History Day Essay

Anthony Zendejas

On the Bataan Death March, the air smelled of rotting flesh and vomit. Gun shots could be heard, as men that were too weak to go on were executed. There were 511 POWs at Camp Cabanatuan in the Philippines. Many of them were survivors of Bataan. Lt Col. Henry Mucci selects Captain Robert Prince of the 6th Army Ranger Battalion to plan and lead a raid to rescue the doomed ‘Ghosts of Bataan.’ Captain Prince took a stand in history by being willing to die to save the lives of the POWs. The raid on Cabanatuan lead by Captain Prince impacted the way we view the war in the Pacific during WWII, by showing the world in all its horrific detail the treatment of POWs, the real heroism of our veterans, and the struggle men are willing to go through for freedom and life.

The POWs became skeletons, walking scarecrows, staggering, falling, and stumbling along with no helmets to shield them from the sun for over 65 miles. Abie Abraham was on the Bataan Death March. He spoke of what he witnessed as he watched a man make a run for a spring. "With relish, he splashed the water on his face, slurping and lapping it up. He watched the guard unsheathe his sword. With a quick ugly swish he brought the blade down and cleanly decapitated the American." On another occasion a pregnant Filipino woman threw some food out in front of a POW. He started to eat it when, "a Japanese soldier came and decapitated the POW then he went and cut the stomach out of the Filipino woman. The Rangers took a stand to rescue the survivors of Bataan. The Raid had five elements: the Rangers, the Alamo Scouts, Filipino guerillas, Filipino civilians, and a Black Widow Striker. The raid took place on January 30, 1945. Captain Prince knew it would be dangerous so he only wanted volunteers. Before the raid, he spoke to his men and said, "I’m going to turn around, but, I want every man that wants to go on the raid to step one step forward." "At first I thought nobody stepped forward but they all had stepped forward, in fact men from the other companies were jealous because they knew we had been selected to do a great thing. They all wanted to be in on it."

The Geneva Convention was put into place for the safety and the rights of the men that happened to surrender during a time of war. General MacArthur got news of a terrible tragedy that revealed the dirty underbelly of our enemy. Japan broke the convention. Japanese authorities sent out a ‘Kill All’ order. There were 112 prisoners that were slaughtered like cattle in crude bomb shelters. They were burned alive by high octane aviation fuel on Palawan Island. Eleven POWs escaped to report it. The Japanese thought surrendering was a sign of weakness. They were trained to die in battle or commit suicide. They called the POWs ‘Hairy Devils,’ and said they would be enemies of Japan forever, not prisoners. The POWs at
Camp Cabanatuan would be slaughtered unless a rescue took place to free them.

The success of the raid revolved around team work and timing. If one thing went wrong, they could not have done it, or saved as many lives. The Alamo Scouts got background information before the raid. Then, the Rangers lead by Captain Prince ‘quick marched’ for 30 miles deep into enemy territory. For the last half mile they inched along on their stomachs through flat, wide open, dried fields of rice paddies. The Black Widow flew about 500 feet overhead as a distraction to divert the guard’s eyes from the men on the field. This was their desperate attempt to keep the element of surprise. Then, "All hell broke loose. Shouts were going in every direction. . "Under gun fire, the POWs started running, crawling, and hobbling to the front gate. “I’m going out of this place, if I have to crawl out. I went out of the camp on my own two feet.” The raid was over in thirty minutes. All 511 POWs were rescued. The raid was successful because the Japanese were caught sleeping. Filipino guerillas protected the flank by fighting a Japanese platoon on the other side of the Cabu River. The Rangers transported the POWs back to American Lines by using over 100 carabao carts provided by the Filipino civilians on the way.

The POWs and the Rangers received a hero’s welcome back home. A Life Magazine War Correspondent in 1945 wrote this, "Every American child of coming generations will know of the 6th Rangers, for a prouder story has never been written." Then, there was forty years of silence. They had to return to a normal life. Some POWs couldn’t cope, and they were sent to "funny farms." Some of them were determined to make it and just buried the terrible things that happened inside them. There are POWs that survived the Death March that are angry and bitter that the U.S. government abandoned them to finish the war against Hitler first. They believe our government failed them because we thought we couldn’t fight wars on two fronts. Many POWs believe we forgot them and don’t care about what they went through. Now we are taking a stand to let the public know what the POWs went through, and we are beginning to praise the Rangers for their heroic actions. Today we try to help soldiers returning from war. Three books have been published about the raid, and there is a new movie out. In November 2005, Captain Prince met soldiers from Fort Lewis and signed over 500 movie posters with the director of the movie. This boosted the courage of the soldiers fighting the Global War on Terror. Captain Prince said, "a new generation is learning about the sacrifices that were made [in WWII], I’m glad to see this happening." General MacArthur presented Lt. Col. Mucci and Captain Prince with the Distinguished Service Cross. They were inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame in 1998 and 1999 because of the mission. The army uses the rescue as a model for training. Today, Captain Prince is a humble man living in Port Townsend Washington. He believes the praise should go to his men and the POWs and not to himself. He’s just proud because he helped give the POWs a ‘second chance at life.’

Blood, vomit, death, slaughter, flames, emaciation, guns, bombs, disease, and wounds are what the POWs went through. The war was a tragic thing, and the POWs were treated badly. Japan violated the Geneva Convention. Captain Prince was a good leader and role model. "History has cemented Cabanatuan’s status as one of the wars most dramatic episodes . . ." In a Seattle Times interview in 1945 Captain Prince said, "‘People everywhere thank me. I think the thanks should go the other way. I’ll be grateful for the rest of my life that I had a chance to do something in this war that was not destructive. Nothing for me could ever compare with the satisfaction from freeing those men.’ … Fifty years later he says, ‘true then, true now.’" POW Robert Body says, "You guys saved my life. The 6th Army Rangers were my hero’s of WWII."


Personal Performance Process Paper

I chose this topic because I saw men willing to risk their lives for their brothers. The events that surround this rescue are heroic, and tragic. I never knew what happened to the POWs after the Bataan Death March, and I wanted to learn more. I was excited about the rescue operation and I wanted to tell the Rangers’ story. After I conducted my research, I discovered that thousands of POWs were not liberated until after Japan surrendered. I wanted to find out what happened to them too. That’s when I discovered the "Hell Ships."

My research started when I read Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides. I found out that Captain Prince lived nearby through a news interview. I was able to interview Captain Prince at his home for three hours. Then, I was motivated to find POWs too. This project took on a life of it’s own through personal interviews and POW organizations hearing about my report. I sent out an email search for anyone who knew about or witnessed this event in history. Ms. Etta Zamboni whose grandfather was a Bataan Death March survivor, read my email and sent it to "The American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Association." Through this organization and Ms. Etta’s influence I had the privilege of interviewing POWs Richard Beck, Malcolm Amos, James Hildebrand, and Joseph Cassin. Author, Hampton Sides heard about my research from friends in Washington, D.C. and the Philippines, and called to offer any help. I conducted an hour interview with him. I interviewed Ghosts of Bataan documentary historian Christopher Rives. Mrs. Nancy Kragh told me about her father’s death on the "Hell Ship" Brazil Maru. Then I found Commander Cheney who worked with secret material in Washington, D.C. All these personal sources and more brought this horrific event to life.

I chose to do a personal performance because I felt the POWs and Rangers had an incredible story to tell. I wanted to educate my peers through drama. After I wrote the script, I wanted to discover what the POWs might have felt, so I took a weekend and pretended to be a POW. I marched three miles in the rain. I ate dried rice. I put photos and drawings up around the house of the Bataan Death March and POWs that were starved and beaten. I kept a bowl of moldy rice with me, and went without sleep. Every hour I rehearsed my script. Through this time, I got a deeper understanding of what the POWs went through.

My project relates to the theme, "Taking a Stand in History" because of the acts of heroism that occurred from the start of the Bataan Death March to the end of the war. The POWs marched 70 miles and took a stand to survive three years of horrific treatment. Frank Bridget took a stand to help his fellow POWs in the hold of the "Hell Ship." The Rangers took a stand when they volunteered to go 30 miles behind enemy lines. They risked their lives and brought the POWs out alive.

The Rescue of the Doomed Ghost Soldiers of Bataan
Written and Performed by Anthony Zendejas