounces.
The Filipinos, whose ration, except for flour, was the same as the American ration, did not suffer as much, for the allowance of rice rarely dropped below 8 ounces. The stock of canned vegetables, limited in quantity and variety from the very start, shrank steadily until its issue was virtually discontinued. Within a month after the troops reached Bataan, butter, coffee, and tea had practically disappeared from the menu. Sugar and canned milk were extremely scarce and were doled out in the most minute quantities.
By the middle of February the ration had already dropped far below the standard half ration. On the 17th of the month the men on Bataan received only 27.7 ounces, consisting of 9 ounces of rice, 4 of meat, 5 of bread, plus a small allowance of sugar, coffee, bacon, juice, and canned tomatoes and fruit, amounting altogether to 10 ounces.
As the days went by the ration was cut again and again. By the end of March it had been so reduced and the fare offered had become so monotonous as to amount to little more than a token diet barely sufficient to sustain life. The bareness and inadequacy of this diet is revealed strikingly in the ration for 25 March, shown in Table 8. At that time the men were receiving less than one quarter the amount of food allotted soldiers in peacetime.
Every effort was made to exploit the slender food resources of Bataan. The two rice mills constructed by the engineers began operations in mid-January. Under the supervision of the quartermaster foraging parties gathered the palay (unhusked rice), which stood ripe in the narrow rice belt along Manila Bay, and brought it to the mills for threshing. Before the supply was exhausted sometime in March a total of 250 tons of palay had been collected. Since the rate of consumption was fifteen tons a day, this impressive total amounted to only a seventeen day supply. Had modern farm machinery been available the quantity of palay recovered, one officer estimated, would have been ten times greater.
Since it was the most abundant food on Bataan rice ultimately replaced wheat in the diet of the American soldiers. Accustomed to potatoes and bread they found rice a most unsatisfactory substitute. Consisting mostly of starch and with scarcely any vitamins it possessed little nutritive value. Without seasoning or other foods it had little flavor of its own and tasted like “wall-paper paste.” As one wit remarked, “Rice is the greatest food there is-anything you add to it improves it.” But it had one virtue none could deny; it filled empty stomachs, and on Bataan that was a most important consideration.
While it lasted fresh meat was issued to the troops at regular intervals, usually every third day. This meat was obtained principally from the carabao slaughtered at the recently established abattoir near Lamao and at scattered, small slaughterhouses consisting of little more than platforms over rapidly running fresh-water streams. In the absence of refrigeration the carabao were kept in enclosures until a fresh meat issue was due, then quickly slaughtered and issued to the troops. Toward the end of the campaign about 600 of the butchered carabao were sent to Corregidor for storage in the refrigeration plant and later returned to Bataan for issue. When forage for animals was exhausted, the 250 horses of the 26th Cavalry and 48 pack mules were regretfully slaughtered also. Major Achille C. Tisdelle, a cavalry officer and General King’s aide, wrote on 15 March that the 26th Cavalry and other units had that day finished the last of their horses. Altogether the amount of fresh meat slaughtered on Bataan totaled approximately 1,300 tons.
For a time the meat component was supplemented by fresh fish caught by local fishermen. At one period of the campaign the daily catch reached as high as 12,000 pounds. This supply ended when Japanese and indiscriminate American gunfire discouraged the nightly fishing trips.
To these sources of food must be added the amounts procured by the individual soldier. The Filipino was most adept at fending for himself in the jungle. In various localities he could secure chickens, pigs, camotes (sweet potatoes), bamboo shoots, mangoes, and bananas. He could supplement his diet with dog and monkey meat; with the chicken like meat of the iguana lizard, so relished by the natives; and with the meat of the large python snake whose eggs the Filipinos considered a great delicacy. On his own initiative he picked rice in the fields near him and threshed it in his foxhole. Those in the front lines could make their way through the outposts to near-by barrios and at exorbitant prices purchase food not obtainable by the quartermaster. Ofttimes patrols would return with sacks of milled rice.
The Americans soon learned that hunger is a great leveler and sought the meat of dogs-which tasted like lamb-iguanas, and monkeys as avidly as their native comrades-in-arms. “Monkeys and iguanas are quite scarce,” wrote one officer regretfully, “and about all we have is rice.” Colonel Mallonee’s experience was wider. After a varied diet on Bataan, the 195-pound six-footer offered this advice to epicures: “I can recommend mule. It is tasty, succulent and tender-all being phrases of comparison, of course. There is little to choose between calesa pony and carabao. The pony is tougher but better flavor than carabao. Iguana is fair. Monkey I do not recommend. I never had snake”. To supplement this report there is the judgment of another gourmet who declared “that monkey meat is all right until the animal’s hands turn up on a plate.”
The search for food sometimes had tragic results for those who could not distinguish the edible from the inedible. The wild carrot, highly toxic in its native form, caused numerous violent intestinal disturbances and frequent deaths. Some types of berry were also poisonous and resulted in illness or death. But the troops continued to eat every berry and root they could find and by April the peninsula “had been broken dry of all edible vegetation . . . which anyone thought he could eat.”
In addition to the food obtained from the quartermaster and that secured by individuals through their own initiative and ingenuity, men soon found other ways to supplement their ration. A large amount of fresh meat was procured by units which seized any livestock unlucky enough to come within their reach. There was always the possibility that the animals might be diseased, but men were willing to take that chance. Headquarters frowned upon this practice for reasons of health and because it curtailed the supply of fresh meat for regular issue, and early in February prohibited the slaughter of carabao “by any individual, unit, or organization … except at the Field Abattoir under the direct supervision of the Department Veterinarian.” Despite these orders about 1,000 carabao were butchered privately during the campaign.
Many units had their own private reserves of food, secured in various ways, regular and irregular. The chief source of these caches was the supplies picked up at depots during the withdrawal and never turned in. One unit, investigation disclosed, had “a considerable cache of subsistence . . . well guarded behind barbed wire” another had 8,500 C Rations in its private dump. In one case the driver of a ration truck had accumulated 520 cans of tomatoes, 111 cans of evaporated milk, 297 cans of tomato sauce, 114 cans of tomato juice, 6 cans of oleo-margarine, 12 sacks of rice, and three fourths of a sack of wheat. So large was the private supply of one unit that MacArthur’s chief of staff ordered an investigation which revealed a situation even worse than had been thought. Orders had been issued at the start of the campaign directing the return of these supplies to the quartermaster, but few units obeyed. Even the requirement of a detailed, certified report of stocks from all unit commanders failed to bring in the private caches.
One of the most persistent irregularities in the issue of rations was the padding of strength reports by units so that they could draw more than their share. At one time, 122,000 rations were being issued daily. “It appears,” wrote Lieutenant Colonel Frank F. Carpenter, Jr., of the Bataan echelon of USAFFE, “that many units are doubling up.” A warning from MacArthur brought the figure down to 94,000 for military personnel alone, which was still considerably higher than it should have been. One flagrant example of padding that came to the attention of USAFFE was that of the division, with two regiments detached, which drew 11,000 rations on 6 February.
At full strength this division did not have more than 6,500 men. But despite the strictest orders and the most careful procedures, the number of rations issued continued to exceed the troop strength. Even within units rations were sometimes distributed unequally. Reports that complete ration components were not being rushed forward from division quartermaster dumps to the front-line troops reached USAFFE and on 17 January commanders were told that “in some cases subsistence has been forcibly diverted from the units for which it was intended.” This reminder, like most dealing with the ration, was ignored when it was safe to do so. While such practices existed the fare of units was uneven. Some ate well, others poorly, and it is a truism of warfare that the units to the rear always live best. “There is nothing quite so controversial as the Bataan ration,” wrote one reflective officer. “Some units got corned beef, others none. Some had corned beef hash in lieu of fish. Some got eight ounces of rice, others 3.7. Some got flour in place of bread, some hard tack. But there is nothing controversial about the fact that the ration was grossly inadequate.”
Even when no irregularity interrupted the normal distribution of rations, the confusion and hazards of war often robbed men of their food. General Stevens justly complained that his 91st Division was receiving an unbalanced ration when, by some misadventure, the quartermaster issued for his 5,600 men 19 sacks of rice, 12 cases of salmon, 39 sacks of sugar, 4 carabao quarters, plus a few miscellaneous items. That same day another division received nothing but canned goods. Sometimes a change in assignment would leave one unit without a ration for one day while another received a double issue. The movement of units from one sector to another, usually made at night when the rations were issued, resulted as frequently in a double issue as in none at all.
The long and difficult supply lines on Bataan often slowed up the delivery of food, and vehicles carrying supplies broke down on the mountain trails. The distribution of fresh meat was extremely difficult under these conditions. Since refrigeration and an adequate road net were lacking, the meat had to be transported in open trucks during the heat of the tropical day on hauls lasting as long as twelve hours. It is not surprising that the meat which reached the front-line troops was not always fresh.
Sometimes an accident could have tragic results for the starved garrison. A lucky hit by a Japanese bomber knocked out a freezing unit in the Corregidor cold-storage plant, and 194 carabao quarters-about 24,000 pounds, almost one day’s supply was thereupon sent to Bataan for immediate issue. Five successive air raids delayed the loading of the meat which did not reach Bataan until the next morning. Since it could not be unloaded during daylight the meat remained on the barge the entire day.
By evening it was unfit for distribution. The difficult supply routes and the ever present threat of starvation were responsible for large-scale pilferage, looting, and hijacking by civilians and troops alike. Supply trucks moving slowly along the narrow, tortuous trails of Bataan were ideal targets for hungry men with guns. Guards were posted but even they were not above temptation.
Philippine Army military police placed along the supply routes helped themselves generously from the vehicles they halted. Officers also sought to secure food and supplies in this way, and on one occasion two officers, an American and a Filipino, were caught red-handed looting a quartermaster dump. So serious was the situation that it was proposed that guards be instructed to shoot anyone caught looting. A similar fate was proposed for those in the vicinity of a supply dump without “proper reason or authority.” Despite threats of dire consequences, looting and hijacking continued. It was comparatively easy to toss off a sack of rice to a waiting friend as; truck moved forward, and the closer the ration trucks came to the front lines the less food they contained.
One item of issue that created serious difficulty was cigarettes. Never present in sufficient quantity for general distribution, that were doled out to the front-line troops from time to time. No item disappeared so quick between the point of supply and destinatic The loss was a heavy one. In mid-January an officer of the Bataan echelon of USAFFE urgently recommended that cigarettes be sent from Corregidor to the men at the front, and a month later Colonel Beebe told the chief of staff that the demand for cigarettes was rapidly creating “a real morale problem.” Finally, early in March, USAFFE authorized the issue of five cigarettes daily to men in front-line units, and 104 cases less than one pack a man-were shipped to Bataan.
This issue did not even begin to satisfy the need for cigarettes. While inspecting a battalion position, Brigadier General Hugh J. Casey, USAFFE engineer, took out a pack of cigarettes. He was immediately mobbed. Every Filipino within fifty yards left his foxhole and rushed to get one. Rumors began to reach Corregidor that cigarettes sent from there had been hijacked, that they had been held back by rear echelons, and that favored treatment had been accorded higher headquarters. An investigation disclosed…a dire lack of cigarettes among the front line units. Soldiers will pounce on any discarded cigarette stub for a single puff. There is in time of war no difference between the needs of smokers as between front and rear echelon unit, unless the need at the front is greater. It would appear only just to make an equal allocation between all officers and men, at the front, in rear echelons, and at Fort Mills. Troops should not be in a position of paying 2 Pesos [$1.00] on the black market for a package of cigarettes and even then being unable to get them when those in the rear can secure them in plenty at ten centavos [5 cents].
A visitor from Corregidor who had heard that cigarettes would bring a fantastically high price on Bataan decided to test the validity of the rumor on his Philippine Scout driver. He was able to get ten pesos ($5.00) for a single pack and the thanks of the driver as well. “I gave the soldier back his ten pesos,” he wrote, “and told him that if anyone ever wanted to charge him more than twenty centavos a package for cigarettes he should shoot them.” Altogether, it is estimated, only 400 cases, each consisting of fifty 200-cigarette cartons, were sent from Corregidor to Bataan between 6 January and 2 April. In concrete terms this meant that each front-line soldier received less than one cigarette a day. Deprived of the solace of tobacco and coffee, the soldier living on 17 ounces of food a day could be very miserable indeed.
To the lack of food and tobacco must be added the shortage of clothing, as well as personal and organizational equipment of every kind. General Wainwright tells how, at the beginning of January, his exhausted and unshod troops stumbled into the thorny jungles of Bataan after their long withdrawal from Lingayen. Regular Army units were comparatively well off at the start of the campaign, but the Philippine Army had reached Bataan with the scantiest supplies. A large percentage of the Filipinos had no raincoats, blankets, or shelter halves, and there were almost none for issue. General Stevens reported on 13 January that his men had only well worn denims and were badly in need of underclothes and shoes. The 11th Division was in a similar plight. Its need was partially met by a shipment of 10,000 pairs of socks, 3,000 leggings, and 10,000 pairs of drawers. This issue, it must be noted, was for the entire force, not for the two divisions alone.
As time passed, uniforms became more ragged and threadbare, offering little protection against the cold nights and the cruel thorns so abundant on Bataan. Unit commanders were instructed to limit their clothing requisitions “to minimum replacement requirements” without regard to normal army standards. Most did not secure even this minimum. In one unit, comparatively well clad, the uniforms were considered 90 percent unserviceable. Less than 25 percent of the enlisted men in this unit had blankets, shelter halves, or raincoats. Fully one quarter of the command was without shoes; the rest went about in shoes so badly worn that under normal conditions they would have been considered unfit for use! For a time the most desperate needs were met by a salvage unit which “renovated, repaired, washed, and ironed” the clothing taken from patients in hospitals. Such a measure merely robbed Peter to pay Paul.
The inequities in the issue of supplies favored the troops to the rear. “Morale on the front is high,” wrote a visitor from Corregidor, “though the supply situation is enough to justify dissatisfaction.” Many of the men, he noted, were without underwear and shoes and most had only one uniform-blue denims. The meals, too, he noticed, became progressively worse as one neared the front. “Supply and service troops,” he concluded, “eat better than the line troops.”
Late in March one last effort was made to provide clothing, blankets, raincoats, and shoes for the tatterdemalion soldiers on Bataan. On the 29th Beebe, now a brigadier and Wainwright’s chief of staff, asked his G-4 whether there were any supplies on Corregidor which could be released to units along the front. Since the reserve of uniforms and blankets was under the control of the Harbor Defenses commander, General Moore, the request was passed on to him. Four days later came the reply: no blankets or uniforms were available, but there were 10,000 pairs of shoes-originally sent from Bataan for safekeeping-in odd lot sizes that could be spared. On 4 April, at the height of the final Japanese attack, General King was asked whether he desired this heterogeneous mass of footgear. To this inquiry there is no recorded answer. While the men on the line believed that their comrades to the rear dined more fully and richly than they, all were convinced that those on Corregidor ate best of all. Actually such distinctions were purely relative and no one lived well. But there was enough truth in these generalizations to create a strong feeling of dissatisfaction and a serious morale problem. General Wainwright discovered this when he moved to Corregidor.
Accustomed to the omnipresent and ominous shortages of Bataan, he found Corregidor relatively a land of plenty. The troops there, it is true, ate two meals a day and subsisted on half rations, but it was a full half ration and its components provided a well balanced diet. It included such “luxury items” as bacon, ham, fresh vegetables, and occasionally coffee, milk, and jam-foods which had long since disappeared from the Bataan diet.
The disparity between the Corregidor and Bataan rations was sharply raised when the Bataan military police halted a supply truck and confiscated its waybill. This truck was delivering food to three antiaircraft batteries stationed on Bataan but receiving a Corregidor ration, to which they were entitled as organic elements of the harbor defense. What they were not entitled to was the Bataan ration, which they were also drawing. Such an irregularity would not have been surprising but when the waybill was examined it revealed a scandalous situation. The items listed in the shipment would make any Bataan soldier envious. They included a case each of ham and bacon, 24 cans of Vienna sausage, one sack of cracked wheat, 25 pounds of raisins, 33 pounds of lard substitute, 24 cans each of peas, corn, tomatoes, and peaches, 6 cans of potatoes, 24 bottles of catsup, 50 cartons of cigarettes, and even 600 pounds of ice.
The news of this sumptuous fare, so unlike the Bataan ration, spread rapidly to the front-line troops, adding fuel to their smoldering resentment. The incident was noted by all headquarters and the matter quickly closed with a promise for remedial action. The postscript was written by Colonel Carpenter in a personal note to General Beebe: Bataan troops feel they are discriminated against. There is no way of preventing this sort of thing getting to the front line troops and you can appreciate the effect on morale. The clandestine manner of getting the so called luxury items to the Harbor Defense troops on Bataan … does not seem ethical. Realize there are not sufficient luxury Items for general issue but General Wainwright was assured troops assigned to Harbor Defense on Bataan received approximately the same ration components. However, such is war. Despite the admitted superiority of the Corregidor ration, no one could contend that the men on Corregidor had an adequate diet. They did not. And it is doubtful that the reduction of their ration would have materially altered the situation. The equal distribution of food between the 100,000 men on Bataan and the 10,000 on Corregidor could not have saved Bataan and might have led to the weakening of the harbor defenses.
In the wake of starvation and want came dread disease. Malaria, dengue, and the evil consequences of avitaminosis (vitamin deficiency) -scurvy, beriberi, and amoebic dysentery-made their appearance soon after the troops reached Bataan. On 10 January General King’s aide wrote prematurely in his diary that the effects of the enforced diet of half rations was already becoming evident in the condition of the men. Two weeks later he thought he saw signs of emaciation and nerve fatigue. The ration, he believed, had so reduced the stamina of the men that they were “being incapacitated by minor sickness they [formerly] had been able to throw off without medication.” Another layman described the symptoms of malnutrition he had noticed about the middle of February. In the morning, he observed, men’s legs “feel watery and, at intervals, pump with pains that swell and go away again.” Rapid movement brought an attack of vertigo and a thumping of the heart “like a tractor engine bogged in a swamp.” For an hour after breakfast a feeling of normality was restored, followed by lassitude. The hour after noon, when men doubled up with intestinal pains, was the worst of the day. Unknowingly, this officer was describing incipient beriberi resulting from the absence of fresh meat, vegetables, and dairy products-all rich in Vitamin B–from the diet.
Medical men began to warn commanders of the effects of the inadequate diet at the end of January. The caloric content of the ration then being issued, one medical officer reported, was “well under the requirements for the physical work demanded,” and was resulting in serious loss of weight. In one unit, composed of Americans, the men had lost 15 to 25 pounds since the start of the campaign. The absence of fats and juices, as well as Vitamins A, B, and C, was evident, this medical officer declared, in “varying degrees of apathy, depression, lack of aggressiveness and irritability. ”
The alarm of medical and combat officers became so great during the next few weeks that Lieutenant Colonel James O. Gillespie, the medical officer in the Bataan echelon of USAFFE, told his chief on Corregidor, Colonel Wibb E. Cooper, that “it appears to be the consensus of surgeons attached to American front line troops that the diet provided is inadequate for the maintenance of health and combat efficiency.” The lack of protein, fat, minerals, and certain vitamins, he pointed out, was resulting in common diarrhea and dysentery. The effects of the unbalanced diet on the Filipino, accustomed to the food and climate, were not as pronounced. Colonel Gillespie’s recommendations included an increase in the allowance of beef, vegetables, and fruit, the issue of four ounces of evaporated milk daily, and the procurement of native fruits and vegetables. If these foods could not be secured in adequate amounts, he urged strongly that vitamin concentrates should be secured for the American troops at least.
General Wainwright lent his support to these recommendations in a separate communication to General MacArthur in which he declared that if the campaign lasted two to six months longer, it is certain that a fairly high percentage of the troops will suffer from varying degrees of malnutrition. By the end of February, the effects of the food shortage were clearly evident and well understood. Already MacArthur was sending urgent and eloquent pleas for aid to Washington and Australia, and efforts were being made to break through the Japanese blockade.
The number of men brought down by malnutrition and vitamin deficiency diseases increased in geometric proportion with the passage of time and the successive cuts in the ration. During January, the ration had provided, in terms of energy, approximately 2,000 calories a day. The next month the figure declined to 1,500 and during March it was only 1,000 calories daily. Defense of the line on Bataan, Lieutenant Colonel Harold W. Glattly, the Luzon force surgeon estimated, required an expenditure of energy of at least 3,500 to 4,000 calories a day for each man. He found the results of this caloric deficit alarming in the extreme. Serious muscle waste and depletion of fat reserve were evident everywhere and beriberi in its incipient stages had become almost universal throughout the command. Moreover, malnutrition had so weakened the troops that they were particularly vulnerable to even the most minor ailment. The spread of any disease, he warned, would be of epidemic proportions. Men’s physical reserves had disappeared by early March; at the end of the month the men were deteriorating rapidly.
Even more serious than malnutrition and avitaminosis was the spread of malaria. This disease had made its appearance shortly after the troops reached Bataan, but was kept under control by prophylactic doses of quinine. There was a small supply of atabrine but it was quickly exhausted. A malaria control program such as existed later in the war was not possible on Bataan. Most of the Filipino troops were never issued mosquito nets, and those who had them left them behind during the withdrawal for they were of a bulky and heavy type. The area occupied by the troops contained native villages where mosquitoes could breed freely, and there were always large numbers of Filipino civilians behind the lines. These civilians were “a reservoir for malaria,” and nullified the effect of any limited control program adopted by the troops.
Malaria did not affect the efficiency of the troops until the beginning of March, but at the end of January most of the men were already infested with malarial parasites. Medical officers made gloomy predictions for the future, when the supply of quinine would give out. “If all troops take the prescribed 5 grams prophylactic dose,” wrote a medical officer to General R. J. Marshall on 26 January, “the supply will be exhausted in a month.” As early as the beginning of February there were signs that the disease would soon increase at an alarming rate. Only the regular dosage of quinine kept the disease in check that month, but the supply of this drug dwindled rapidly. During the first week of March, its use as a prophylactic in most units was discontinued. Thereafter the drug was administered only to those actually ill with the disease.
The consequences were frightful. The number of daily admissions to the hospitals for malaria alone jumped to 500 during the first week in March. After an inspection of fortifications on Bataan, General Casey reported that the incidence of malaria was –as high as 35 percent among front-line units. Two weeks later Colonel Cooper declared that already there were 3,000 active cases of malaria among the troops on Bataan and that the disease was spreading with appalling rapidity.59 Colonel Glattly took an even more pessimistic view of the situation. The relapse rate, he noted, was high and since no quinine was available for any but active cases, the command could expect a frightful increase in the morbidity rate. By the end of the month the number of daily admissions to the hospitals was approaching the fantastic figure of 1,000, and 75 to 80 percent of the men in front-line units had the disease.
Every effort was made to secure quinine as well as vitamin concentrates and other medical supplies from sources outside the Philippines. Some quinine was brought to Corregidor by plane from Australia via Mindanao, and an effort was made to manufacture a drug from the bark of a tree native to the Islands that was thought to have the properties of quinine. Despite every expedient there was never a large enough supply of the drug after 1 March to permit its use as a prophylaxis. On 23 March, when the malarial rate was 750 cases daily, there was only enough quinine in the medical depot to provide inadequate treatment for about 10,000 men. “When the present stock is gone,” Colonel Glattly warned General King, “a mortality rate in untreated cases of 7 to 10 percent can be expected.” A week later Wainwright’s surgeon reported that approximately 758,000 quinine tablets had been received by air and that the medical depot had only 600,000 left. The inadequacy of this supply can be measured against the 3,000,000 tablets which Colonel Cooper estimated as the minimum necessary each month to prevent the wholesale spread of malaria.
The rapid spread of the disease can be attributed not only to the lack of quinine but also to the area in which the troops were stationed. The withdrawal from the Abucay-Mauban line late in January had placed the men in a low, malaria-infested valley between the high ground formed by Mt. Natib on the north and the Mariveles Mountains to the south. Even under the most favorable circumstances, it is probable that a large part of the command would have ultimately been debilitated by the disease endemic in this valley.
A notable disregard for sanitary precautions, combined with the natural unhealthfulness of the battle position, added greatly to the spread of malaria, as well as other diseases. Lack of training in the elementals of military hygiene was universal in the Philippine Army. Many of the Filipinos drank unboiled water from streams and pools and failed to sterilize their mess gear. Latrines were neither well constructed nor properly used. Kitchens were dirty and garbage buried near the surface. Huge flies, attracted by these malodorous dumps, swarmed everywhere. “The fly menace,” wrote a medical officer, “spread beyond comprehension.” “Sanitation,” remarked another officer, on duty with Filipino troops, “was ghastly. Straddle trenches-when built-adjoined kitchens …. The calls of nature were responded to when and where heard.”
Even in the hospitals sanitation was far from ideal. There were no screens and the supply of lysol was limited. The hospital waste was emptied into latrine pits and the stench at times was so offensive that men relieved themselves elsewhere. Despite the desperate efforts of the nurses to keep the hospital areas sanitary, there were, one doctor thought, “undoubtedly many cross infections.”
Under these circumstances it is not surprising that common diarrhea and various forms of dysentery appeared soon after the troops fell back to fixed positions. While never as serious as malnutrition or malaria, the incidence of both ailments was high and their treatment limited by the shortage of drugs. Filipino troops, often barefoot, frequently developed hookworm also. Carbon tetrachloride for treatment was available only in limited quantities, the medical depot reporting fifty-one bottles on hand at the end of March.
As the men on Bataan grew more gaunt and disease-ridden it became increasingly difficult to isolate the specific causes which rendered men ineffective for combat. One surgeon believed that the high malarial rate was “covering up” the prevailing “mental and physical exhaustion” caused by a protracted starvation diet. It was Colonel Cooper’s judgment that “the basic cause of all the trouble was the lack of food, of proper food.” At the time he wrote, 2 April, there were no vitamin concentrates on hand in the medical depot.
Less tangible but fully as serious as any of the diseases prevalent on Bataan was nerve fatigue. The majority of the combat , troops had received no rest in a rear area since the first Japanese attack on 8 December. Even reserve units behind the line had been subjected to daily air and artillery bombardment. In the opinion of Colonel GlattIy, “The fatigue resulting from constant nervous tension definitely decreased the ability of these troops to endure heavy bombardment.” The physical signs of this ailment were observed toward the end of the campaign when many of the men proved unable to stand the nervous strain of combat. At an earlier period stragglers had been rallied and sent back into battle. Later in the campaign stragglers discarded arms and equipment and could not be returned to the front except by force. “They were surly and physically exhausted as well as mentally unequal to further combat duty,” said one medical officer.
The number of men hospitalized for psychotic disorders was remarkably small and presented no serious problem to the medical authorities. This may have been due to the fact that there was “no possible retreat from reality,” as the medical officer of USAFFE believed, or to the failure to evacuate such cases to the hospitals. Facilities for the isolation and treatment of mental patients were limited. One ward in General Hospital No.2 was set aside for these patients, but they could not be confined and seem to have been allowed to roam the hospital area.
With the exception of quinine, dysentery serum, gas antitoxin, and some sulfa drugs, the supply of medicine held out to the end of the campaign. Large amounts of blood plasma were used. The marines had brought twenty-five cases from Shanghai and these were placed in the common pool. The shortage of antitoxin led to an abnormally large number of gas gangrene cases. Wounds which ordinarily would have presented no difficulty failed to respond to treatment and became infected. If the wound did not heal after it was opened and drained, then amputation followed.
There were two general hospitals on Bataan. Until the end of January one of these, General Hospital No.1, was located at Limay and because of its proximity to the front lines took all battle casualties requiring surgery. Its eight operating tables were housed in a building 14 by 40 feet. In a period of one month more than 1,200 battle casualties requiring major surgery were admitted to the hospital, the larger number being received on 16 January when the staff performed 182 major surgical operations. Usually all the operating tables were occupied and other patients lay on litters close by awaiting surgery. “It was necessary,” one medical officer recalled, “for the nurses to walk around patients when assisting in the operations.” After the withdrawal, the hospital was moved back to Little Baguio, on the slopes of the Mariveles, near the ammunition and quartermaster depots. When these installations were bombed, the hospital area, though clearly marked by a large cross, was vulnerable to air attack. Twice toward the close of the campaign it was hit.
General Hospital No.2 was located about three miles south of Cabcaben, in the bamboo thickets and jungle along the Real River. Close by was the medical supply depot. The thicket and jungle provided concealment from air observation and the river a fresh-water supply which was filtered and chlorinated, then stored in a 3,000-gallon storage tank.
Evacuation of the sick and wounded was accomplished in two ways-by ambulance directly from the aid and clearing stations and by shuttle buses. There were only a few ambulances and these were sent out on special cases. The shuttle buses had about fifteen litters instead of seats and made regular trips along designated routes on schedule. Most of the wounded were brought in at night to avoid the daytime traffic and reduce the possibility of enemy air attack. Normally it took about eight hours to get a casualty from the battlefield to the hospital, but in some Philippine Army units this period was as long as thirty-six hours. The majority of the wounds treated in the hospitals were from shell fragments and small-arms fire; relatively few were from bombs. The small caliber Japanese rifle did not inflict as serious a wound as the American .30-caliber rifle. It was one doctor’s opinion, after examining men with eight and ten wounds in their arms, shoulders, and chest, that these men would have been killed if similarly wounded by .30-caliber bullets.
Abdominal wounds were the most common. There was no established method of treatment; each surgeon used his own judgment. But there was an adequate supply of sulfa drugs for external use and no necessity for unusual methods. It was only when gas gangrene set in that difficulties arose because of the lack of antitoxin. Wounds healed slowly because of the weakened condition of the men, and the period of hospitalization was normally longer than might otherwise have been the case if there had been enough food for a proper diet.
The large and ever-increasing number of sick and wounded strained all medical installations to the utmost. Fortunately, the number of battle casualties in the period between 15 February and 3 April was small and the beds ordinarily used by the wounded could be given to the starved and malaria ridden soldiers. The capacity of the two general hospitals, designed to accommodate 1,000 patients each, was steadily increased until it reached a figure three times that number.
The sick rate continued to outstrip even this notable expansion. This fact, combined with the shortage of gasoline, made it necessary at the beginning of March to limit evacuation to the general hospitals to two types of cases: first, those requiring medical or surgical treatment not available at the clearing stations; and, second, those in which the period of disability was expected to exceed twenty-one days. To care for all other patients the clearing station of each medical battalion was converted into a hospital with 300 or more beds. Under ideal circumstances the clearing station was neither organized nor equipped to provide hospitalization. On Bataan, where conditions were far from ideal and where the Philippine Army medical units lacked much of the standard equipment normal in such elements, clearing stations were even less qualified to handle patients.
As the volume of patients increased, downward echelonment of hospitalization continued. Soon the collecting companies, designed to provide only emergency treatment to casualties, were converted into hospitals with 100 to 150 beds. Even with the addition of these units, hospital facilities had become so inadequate by the end of March that patients with minor ailments were treated in battalion and regimental aid stations. All medical installations on Bataan were bursting with patients and still they were not able to care for all the sick and wounded. The two general hospitals had about 7,000 patients; another 4,000 were being treated in a provisional hospital established by I Corps. Undetermined numbers were ill in division clearing and collecting companies. The 91st Clearing Company, 4,000 yards behind the front lines, had 900 beds; the 11th was handling 600 patients. And the number was growing daily. Everyone recognized that the hospitalization provided was “in direct conflict with the recognized principles of division medical service” and “a violation of all standard medical tactics,” but, wrote the surgeon, the main objective, the saving of lives and the relief of suffering, was achieved.
The health of the command had a disastrous effect upon combat efficiency. This fact was noted first early in February and Wainwright had expressed his concern to MacArthur on the 26th of the month. The next month the situation grew more alarming. “The doctors say,” wrote King’s aide on 14 March, “that our combat efficiency is a little below 45 percent.” When Colonel Harry A. Skerry inspected I Corps positions with General Casey early in March he found that in the sector held by a battalion of the 71st infantry the commander was so sick with dengue fever he could hardly accompany them. Of the 426 men in the battalion 126 were “clear off their feet.” “From the standpoint of trained, well-fed troops.” wrote Skerry, “it was an utter nightmare.” In another unit, the 21st Division in II Corps, the men were so weak that many “were just able to fire a rifle out of the trench, and no more.”
These conditions were not confined to Philippine Army units; Americans and Philippine Scouts were equally debilitated by malnutrition and malaria. At a medical inspection of the 45th Infantry (PS), almost 20 percent of the command showed the physical effects of vitamin deficiency diseases, and over 50 percent complained of the symptoms of these diseases. Nutritional edema (swellings) and night blindness were the commonest symptoms. “Men were becoming so weak from starvation,” wrote the regimental surgeon, “that they could hardly carry the packs and in our last move I saw more Scouts fall out of the line of march than I had ever seen fall out any march before.”
The 31st Infantry, composed entirely of Americans, was as badly off as most other units. Though it had been in the front lines for only short periods during the campaign, and from 8 February to 3 April had been in a rest area to the rear, the regiment was hardly more effective than Philippine Army units which had been in the line since 8 December. The constant preoccupation of the American infantryman was food. “We were existing,” wrote one of the officers, “on the little we received from quartermaster and what edible plants, roots, snails, snakes, wild chickens, bananas, wild pigs and anything else that we could find to eat.” Disease was taking a heavy toll and approximately 50 percent of the regiment was sick with malaria or dysentery. By 3 April “what had once been an effective fighting unit was only a pitiful remains.”
When the 31st Infantry, in Luzon Force reserve, was ordered into the line on 4 April, it was necessary to leave behind for evacuation to the hospital more than one third of the men. Some left sick beds to join their outfits. The efficiency of those who moved out was estimated at less than 50 percent. Along the line of march, many dropped out. “Hunger and disease,” wrote the service company commander, “were greater enemies than the Japanese soldiers.”
Estimates of combat efficiency by division and corps commanders on Bataan bore out fully the tragic picture painted by junior officers. By the middle of March General Parker, II Corps commander, placed the combat efficiency of the troops in his corps at only 20 percent, adding that it was becoming less with the passing of each day. He attributed the deterioration of his men to the starvation diet of 1,000 calories daily, the rapid spread of malaria, the high incidence of dysentery, diarrhea, and beriberi, nerve fatigue, and the shortage of clothing and equipment.89 The situation in I Corps was no better. Fully 75 percent of the men, wrote Wainwright, were unfit for action by 12 March, the date he relinquished command to General Jones. The reasons he gave were similar to those presented by Parker, with the addition of hookworm and the lack of shelter halves, blankets, and raincoats.
The ability of the men on Bataan to fight could not be measured by physical standards alone. Where all men bore the signs of enforced privation and suffering, there was no question of separating the fit from the unfit. Only necessity and the will to fight could give meaning to the tactical dispositions assumed by the troops.
The Japanese knew this and made crude attempts to corrupt the spirit of resistance. Flying low over Bataan, their aircraft often dropped propaganda leaflets instead of bombs on the Americans and Filipinos below. These leaflets appealed to the basest emotions: race prejudice, jealousy, hate, avarice, and deceit. Some were designed to induce the desertion of the Filipinos; others pointed out that the pay of the Philippine Army troops would be worthless in the future. “Take my word you are exposing your life in danger without any remuneration,” declared one handbill. “There is nothing so pointless.” The life of the Filipino under the Japanese occupation was painted in glowing colors. “I am enjoying life as a Filipino of the New Philippines;’ said a former Philippine soldier in one of the leaflets. “Throwaway your arms and surrender yourself to the Japanese Army,” proclaimed another handbill, “in order to save your lives and enrich your beautiful future and the welfare of your children.”
MacArthur’s departure was also exploited by the Japanese in their effort to create dissatisfaction. Some leaflets exploited the theme of starvation, and one pictured Corregidor entirely surrounded by heaping plates of turkey, meat, fruit, cake, and bottles of whiskey and wine. Other illustrated leaflets dwelt on the theme of sex and crudely pictured the soldier’s wife in the arms of a war profiteer.
So far as is known the effect of these propaganda sheets was negligible. Some men made a hobby of collecting them, and exchanged duplicates to fill out their collections. “Majors Poole, Crane, and Holmes got me some,” exulted Colonel Ray M. O’Day, “including the red and white ribbon streamers attached to the beer cans and addressed to General Wainwright.” This acquisition was particularly prized for it contained a demand for Wainwright’s surrender.
Japanese radio propaganda was more effective than the leaflets. The Japanese controlled Station KZRH in Manila broadcast a special program for American soldiers every night at 2145. The program was much like that presented by Tokyo Rose, to whom so many American soldiers listened at a later period of the war. The theme song of the program was “Ships That Never Come In,” followed by popular recordings calculated to make the men homesick. “The damned Nips,” wrote Major Tisdelle, “have got a new propaganda program that does not help our morale any. The men joke happily, but underneath they are disquieted.”
The Americans had their own radio station on Corregidor, “The Voice of Freedom,” which broadcast three times a day. Records, evidently collected at Corregidor, were played during these programs, which also consisted of news commentaries and items of local interest. At least one officer had a low opinion of the program, describing its offerings as propaganda “so thick that it served no purpose except to disgust us and incite mistrust of all hopes.” Station KGEI in San Francisco also broadcast a “Freedom for the Philippines” program each night to which most of the men listened. The reaction to these programs was mixed.
During the early part of the campaign, most officers are agreed, morale was high despite the shortages of food and equipment. The victories of early February raised the spirit of the troops and confirmed them in the belief that they could hold out until reinforcements arrived. Aid had been promised time and again, and officers and men alike placed all their hopes for the future on the fulfillment of this pledge. Without it there was nothing left but defeat and disaster.
While much of the faith in the timely arrival of reinforcements was based only on the desperate desire to believe it to be so, there was at least one tangible assurance to which men could point. On 15 January, a week after the troops had reached Bataan, General MacArthur had addressed a message to the entire command. Every unit commander was made personally responsible for reading and explaining the message, and all headquarters were directed to be sure that these instructions were carried out. MacArthur’s message to the troops was a promise of aid and a call to valor. “Help is on the way from the United States,” he had said. “Thousands of troops and hundreds of planes are being dispatched. The exact time of arrival of reinforcements is unknown as they will have to fight their way through.” Declaring that no further retreat was possible, he asserted that “our supplies are ample” and that it was imperative to hold until aid arrived. Though the message carefully stated that the date of arrival was not known, the hungry men, grasping eagerly at every straw, assumed that it would come soon. A soldier-poet expressed the mood of the men when he wrote: . . . MacArthur’s promise in every mind. “The time is secret but I can say That swift relief ships are on the way Thousands of men and hundreds of planes. Back in Manila before the rains! With decorations and honors, too.” MacArthur said it, it must be true.
Disillusionment came hard. The weeks went by, January gave way to February, and still no large reinforcements had come. Many men began to doubt that aid would arrive at all. Only a few men had definite knowledge of what was on the way and they confided in no one. When Colonel Mallonee jokingly asked Colonel Brezina about the relief expedition, Brezina’s “eyes went poker-blank” and “his teeth bit his lips into a grim thin line.” Most regular officers had made their own estimate of the situation and had reached the conclusion that time was against them. They could see their men growing weaker every day, the hospitals fuller, and the supplies smaller. But they continued to hope for the relief expedition, the TNT (Terrible ‘N’ Terrific) force, which would arrive in storybook fashion before the end.
These hopes received a rude blow on Washington’s Birthday, 22 February, in President Roosevelt’s fireside chat on the progress of the war. Inviting his listeners to look at their maps, the President emphasized the global nature of the struggle, the vast distances to be spanned, the large areas to be held, and the desperate situation of the United Nations. As he spoke of the tremendous tasks facing the American people and the sacrifices that must be made, it became clear to his listeners on Bataan that he was placing the Philippines in their proper perspective “in the big picture of the war.” No prospect of the arrival of relief could be found in the President’s message. One officer wrote in his diary that though “the President means to cheer us up,” his talk “tends to weaken morale.” “We are not interested in what the production will be in 1943-44 and 1945,” he said. “All we want are two things, but we need them right now.” Others took a more pessimistIc view. “Plain for all to see,” wrote Colonel Mallonee, “was the handwriting on the wall, at the end of which the President had placed a large and emphatic period. The President had-with regret wiped us off the page and closed the book.”
Despite the explanations of the “Voice of Freedom,” MacArthur’s departure for Australia on 12 March struck another blow at morale. A large part of the faith in the timely arrival of reinforcements had been based on the presence of General MacArthur. His prestige among the Filipinos can hardly be exaggerated. Among American officers, to many of whom he was already a legend, his reputation placed him on a lofty eminence with the great captains of history. Mallonee undoubtedly expressed the feelings of many when he affirmed his belief that MacArthur “would reach down and pull the rabbit out of the hat.” With MacArthur gone, those who refused to give up hope argued that if anybody could bring supplies to the Philippines it was MacArthur.
His presence in Australia, they declared, was the best guarantee that help was coming. As proof they could repeat the assertions broadcast so often over the “Voice of Freedom,” or cite MacArthur’s first public statement on reaching Australia. At that time he had said that the relief of the Philippines was his primary purpose. “I came through and I shall return,” he had pledged.
There were others, however, including the old-timers of World War I, who reasoned that the best place from which to direct the organization of the relief expedition was Corregidor. MacArthur’s departure, they asserted, was proof that the promised reinforcements would never arrive. When, by the end of March, no rabbits had been pulled out of the hat, most Americans realized that the end was near. There was nothing left but to wait for the inevitable defeat and prison camp, or death.
The Filipino could expect ultimately to be returned to his home. For the American there was no such bright prospect. Death or capture was his certain fate. Strangely enough, he did not become despondent or bitter. He knew the worst now and there was little he could do other than to make the enemy pay dearly for victory. Meanwhile he made the best of his bad fortune, joked grimly about his fate, and hid his feelings under a cloak of irony. It was in this vein that Lieutenant Henry G. Lee of the Philippine Division wrote the poem, “Fighting On.” ‘I see no gleam of victory alluring No chance of splendid booty or of gain If I endure-I must go on enduring And my reward for bearing pain-is pain Yet, though the thrill, the zest, the hope are Gone Something within me keeps me fighting on.
SOURCE: The Fall Of The Philippines by Louis Morton (United States Army Center of Military History)
World War Two: Fall of Philippines;Bataan (4-19 & 20); Command-MacArthur Exits