photo courtesy of National Archives
April 9, 2012 marks the 70th anniversary of the Fall of Bataan, a little-known yet momentous event in WWII history. The surrender of the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines to the Japanese Imperial Army was the largest surrender in American and Filipino military history. After defeat, about 63,000 Filipino and 12,000 American soldiers -- mostly sick and emaciated -- were forced to march under searing heat with barely any provisions for food, water, or medicine in order to reach their prison camps some 60 miles away. Between 10,000 to 15,000 Filipino soldiers and about 800 American soldiers died along the way, in what became infamously known as the Bataan Death March.
Although the Filipino and American troops were defeated at Bataan, the battle diminished the momentum of the Japanese invasion of US bases in the Pacific, sparing Australia and preventing the complete takeover of the Pacific by Axis forces.
However, in 1946, barely a year after the end of the second world war, President Harry Truman rescinded the rights of the Filipino soldiers. To this day, these rights have not been fully restored.
When I wrote my novel, In Her Mother’s Image, little did I know it would be the beginning of a personal crusade to create awareness around Bataan and its historical significance. My novel is historical fiction: the story of a family’s ordeal during World War II in the Philippines. The war is seen through the eyes of rambunctious eight-year-old Chiquita, whose carefree world is shattered by the invasion of the Imperial Japanese Army on December 8, 1941. Four months later on April 9, 1942, her beloved brother goes missing during the fall of Bataan. The sacrifices and emotional toll are relived thirty years later when Chiquita goes back to the land of her birth -- and to the emotional ravages of war.
photo courtesy of author
I was inspired to write In Her Mother’s Image by the many World War II stories I heard from my father, mother, and aunt while growing up in the Philippines. Although the story is fictional, the circumstances surrounding the story are based on real life. My father, Luis Gaerlan, Jr., was drafted in the 41st Infantry Regiment, 41st Division of the U.S. Armed Forces of the Far East in November, 1941. A month later on December 8, 1941, the Philippines was invaded by the Japanese Imperial Army, just nine hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The 41st Division suffered heavy artillery shelling and aerial bombardment in Mt. Samat, the last stronghold of the Allied Forces in Bataan. Fortunately, my father survived the Bataan Death March, and later, the incarceration at Camp O’Donnell.
When I started doing readings of my novel a year ago, I was stunned that not many people had heard of Bataan. I even encountered Filipino youth with relatives who fought during World War II that were unaware of it.
As a Filipino American novelist, I believe it is vital that our community become more educated about the historical importance of Bataan. One upcoming opportunity is the student-led Bataan Day Commemoration at California State University East Bay. . Survivors from various veterans and Prisoners of War organizations (Philippine Scouts, U.S. Armed Forces of the Far East, Bay Area Civilians Ex-Prisoners Of War) will be participating. A preview of the Bataan documentary, Forgotten Soldiers will also be screened, along with taped interviews of Bataan Death March survivors that were conducted by the students.
The 70th anniversary Bataan Day commemoration will be held on Tuesday, April 10 at the University Theater, Cal State East Bay in Hayward from 4 pm to 6 pm. For further information contact Romar Lamano at firstname.lastname@example.org or (510) 329-9598. More info here.
Cecilia Gaerlan is a Bay Area playwright based in Berkeley, California. She has recently adapted for the stage her debut novel In Her Mother's Image During the past year she has been creating awareness of the Fall of Bataan and the Bataan Death March in a series of lectures.
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