The word expendable has several definitions. In this case, we are talking about its military application. That being: capable of being sacrificed in order to accomplish a military objective. It also goes a bit deeper, to designating a person or thing as being worth sacrificing under particular circumstances. I think about the words “worth sacrificing” and what they meant to America in late 1941 and early 1942.
Corregidor, Manila, Mindanao and Bataan. To most of this nation, these are mere words; but to others, these names are of locations, in “the human history of hell on earth.” Expendable were the personnel, equipment and supplies that had been stored at these locations. This was all done prior to the attack of Dec. 7, 1941 on our naval base at Pearl Harbor, but it was not enough. These who were expendable fought on for, in some cases, up to five months. Bataan would fall in April of 1942. Corregidor would last until May of 1942, before the surrender of our troops to the Japanese Imperial Army. There would be several reasons for the surrender of our forces, but it would never be looked upon as they did not have the will to fight on. It was the fact that they had ran out of supplies to carry the fight forward. Sickness, in many forms, would also be one of the main factors for the surrender of our men.
It must also be stated that many did not surrender. These men would go deep into the jungles of the Philippine Islands and fight on. These kids were 17-, 18- and 19-year-olds. But in my book, they were all military men with the heart and desire to defend our America until they could go no further. It has also been documented that some of these troops were as young as 15 and 16 years old. Now you tell me, what does that tell you about America’s military and of our fighting men and women? What it means to me is they all had pride in country and flag. They also had an unflinching desire to defend America. These men truly did give all to the defense of our nation.
All of these men would be part of a delaying action that would bleed the Japanese Army out, to a degree. But it would not stop Japan in the early days of the war. This delaying action was all part of our military command’s plan to defeat the Japanese war machine. This sacrifice of our men and materials, of course, did not stop the Japanese quest for domination of Asia but it did give our military the breathing room that was needed to get back on our feet after the attacks of late 1941. If these men had not been in place as they were in 1941, then the West Coast of America would have been wide open for invasion by the Japanese Army.
The Japanese military command was not as smart as they thought they were. They made several major mistakes in their attack plans for Pearl Harbor. The first would be that they went after our ships and not our fuel supply. Of course, the ships being damaged or sunk did knock us back a few steps. But if the fuel depot had been taken out, the ships would have been useless. This would have also been a problem for our aircraft carriers that were not at Pearl at the time of the attack. Second, they neglected to take out the dry docks at Pearl Harbor. If these docks had been destroyed then all of the repairs to our damaged ships would have to have taken place at the dry docks of San Diego — some 3,000 miles away. Again, this would have allowed the West Coast to be open for attack. This would have also allowed the Japanese submarines to attack the ships that would have been towed back at a slow pace.
The men who fought this delaying action at the time might not have truly known why they were left to go it alone, but command did. It is also known that there was no way, at the time, to move enough ships into the area to remove all of our fighting men. For at that time, the Japanese Navy controlled the ocean — but this control, it would not last forever. Our time to make the Japanese howl in true pain was coming. But it would take time and pain for our own troops before that day would take place.
I need to go back to the early morning hours of Dec. 7, 1941. America was made to go to war with Japan. On that morning this cowardly country of Japan attacked our naval base at Pearl Harbor. During this unprovoked attack, some 2,400 people were killed. These were not only our military personal but there were also civilians killed. Men, women and children died on that day. This was only a prelude of what was to come, all at the hands of the Japanese Empire and its troops. During the month of May 1942, now 75 years ago, orders came from Washington to our troops in the Philippines to surrender.
More than 75,000 troops surrendered. The surrendered Filipino and American troops were rounded up by the Japanese and forced to march some 65 miles from Mariveles, on the southern end of the Bataan peninsula, to San Franando in the north. The men were divided into groups of about 200 and what became known as the Bataan Death March took each group around five days to complete. This march took place on 100-degree days with little to no water or food. The exact numbers are unknown, but it is believed that thousands died because of the brutality of their captors, who starved and beat the troops. It is also known that the Japanese officers cut the heads off of the weak and sick who could not keep up during the march.
The Japanese troops were also ordered not to waste bullets — they were told to use the weak and sick for bayonet practice. They stabbed our men to death. I should say “our boys,” as these young men were between the ages of 17 and 19. These were our boys. Survivors were taken to prisoner-of-war camps where thousands more would die from disease, mistreatment and starvation. The Japanese troops took pride in this because if you surrendered, in the Japanese’s eyes, you were worthless and a traitor to your country and its people. I must say that these prison camps were not prison camps, they were death camps, for the number of deaths were far too many at the hands of their Japanese captors.
These young men were from a time period of our own country’s history that could not imagine for one moment how a human being could, and did, treat his captives. In time, the Japanese would see the evil and error of their attack upon America — it would be a lesson that they would never forget. The price that both countries would pay in men and material would be incomprehensible today and even moreso during that time period. The Bataan Death March must never be forgotten. Respect these veterans for what was given freely. The next time you talk to a veteran of World War II, show him kindness and respect for what he gave his country.
Now take a knee and think about what has been given for you to have the right to disrespect our American flag, fighting men and our way of life. All of our people gave all: Black, white and brown-skinned. It was not all about one race. It was about Americans defending America and all of our people. So now, watch a football — game if you can — and disrespect the “expendable ones” who gave you freedom.
Robert Lee is a concerned citizen and U.S. Marine veteran who owns and operates Rockingham Guns and Ammo. His column appears here each Saturday.